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Revolting Women: The Ju-Jutsuffragettes

2011 September 12

This post is part of a series on the theme of women and protest. The full series is collected under the tag “Revolting Women”.

My choice of subject for our Revolting Women series was decided the moment I saw the picture below, an event which caused me to loudly shout “GET IN!” and do an air-punch with great abandon.

The lady in this image is Mrs Edith Margaret Garrud (1872-1971), and she appears to have a policeman in an armlock.

A black and white photograph of an old lady in a hat, bending a policeman's arm behind his back and forcing him to bend over. She is controlling him with no apparent effort.

It turns out that it’s only an actor playing the hapless bobby, because Edith is the person responsible for teaching the Suffragettes jujutsu.

Before we ask how a middle-aged woman in a respectable hat was able to learn the (then barely discovered) Japanese martial art, let’s look at why she’d bother:

We have not yet made ourselves a match for the police, and we have got to do it. The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practise it as well as men.

We have got to have [military] drilling in the East End. If there is any man who has been in the Army or who knows anything about drilling, will he please communicate with me, and we will start drilling.

You should all go out with your sticks [Indian clubs which were popular for exercise at the time, and easily hidden in clothing]. What is the use of demonstrating for freedom and going unarmed? Don’t come to meetings without sticks in future, men and women alike. It is worth while really striking. It is no use pretending. We have got to fight.
– Sylvia Pankhurst, quoted in the New York Times on Aug 12th 1913, shortly before she was arrested.

With the recent practice of police using “kettling” to contain students during anti-cuts protests, and any (very predictable) resulting violence against police by the protesters subsequently being loudly criticised in newspapers, it’s refreshing to see the sentiments above. ‘Well, we have to learn jujutsu too, or the police might be able to stop us. And obviously we can’t have THAT. This is a protest! Get someone who can make it happen and have him report to me immediately. Next?’ While the actions may cause debate today, the sheer ‘nothing will stop us’ attitude is amazing.

But Sylvia is not the focus of this post, much as we love her here on BadRep. It’s Edith who is less well known but also truly remarkable. She taught PE at a school and married William, also a PE instructor, when she was 21 and he 22. They moved to London and met the intriguing Edward William Barton-Wright, who in 1899 started to teach them both jujutsu.

I have to pause again and talk about Barton-Wright, because England produces a unique brand of truly bonkers things and he was definitely responsible for one of them which is of great importance to this narrative.

A montage of images showing a man in 1900's clothing in a series of martial-arts stances, holding a walking stick like a sword. In the centre is a photo of E W Barton-Wright, who has a truly impressive moustache.

Stances from Bartitsu, and in the centre E.W. Barton-Wright and his terrifying moustache. (Image = Public Domain from Wikipedia)

Sherlock Holmes, as well as being a boxer, was written in a later story as knowing the gentleman’s martial art of “Baritsu”. This was a mis-spelling of Barton’s invention, “Bartitsu” (Barton-jujitsu). Asian martial arts weren’t very widely known in the West before 1900, and he was one of the first instructors in Europe. It was a time when… well, when men had moustaches and hats like those in the accompanying image. Barton-Wright had learned Shinden Fudo Ryu jujutsu and judo, and developed a new system for English people of ‘class and bearing’ to use with dignity (and often a walking stick or umbrella).

It was his academy that Edith and her husband attended, and they both went on to become students of Sadakazu Uyenishi who taught there. When Uyenishi left his own dojo a few years later, they took over as teachers of that club in Soho. (Their daughter, Isabel, also assisted them in running the dojo from 1911 onwards, at the age of fifteen.)

Edith was almost certainly the first female jujutsu instructor in Europe. She and her husband continued teaching until 1925 – but from 1908 she alone ran some classes which were only open to suffragettes.

