- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Friday, 9th June 2017
By 1905 the novelty of mixed-style wrestling matches was beginning to wear thin for London music hall audiences, so some creative developments were deemed to be in order. Thus, the invention of “aerial wrestling” by some unknown hero of lateral thinking.
The rules of the new sport were simple enough. Two teams of six female athletes each – at least notionally representing England and the United States, respectively – were to compete in a contest of agility and endurance upon a unique and curious piece of gymnastic equipment. The “Ladies’ Aerial Wrestling Apparatus” consisted of twelve long poles, suspended vertically from a ladder-like arrangement that was secured high above the stage. Each pole was studded with a series of three small round wooden platforms, spaced about 3 feet apart, which could be used as (somewhat precarious) hand- and foot-holds.
At the referee’s signal, there commenced a free-for-all scramble to claim the greatest possible height on a pole, at which point the object of the game was to “wrestle” members of the opposing team off their poles. The favoured and most common technique was to swing one’s legs up and capture the opponent’s head and shoulders in a type of scissor hold, at which stage one could endeavour to force them to slide down and off their pole through sheer body weight. However, the pole-wrestler caught by the scissor grip might be able to break the hold and escape by swinging to an adjacent pole.
Occasionally, two opposing pole-wrestlers would fall together – one hopes that the stage below was well-padded. The most exciting scenario, according to one reporter, occurred when a single, agile wrestler who was the last woman of her team to remain undefeated was pursued by several members of the opposing team and still managed to win the day. Some Aerial Wrestling matches reportedly lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes.
Billed variously as being managed by “Madame Roma”, “Madame Kotka” and “Madame Denny”, the Aerial Wrestling Girls enjoyed a period of success during 1905, touring the various London music halls and then venturing further afield to the Oxford Town Hall and other provincial venues. One of them also made the newspapers for reportedly using her wrestling skills in fending off the attentions of an unwelcome admirer, as recorded in the Derry Journal of 13 September, 1905: