History of British Jujutsu: 1890-1945

Jujutsu was the first commonly taught martial art in Britain and its introduction dates back some 60 years prior to the advent of Karate and Aikido.
There are a few examples of westerners studied oriental combatives prior to the 1890s: Members of the Dutch and Swedish East India Trading Company in Canton and Nagasaki; Army officers (typically French) in Japan at the start of the Meiji Restoration (as seen in The Last Samurai); Portuguese and Jesuits in Japan; Napolean III’s navy ships being sent to the orient and the sailors returning with Savatte; Cities like Liverpool hosting a Chinatown whereby Kung Fu could have been practiced.
So we cannot say that before the 1890s, no westerner ever performed a Jujutsu throw or held a Katana, but those that did have not been recorded in a Dojo teacher-student setting.
Most of the early practitioners were in Jujutsu – with one exception – an army officer, whose name is recorded as Mr Norman, went to Japan in the 1890s to teach the Japanese about British military systems. He took up Kendo and became proficient. He later taught the art in England.
For a true record of Japanese martial arts as we know it being practiced in the west, we must turn to British Jujutsu.
1892 is an excellent starting point. That year a Mr Takashima Shidachi gave a Jujutsu demonstration in London for the Jujutsu society and that same year Rudyard Kipling wrote about British sailors in Yokohama encountering the Meiji police.
We should point out that at this point Kodokan Judo had only been established for 10 years and the Dai Nippon Butokukai still three years away.
In 1897, Manchester newspaper sub editor Ernest J Harrison arrived in Yokohama and was accepted into the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu school of Jujutsu, one of the principal styles that influenced the development of Kodokan Judo. EJ Harrison subsequently became the first western Judo blackbelt.
Harrison was one of the earliest martial arts authors in English and his books are still highly sought after.
EW Barton Wright
EW Barton Wright
In 1898, Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who had spent the previous three years living in Japan and studying the Shinden Fudo Ryu in Kobe, returned to England and announced the formation of a “New Art of Self Defence”. This art, he claimed, combined the best elements of a range of fighting styles into a unified whole, which he had named Bartitsu (Barton-Jujutsu). He combined Jujutsu with English boxing, French Savate, French cane fighting and more to create an Edwardian self defence method.
Of course the most famous Bartitsu practitioner who never lived was Sherlocks Holmes who practiced “Baritsu”.
Barton-Wright arranged for Japanese master Yukio Tani (perhaps from the Fusen Ryu) to come to England. At the time the equivalent of the proverbial “Britain’s Got Talent” was the music hall shows.
Customers might see a strongman like William “Apollo” Bankier, a Jujutsu man like Tani, a wrestler like George Hackenschmidt or some combination – the Jujutsu and wrestlers would challenge members of the audience and put on a show stretching them.
In 1900 Sanda Uyenishi arrived in England from the Tenjin Shinyo Ryu and by 1904 joined with Tani in establishing a Jujutsu school.
Another man of interest is one Harry Hunter, who taught “Super-jujitsu”. Hunter learnt his jujitsu whilst stationed in Japan with the British Navy in 1904. He became the self styled “Jujitsu Champion of Europe”. At some point it seems that he taught William Green of Liverpool.
In 1903 Theodore Roosevelt was graded to 1st Dan in Judo. Presumably this was an honourary grade.
In 1906 Gunji Koizumi left Japan and sailed via Bombay and North Wales to Liverpool. There he saw advertised the post of chief instructor to Kara Ashikaga’s school of Jujutsu.
Ironically the Kara Ashikaga was the north of England’s first known martial arts school and Mr Ashikaga himself probably never existed – he was just a Japanese-sounding marketing ploy. 110 years later even the most brazen McDojo might think twice about pulling that stunt!
In these early days a few books were written on the subject. William Garrud wrote “The Complete Jujitsuan” in 1914, Bruce Sutherland wrote “Jiu Jitsu Self Defence” in 1916 and Leopold McLaglen in 1918. Harry Hunter, a Lancashire police unarmed combat instructor stationed in Yokohama in 1904 also wrote Super Jujitsu. Mrs Emily Watts and Raku Uyenishi produced a book entitled “The Fine Art of Jiu-Jutsu.”