And if you thought that Sylvia was a straight-talker in the quotes above, Edith didn’t hold back either. There is far, far too much awesomeness going on to fit it all into this post, so I strongly recommend you read the pages on the other end of these links:

In her article “Damsel Vs Desperado” for Health and Strength magazine in 1910, Edith said that jujutsu was not just for protesters to use against police (as the newspapers were gleefully retelling) but that

Woman is exposed to many perils nowadays, because so many who call themselves ‘men’ are not worthy of that exalted title.

She then goes on to write a short story (with illustrations!) about a woman being attacked while “returning home along a lonely country road.” It contains lines such as:

Believing that he has had enough by now and that she has shown him what she can do, she gives him a severe twinge that makes him fairly squeal, and throws him off as a “thing” beneath contempt.

It was this magazine which came up with the title “Ju-jutsuffragettes”, one which Edith seemed to quite like, and in 1911 they printed another article describing a short sketch also written by her, in which a wife defends herself against her violently drunk husband. The headline proudly announced
Ju-Jutsu as a Husband-Tamer: A Suffragette Play with a Moral“(!) The photos are brilliant (I am all too familiar with the wrist-lock in no.4, ouch) and the short script contains some comedy:

“I’ll learn this ‘ere jucy jujubes, Liz, for I could do for you if I was sober,” he says.
“No,” answers Liz; “you’re a good husband to me then, and wouldn’t want to, but when you’re drunk I’ll always be a match for you.”

The reminder that domestic violence was (and is) widespread enough to make the play relevant to the audience is chilling, however.

What makes Edith of particular importance to the protest movement she was part of is not just that she was a suffragette, or taught others to take on police during protests, but that she trained the 30 women known as “The Bodyguard”. This group was set up to prevent the frequent arrest of top suffragette protesters (the police would release those who were on hunger strike and then quickly re-arrest them). As well as pitched hand-to-hand fighting between ladies and Her Majesty’s constabulary, the Bodyguard used disguises, decoys and all sorts of other tricks to get the known leaders away after a protest. For many years, she was their chief trainer.

I ordered a copy of a charming book by Tony Wolf called “Edith Garrud: The suffragette who knew Jujutsu“. It’s one of the most fully-researched works on the woman and her deeds, but is written for children, leading to sentences such as ‘The Police, of course, didn’t like the idea of the Suffragettes’ new Bodyguard society one little bit.’ It also provides some amazing quotes and stories: during one public demonstration, a reporter from the Daily Mirror was invited to attack the 4’11” Edith on stage. After trying several attacks and being roundly thrown or wristlocked each time, he wrote of his experiences in an article for the newspaper:

I rose convinced of the efficiency of Jujutsu, and, aching in every limb, crawled painfully away, pitying the constable whose ill-fortune it should be to lay hands on Mrs. Garrud.

Again and again in her story we see parallels to the student and anti-cuts protests earlier this year. The suffragettes knew that property damage meant headlines, but there were generally strict boundaries – no people were to be hurt, and no factory or other workplace was to be damaged where people’s jobs would be affected. One incident Edith was involved in was a gathering of women on Oxford Street, who, when Edith blew a whistle, pulled hammers and rocks from under their clothes and threw them through shop windows. This was seen as a logical, necessary and entirely justified action which had a place in protest, not just empty vandalism, and she defends it eloquently. Newspapers and blogs are still having that debate today.

She presented a suffragette petition to Lloyd George, who started to argue with her. Edith replied “Now then, you are dealing with a fellow countrywoman from the Welsh Valleys. Be sensible, man!” (She was born in Bath but grew up in Wales). They then had entirely civil conversations on more than one occasion, although never agreed on ideals.

A cartoon from the magazine

Edith depicted in the July 1910 edition of Punch magazine.

In an interview for Woman magazine when she was 94, she said that self-discipline had been the key to jujutsu and protest – discipline of the body, but much more of the mind. Even at that age she presented as someone with unbending levels of determination. Reading about women’s voices in protest then and now, the difference comes over as a directness in attitude: of being entirely sure that your cause is just and that you must therefore do everything to help protest succeed. The conversation in those circles would be “So the police are using kettling and ‘pre-emptive arrests’ to suppress dissent. How do we make sure those techniques never work on us again?

