To compliment my recent article about bartitsu over on Tor.com, here’s a spotlight on Yukio Tani & Sadakazu Uyenishi.
In 1900, two young men took on an offer from Englishman Edward William Barton-Wright to take their art halfway across the globe, as two “Japanese wrestling” instructors at his Bartitsu Club. At 19 years-old when he arrived in England, Yukio Tani’s upbringing is unclear, but it is thought that he trained at Fusen-ryu dojo as well as Osaka’s “Handa School of Jiujitsu.” His fellow instructor, Sadakazu Uyenishi, was a year older and originally considered training for the military before deciding to go to England. He was knowledgeable not only in jujitsu, but also in rokushakubo and hanbo (types of staff fighting), horseback riding, sumo wrestling and kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship). Tani’s brother and another fighter named S. Yamamoto also arrived to teach at Barton-Wright’s school, but left after a year to return to Japan. Tani and Uyenishi ended up leaving a lasting mark upon England, being two of the first to bring jujitsu to Western Europe.
Tani was known to be bright and cheerful but then turning deadly serious on the mats. Uyenishi was also known around London for being the most fashionable dresser, and many interviewers commented on his attire.
While teaching at the school, both Tani and Uyenishi became involved in professional wrestling. In England, most matches were held in music halls as one of the nightly entertainments. After the Bartitsu Club closed in 1902, Tani turned out to be the showman of the two and continued wrestling under the management of William Bankier, also known as “Apollo the Scottish Hercules.” Under the nickname “the pocket Hercules,” Tani took to the music halls circuit, challenging both men off the streets and professional wrestlers from the Continent to rounds in the ring. According to the handbills given out — the original text is below — there was a standing wager of 100 guineas to anyone who could defeat him.
PARAGON THEATRE OF VARIETIES
MILE END ROAD E.
TO-NITE TO-NITE TO-NITE
Special Engagement of Apollo’s Wonderful
£100 to any man who can defeat him. Notwithstanding the physical disadvantages against heavier men (for Tani weighs 9 stone only), Apollo will pay any living man twenty guineas who Tani fails to defeat in fifteen minutes: Professional champion wrestlers specially invited. To induce amateurs to try their skill, Apollo will present a magnificent silver cup, value 40 guineas (supplied by Mappin Brothers) to the one who Tani fails to defeat. The amateur making the best show will receive a valuable gold medal. All entries must be received each evening before the contests.
His fame became widespread as a Japanese wrestler by 1903. On tour, Tani averaged defeating 20 men per week, and had many famous matches with several star wrestlers, such as the five-time amateur lightweight champion Ernest Gruhn, top wrestler Peter Gotz, and the well-known South African wrestler Tromp Van Diggellen. Of course, all of Tani’s opponents were at a disadvantage, since they wrestled according to Japanese submission grappling rules that most weren’t familiar with.
Even so, Tani was still considered a formidable opponent and was only defeated by three people during his touring. The accounts of two of them, made years later, do not sound completely credible, but it has been noted that Japanese jujitsu fighter Taro Miyake defeated him at the Tivoli theatre in December 1904.
Uyenishi, on the other hand, became an instructor at a self-defense academy run by a fellow Bartitsu instructor, the French savat trainer Pierre Vigny. In 1903 he started his own dojo called the School of Japanese Self Defence, at 31 Golden Square, Picadilly Circus. Under his wrestling name “Raku,” he later wrote a book about the art of jujitsu with fellow student E.H. Nelson, which was titled Text-Book of Ju-Jutsu, which soon become a popular martial arts manual.
He also enjoyed some time working on the military-related work, teaching hand-to-hand combat at Aldershot Military School and at Shorncliffe Army Camp.
Uyenishi decided, however, that life in England wasn’t for him. He left the school in the care of one of his students, William Garrud, and soon returned to Japan in 1908, where the remainder of his life remains shrouded in mystery. Years later, after the end of World War II, when his textbook went into its 9th edition, the editor updated his biography saying that he had died “some years before.”
Tani, in the meantime, would remain in England for the rest of his life. He founded his own school in 1904, but it closed after only a couple of years and he co-authored a book on jujitsu called The Game of Jujitsu in 1906. In 1918, he became one of the first instructors at the London Budokwai, which is the oldest Eastern martial arts club in Europe, founded by Gunji Koizumi. Tani’s career was cut short, however, with a tragic stroke that Tani suffered in 1936, which left him unable to engage in jujitsu afterwards. He still attended the dojo and advised his students for years after, though, and passed on in 1950.
Correction 8/10/2011: A minor clarification: in the initial article, it was stated at Uyenishi co-founded a self-defense academy with Vigny; he actually worked as an instructor for him. Please pardon our error.