I recently had a chance to explore and organize a large database of vintage newspaper articles. This material was gathered as part of my on-going “Kung Fu Diplomacy” project. Yet every so often I ran across news items which, while not really related to that project, are still quite interesting.
We generally talk about the rise of the mixed martial arts as though it is a totally new phenomenon, but in truth it is only the latest incarnation of a very old impulse within the Asian martial arts. It is hard not to look at the specific histories of certain styles (Jingwu, Choy Li Fut and Five Ancestors all come to mind) and not notice a similar acquisitive impulse.
Still, if we fast forward to the early 20th century one can find much more direct analogues. As the forces of imperialism and globalization brought the fighting arts of East and West into contact, it seemed almost inevitable that certain pioneers (including Edward Barton-Wright, the creator of the Bartitsu system) would seek to combine them in a more substantive sense.
Not all of these meetings were equally cooperative and harmonious in nature. Certain fight promoters realized that a profit could be made by matching up Asian and Western fighters in an attempt to satiate the curiosity of the ticket purchasing public. Typically these matches pitted Japanese judo exponents against Western boxers (or less frequently wrestlers). Given the cultural anxiety caused by Japan’s rapid military rise (which threatened Western notions of racial hierarchy) seemingly technical or sporting discussions of jujitsu often took on a political subtext. Indeed, Wendy Rouse has shown that parts of the sporting press tried quite hard to paint judo as a fundamentally underhanded and “unmanly” art.
This tendency was not, however, universal. The Japanese martial arts had their admirers. And it seems that some individuals were genuinely curious as to what would happen when the various styles of hand combat met.
This brings us to the subject of today’s post. In the autumn of 1925 a fight promoter by the name of Fred Jobson (who seems to have arranged quite a few events in Australia) arrived in Shanghai with a crew of Filipino boxers. One suspects that their presence was not an accident as a traveling group of judo competitors were also in the city prior to embarking on a tour of North America. The group of fighters put on at least three shows, and possibly more, in the space of a couple of weeks. In each case audiences were treated to boxing and judo matches followed by a number of fights pitting the two styles against each other. Chinese martial artists (whose practice was referred to as “national boxing”) also staged exhibition bouts on the same card. Thus in 1925, a patron might see boxing, judo and kung fu, all on the same night.
We are fortunate in that the first performance generated enough public interest for The China Press to publish a follow up article summarizing the events of the first exhibition, and telling us a little bit about what to expect when the two groups of fighters staged a repeat performance a few weeks later. These articles are brief, and they speak for themselves. Still, readers should look for at least three key points.
First off, the judo students acquitted themselves rather well throughout their time in Shanghai. In fact, the boxers had a difficult time laying a glove on them (in a meaningful way). If one were to assume that the point of a fight was to establish the tactical (and ultimately moral) superiority of one system or the other, this would seem to be the end of the story. And indeed, when such contests (theoretical or otherwise) were discussed in the popular press one sometimes got the sense that they were fundamentally a morality play about nationalism or race.
But the problem for Fred Jobson was that a series of blow-outs is just not very entertaining for a paying audience, no matter what it suggests about the legitimacy of Japan’s place in international society. Ultimately what the fans and athletes seemed to want was a contest between individuals, and not just styles. As such it is interesting to note that the Filipino boxers began to alter both their training programs and fighting techniques so they could meet their Japanese opponents on more even ground. In a very real sense their fighting style was changed by their contact with judo.
Second, its interesting to note that Chinese boxing was present on both fight cards. Clearly its not seen as quite up to the same level as boxing or judo. It is framed as a diversion to help ease the tension of the night (note for instance that the real names of the Chinese martial artists are not listed on the card). Still, there seems to be a tacit consensus that it fits within the same social category as the other two fighting systems. That is interesting to me as earlier in the 20th century this was not always the case. While Westerners tended to use the term “boxing” when referring to Chinese practices, they also emphasized the degree to which these arts were by design more similar to dance or gymnastics. By the mid 1920s that perception was changing (at least in some quarters). Readers might also note that by the end of the series Chinese wrestlers were competing with the international athletes, and not just each other. Thus their role in the series was expanding.
Finally, students of gender and nationalism will find some interesting tidbits in these articles. Evidently a mixed martial arts competition was thought to be suitable for ladies in a way that serious prizefighting was not, possibly because of its “educational” nature. And finally, one cannot help but notice that the boxers in question were only labeled as “Filipino” after their first blow-out.
Historians have noted that Shanghai was a center of innovation within the Republican era martial arts. The ever eclectic Jingwu Association arose in Shanghai as did innovations in Western policing and combat tactics. The following articles help to remind us that both national and global currents fed this creative and innovative wellspring.
