As detailed in the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium, the year 1906 saw a vehement “boxing versus jiujitsu” debate played out in the pages of some British sporting journals. Many participants were essentially armchair quarterbacks, including a number who argued to the effect that manly English fisticuffs ought to win in any such encounter, by simple virtue of being manly and English. Others, however, debated from a more purely practical point of view.
Although the consensus was that a contest of this nature would be difficult to arrange (and might actually be illegal under Edwardian English law, being interpreted as “brawling in a public place”), none of the debaters seem to have been aware that former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani had actually taken on boxer Marc Gaucher in Paris earlier that same year. Although the Tani/Gaucher contest was quite widely reported via the French athletic media, it seems to have received only a single notice in England by way of The Sporting Life, whose Monday, January 22 issue reported that Tani had fought Gaucher two days earlier.
The combat had taken place at the Bostock Hippodrome in Paris and was fought according to stipulations devised by Gaucher himself, to the effect that:
1. The contest shall comprise ten two-minute rounds, with breaks of one minute.
2. If Yukio Tani cannot make me submit within these ten rounds, I should be declared the winner.
3. Dislocations of the fingers and attacks to the eyes or genitals shall be forbidden; punches are only allowed above the belt and only the normal grips of Jiu-Jitsu shall be permitted.
4. I shall wear eight ounce gloves.
As with the much more famous November, 1905 savate vs. jiujitsu encounter between “Re-Nie” (Ernest Regnier) and Georges Dubois, which had likewise taken place in Paris, the Tani/Gaucher contest was somewhat anticlimactic. During the first two-minute round, both men sparred cautiously and nothing was gained. The second round opened with a bit more action as Gaucher threw some punches, including a right hand that caught Tani on the side of his head, but Tani then found his opportunity to break through Gaucher’s guard and, after a momentary standing struggle, took his opponent to the mat. Moments later Gaucher was forced to submit to Tani’s strangle-hold, and so Tani was declared the winner.
The details of the Tani/Gaucher contest would probably not have surprised anyone with a close practical knowledge of the relative advantages of boxing and jiujitsu circa 1906. As Edward Barton-Wright had noted back in 1901:
Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.
The critique that Japanese unarmed combat was not necessarily equipped to defend against boxing punches was valid, as was the widely-held consensus that a boxer would stand little chance of defending against jiujitsu throws and submission holds should the jiujitsuka manage to penetrate his guard and “get to close quarters”. This is clearly why Barton-Wright and then others, including William Bankier, William Garrud and Percy Longhurst all argued for an intelligent fusion of both styles for purposes of self-defence. Barton-Wright himself had attempted to coach Tani in boxing – possibly with an eye towards arranging a similar bout – but he reported that Tani showed “little aptitude for the sport”.
It’s worth noting that, two years after his fight with Marc Gaucher, Tani did, in fact, compete in a similar contest on British soil, but by that time the boxing vs. jiujitsu debate had calmed down and the combat attracted little notice in the press.