I’m a big fan of old Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and Catch Wrestling books. I have lots and lots of martial arts books, but some of the real jewels of my library are the Judo and wrestling books published in the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Not all are original – some are reprinted editions – but all offer very interesting historical perspectives on modern grappling.
There is just something special about seeing grapplers from long ago demonstrating techniques that are still used today on mats all over the world.
Fortunately the era of the internet means that we now have unprecedented access to the information of yesteryear.
For example, I just watched a super-cool video of what might be the earliest example of Japanese martial arts ever caught on film. Even though it’s more than 100 years old, the very same throws are still used today in both Judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. (Well, the throws that haven’t been banned, anyhow).
Once we move ahead from the early 1900’s into the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, it becomes a lot easier to find footage of the various forms of grappling.
For example, here’s Tsunetane Oda showing a lot of moves that are still 100% relevant today. Unlike many of his contemporaries (and most modern Judoka) for whom Judo was mostly a standup sport, Oda apparently believed that Judo consisted of 50% standing work and 50% groundwork.
Another interesting source for old grappling footage is from the early British Jiu-jitsu community (which seems rather obsessed by women who could beat up men).
- The ‘Weaker Sex’ Teaches Jiu-Jitsu Self Defense Tips
- A demonstration of Ju-Jitsu from the 20’s or 30’s
- More woman’s ju-jitsu for self defense (I love the accent plus the bathing suit!)
Moving more into western grappling arts like wrestling, here’s what an old time wrestling practice might have looked like:
And here’s a catch wrestling match from 1903 (including the weirdest application of the guard I’ve ever seen):
People have been rolling around on the ground for millenia, and there’s only so many ways to flip someone over or to twist a limb to make your opponent say ‘Uncle!’