Boxers Battle Ju-Jitsu Men at the Carlton
Interesting Card For Next Tuesday With Visiting Japanese Stars
A great deal of interest is being taken in the outcome of the Tuesday night’s entertainment Fred Jobson has arranged, which will bring together his best boxers and some of the troupe of eight Japanese ju-jitsu experts who are now in Shanghai, and who are leaving for America at the end of the week to take part in Championship contests to be staged in San Francisco and New York.
The most celebrated of the judo men is Yamamoto, champion of Japan, who will face Battling Demetrio in the principal event of the evening, and a very exciting contest is sure to result. Demetrio is by far the best local boy, even though Little Cowboy is out after his hide and thinks he has a chance of being cock of the big stable.
Young Gonzalo, the hard-hitting little slugger, will be matched with the next best boy, in the form of Yunoki. Gonzalo has met several of the judo men while on his tour of Japan, and was victorious in most cases. He is confident that he can send the husky Japanese boy to bye-bye. Little Cowboy has the best chance as to weight, as he meets Takahara, the smallest and youngest of the troupe, but incidentally the most active. Joe Sacramento will be able to use his long right cross very effectively against Hashizuma, as he won’t have to worry about guarding his chin, which took up most of his time in his bout with the Cowboy.
Apart from having four of the best boys in action against the Japanese, Celino Flores will be seen in action against Young Salvador in a fast six round bout, which should be action from start to finish.
According to Fred Jobson who knows what the dames like, Tuesday night will be an ideal night for the ladies, as it will be run more on the lines of an entertainment than a prize fight, and will be both interesting and educational. The program will include four bouts of ju-jitsu vs. boxing, one boxing match, one ju-jitsu match between Nishiyama and Yoshida, one bout of national boxing of the Chinese, vaudeville acts, and music.
To all those who have never seen two Chinese boxing in their own way it will afford an opportunity of seeing two of the best local Chinese boys in action.
Last year bouts were staged between boxers and judo men, but left a bad taste owing to the disputes which arose from not having a set of rules confining each contestant to certain limitations, but we are informed that a set of rules has been drawn up which will eliminate all arguments.
October 27th, 1925. The China Press (Shanghai).
Night of Thrills Promised at the Palais de Punch
Boxing vs. Judo Again; Fair Conditions and 5 Ounce Gloves
Tonight promises a series of real thrills at the Carlton, when the second program of boxing vs. judo will be staged. The card of mixed bouts a couple of weeks ago was attended by a crowd which packed the Palais de Punch to the doors, and there was more real scrapping than was ever seen in that place in one night in its history, with the whole crowd on its feet and roaring its lungs out to one side or the other.
Tonight’s contests, like the previous ones, will be between the best of the Filipino boys here and a bunch of the cleverest judo men in Japan. Some of these judo men lay claim to being champions, and in any case they are all “black belt” men, the exclusive class of absolutely first-rate Ju-Jitsu artists.
The rules that have been made up for the contest are very fair, and give an opportunity for each side to make points for each fair punch, for each arm or leg lock, and more for the deadly strangle hold. A kayo, of course, is a kayo, and settles things right there.
In the previous match the Filipinos were handicapped by wearing eight ounce gloves. As a general thing, a Japanese judo man is at best the equal of a good boxer, and when we consider that these Japanese are near-champions at their art, and the Filipino boys here, while certainly very good, are not the top-notchers of their profession, certainly every chance must be given the boxers. This was made clear in the previous bouts, when he boxers, handicapped by their thick gloves, were defeated in one fight after another, though they certainly put up some thrilling scraps.
Tonight, however, the boxers will wear five-ounce gloves, which should certainly equalize things more. In the first place, they will be able to catch hold of their opponents when necessary—rather clumsily, of course, but they can get a fairly good hold—and in the second case their punches are going to count a lot more. There was some doubt as to whether the Japanese would agree to these conditions, but they have finally consented, and with the contestants on a more equal basis tonight should see some spectacular contests.
In addition, the boxers have gained some considerable experience by their bouts with the judo men the last couple of weeks, both at the Carlton and at the Japanese Theatre. We understand that they have been training, with their stable-mates trying the judo stuff, and are confident of avoiding a lot of their former spills. Cowboy and Albano particularly have been working hard, and the latter winds up like a cricket bowler for his uppercut. When he connects someone is damaged.
With the rules now definite and clear, the delays which occurred on the first night should be avoided. That night the only boy who had any previous experience was Gonzalo, and the minor points caused considerable misunderstanding, but the Japanese had no protests to make whatever in the two or more recent programs, and tonight’s card is expected to go through without a hitch in the run of thrills.
To relieve the tension bit, there will be some Chinese Boxing, and Chinese wrestling versus ju-jitsu, and these should add further to the crowd’s enjoyment.
Fans will note that the program is starting earlier tonight, in the hope of getting through by mid-[night].
November 12, 1925. The China Press (Shanghai).
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