This is a revision of an article which was originally posted at the now defunct SBNation Blog, Head Kick Legend by John S. Nash on March 5, 2012 [†]
The story of the early origins of mixed martial arts is one that is intertwined with that of jujutsu's. Wherever jujutsu landed during its migration from Japan to the Western World a similar pattern arose, one of early exponents and demonstration, giving way to mixed contests against wrestlers and boxers, to finally converging with catch-as-catch-can wrestling and giving birth to the earliest form of mixed martial arts with all-in, anything goes contests.
The story of the early days of jujutsu in Australia was no different, although perhaps nowhere else was the story quite as interesting.
The introduction of jujutsu to Australia is often credited to Mr. Cecil Elliott, whose story resembles that of Edward Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu, and his introduction of jujutsu to England and Europe. [EN1]
Like Edward Barton-Wright, Cecil Elliott was an Englishman, having been born in the village of Hackelton, North Hamptonshire on May 20, 1875, and also like Wright, he traveled extensively, having enlisted in the Royal Navy as an Apprentice Seaman at the tender age of sixteen.
Eventually, he would become an officer and his duties would take him to Japan where, just as Barton-Wright had done before him, he took up the study of jujutsu, obtaining First Dan in Yokohama in 1904. The next year, he left the Navy and relocated to Sydney, Australia, where he found employment at Mr. R.F. Young's School of Physical Culture.
The school's primary focus had been on the Sandow system of physical exercise, but Mr. Young had not failed to notice the interest jujutsu was garnering around the globe (partly thanks to the earlier efforts of Barton-Wright), advertising [EN2] that
"Schools have been established in England and America. His Excellency President Roosevelt has evinced great interest in the method by taking instruction therein from a well-known Japanese Instructor, and the United States Government are having it specially taught as SCIENCE to the young officers of the Army and Navy." [EN3]
The School of Physical Culture soon added jujutsu to the curriculum, and in early 1906, Elliott hosted a jujutsu exhibition before an audience that included the New South Wales Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mackay. It is often reported as having been the first such public demonstration of the Japanese martial art ever held in Australia. [EN4]
It also proved to be a success, and soon the school was flooded with inquiries from potential students. When in need of instructors for his Bartitsu club, Barton-Wright had imported jujutsukas from Japan, and so Elliott wired Yokohama, looking to do the same.
Around May of 1906, the S S Taiyan sailed into Sydney's harbor carrying with it a pair of passengers who were advertised as:
"Two of the best Japanese Exponents of JU JITSU (The Gentle Art). MR JINKICHI OKURA, for the past Five Years Instructor to the Japanese Police at the Central Police School, Yokohama, and MR RYUGORO FUKISHIMA, thirteen years at Hagiwara School Yokohama during eight years of which term he was Head Assistant thereat. Also late Instructor at Kotobuki Police Station, Yokohama. These INSTRUCTORS have ACTUALLY TAUGHT in JAPAN the home of Ju Jitsu." [EN5]
Elliott had made their acquaintance while they were both serving as instructors at the Kotobuki Police Station in Yokohama. At his invitation, they would now perform the same task at the School of Physical Culture. It would be the youthful Fukushima, who would make the greatest impact on jujutsu on the continent. [EN6]
Under the supervision of Mr. Elliott, the school soon added a separate branch for jujutsu where "the Japanese methods of attack and self defence" was taught by Okura and Fukushima, with private and group classes offered for gentlemen, ladies, and children alike five days a week, with an evening class being held on Thursdays. [EN7] Soon they were also giving public demonstrations in jutusu for the dual purpose of advertising the art and the school. [EN8]
By 1909, Mr. Elliott and Okura had left the school, Elliot having relocated to Atherton, Queensland, while Okura returned to Japan, leaving the "Ju-jitsu" branch under the sole supervision of Fukushima. The position would end up being a part-time one, for in March of 1909, Shima (as he was now often referred to in the papers) signed with Harry Rickard's New Tivoli Vaudeville Company. [EN9]
Working alongside a pupil of his from Northern Japan named Kiyo Kameda, he headlined a theater tour of Australia with a troupe that included comedians, performers in black-face, and a hand illusionist. [EN10] For their part, Fukushima and Kameda "gave a unique exhibition, showing the methods of throwing, attacking, and defending against an adversary." [EN11] It would begin with a brief explanation of jujutsu to the audience, after which,
"Mr. Shima at the outset attacks his assistant from every quarter, and is steadily checked or thrown on his back or on his head with a swiftness which for a moment makes the spectators wonder how any man can recover from such wrenches." [EN12]
After successful runs in Sydney and Melbourne (where they filled the 4,000 seat Opera House nightly), the show was brought to Adelaide where they soon made a change to the act. Shima now "offered £5 to any man whom he could not throw in 15 minutes".
