Catch as Catch Style of Wrestling Compared to Boxing, Savate and Jiu-Jitsu as a Means of Unarmed Self-Defence

 This article appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper on the 10 October 1915

 By Dr.B. F. Roller


 “To defend” means literally and etymologically “to ward off,”   “to repel danger or harm,” but a comprehensive definition of self –defence means skillful management, science and dexterity in the practice of self-protection. Any act, movement or method used to protect one’s self from harm or injury may be classified as an act of self-defence. I expect to refer here, however, to defence against bodily harm, and particularly to the best natural means of self-defence without arms or weapons of any kind.

 Since  “to defend” meant originally  “ to ward off” and since boxing has been largely characterized by the knowledge and practice of guarding  against and warding off blows by means of the upper extremities, boxing was a style by Americans, and soon came to be generally accepted as, though wrongly so, “the art of self-defence.” Since it was claimed to be more manly to defend with the arms and fists than with weapons, such as a knife, gun or club, the adherents of boxing appropriated the word “manly” and called boxing “the manly art of self-defence,” As a matter of fact fighting is never justifiable except in self-defence, and in self-defence anything that is necessary and effective is manly. In my opinion however, when self-defence is necessary there are other methods fully as manly and much more effective than boxing, but I shall come back to that later. 

 Today’s illustrations, posed by Dr. Roller and Lee Berlow, compare wrestling with savate , jiu-jitsu and boxing. Wrestling attire is not necessary , but is used here to show the outline more clearly.

Fig.1-To block the savate kick at the groin turn the body to the left bend both knees and block the kick by the knee against the opponenet’s shin. He will be helpless from pain.

Self-protection is the first law of nature, and self-defence is the first inalienable right. Society administers capital punishment, so-called, not for the sake of punishment, but to protect itself against the repetition of major crimes and injuries. Society also grants the individual the right to take human life if it should be necessary in order to protect him-self against harm by another. The means are not even brought into question by the law. It inquires only that about the motive for their use, their justifiability-in order for the individual to defend himself. The question of means, then, is of importance only as regards effectiveness. Nevertheless, the taking of life is not justifiable by individual in self-defence if he can defend himself without killing. In fact, only that degree of harm to an assailant is justifiable which is absolutely necessary, but which at the same time will be entirely sufficient. Also, by the same method of reasoning, no weapons of any kind are justifiably used at any time if one can successfully defend himself without them. So society, largely through individual efforts, has gone a great way toward developing a system of self-defence without weapons other than with which mankind is naturally endowed. This system is almost a science, because it is quite extensive and already more or less a classified knowledge. The importance of the knowledge of, and the ability to use, the various means of self-defence, however, is not generally appreciated. They ought to be widely studied  and greatly encouraged, not only because they guarantee personal security, but because they teach every one to studiously avoid all physical altercations of every kind except in self-preservation and greatly discourages the use of weapons and the doing of bodily harm except in self-defence.

Fig.2- Instead of blocking the savate kickas in Fig-1, shift the right foot back, turn a quarter circle to the right and , as the opponents foot passes the body, grab his leg.  At this point savate ends and wrestling begins.

To defend one’s self, however, it may not be sufficient simply to ward off a blow. It may be necessary to strike the assailant or in some way even more effective to render him incapable for the time being of doing bodily harm. That would imply , of course, not only the ability to ward off a blow but the knowledge of how to land one, or the knowledge of how to apply force for ones person security in some other way, perhaps even more effective. It has been taken for granted by followers of the Japanese art in the Orient and the exponents of boxing here that claims to the superiority as a means of self-defence could not even be challenged. A thorough study and a careful comparison of the four most prominent methods of unarmed defence- namely; the Japanese art, or judo or jiu jitsu, savate, boxing and wrestling- will show a considerable degree of like likeness in some respects. The Japanese art, for instance, has the kick common with savate, the arm stroke of boxing and a few of our wrestling tricks. Jiu jitsu has been said to be the most comprehensive of all, but in none of the three fields is it the most complete of extensive.


