Ju-Jitsu UK History

The origins of Ju-Jitsu in the U.K. 

Perhaps the first mention of Ju-Jitsu in Great Britain was an article published in the ‘Idler’ in October 1892 by G.B. Burgin. It was called: ‘Japanese Fighting: Self Defence by Sleight of Body’. In this article Burgin had been aided by Takashima Shidachi of Tokyo. Shidachi had given a lecture on JuJitsu to the Japan Society of London in 1892.

[Figure 1: A picture from the article in the Idler (1882) depicting an assailant being thrown with a shoulder throw (seoi nage)]

It was only a few years after the publication of the article in the idler before a Railway Engineer called Edward William Barton-Wright introduced the practice of Ju-Jitsu in London. Barton-Wright developed an eclectic fighting system called Bartitsu. Part of this Bartitsu system was Japanese Ju-Jitsu, with instruction delivered by a couple of young Japanese experts called Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi who both arrived in London in 1900.

[Figure 2: Barton-Wright demonstrating a straight arm lock (ude gatame), published in Pearson’s Magazine, March, 1899, 269-275]

After only a few years Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu club ceased operating. Tani and Uyenishi would now be managed by Scottish strongman and promotor William Bankier (stage name of Apollo). Banker would tour the music halls with Tani and Uyenishi (stage name of Raku) challenging all comers to wrestling contests. Appearances in music halls greatly increased the popularity of Ju-Jitsu. In 1903 Sadakazu Uyenishi opened what can be considered the first Ju-Jitsu dojo in the U.K. and possibly Europe. Uyenishi’s club was called the School of Japanese Self Defence, and was located at 31, Golden Square, Piccadilly Circus, London. In 1905 Uyenishi wrote one of the first authentic English texts on Ju-Jitsu (Text Book of Ju Jutsu as Practised in Japan) and was the subject of many other articles written about his teaching and demonstrations. Uyenishi recognised that Ju-Jitsu was for everyone and stated:

Uyenishi Left
[Figure 3: Picture of Uyenishi (leS) and Tani (right) from ‘Ju-Jitsu: What it really is’ by William Bankier (Apollo), 1904]

After a violent storm, it is generally the heavier and sturdy trees which have suffered most, whereas smaller plants, possessing plenty of elasticity, easily withstand the rough usage, because they offer the minimum of resistance to the opposing force. For this reason Ju-Jitsu enables light and weak men and women to withstand heavy and strong adversaries. [Uyenishi c1905]

The ‘Golden Square Dojo’ has a very important place in British martial arts history and would influence British society in a number of ways; famously the suffragettes, who, in addition to using Ju-Jitsu as a means of self-defence, used Ju-Jitsu politically to show that women can be the physical
equal of men. For more information on the Golden Square Dojo and its importance in the U.K. please see the following article:


[Figure 4: A picture from Punch, July 6th, 1910, called ‘The Suffragege that know Jiu-jitsu’ depicting Edith Garrud, former student of Uyenishi, and Ju-Jitsu instructor to suffragettes]
[Figure 5: Picture of Uyenishi and his signature from ‘The Ladys Realm’ 1905]

Although Uyenishi left the U.K. in 1907, his Golden Square Dojo carried on until the mid-1920s and leaves behind a rich martial arts legacy. Uyenishi’s teachings inspired future generations to practise Ju-Jitsu, and importantly, to practise an ethos of inclusion and equality. From the Golden Square Dojo of Uyenishi, to the BJJA(GB) of today, Ju-Jitsu remains important to the people and communities of the U.K.