Dr Godfrey investigated the blossoming of the culture of self-defence and the fascination with the East in Great Britain at the turn of the 20th century. The lecture began with a vivid portrait of a Victorian society riddled by fears of violent street crime, and the ‘garotting panics’ fed by the haunting figure of the Indian Thuggee, specialists in strangulation and robberies. Dr Godfrey unveiled the gruesomely ingenious response by civilians; as she disclosed images of a spike-steeled collar, belt buckle pistol and a fan dagger, she circulated a deadly hatpin and a wooden baton amongst the captivated audience.
Whilst the East exacerbated fears over personal safety, it also offered solutions to the problem of physical danger. By the early Edwardian period a craze for Japanese-inspired arts of self-defence blossomed, as interpersonal violence was frowned upon. Edward William Barton-Wright (1860- 1951) invented a hybrid art combining western and eastern martial art forms: Bartitsu. This new Anglo-Japanese martial art encountered a great success, soon seen as the appanage of the gentlemen. So popular, indeed, that Sherlock Holmes was to triumph over Professor Moriarty thanks to his mastery of ‘Baritsu’.
Dojos held by Japanese masters such as Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi flourished in London and Dr Godfrey remarked that Jujitsu appealed not only to men, but also to women. Edith Garrud (1872-1971) trained under Sadakazu Uyenishi at his Golden Square School in Soho and became the first female professional martial arts instructor. In a climate of oppression and harassment, many women followed in her footsteps. Suffragettes fought back with Jujitsu in the campaign for the vote; at the forefront of the fight, in charge of the safety of Emmeline Pankhurst (1858– 1928) was a special female squad well-versed in martial arts: The bodyguard.
Dr Godfrey’s thorough research, rich imagery and flamboyant anecdotes led to a lively discussion examining unsuspected facets of the East/West dialogue and their resonance in today’s society.