He would not have to wait long to find a taker, for the challenge was immediately accepted by a prominent local wrestler named Kopech.
Although the match was held under "jiu-jitsu rules", with Kopech being required to wear a jacket, many in the audience gave the advantage to the local mat man, who outweighed his Japanese opponent by more than 15 pounds.
As the match got underway, their suspicions seemed to be confirmed when Kopech used his strength and size to take Shima down several times, forcing him into the floorboards. The wrestler's victory seemed assured, but with less than three minutes left in the allotted time,
"Shima secured a fall by the "strangle" hold. Kopech protested that this hold was not legitimate, but the referee ruled that though it was not usually allowed in English wrestling, in straight on ju-jitsu it was perfectly legitimate." [EN13]
The audience was left dissatisfied with the results, having been not fully aware of the rules going in. The show ended when another local wrestler, a Mr. Renart, "stepped on the stage and challenged the Japanese to wrestle, saying that he would bar no holds whatever." The challenge was immediately accepted and booked for the following night. [EN14]
Shima was victorious in his contest with Renart, and with the others that would follow, proving to the many who had seen him in action that he was the best practitioner of jujutsu in all Australia. Yet, he was not accorded that title, for there was another who was proclaimed as the "Jiu-jutsu champion of Australia".
This "champion" went by the name Professor Stevenson, and was a white man who had gained renown competing on vaudeville stages across the country, under rules of jujutsu unrecognizable to Fukushima. Shima became determined to meet this Professor Stevenson and prove him a fraud.
In February 1906, around the same time that Mr. Elliott and Mr. Young were giving Australia its first look at jujutsu, another exponent of the Japanese martial art made his public debut at the Great Musical Carnival of Australian Talent. [EN15]
Although a slight man, only 9 stones and 6 lb in weight, Professor P.W. Stevenson was one of the greatest practitioners of "jiu-jitsu" in the world, at least according to him and his supporters. At the very least, he would prove to be one of the most important promoters of art in those early days, one whose contribution seems to have been almost completely forgotten.
Having been born in Scone, New South Wales, many of Stevenson's earlier exploits are impossible to confirm. He claimed to have unsuccessfully traveled to Japan in order to learn "jiu-jitsu". He then went to New York City, although there is currently no mention of him in the city, where he studied "Jiu-jitsu" from the famed Katsuguma Higashi. It was in the United States that he also claims to have won the "Champion Gold Medal of the World for White Jiu Jitsu" at Madison Square Gardens [EN16], an event for which there seems to be no record.
Even with his questionable credentials, the Professor gained a reputation as a capable teacher in street defense, offering both private and group lessons. After a few demonstrations, he found himself in high demand from members of the constabulary and military, taking a position as the instructor of "gymnastics" for the Royal Australian Artillery and holding regular classes at Victoria Barracks.
During one such large gathering of the RAA, which included Brigadier-General Gordon, C.B., Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley, and other officers, and about a hundred and fifty men, Stevenson gave a display of the effectiveness of his fighting style by facing off against one of the largest and strongest artillerymen in the regiment.
The artilleryman, having 70 pounds on the Professor, looked to take advantage of his size and strength by immediately wrapping his arms around the Professor in a bear hug.
