Visible Women

Everything you need to know about the awesome art of Suffrajitsu

Posted by
Hannah Keegan
Published

Stylist unearths the suffragettes’ own brand of martial art…     

A feather-hat-wearing, 4ft11in woman isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of martial arts. But Edith Garrud, aged 42 in 1914, taught her suffragette sisters how to defend themselves while wearing the heavy clothes of an Edwardian lady.

Introduced to martial arts by Europe’s first ju-jitsu trainer in 1899, Garrud ran a martial-arts school in London with her husband. As suffragette protests became increasingly violent, Garrud started to train protesters in ju-jitsu, equipping her fellow activists with self-defence skills that would let them defeat police brutality or attacks from bystanders.

These smartly dressed, demure-looking women soon learnt how to put
 a confused man in a headlock in seconds. “The suffragettes were smart,” explains ju-jitsu instructor Adrienne Till, who runs women-only classes in Bristol. “Ju-jitsu is an art where you can’t always see what’s happening until you’re both suddenly in the middle of it; it’s not just physical, it’s also psychological. The women would have known that.”

The Women’s Social and Political Union formed the ‘suffrajitsu’ trainees into
 a 30-strong bodyguard to protect their figurehead Emmeline Pankhurst. They evaded capture by police and became expert at outwitting opponents. Their training came in particularly useful during a famous clash with police in 1914, the ‘Battle of Glasgow’.

Mrs Pankhurst, out of jail under the Cat and Mouse Act (which released hunger strikers until they were well enough to be
 put back in prison), was to speak at St Andrew’s Hall and police were hoping 
to recapture her. The bodyguard, however, had clubs under their dresses and surrounded the stage as the speech began. When the police charged, they faced a bloody fight to reach Mrs Pankhurst.

The pictures of smart Edwardian ladies tackling men may seem absurd, but the suffragettes’ message was clear: beware,
 female doesn’t 
mean feeble. 

Three to try: Suffrajitsu self-defence

The stance

Stand tall to maximise mobility, with your left foot forward and firmly grounded, then put your right arm out in front and raise your hand upwards, ready to guard against a strike.

Arm lock     

Push your right hand under your attacker’s right upper arm, grab your left wrist with your right hand and push down towards the ground, raising your right elbow. 

Snap kick

Start in a fighting stance with your left foot forward, then draw your right knee up in front of your body to the height of your hips and whip your right foot up to strike. 

Stylist is celebrating the 100th anniversary of some women getting the vote. See more of our commemorative content here.  

Illustrations: Garry Walton at meiklejohn.co.uk