Edith Garrud died in 1971 at the age of 99. She was instrumental in teaching the suffragettes the skills they used to evade capture and speak in public for longer. She also broke new ground in being a woman who taught martial arts only recently discovered in Europe to women. This year, Edith will be honoured with a permanent memorial by Islington council – an ‘Islington People’s Plaque’ – because she won a public vote to be one of the five people or places thus celebrated.

17 Responses leave one →
  1. September 12, 2011

    I’m really glad you enjoyed “Edith Garrud: the Suffragette who knew Jujutsu”. I wrote the book particularly hoping to encourage teenage girls to get interested in history and to take up self defence/martial arts training.

    The documentary “Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes” features a section on the Jujutsuffragette movement, including a short re-enactment of one of their training sessions. Edith and her Bodyguard colleagues are also referenced in an upcoming BBC documentary called “Timeline: Martial Arts”, which is about the history of Asian martial arts in the UK, and are showcased in the play “Deeds Not Words”, which is currently in development.

    • Stephen B permalink
      September 12, 2011

      Hello Tony, yes, I very much enjoyed it! Thank you for those links, many of my friends are very excited that Bartitsu is being taught again today.

      (Folks, here is the trailer for the documentary “Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”, which looks AWESOME: ).

  2. Lezley permalink
    September 12, 2011

    Great article on a fascinating woman. I am definitely off to read further. So important to remember what people did to ensure rights for everyone and how they thought of violent acts.

  3. September 13, 2011

    Oh, this is fantastic! As a nidan (2nd dan) aikido blackbelt, I strongly advocate aikido (derived from ju-jitsu) for women, but I had no idea of this facet of our history.

    Incidentally I recently did a couple of demonstrations along with a male shotokan karate nidan friend – and the most common reaction was utter astonishment at seeing a middle-aged grey-haired woman in glasses putting six foot men on their knees, incapable of fighting back…

    • Stephen B permalink
      September 13, 2011

      Brilliant! Yes, I’ve got lower belts in several martial arts, and now never underestimate women of any age in combat :)

      We had a post a while back on female self-defence classes, and how to teach one which would actually be feminist instead of the usual “Don’t go anywhere or do anything” advice:

      • Miranda permalink*
        September 13, 2011

        Ahh, retro post! We were only a month old when we wrote that one! Still get the odd email asking for details of any more classes – not heard about any so if anyone hears of one give us a shout and we can signal boost it…

  4. September 13, 2011

    I’ve long advocated martial arts for women (and indeed anyone else who needs to fight an oppressor) but got shouted at by people saying I was victim-blaming. I was really rather disappointed when my krav maga teacher tried to put on a free induction for women, and no women turned up, just us regulars. Krav Maga’s an excellent combat discipline for anyone, as the IDF have in the past trained women soldiers for front line combat & this is their battlefield combatives system. I’d urge anyone to train in it – it’s very quick to pick up & doesn’t require massive flexibility or anything, but it’s *so* effective.

  5. September 30, 2011

    If you think this is good, you should look into Constance Markievicz – she learnt a little bit more than this courtesy of Captain Jack White.

  6. June 26, 2012

    Rachel Williams’ new Guardian article on Edith Garrud. Mrs. Garrud is also being honoured with a plaque sponsored by the Islington Council, which is being unveiled this weekend.

    • Stephen B permalink
      June 26, 2012

      Brilliant! Lovely to see her get the recognition in the Guardian, and that the Blue Plaque is finally being awarded. Thanks very much for the link, Tony!

  7. March 22, 2013

    A comprehensive illustrated summary of the 1982 Channel 4 docudrama “The Year of the Bodyguard”, which tells the story of Edith Garrud and the radical jujutsuffragettes.

    Also, Edith was recently named “Badass of the Week”: .

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