In 1918 Gunji Koizumi created the Budokwai as a society to teach Jujutsu, Kendo and other Japanese arts to members of the public. He founded a dojo at 15 Lower Grosvenor Place, Victoria, London SW1 and the club official opened on Saturday, January 26, 1918 with 12 members, making it one the oldest Judo clubs in Europe. Koizumi became the first president of the Budokwai and Yukio Tani the first chief judo instructor.
According to the Budokwai: “The first Englishman to join was O.D. Smith as member number thirty-seven: Yukio Tani was member number fourteen, and W.E. Steers number fifty-two. Steers was to introduce Ernest John Harrison in May 1919; they had been friends in Japan. The first woman member, number sixty, Miss Katherine Cooper-White, joined in April 1919. Following her lead other women joined and within a few years there was a regular women’s section.”
It has been claimed that the Budokwai is the oldest martial arts club outside Japan but according to the club itself this is not the case:
“It is often said that The Budokwai is the oldest judo society outside of Japan. This is not the case. The oldest club outside Japan is the Seattle Judo Club on the west coast of America, which dates back to at least 1903 or even earlier. Recent information has come to hand to prove that the oldest club in Europe is the Cambridge University Ju -Jutsu Club, formed by ECD Rawlins, of Trinity College, in 1906. This was and is a closed organisation limited to members of the University.”
In July 1920, Dr. Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) visited Britain and the Budokwai for the first time, he was accompanied by Hikoichi Aida who stayed in Britain and instructed at the Budokwai for two years. A member named Tanabe received his first Dan, becoming the Budokwai’s first home-grown black belt.
Tani and Koizumi were promoted to Nidan, despite technically never having studied Judo, but clearly their Jujutsu was up to par.
Professor Jack Britten was a London born student of Yukio Tani who moved to Liverpool in about 1920. He established the Alpha Jujutsu school in the Kensington area which we suspect was Liverpool’s (and therefore the north of England’s) second public martial arts club.
Mikonosuke Kawaishi
Mikonosuke Kawaishi
In 1928 another Japanese master came to England. His name was Mikonosuke Kawaishi. Like Koizumi and Tani he was originally a Jujutsu man who later converted to Judo.
He had studied under a master named Yoshida Kotaro who was hereditary grandmaster of Yanagi Ryu (a branch of Yoshin Ryu Hakuda or Jujutsu) and was also one of the top students of Daito Ryu headteacher Takeda Sokaku.
Kotaro famously introduced Takeda to his most famous student Morihei Ueshiba, later the founder of Aikido. Kawaishi also studied Judo with Isogai Hajime.
It is said the Judo of Kawaishi was that taught in Kyoto (Dai Nippon Butokukai) which differed from the Kodokan Judo of Tokyo.
Kawaishi began teaching in Liverpool, and like Tani he subsidised his income by acting as a professional wrestler, named Matsuda.
He taught his Jujutsu, Aikijujutsu and Judo to a small group of students, the only name of which we know is Gerald Skyner who established the Kawaishi Ryu, in Liverpool. My great uncle Bill Nelson was in the Merchant Navy during WWII and achieved black belt under professor Skyner, in turn under Kawaishi.
Gerry Skyner
Gerry Skyner
My great uncle Bill Nelson. One of Skyner's black belts in the 1940s
My great uncle Bill Nelson. One of Skyner’s black belts in the 1940s
The spread of Jujutsu in England naturally stagnated during 1939-1945, but in this time many members of the merchant navy sailed to places like Japan and Singapore and brought back with them exotic methods of pugilism.
During World War II the British Army enlisted WE Fairbairn and EA Sykes to come up with an unarmed combat system. Both were seasoned veterans of the Shanghai Municipal Police, with Fairbairn having experience of Judo and 33 years experience in the police. Fairbairn created his own martial art, Defendu.
Other martial artists who claimed to have studied Jujutsu during the second world war include Jim Blundell and Vernon Bell. The history of Jim Blundell (who trained with William Green) is documented by the British Ju Jitsu Association which he founded and Vernon Bell was discussed in the previous issue for his later introduction of Karate to England. My father trained with the Blundells in around 1959, but that’s another story. 
1945 is where this history ends. The subsequent decade may have included some very notable Jujutsu practitioners but it is those that studied in the 1890s, 1900-1914 and 1918-1939 who must be regarded as the art’s true pioneers in England.




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