Ladies and Safety

Another combination of my favourite subjects: stage combat and Edwardian self-defense. To add "...and ladies" would have been very sexist, why would you think I'd say something so rude? Oh yeah, the title of this article.

Let me just say at the outset that women tend to be more concerned with personal safety than men because of the long history (and continued) violence against women perpetuated by men. Let's face it, there's very few reports of attacks on women by other women in all of history. To be prepared for an assault from a larger and more muscular foe full of testosterone and backed by a patriarchal society is something every woman worries about.

So to me it's no surprise that Bartitsu was espoused by the suffragette movement, and women embraced jiu jitsu especially.

To wit, here's an interview with a New York lady from The Evening World newspaper in 1921. The original link is here, what follows is my transcription:

Using Jiu Jitsu on Time and Mashers, Mrs. De Hart Tells How to Master Pests In Three-Minute Hot Weather Interview

Woman Who Has Laid Low 40 or 50 So-Called “Men” Proves She Is as Clever and Forceful in Speech as She Is in Using Her Steel-Spring Muscles in Protecting Herself Against Attentions of Pestiferous Males.

By Fay Stevenson.
Of course any woman who is clever and quick enough to “nab” every masher who annoys her by using her shillelagh or using a few jiu jitsu grips is clever and quick enough to pass The Evening World’s three-minute hot weather interview test with flying colors. Leave that to her!
When Mrs. Eleanor De Hart, an attractive widow, captured her fortieth or fiftieth masher (she is not quite certain of the number), I thought it was high time to ask this courageous lady a few questions which might be useful to some of her weaker sisters if she would answer them.
A few days ago Mrs. De Hart was accosted in Central Park by a man describing himself as James Zamorelli, twenty-five years old, a Post Office employee. Mrs. De hart did not have her shillelagh (more of this little weapon later), but she gave him a few strenuous jiu jitsu grips and then Policeman Lawlor of the Arsenal Station came to her aid.
Magistrate Silberman of the Night Court complimented Mrs. De Hart for her spirit, sentenced the man to one day in the workhouse and would have made the sentence more severe if the man had not possessed an excellant war record. Then the Magistrate said he though he had seen Mrs. De Hart in court as complainant in similar cases and she admitted that she had arraigned many other flirters recently and obtained a conviction in each case.
Naturally, I expected to see a sturdy, athletic woman when I rang the bell to Mrs. De Hart’s apartment at No. 949 Amsterdam Avenue, but instead a slender, daintily built woman of medium height, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, met me and smilingly ushered me in.
“You see I’m not a cave woman or anything like that,” laughed Mrs. De Hart. “I am simply disgusted with these men who go about the city trying to force themselves upon women of all ages, young and old.”
Then Mrs. De Hart explained that she was the widow of a New York dentist, had no living children and liked to feel that she could go about the city unmolested.
“I was always interested in self-defense and wanted to develop my right arm,” said this plucky little widow as she held forth a decidedly well developed one. “Any woman can have an arm like that and with a few jiu jitsu grips she will be safe anywhere at any time. I don’t believe in dumbell exercises. I used an eight-pound flatiron in each hand when I was a young girl. I took arm exercises with these irons regularly for several years and that is the secret of my strength.”
Then I told Mrs. De Hart about The Evening World’s three-minute interviews and she immediately caught the spirit of the thing.
“Quick arm work and head work ought to go together,” she declared. “There’s my alarm clock on the desk. It says 12.15.”
“That is just right with my wrist watch,” I said and her decidedly well developed arm motioned a gay “We’re off.”

First Minute.

Gets Through First Five Questions Just on Time.
Q. No. 1 – Is an unprotected woman safe from mashers onthe streets of New York City at any hour of the day or night?”
Mrs. De Hart (unhesitatingly) – If she understands how to take her own part.
Q. No. 2 – Is she just as safe at midnight on Broadway as at midday upon some side street?
Mrs. De Hart (her hazel eyes sparkling) – Broadway is the safest street in the world. It is like a public square, always light and always full of people. I have never met a masher on Broadway. The Gay White Way seems to be freer of mashers than the dark side streets.
Q. No. 3 – Where did you meet most of these mashers?
Mrs. De Hart (with experience) – On side streets mostly. Sometimes in the parks. Sometimes in the subway.
Q. No. 4 – How many mashers have you met in the last five years?
Mrs. De Hart (thinking a half second) – I must have met at tleast forty or fifty. I never kept a diary so I can’t be exact. The city is full of them. I suppose I might meet three or four a day if I went down often enough.
Q. No. 5 – What type of woman does the masher seek?
Mrs. De Hart – The woman who is alone. Usually he seeks the flapper or the widow. Then there is a degenerate type of masher who seeks the mother with children.