On the other hand, while wrestling as a sport bars all the rough and blood bringing attacks such as the striking of boxing or jiu jitsu or the kicking of jiu jitsu or savate, a thorough knowledge of wrestling in the catch as catch can style includes a defence and counter against them all. Neither judo or jiu jitsu includes anything worth knowing that is not in the curriculum of a finished wrestler; though of the many wrestling holds the Japanese know nothing at all. Compared to boxing and savate, wrestling is so far superior that as means of self- defence it is in a class by itself. This fact I have recently proved.


About ten weeks ago Jess Willard, champion boxer of the world, said – “Outside of boxing, savate and jiu jitsu are the only systems of unarmed defence that I know of,” He compared boxing most favorably with both savate and jiu jitsu and lightly referred to wrestling as having only two holds worthy of consideration, namely the hammerlock and the stranglehold, but gave the opinion that a boxer could knock out an exponent of the other arts “before either of them could so much as touch him.” Then he told with palpable pride how “some second rate boxer” whipped a savate expert in Paris. He failed to tell you that the “second rate boxer” was “Kid” McCoy, one of the greatest fighters that ever lived and who used to whip men like our present day “white hope” heavy weight champion almost daily without a puff or a scratch.

 Fig.3- Ninety percent of judo and jiu-jitsu wrestling tricks are based on the Cornish trip and strangle hold. In the use of both holds the Japanese method is very inferior to ours. The Japanese try to block the opponents foot, which is firmly planted, they have to heave the entire body to make a throw. Our trip is made just before the foot strikes the mate and , instead of strength , it is a matter of time and balance.

I wrote to “Jack” Curly, the man who made Willard champion, and asked Curly to match his giant against me to settle for once and all the question of the respective merits of boxing and wrestling as a means of unarmed self-defence. Not hearing a word from Curly for two weeks, I wrote the same proposition to “Tom’ Jones, the champion’s manager, assuring him that I was looking for neither money, notoriety nor trouble, but that if he insisted on being paid for the demonstration I was in a position to guarantee him a very liberal purse.


Not hearing a word from either Curly or Jones, I published an open defy, to wit:- “ I invite you, Champion Willard, to bring to a jury of newspaper men and city officials to the gymnasium for a few minutes and I will show you a method of self –defence that is far superior to boxing. Let us settle for once and all which is the better method of self-defence, boxing or wrestling. Simply to demonstrate that wrestling is a better method of self-defence than boxing, I will tie you up like a baby in less time than it takes you to eat your Monday morning’s breakfast.”


Still getting no response, about September 8 I sent to the sporting editor of very prominent daily paper in New York city a letter in which I related the exact history of the incident, how the champion claimed the prime superiority for boxing as a means of self-defence, and how I had disputed these claims and offered to test them before a jury of newspaper men and city officials for nothing except to prove that wrestling and not boxing , is justly entitled to the dignified and euphonious non de plume “ manly art of self -defence.” In this letter, too, because one superannuated sport writer (?) had said that he did not think that Dr. Roller was much of an athlete, I wrote that while I made no claims to being “the worlds champion athlete,” I had a far better claim to the title than has Willard, who has for some time been so advertising himself.

 Fig.4- One variety of the wrestling strangle hold more effective than the Japanese and which requires no kimono to apply.

To back up the statement I offered to match the champion to the twelve most popular and most prominent athletic exercises of this age, namely , boxing , wrestling, fencing, shooting, running, jumping, handball, swimming, shot put, hammer throw, pole vault and football, and stated that I was perfectly sure that of the twelve I could easily win nine.