"The artilleryman then attempted to fling his adversary to the ground. Much to the surprise of the military man, and of the spectators, the artilleryman reached the ground first, with the professor on top, and having a strangle hold of his adversary." [EN17]
The acclaim which Professor Stevenson gained from such feats led to him to taking a job with the Wirth Bros. Circus. His show consisted of giving a demonstration in the finer points of the use of jujutsu for self defence and issuing challenges to "either throw anyone brave enough to climb onto the stage with him in ten minutes twice, or pay up to £20". [EN18]
An example of such a contest took place in Brisbane against a Mr. Pollock, who was listed as an army champion catch-as-catch-can wrestler,
"Although Stevenson was outweighed by close to 30 lbs the contest was short and sharp, with the first bout lasting only 1+1/2 min., and ended with "Professor Stevenson throwing his man and holding him practically powerless." The second round was slightly more competitive with Mr. Pollock wrestling "his opponent down, but after a short and severe struggle by the uppermost wrestler to hold his advantage, Professor Stevenson completely turned the tables on him. A blow with the heels on a sensitive part of the back, and the use of the deadly throat grip, reinforced by the insertion of the great toe behind the ear, and Mr. Pollock was beaten." The whole contest had been only 3-4 min. [EN19]
On March 9, 1907, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an advertisement announcing that Professor Stevenson would be meeting Mr. Erle Thorpe in a match where the "Jiu-Jitsu championship of Australia" would be on the line. Mr. Thorpe's credentials included possession of the title of "Jiu-Jitsu champion of England" and of being, "the only man who has ever stood 15 minutes before Timu, the Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Champion of the World". [EN20]
The match was held at Wonderland City, a place advertised as the "Coney Island of Australia", where the two men agreed to "wrestle in ju-Jitsu fashion, any and every hold being allowed." The contest itself was an
"exciting manner for about nine minutes. At one stage, it looked as though the Professor would have to acknowledge defeat, as his opponent managed to grasp his hair firmly with both hands, and dragged him over the canvas. However, Professor Stevenson eventually managed to get his man down with a ''leg lock" on Thorpe's neck. This being a fatal hold, the Englishman immediately banged the ground three times and he was liberated." [EN21]
Two months later, Professor Stevenson engaged in another contest, this time against the circus strong man Mr. Albert Monier, for a purse of £75. Mr. Monier was well versed in Cumberland and Greco-Roman wrestler, but also claimed to have some knowledge of jujutsu, which he hoped would prove to be the deciding factor.
According to the ringmaster, it was to be competed under "jiu-jitsu rules", which according to him, meant that each of the men would be allowed, "To hit, scratch, bite, pull by the hair, kick sideways, gouge, or strangle. Practically the only forbidden action was a straight kick." There would be no pinfalls and one man yielding to the other would only decide the match. It would be Mr. M. P. Adams of Melbourne's job to keep the order as referee, which would prove to be no small task. [EN22]
"At the word go, both men began to circle much in the fashion of ordinary wrestlers, but the similarity to familiar methods closed when Stevenson dealt Monier a smack on the face; an attack which the latter returned by trying to kick Stevenson's legs from under him with his heel."
The two clinched and the fight went to the ground. Almost immediately, Stevenson managed to capture Monier in a double wrist and shoulder-joint lock on his arm. Instead of surrendering or suffering a dislocated shoulder, Monier escaped in what would have been thought a nearly impossible somersault.
The fight continued as a back and forth affair, transitioning rapidly from standing, to the ground, and back to the feet once again. At one point, the two men took turns tossing each other over their heads and shoulders to the ground in quick succession, much to the appreciation of the audience.
As it progressed, the match grew more violent, the contestants more desperate. Several times Stevenson struck Morion with a "kidney punch", using the edge of his open hand, in order to force Monier to release his grip. Later, after Stevenson had trapped Monier's head in a leg scissors and threatened to break his neck between his knees, Monier retaliated by trying to gouge his eyes with his thumb.
In return, "Stevenson bit Monier vigorously across the loins to alter Monier's intention of dislocating his thumb." The audience was shocked by such a lack of fair play from the contestants, and soon the "cheering was equally balanced with hoots." Finally, and only five minutes after the wild skirmish had begun, Stevenson secured a master hold, and Monier yielded the first round. After a brief respite, the second round began and immediately
"a clinch followed and resulted in both tripping over the edge of the wooden ring bank. Monier was uppermost, and lifting Stevenson in the air proceeded to thump his body on the wood."
The two men, having toppled to the floor, had to be forcibly separated by the referee and a dozen ring assistants. The crowd was now up in arms, although opinion was also divided as to whom to blame, and it was not until the police had been summoned was order restored.
"The contest was then resumed in the ring, and soon afterwards Monier secured an armlock which made him winner of the round, a result which was greeted with tremendous cheering."
