A couple of weeks ago, I went to Powell’s Book Store, a huge bookstore in Portland that had the biggest martial arts section I’ve ever seen with a variety of new and used books on every topic. I bought half a dozen books, but my most valued find was an old book, The Complete Jujitsuan, that was originally published in 1915.
I am always on the look-out for old martial arts books like that for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they’re interesting to read from a historical perspective. The writings reflect the unique attitudes toward training and combat of the time and place during which it was written. The demonstrators wear clothes that are customary for the era, which can make for differences in movement strategy. The techniques sometimes comprise of different moves or even weapons that have fallen out of favour. And sometimes you find different techniques or ways of applying familiar techniques that are new to you.
Old knowledge has a way of becoming new again. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu lays claim to a wide variety of ground fighting techniques, but many of them are not unique to the style. Many “new” BJJ techniques can be found in old Judo tomes that are no longer in circulation. It’s not that BJJ guys are necessarily copying Judo. Much of the Judo ground game has changed over the decades as the rules of the sport changed to de-emphasize ground fighting. As a result, much of what was once taught as part of the art of Judo has faded into obscurity, limited in appearance to the books that were printed in earlier times when it was more in favour. So many of the ground techniques that appear in BJJ are old Judo techniques that were taught at the time it was introduced in Brazil. (*To be clear, Judo was a “new” name for a lineage of Jiu-jitsu in Japan in the 1910’s and the man who brought the art to Brazil, Mitsyo Maeda, decided to call what he taught “Jiu-jitsu” so as to separate his teachings from Jigoro Kano’s Judo even though his teachings were very much from that lineage.)
Check out Higher Judo Ground Work written by Feldenkreis in the 1952. You can download it here. You’ll notice many techniques in this book look a lot like what is taught in BJJ. This is not to say that BJJ hasn’t evolved the ground game over the decades. It most certainly has with its intense focus on this aspect of fighting. It’s just nice to know the roots of a style.
Originally printed in 1912, it offers some of the history of the style as it developed in England. Everyone has old school moustaches and trains in gis with short pants, very different from the gis worn by BJJ and Judo practitioners these days. While the photography is less than ideal, as would be expected for the era, I found some interesting techniques I intend to experiment with.
Handbook of Self-Defense for Law Enforcement Officers
This is a booked I picked up at a used book store last year. Written in 1955, the demonstrators wear suits and fedoras, which makes sense from a self-defense point of view as that is what you would likely end up having to defend yourself in, cop or civilian. The book also includes a information on the use and defense against old school weapons like the blackjack and the 50s style police club.
I have other books like this, and will keep expanding my collection as long as I keep finding these types of books. Printed books are starting to fade as a medium, so I want to get as much of this old knowledge as possible before everything goes digital.
Do you have any old school martial arts books you would recommend for my collection? If so, let me know in the comments so I can keep an eye out for them.