InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives Feb 2003
EJMAS Tips Jar

Training the Helpless Flapper to Fight Her Own Battles

From Literary Digest 94, August 27, 1927, pp. 47-48.

President Roosevelt was looking over some ju-jutsu pictures presented to him by Capt. J. J. O’Brien, the man who introduced that Japanese art of self-defense to America. The President halted at one of the pictures and regarded it at length. Looking over his shoulder, Captain O’Brien saw that it was a picture of a woman straight-arming a man with her stiffened fingers jabbing his eyes. A little worried lest this maneuver should make an unfavorable impression, the Captain stammered:

"Mr. President, a dangerous situation requires a desperate defense. That was invented to give a woman protection against a thug who suddenly attacked her."

Colonel Roosevelt’s response, according to a writer in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, was reassuring.

"I think, Captain," he is reported to have said, "that this is the best thing in your repertory."

To-day, with the greater freedom claimed by girls in their teens, and with new and menacing conditions introduced by the automobile and other modern factors, it is considered more important than ever that young women should be trained to defend themselves in an emergency. For this purpose Captain O’Brien has worked out a system of what he calls "modified" ju-jutsu, consisting holds and tricks by which the frailest girl can being an assailant to the ground and make him beg for money." There is no need for a woman to be defenseless, says Captain O’Brien, "when the practice of several easy methods will give her ample protection against any thug, strangler or flirt who seems to have the advantage of her. Girls don’t have to suffer mauling or the unwelcome arm of a sheik when the knowledge of modified ju-jutsu will give them complete command of the situation."

The Ledger writer tells us that Captain O’Brien is "a graduate of the old navy of wooden ships," and that he served as police inspector in Nagasaki for some years before returning home and teaching President Roosevelt ju-jutsu. Moreover:

Captain O’Brien numbers among his people some of the most prominent people in the country, among them, Secretary of War Dwight Davis , former Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell and Dr. John B. Deaver the famous surgeon. He has taught instructors of the police force of various cities, and also members of the Pennsylvania State Police. He has also taught many women of social prominence his system of defense.

During the war [World War I] he demonstrated that part of his method which would be effective against the enemy, to hundreds of instructors, and the treatment to which he has been subjected by the vigorous application of his technique by his students has resulted in the partial atrophy of his left arm.

"The system is based upon knowledge of mechanical principles which function in the human body and upon rules of leverage," said Captain O’Brien. "One time R. Tait McKenzie , sculptor and supervisor of physical instruction at the University of Pennsylvania, tried these principles out on bodies in the dissection room at the University, and proved that full application of the force which can be exerted in defense will break bones and tear apart the muscles."

"The reason this method is so successful is that it catches the assailant unawares. A man who gets set for it could avoid close contact with his victim, but when he gets near enough, there is no defense."

"Take a very common occurrence where a man attempts to flirt with a girl, walks up alongside her and, starting a conversation, takes hold of her arm. She slides her arm under his as if about to draw him nearer to her. The sheik wouldn’t object to that. He probably would be delighted to think he had made such a hit that that the girl was ready to embrace him."

"As her arm goes under his, she brings it on top of his arm above his elbow and puts on a little pressure. His arm straightens out and he is at her mercy. As she puts on more force she moves as if to straighten her arm, but what she is doing is to bend his arm in the direction opposite to the natural swing at the elbow."

"He can not extricate himself. His arm is caught in a vise from which he can not withdraw, and if he attempts to reach her with his other arm, he is prevented from turning to face her by the fact that her position bars him from swinging his free arm toward her."

"She can punish him more severely by gripping the hand on his arm with her free hand and pulling down on it. This will force the sheik toward the pavement, and she can give him a jerk, sending him head over heels, and go calmly on her way. A quick pull will break his elbow."

"This is a long explanation, but practice it with a friend and see how quickly and simply it can be done with hardly any effort."

"The girls would probably like to know what to do when a man attacks them without much warning, as has been happening in the cases constantly reported in the newspapers."

