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West Country superwoman

‘Physical force seems the only thing in which women have not demonstrated their equality to men, and while we are waiting for the evolution which is slowly taking place and bringing about that equality, we might just as well take time by the forelock and use science, otherwise ju-jitsu.’

So wrote Mrs Edith Garrud, West Country superwoman who introduced Far Eastern martial arts to the Women’s Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U) and thus created the ‘jujutsuffragettes’.

A woman preparing to fight a group of cowering policemen

A cartoon of Garrud standing up to police in Punch magazine.

Who was Edith Garrud?

1910 was the year that Mrs Edith Garrud really entered the public arena.  Votes for Women, the Women’s Social and Political Union’s newspaper, published her article ‘The World We Live In: Self Defence’ arguing that all women should learn the ancient Japanese martial art of ju-jitsu (also known as jujutsu and jiu-jitsu) on 4 March 1910. A bold statement at a time when women’s main defence against the world was the knee, elbow, parasol, umbrella or trusty hatpin.

Relying on:

“using the adversary’s strength … the leverage lies in twisting wrists, elbows or knee – joints the way they are not meant to go” it gave women a foothold in a man’s world.  Providing for any emergency it could counter every form of attack “In this art all are equal, little or big, heavy or light, strong or weak; it is science and agility that win the victory.  Is not this a forecast for the future?  Science, quickness, vitality and brains are surely equal to brute strength in politics as well as fights?”

Rousing words indeed and still pertinent today.

Edith Margaret Williams was born in Bath in 1872, spending the next sixteen years in Wales (later turned to her advantage in an encounter with Lloyd George) before returning to Bath in 1888. Edith took an active interest in “physical Culture” and joined William Garrud’s exercise classes when he came to Bath in 1892. This was a time when most women’s public engagement in sport was minimal.  A year later, 21-year-old Edith married William.

The Garruds moved to London, William finding employment as a university physical culture trainer, and started a family.

illustrations of figures engaged in combat

Page from The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence: The manly art of Bartitsu as used against Professor Moriarty

In 1899 they attended Edward Barton-Wright’s show of “wrestling” at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, and subsequently enrolled in his Bartitsu Club at 67B Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho.  The magnificently moustachioed Barton-Wright had recently returned from a 3 year residence in Japan, and forsaking his previous life as an engineer, registered “Bartitsu as a limited company promoting self-defence in all forms.  The club’s instructors included Pierre Vigny, a Swiss national teaching savate (a form of French boxing) and his own self-defence system using either walking stick or umbrella, and two Japanese ju-jitsu instructors Yuki Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.  Demonstrations were an important part of publicity, while Uyenishi also wrestled on the music hall circuit as ‘Raku’.

Sadly Barton Wright’s enthusiasm was not matched by his talents as either promoter or business manager, and the club folded in 1902.  However, it had caught the imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  and was immortalised in The Adventure of the Empty House -– albeit misspelt as Baritsu.

Edith and William enrolled in Uyenishi’s dojo in Golden Square, Soho, and in 1907, Edith was sufficiently skilled to appear in the short film Ju-jutsu Downs the Footpads, successfully overcoming two ruffians.

When Uyenishi returned to Japan in 1908, the Garrud’s bought his dojo welcoming their elder daughter to the family business in 1911.  Edith ran the women and children’s sessions and also offered separate self-defence classes to members of the Women’s Freedom League and WSPU – both of whom were involved in an increasingly bitter struggle to secure voting rights for women.

The Garruds capitalised on the novelty value of a woman demonstrating martial arts performing in theatres and even at garden parties. William provided the narration while Edith demonstrated the efficacy of ju-jitsu, her custom-made red jacket contrasting with the traditional white kit of her fellows.  In May 1908 William was incapacitated by indigestion just before taking to the stage at the Women’s Exhibition at the Prince’s Skating Rink, Knightsbridge. Encouraged by Mrs Pankhurst, Edith took over providing both commentary and action.

Two years later, Edith led the athletes section of the Women’s Freedom League in George V’s Coronation Procession. In 1911, she choreographed the fight scene for Mr Cecil Armstrong’s play What Every Woman Ought to Know, a simple tale of husband and wife, Bill and Eliza Barrer.  Bill’s drunken, bullying behaviour is overcome by Eliza’s mastery of ju -jitsu, and he promises to reform. Helpfully Eliza explains to the audience that his leg is not broken by her jujutsu hold, merely “bent a bit”.  To satisfy increasing demand, Edith’s Suffragette classes moved to the Palladium Academy, a dance school in Argyll Street.

Three images of a fight sequence showing a woman disarming and throwing her husband

“What Every Woman Ought to Know” (1911)

The fight for woman’s suffrage

Meanwhile, the fight for woman’s suffrage was becoming more violent. In July 1909 Marion Wallace Dunlop staged the first suffragette hunger strike in protest at the authorities’ refusal to recognise her as a political prisoner. Three and a half days later she was released. As others adopted her tactic, “ordinary hospital treatment” or forcible feeding was authorised to save life. On Black Friday, 10 November 1910, police used truncheons against suffragette marchers – in the six-hour running battle three women received fatal injuries and 120 were arrested.

Action and official counteraction spiralled. Forcible feeding was a dangerous and painful process. It alienated public opinion and was in danger of becoming something of a Suffragette badge of honour. The Cat and Mouse Act of 1913 attempted to counter this — allowing the authorities to release hunger-striking suffragettes and on their recovery, re-arrest them.  In an effort to safeguard key WSPU leaders the “Bodyguard” a trained band of selected Suffragettes was formed with Edith as their official ju-jitsu teacher.

As well as jujutsu, Edith instructed the “Bodyguard” in the use of Indian Exercise Clubs. Intended to be swung to develop strength and coordination,  they were the Suffragette answer to the police truncheon, easily concealed under long skirts.  Newspaper “armour” wrapped round rib cages and arms gave added protection.

Edith was rarely at the forefront of the action – her role was too important to risk arrest — but she was active in planning. Training sessions had to change locations regularly to avoid detection, and Edith’s dojo was on occasion used as a refuge after militant action.

Following the outbreak of war in August 1914 Mrs Pankhurst suspended action and encouraged women to support the government at this time of crisis. Edith slipped back into the shadows resuming her role as wife, mother and active business partner.

In February 1918 The Representation of the People Act gave women “of property” over 30 the vote, but another decade passed before it was extended to all adults over the age of 21, regardless of gender.


If you like me are curious to know what happened next to the Garruds, read on. William, too old for active service, joined the Volunteer Civil Force becoming their official jujutsu instructor.  His book The Complete Jujitsan (1914) became the standard reference work, and he was a founder member of the British Ju-Jitsu Society.  Their oldest son Owen was killed in action in August 1918. They continued teaching self-defence until 1925, when they sold the Golden Square dojo – it was demolished in 1930. William died in 1960. Godfrey Winn of Woman magazine interviewed Edith for her 94th birthday in 1965.  Though less mobile, she remained determined in her opinions commenting she liked “a woman to look like a woman”.  Edith died in 1971.

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