Oh, Goody. Another Martial Arts Post

This one will have a little bit of a twist, though.

“On the evening of March 9th (1914), St Andrew’s Hall was packed to capacity with a crowd largely sympathetic to the Suffragettes’ cause. The Bodyguard carefully surveyed the crowd from their vantage point, a semi-circle of chairs set up on the stage directly behind the speaker’s podium. Garlands of white and purple flowers decorated the edge of the stage and banners bearing the Suffragette mottoes, “Deeds Not Words” and “Votes for Women” were strung high above them.

The Glasgow police had taken no chances, surrounding the entire hall with a cordon and also stationing 50 constables in the basement. The atmosphere was tense, even more so when the appointed hour of 8.00 came and went with no sign of Mrs. Pankhurst. Many members of the audience doubted that she could possibly break through the cordon, no matter how many Bodyguards she might have to help her. Thus, when she suddenly appeared on the stage, the effect was like magic; though, as with the most apparently sophisticated illusions, the principle was simple misdirection. After spreading a rumour that she would attempt to breach the cordon, she had in fact arrived at the hall early and in disguise, paid for her ticket like any other member of the public, and taken a seat close to the platform.”

From Escapes and Adventures

People these days tend to forget the various Women’s suffrage movements across the globe were less than peaceful things.  In this day and age – at least in the civilized parts of the world – most people tend to take the idea of women voting as a given.  Why the hell shouldn’t they?  In the early 1900s (and still in some parts of the globe), the idea of women voting was anathema to a huge part of the population, including a lot of women of time.  Like most changes in power, this one had to be seized and wrenched free of the grip of people who just plain didn’t like the idea of women voting.  And the people who had the power had (and still have) very little compunction about using that power abusively.


The reasons against Women’ suffrage were as multifarious and specious as the arguments against racial equality, gender equality, and gay marriage.  They ranged from the simplistic notion that women simply couldn’t understand the issues at stake and, therefore, were incapable of making good decisions.  The beauty of this argument was the self-fulfilling nature of it.  Women got a different education at the time and it was usually lacking in things that didn’t involve teaching kids, folding laundry, or doing dishes.  So, if a guy were to ask a woman what she might have thought about the League of Nations, she probably didn’t have much of an answer  because she’d never had the opportunity to learn enough to form an opinion.

Thus, it was pretty simple to say, “Women just can’t understand the issues at stake.”

Of course, if you asked the average Joe on the street in the early 1900s what he thought of the League of Nations and you wouldn’t get much of a response from him either.  To be fair, take the average person on the street right now and ask what they think of the United Nations or NATO and you’ll likely get some insane conspiracy theory, but not everyone can be an expert can everything.

So, what does this have to do with martial arts?  Well, quite a lot actually.  But first, let’s a take a stroll through history and look at a little system called Jiu Jitsu.

Martial arts can largely be categorized into a few broad categories: striking arts (Kenpo, Karate, Wushu, Krav Maga), grappling arts (Aikido, Kuai Jiao, Judo, Jiu Jitsu), and weapons arts (Kenjutsu).  Grappling arts trend toward using throws and joint locks and, like all systems, have their ups and downs.  Jiu Jitsu was developed back in the Samurai days as a form of unarmed combat against fell Samurai.

Samurai primarily relied on weapons like the katana, naginata, bow and arrow, yari, things like that.  As a result of their weapons use, Samurai tended to wear armor designed to protect them against those very weapons.  Their same armor that will protect you against a sword does a pretty good job of protecting you from a fist or a foot.

Go ahead, Fist of the Northstar, punch one of these guys.

Go ahead, Fist of the Northstar, punch one of these guys.

Striking arts are pretty much useless against an armored opponent unless you’re one of the agents from the Matrix.  What does work against an armored opponent is a throw.  The cool thing about throwing someone is armor really doesn’t do much against being slammed on the ground hard.

This doesn't have anything to do with Jiu Jitsu or women's suffrage, I just thought it was really cool.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Jiu Jitsu or women’s suffrage, I just thought it was really cool.

Another cool thing about throwing someone is, contrary to what pro-wrestling may imply, when you learn how to do it correctly tossing someone around doesn’t require much in the way of strength.  Learn to do it right and you’ll be using your opponent’s weight and power against them; essentially encouraging your opponent to throw himself (or herself).  Joint locks work basically the same way.  Learn to use good technique and a joint lock doesn’t take much effort.

Now, what does Jiu Jitsu have to do with Women’s Suffrage?  Remember the part about people with power exercising that power?  When you really piss off the establishment they have precisely zero problems with beating your ass down.  Those cops in referred to in the first couple paragraphs of this post were there to stop Emmeline Pankhurst from delivering a speech about how women should be able to vote.  They would have gleefully beaten her down and arrested her for wanting to have a say in how her life was run.

One of the women that had a problem with this philosophy of beating hell out of women was a woman named Edith Margaret Garrud.  Garrud was 4’11” and didn’t back down from a fight with the cops.  She was married to William Garrud (quite the badass himself, by all accounts) and together the learned, among other things, Jiu Jitsu from the first guy to teach Jiu Jitsu in Europe: Edward William Barton-Wright, the same guy that developed Bartitsu (the martial art used by Sherlock Holmes).

Bartitsu, the gentlemanly art of beating holy hell out of people with your cane.

Bartitsu, the gentlemanly art of beating holy hell out of people with your cane.

Garrud had no qualms about teaching other women Jiu Jitsu and it soon became known as Suffrajitsu.  Needless to say, the cops of the time were less than thrilled about this development; they wanted to bust up these women not get tossed around like rag dolls.  The police spent a great deal of time and effort tracking down Garrud and her Bodyguard group (referenced in the opening paragraphs) but never managed to stop her.  Blood was spilled, heads were busted, and cops were tossed around like rag dolls.  Garrud, Pankhurst, and the rest of the Bodyguard knew they were outnumbered, knew they’d be busted (literally and figuratively) if they were caught, but went forward anyway.

The story of women’s suffrage is long and brutal, full of escapades and adventures, heroes, heroines and villains.  It was a hard-fought battle, and right finally wrested from the iron hand of tyranny only through dedication and no small amount of violence.  In the end, women have won rights to vote in most places; there are still some countries that don’t afford women much in the way of any rights, let alone voting rights, but most of the world finally wised up and decided to treat women as humans.  And there’s no doubt Edith Margaret Garrud had a hand in dumping the old ways on their heads.



For those of you who are writers there are lots of tales of valor and dastardly acts of cowardice to explore (see the links at the bottom).  For those of you who are martial artists, this is one of the rare times in modern history when fighting skills actually changed the world.  Sure, learning to defend yourself is great when you’re jumped in a 7-11 parking lot, but it’s a pretty rare occurrence when hand-to-hand combat actually makes a difference in the world these days.  And, let’s be frank here, going to hand-to-hand with the cops is a whole different thing from stopping a guy who wants your wallet.

Events like this are what a lot of martial artists dream of; we’re regularly taught to not go out of our way to start problems but in this case the problem was already there and fighting skills helped change a world for the better.

Which leads me nicely to the picture that kicked off this whole post:


Some links about Women’s Suffrage and Edith Margaret Garrud

From Suffrajitsu, “Escapes and Adventures”

Suffrajitsu, The Amazons of Edwardian London

Baddass of the Week, Edith Garrud

Wiki on Edith Garrud

Wiki on Women’s Suffrage, including a list of countries that need to get thier shit together.