Women and Jujitsu

Women and Jujitsu

In its simplistic form Jujitsu translates into English as ‘the gentle art’. The term seems a contradiction when applied to a self defence system designed to disable an attacker until you realise that in Jujitsu, ‘force is not directly opposed, but given way to and redirected’ – this is the basic principle behind most techniques.

Jujitsu relies on speed, fluidity of movement and strikes to vulnerable areas. Women can learn techniques which will enable them to disable a bigger, heavier and stronger attacker, with a throw, a well placed kick, or strike.

This kick or strike is often enough to deter or disable an assailant enabling the would be victim to make their escape. If the situation requires something more, a lock or throw for instance, then jujitsu has an arsenal of techniques on which to call upon. Some specific ‘women’s self defence’ courses include techniques derived from jujitsu, it’s a comprehensive system with a lot to offer. Jujitsu is a very physical art, lots of throws and break-falls. Some women find this physical side too demanding, while others thrive on the physical elements; like most things in life your get out what you put in and until you’ve tried it, you don’t know which category applies to you.

You may wish to learn jujitsu just enough to equip you with some basic self defence, that’s perfectly acceptable here at the IAJJ – give us a try you just might be surprised. And, if you’re a little nervous about having a go, just think how hard it was for the ‘pioneers’ described below in an age when women didn’t even have the vote and were, to all intents and purposes, second class citizens.

Emily Watts, Pheobe Roberts & Edith Garrud – early women pioneers

“I expected when I began to learn Ju-jitsu to be able to in three months’ time to defend myself against two men; after more than a year of hard training I feel satisfied and excessively proud if I can account for one not more than two stone [28 pounds] heavier than myself. It is possible that, in another two years, I may be able to manage the second…

That I, the only lady exponent of Ju-jitsu, should point out its disadvantages may seem strange. Having taken it up as a profession it would seem to be more politic on my part to swell the chorus of its praises rather than publish its faults. But why not speak openly of its weak points instead of trying to hide them? There is quite enough convincing proof of the grand results of even a moderate training in Ju-jitsu to allow of absolute honesty when arguing the question of its pros and cons.”

From “Ju-Jitsu: The New Exercise” by Mrs. Roger [Emily] Watts, The World’s Work and Play Magazine, August 1905

Emily Diana Watts began learning Jujitsu in 1903 at Golden Square in Soho London under Uyenishi, the famed Jujitsu exponent who helped William Barton-Wright promote his art of Bartitsu by touring the music halls under the stage name ‘Raku.’

Three years later, Emily Watts was running her own club at Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge. In 1906, a year after publication of Uyenishi’s own book , Text Book of Ju-Jutsu as Practised in Japan, Emily’s, The Fine Art of Jujitsu, was published with an impressive introduction by the Duchess of Bedford.

What marked this book as unique, in terms of female authorship (and female audience) was that it was not a ladies keep fit book, the usual fare of women’s ‘sporting’ articles. It was a book with photographic illustrations on how to learn and apply technique.

Unfortunately, the expensively bound volume ensured that it would only be bought and read by the upper echelons of society. Although Emily Watts was one of the early pioneering British woman martial artists, she certainly wasn’t the first, although she was probably one of the most affluent.

Pheobe Roberts, from Monmouthshire began training at Uyenishi’s dojo around the same time as Emily Watts. She is included in ‘instructor’ photos from the Oxford Street Judo dojo run by Tani and Miyake, who like Uyenishi came to Britain at the invitation of Barton-Wright and in 1906, aged 16, she fought Lucy Weston in the British Women’s Jujitsu Championships. In 1908, Uyenishi left Britain and one of his students, William Garrud, assumed the responsibility of teaching the men while his wife, Edith, taught the women and children. She was a well known suffragette of the period and, in the July 6th 1910 edition of the ‘Sketch,’ there is a photograph of her throwing a uniformed London policeman!.