Last month I had the honour of being asked to take jiu jitsu out of the gym and demonstrate moves for a play about the Suffragettes, called 'Standing on their Shoulders'.
My friend Emma had asked me months ago if I would help. I have a habit of saying yes, and then thinking about how I’m going to make it happen afterwards. I didn’t really know what to expect or what they would need me to do, but after researching the suffragettes a little bit more in depth, watching as many YouTube video’s as I could find, I got the jist that I would be teaching some throws.
I’ll be completely honest, I only found out about the Suffragettes a few years ago. Of course I knew about women’s rights and what they stood for and fought for. But I didn’t know the name that was given to them. It was around the same time that I found out that this group of influential women learned the art of Jiu Jitsu.
The women’s social and political union was form in 1903 and led by Emmeline Pankhurst fought for the right for women to vote in the UK.
In the run up to world war one, Edith Garrud became a jiu jitsu instructor with her husband. They were taught by Edward Barton Wright who travelled extensively in Japan. Edith excelled and was appointed chief instructor at the Jiu Jitsu School in London’s West End. The school became the place to rendezvous for the Suffragettes. Edith was their alibi and they hid hammers (for their window smashing) under the exercise mats.
Violence was becoming more common against the suffragettes, and Edith felt she could help them by teaching them self-defence.
Edith trained an elite Suffragette group called ‘The Bodyguard’ in secret locations across London. When the police tried to arrest Emmeline Pankhurst, Edith threw a 13 stone man over her shoulder. She was only 4’11”.
After the success of the votes for women campaigns, Edith carried on as a martial arts instructor and lived in London until the age of 99 years.
How could I turn down helping Emma and her group of acting friends? I felt privileged that they had asked me.
When I arrived for the rehearsal, I quickly learned that Heidi who plays Edith was not going to be throwing anyone on the night of the performance. There wasn’t the equipment or the space to do so. I was quite glad as it takes a lot of practise to learn to throw someone properly, and land too!
Heidi mimicked a few throws and added them in to the ‘jiu jitsu scene’ in her own way. She got the movement down to a T. We added some extra moves that I had seen in some fight scenes of the Suffragettes online, and she was ready to go. A few runs through and it was looking great. I knew their play ‘Standing on their shoulders’ was going to be a hit.
Tuesday 21stNovember was show time. Unfortunately on the same night, my friend was performing in London, so I couldn’t make the show. The ladies sent me photos and I can only imagine from everyone’s response, that it truly was a hit!
Thank you Emma Feeney, Lauren Bracewell and Heidi Smith for giving me this experience. Without this, I would never have looked in to the history of the Suffragettes and their secret Jiu Jitsu club.
It makes me proud to be a Jiu Jitsu instructor and that we don’t have to hide our training in this day and age, but know that it’s always there for us if we need to use it in self defence.