 Some of the more up to date papers published my letter verbatim. One writer , who evidently got his inspiration from the champions camp, said:- “A veteran sporting man, discussing such a match, agreed that Dr. Roller would have an easy time beating Willard, but suggested that ‘ Sam’ Langford would easily defeat Roller, and mentioned ‘Kid’ McCoy’s easy victory over an exponent of savate in Paris.”  To this I wrote in answer: – “McCoy defeating a savate exponent has no more to do with this issue than if he had defeated an exponent of tennis, golf or ping pong. Savate is more like boxing than is like wrestling. As to wrestling verse boxing, and the match which I propose, the veteran sporting man whom you quoted, in admitting that I would easily defeat Willard, but that Langford could defeat me, manifestly claims that Langford can do something which Willard cannot do. Inasmuch as no sane man will claim that either Willard or Langford is a better wrestler than I, if either of them could beat me in such a match it would have to be by his boxing and not by his wrestling ability. Therefore, to say that Willard could not beat me, and that Langford could, is to say that Langford is a better bower than Willard.”


I do not care to express an opinion on that subject, but to shift the responsibility from Willard to Langford is about as cowardly a thing as I can imagine. I personally believe that Langford would be a bigger clinch than the champion in a mixed match but I am sure that nobody whose opinion is worth while would expect me to enter a contest of any kind with Langford.


Not all of the papers printed my communications or even commented on the convincing and humiliating defy. I am not alone in the realization that there are a lot of bullet-heads in the country who do not care to hear, read or write anything but baseball gossip and slang. Almost every day one can see columns of accounts of fist fights between roughneck baseball players and of quarrels and litigations between clubs. I can’t for the life of me understand how an intelligent man’s thirst for knowledge could in any way be quenched by that sort of literature. Yet volumes upon volumes of such trash are being published everyday by the so-called sport writers, who have ignored the genuine interesting and significant sporting event I had proposed. There are lots of fine men in baseball, but why waste time and space narrating brawls and quarrels?

  Fig.5- The wrestling duck to avoid a left arm boxing blow. Flex the body forward and downward, stepping forward, in close, and to the right.

The same narrow minded, prejudiced, unthinking and bloodthirsty commentators seem to have an inherited caustic spite at wrestling and everybody in it. They never let an opportunity go by to ignore or roasting wrestling and wrestlers to the limit of linguistic possibilities. If a wrestler on whom they have bet fifty cents does not win, or win, or unless they wrestle until one or the other had been ruined for life, bloodthirsty lunatics will protest until they blow the last dispensable breath out of their bodies shouting “Fake”. The same lopsided enthusiasts almost pencil themselves into writers palsy advertising an event in which a couple of square-headed wharf rats are expected to render each other toothless, noiseless, blood bathed and unconscious. I can’t understand the sanguinary, murderous appetite of a man who prefers that sort of thing to a clean, scientific wrestling match, the spirit of which is to subdue and conquer an opponent without injuring or bleeding him. Then when thirty thousand people have been hoodwinked out of thousands of dollars by a couple of their favorite boxers though the identical thing has occurred again and again, they go on in their ignorance, depravity and unfairness yelling “Crooked!” at wrestling, dignify the boxing fake by the term “”fiasco” and roast the sharks because they got the money, but continue to advertise and patronize fake fights. 

 Fig.6- Avoiding the blow as in Fig.5, grab the opponent in the crotch with h eright arm, around the body with the left , lift him high and grasp his left wrist. It will be the boxer’s finish if you drive him head first to the floor.

There are fakers in every business and profession. The game should not suffer because of its crooks, although fakers should be penalized. If the science of wrestling were not so much bigger and deeper than that of boxing that average individual cannot understand wrestling, and if wrestling exponents were to knock boxing as vigorously as boxing exponents knock wrestling, and if sport writers were to treat one game as fairly as they do the other, wrestling would soon be the world’s most popular sport and boxing would be under the ban of the police. There have been fakes and crooks in wrestling, I admit, just as there have been in banking and the ministry, but wrestling stands not alone, nor is it the worst by far.


How few widely herald boxing matches between noted exponents of the art in the last ten years but what have been severely criticized, and yet how easily the “fans” forget! For the benefits of those who have been slamming the mat game I suggest that inside information on a few of the worlds greatest modern boxing matches would be a dandy boost for wrestling , Look up, for instance the big fights between Corbett and McCoy, Burns and O’Brien, Johnson and Ketchell, Wolgast and Rivers, Johnson and Jeffries, Johnson and Moran, Johnson and Willard and Gibson  and McFard, There are dozens of others, but these will suffice, for like Ouida and her dog, the more you know about boxers the better you will like wrestlers. 