Second Minute.

Answers four questions, losing one in describing her shillelagh.
Q. No. 6 – What age is the average masher?
Mrs. De Hart (disdainfully) – They are all ages from boys in short trousers to old men of sixty-seven. At least that was the age the oldest masher I ever caught gave.
Q. No. 7 – What prominent characteristics does a woman need to fell a masher?
Mrs. De Hart (earnestly) – Just sheer pluck, courage and the power to take a man to court.
Q. No. 8 – Please describe your shillelagh and how you use it?
Mrs. De Hart (standing upand reaching for a hair-brush from a nearby bureau) – At present my shillelagh is at the Court House, so I cannot show it to you. It is a piece of rubber hose about ten inches long and has a strap which fastens about my arm. I can wear it or hide it behind a newspaper. A man who works for the subway gave it to me and told me it was once a part of the door. It will not kill a man, but hit him behind the ear like this with it (and here the hair-brush went into effect hitting an imaginary man), and it will fell him immediately. I always hit behind the ear because that is the centre of the nerves and it completely knocks him silly. The victim turns round and round in a dizzy whirl and is so stunned that I can sit on him if necessaryuntil I get a policeman.
Q. No. 9 – And if you do not have your shillelagh along, will the jiu jitsu be just as effective?
Mrs. De Hart – It was the last time, I always hit behind the ear, you know.

Third Minute.

Finishes Up Remaining Six Questions in Just the Allotted Time.
Q. No. 10 – What is the first thing to do to fell a masher?
Mrs. De Hart (sitting down again, but still holding tightly to the hair-brush) – Don’t stop to notice whether his eyes are blue or brown, just swing out for that nervous centre under his ear.
Q. No. 11 – And then?
Mrs. De Hart (with a smile playing about her lips) – Call the doctor or a policeman.
Q. No. 12 – And what does the masher do?
Mrs. De Hart (still smiling) – He cries just the way you would expect that type of cad to do. Whirling around and around with dizziness, he lets out a cry or a whimper like a beaten dog.
Q. No. 13 – Have you found the policemen and Magistrates in sympathy with you?
Mrs. De Hart – They have always been co-operative, and all of the mashers have been convicted.
Q. No. 14 – If more women would follow your example, could we clean New York up of these so-called mashers?
Mrs. De Hart (emphatically) – In a very few days.
Q. No. 15 – I suppose you do not know what the word afraid means, and that old song “I’m Afraid to Go Home in the Dark” means nothing to you, does it?
Mrs. De Hart (with the smile of the victor and putting back the hair-brush) – Fortunately I do not. And every woman might tell the same story.
Mrs. De Hart looked at her alarm clock and I looked at my wrist watch.
It was just 12.18, and all was well.
There wasn’t a masher in sight.

With poise and confidence in her skills, Mrs. De Hart goes into the streets and frequently brings pestiferous males to the police and courts. I don't hold her up as a typical example... she's practically a superhero.

Speaking of female superheroes and the costumes that go with them, here's a volume that was brought to my attention by our own Jennifer Landels: Venus with Biceps: A Pictorial History of Muscular Women.

The fact that women think about personal safety more than men makes it no surprise to me that more female actors end up in stage combat class.

And that naturally leads me to my none-too-subtle plug: don't miss the Introduction to Stage Combat workshop this Sunday, 27 November, 2011. It's an easy four hours that are packed with practical information to keep you safe while performing the illusion of violence in dramatic scenes on stage or on film. You'll learn the principles and practice the techniques that culminates in a fun bare-hand fight that escalates to a full sword fight.

Here's my friend and great FDC stunt fighter, Casey Hudecki to round things off:


Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
Read more from David McCormick.