The third round ended when time was up, and based on points, the match was awarded to Stevenson by the referee. Again some of the crowd, unsatisfied with the outcome, threatened violence, but the police and attendants were able to keep the peace.
Afterwards, the referee, Mr. Adams, declared that it was the most exciting wrestling match he had ever seen. Many in the audience agreed and soon nothing but "ju-jitsu", and Professor Stevenson, were on the lips of the people of Sydney. One particular person was not pleased by this, however.
On May 10, the Sydney Morning Herald received a letter addressed "TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD". The following day it was printed in their paper [EN23]:
Transcription of the above newspaper clipping:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD,
Sir, --In your account of the so-called Ju-Jitsu contest at Wirth's Circus on Saturday evening it is stated that, "Judging by the exhibition given by the two men, it does not seem likely to become popular amongst Australians," etc.
I am a certificated Japanese teacher of Ju-Jitsu, and since my arrival here have been teaching for some time in Sydney. I wish emphatically to protest against Mr. Stevenson calling such an exhibition "Ju-Jitsu."
It may be very clever so far as he is concerned, but it is not Ju-Jitsu. Many people know this, but not the public.
In a contest in Japan they do not allow biting, scratching, gouging, or kicking. I may say I challenged Mr. Stevenson some time ago to a real Japanese contest, but he did not accept.
It is not his province to frame rules governing the art. He must be guided by the rules that are recognised in Japan. I should be sorry to think that the public should get its impression of an immensely valuable system of physical culture, and means of athletic sport combined, from the report of what was represented as Ju-Jitsu in a circus tent on Saturday evening.
Ju-Jitsu, as understood and practised in Japan is, in friendly contests, governed by rules which would make it more acceptable as a trial of skill to the average Australian onlooker than either boxing or wrestling, as they have been exemplified of late. At least I think so, and I have seen contest in both countries, and I think understand something of boxing and wrestling, as well as Ju-Jitsu.
I write this to you, as I think it would be a pity for Australians to get wrong notions of an art, the usefulness of which to the individual, cannot well be over-emphasised. I am, etc., R. SHIMA
What would follow would be one of the great rivalries in prizefighting history, spanning over a year in length during which they would compete several times for the "Jiu-Jitsu championship of Australia", and would conclude with a "Clash of Champions", Their feud would give birth to an era of 'all-in" fighting down under, a sport in which wrestlers, jujutsukas, and boxers would "fight under the Greek Pancratium rules."
Nevertheless, the rest of this remarkable story, which took place a century ago, will have to wait for another time...
(This story will be most likely be concluded in a chapter (or two), since this only skimmed the surface of Australia's early 19th century 'All-In' craze -- in a book I've been working on... Save your pennies!)
† -- This revised article by our guest columnist John S. Nash has been 'crossposted' to Cagesideseats.com today (Nov. 04, 2012). In addition to delving into wrestling's past for Cageside Seats, Mr. Nash has regularly chronicled the forgotten history of mixed martial arts at our fellow SBNation Blog: BloodyElbow.com, and the now defunct "Head Kick Legend", where the original form of this article was also posted back on March 5, 2012. Cageside Seats is proud to feature the cross-posting of his entire archive of articles in this exclusive guest column for your enjoyment. To read more fascinating articles from Mr. Nash, simply bookmark this link and remember to check back frequently for new content.
EN 4: "The History of Judo" from the Judo Federation of Australia. Mr. Elliot gave the demonstration alongside Mr. Young, and was assisted by a young lady who would become the future Mrs. Elliott (the two would spend their later days in Atherton, Queensland, teaching Judo and jujutsu from their backyard). This has often been reported as being the first demonstration of jujutsu ever given in Australia, but there had been demonstration of Judo given in 1897 by a naval officer and former student of Kano Jigoro named Yuasa Takejiro.
EN 6: Records indicate that Fukushima had been born in Saitama prefecture in the year of Meiji 21 (1888), making him no more than 18 when he arrived to the dominion. The same sources suggest that during his youth, he had studied either Ryugo-ryu, Tenjin Shinyo Ryu and/or Datio Ryu, but I could find nothing definitive.
EN 10: The Argus, 17 April 1909
EN 12: The Register, 24 April 1909
EN 14: The Register, 30 April 1909