Inasmuch as eights weeks or more have expired since I dared the champion fighter of the world to try out with me boxing verse wrestling , and since in all that time he has not dared to accept or even answer that defy, I consider that he must agree. The world therefore, must acknowledge that wrestling and not boxing is not only the best, but is THE Manly Art of Self-Defence.


Poole whipped the best prize fighters in the world, not because he could box but simply because he could wrestle. Muldoon, one-time champion wrestler , who trained Sullivan for his fight with Mitchell, could handle Sullivan at will. A mixed match was proposed between Mildoon and Mitchell, but Mitchell never accepted because he wisely listened to the experts who told him that Muldoon would make him jump out of the ring. ‘ Farmer” Burns, ex- champion wrestler , trained the clever “Tommy” Ryan for some of his fights. Ryan told me that Burns could whip any fighter then living, and a challenge by Burns to meet any prize fighter in an empty room stood for years without a taker. Prize fighters may be able to whip all the savate, jiujitsu and pingpong experts in the world, but they had better let wrestlers along.

  Fig.7- The fight is over when a wrestler gets behind his opponent, but if you only punish him instead of crippling him, a half -nelson with your left arm, while you twist his right arm with a hammer lock, will be sufficient for most any boxer.

A stronger race trained in self-defence means a better defence of the nation. So one of the chief justifications of athletic sports in every country and at all times has been that they contribute to and increase the knowledge of defence. But for that there would be no excuse for boxing then for bull fighting. As an entertainment, in fact, if the crowds and receipts could be taken as a certain, the latter has proved to be the better diversion. The few exceptions notwithstanding, the excuse for boxing is defence, and its self-appropriated non de plume, “ the manly art,” has been bsed upon that excuse. In countries where fencing has long flourished as a sport the spirit which made it thrive has been not entertainment but defence. In France , what is savate? Not sport. In Japan judo and juijitsu are exhibited everywhere in a modified form, ostensibly for sport and fun, but the spirit which keeps them alive is fight, and the principles they teach are the foundations for the defence of that nation.


Avery able writer said a short while ago:- “ The average American is not physically fit to answer the call of national defence. Of the young men who volunteer only two out of five are accepted. If the American people are to prepare properly for the national defence they must give consideration to the great national problem of how to build up and maintain a high standard of physical fitness.”


Nothing truer has ever been said or written, and any one the least observing can see at a glance that the business and social habits of the people of the United States are so completely undermining the physical fitness of our people that the question national defence is no longer a question of guns, ammunition and armament but a question of the men who are expected to use them. No one cold expect an army of the nations defenders to be made up of young men as athletically capable and as well trained as ‘ Packey” McFarland or “Ed” Lewis .


Those men have not won their athletic honors and renown simply because they were born unusually well endowed. They have worked, studied and ambitiously striven for years  to attain to as high ideal. Like the poet or the musician, they were born with talents, but it required ambition and work to develop them. To contrast the average American citizen at fort-five with what he ought to be at that age makes him look bad enough , but to contrast him with such men as I have named makes him look to ridiculous to mention. 

 Fig.8- A body scissors with the legs from behind, holding a boxer’s right arm in chancery while you twist his left arm off with a hammer lock.

Self-defence  of the individual depends largely upon his health and condition. Defence of the nation depends chiefly upon the physical fitness of its men, so the question of the preparedness of the United States government to defend itself is more of a question of  hygiene than it is mechanics and high finance. What good is a recruit to the defence of the nation if it takes six months to put him into a physical condition to learn the war game when the invading army is already at the door. The best army  in the world can’t win in a year from now a contest which the enemy is here to fight out to-day. I have been told by men in a position to know that the United States takes from six months to a year training to make a solider out of any raw recruit, and that a large part of that training us not simply military drill but drill for the sake of physical Training.



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