ukiyo-e: Lives of Modern People
from the Claremont Colleges Digital Library used under creative commons licence
Lives of Modern People, A Supplement of the Yamato Newspaper: No. 11, Hanai
Ink on Paper
13 in. x 8 13/16 in. (330.2 mm x 223.84 mm)
Lilian Miller Collection: Gift of Mrs. Simon Bolivar Buckner
Scripps College, Claremont, CA, USA
Of course the reader will understand that in any method of self-defence it is necessary to know how to maintain the proper distance between yourself and your assailant, in order to deliver a coup-de-grāce with effect and certainty. This knowledge, together with the confidence, dash, and savoir-faire that are so essential, can only be acquired by practice; but, when once gained, it is never lost.
E W Barton-Wright, founder of bartitsu
And oh they bring to mind the grave,
so humble, so willing to be beat upon
with its awful lettering and
the body lying underneath
without an umbrella
Anne Sexton, The Fury of Rainstorms
That will be quite enough of that, thank you.
Mary Poppins, firmly closing the beak of the parrot on her umbrella handle
I love this dramatic and bloody woodblock print. If you click on the link and read the description you will find the story of Hanai Oume. A man attacked her with a knife. She used her umbrella to disarm him and then killed him with his own knife - perhaps so there would be no chance of revenge. Way to go. Calm, cool and competent. As well as admiring Hanai Oume's self-defence skills I also like her because the name of her restaurant was the same as my blog - suigetsu - moon in the water. This might be the first recorded use of an umbrella for self-defence. The most dangerous use of an umbrella was the murder of Georgi Markov in London by the KGB by stabbing him with an umbrella that shot ricin poison.
In Japan the rainy season will soon come to an end. But for now everyone is still carrying an umbrella. Recently I was asked about using an umbrella for self-defence. Learning self-defence isn't something you can do by reading about it. So ask your teacher. But one of the main themes of self-defence is making time to escape, and an umbrella can be very helpful for that.
The straight umbrella
Don't ever use an umbrella like a western sword as if you were fencing like John in Peter Pan. A while ago I wrote a blog article about the first mixed martial art, bartitsu
Sherlock Holmes apparently studied bartitsu. It was a comprehensive martial art for all situations and all distances with kicks and boxing techniques and grappling techniques. There were some cane or stick techniques also suitable for an umbrella. Even now in Japan there is an image of English men carrying tightly-rolled umbrellas. Umbrellas are prohibited at football stadiums in the UK because they can be used as weapons.
You very, very rarely see street fights in Japan. But the stress of work and of commuting by train can make people snap. So sometimes you see people getting angry on trains. One evening on a train I saw a guy turning aggressively to someone who was being pushed into him by the crowd. He said let's take this outside. The other guy coolly agreed with him and they both got off the train. I like to think they went out of the station and had a beer instead. But once I saw an angry man get off a train and actually try to start a fight by waving his umbrella one-handed like a western fencer. Very ineffectually.
The one-handed bartitsu stick techniques related to fencing techniques are not very effective for self-defence for people who don't do martial arts. For practical self-defence two-handed thrusting techniques with the umbrella are much easier to learn. They are like some jo - Japanese staff - techniques or yari - spear - techniques. Sojutsu - the art of the spear - is mostly taught in some koryu classical martial arts styles. In modern martial arts the closest is probably jukendo, a fast and dynamic Japanese budo using rifle and bayonet. But if you look determined and take a two-handed grip ready to make a stabbing thrust it will make any attacker think twice.
The hanbo - half staff - and the wakizashi short sword are closer to the length of an umbrella than the weapons we normally use in aikido. There is a legend that Kukishin hanbo techniques started when a spear was cut in half during a battle. I have an antique iron Japanese walking stick that was probably made for self-defence against a sword.
The folding umbrella
A folding umbrella is short. It's a bit too soft to be used as a baton. It's not a great weapon for self-defence but it is probably better than bare hands for people who don't have much budo training. A folding umbrella is a little larger than a kubotan self-defence stick key ring, which is a simple and effective tool for self-defence. If you grip a folding umbrella firmly it can be used in the same way as the kubotan to strike with a thrust. You can thrust/strike with it holding it up in a hammer (or microphone) grip or strike or hook with it holding it down as if you were holding an icepick. Or you can hold it in the middle so that you can use both ends. Experienced martial artists can also use a folding umbrella for control techniques.
If you keep a slightly greater ma ai - the critical distance between you and the attacker - a folding umbrella can also be used like a tessen - an iron Japanese war fan. Tessen techniques are very interesting for irimi - entering into the attacker's space at the moment you are being attacked - but they also are not really suitable for beginners.
I have put some links to articles and to umbrella and cane suppliers. I haven't used any of the products personally.
I'd be glad for any comments about your own experiences with umbrellas or canes. Or suggestions for practical techniques for the cane or umbrella or hanbo or wakizashi or tessen or kubotan. And any interesting links.
Do as much practice as you can. The more knowledge, confidence, dash and savoir-faire we all have the better! And probably it's not a good idea to antagonize women carrying umbrellas.
nice article on the umbrella in literature
Anne Sexton, The Fury of Rain Storms
The Baseballs, Umbrella
my blog on aikiweb
© niall matthews 2011
Niall Matthews lives with his family in Japan. He teaches aikibudo and community self-defence courses and has taught budo for twenty-five years. He was the senior deshi of Kinjo Asoh Sensei, 7 dan Aikikai. He was the exclusive uke of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei, 9 dan Aikikai, at the hombu dojo in Tokyo for thirteen years until Arikawa Sensei's death in 2003. He has trained in several other martial arts to complement his aikido training, including judo (he has 4 dan from the Kodokan in Tokyo), kenjutsu (for about ten years) and karate (for about three years). He originally went to Japan as a staff member of the EU almost thirty years ago. He received 5 dan from Arikawa Sensei in 1995. This 5 dan is the last aikido dan he will receive in his life. His dojo is called Aikibudo Kokkijuku 合気武道克輝塾. Arikawa Sensei personally gave him the character for ki in kokki. It is the same character as teru in Sadateru - not the normal spelling of kokki 克己. It means you make your life shining and clear yourself.