"Suppose a thug approaches a girl, bars her way and attempts to persuade her to accompany him. The girl draws back in some terror. He steps forward to grasp her with his arms. If she will shoot her arm out quickly with two fingers stiffened and aim at his eyeballs, it will be some time before this sheik tries to annoy a woman again."

"If the flirt has succeeded in grabbing her around the waist, the best trick is to lift the palm of the hand against the end of the nose and apply it with some force. Shove up and back. The man’s head will soon shoot back with such vim that he will release the girl, and she will be free to go on her way."

Next we are asked to suppose that the bully has caught the young woman by the throat and is making it impossible for her to shout for help. What one does instinctively, says the Captain, is to reach up and try to pull the clutching hands away from the throat, but –

"You can’t get free that way. It is almost impossible to make an attacker give up a grip on the throat by dragging at his hands. The way to make a defense against a strangler is to lift a hand to one of the hands around your throat. Bend just one of his fingers back in a firm grip and force this one finger toward the attacker. Act as if you were trying to break the finger."

"Small as that finger is, turning it backward toward the outside of the hand will cause him so much suffering that his whole body will reset backward in the direction his finger is being pushed, and the hold of the other hand on the girl’s throat will be relaxed."

"The girl now passes from the defense to the attack. Her assailant has been completely disconcerted by the counter-attack and is so completely absorbed by his suffering that if she moves quickly there is no difficulty in the next step."

"She brings her other arm under, around and on top of his, using force and still pushing the single finger backward. This position keeps the thug sideways to her, making it impossible for him to bring his other arm into play to fight her off, and she can either keep him under control and push down the street to where she can obtain help, or with a sudden application of force throw the man over on his back and run away."

"If a man grabs a girl from behind and puts his arms around her, she can use an old wrestling trick. Just swing the body sideways a little so that the nearest foot can be slipt (sic) behind him, place this foot between his feet and then straighten a little and he will lose his balance and be thrown backward. If executed quickly, this will knock a man off his feet."

These holds all deal with the methods of defense if a woman is caught in the street. But in many of the cases reported to the police a man is able to penetrate into the house and catch a woman all alone, with no means of protecting herself at hand, or trapt (sic) in a room where she can not summon help.

Captain O’Brien was asked to describe a few tricks which would help a housewife fight off a man already in the house.

"A man who has made his way into the house on a pretext," he said, "usually begins by pretending to be courteous and gentle. If a woman is afraid of her visitor and begins to suspect he will not leave the house until he achieves his real errand, she can begin throwing him out by taking his hand. A man will ordinarily not object to a woman taking his hand. All she wants is two fingers. Closing firmly on them, lift his arm up and bend his fingers back and he must go in the direction she wants him to move."

"It is important not to face the man, but to swing sideways. Here again it is impossible for him to grab her with his free hand, and the backward pressure on his fingers will readily make him behave. She can thus back him out through an open door or hold him helpless while she summons aid."

Athletes who have studied Captain O’Brien’s system agree that these maneuvers, if intelligently rehearsed, actually equip a slender girl to repel a sinister assailant with heavy loss. The important thing is for the victim to keep her head, remember the motions she has learned, and not allow fear of failure to upset her. The Captain continues:

"If she can get his hand between both of hers, she can twist him in another way. This grip is accomplished by holding the man’s hand with your two thumbs prest (sic) against the back of his hand and twisting his arm. If full pressure is applied, his body will swing sideways and unbalance him, and he can easily be thrown, if that is desirable."

"Of course, these hand-and-finger holds can also be used outside on the street, if the situation that occurs makes them the most desirable."

"Twisting a man’s head is another hold that can be used if the man happens to be fighting to remain inside by bracing himself against the doorway. A direct attempt to push him out is sure to fail, because his strength is supported by the walls against which he has braced himself. He must be taken away from this position. That can be done by placing one hand on his chin and the other on the side of the head and turning his head. A strong pull will jerk him away from the door, and he is off balance, a slight push will throw him through the doorway."

"A cool head and the ability to think fast in an emergency are, of course, essential. A girl must keep her wits about her and be prepared to act quickly. A few rehearsals of these simple tricks will give her confidence."

InYo Feb 2003