From Tony Wolf

No Man Shall Protect Us – a Suffrajitsu Documentary Now on Kickstarter!

No Man Shall Protect Us is a new documentary project to be co-produced by Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf:

(…) closely based on detailed accounts by witnesses, journalists, police constables and radical suffragettes. Narration, graphics and rare archival film will portray the dangerous work of the Bodyguard Society during this spectacular clash of wills and ideologies.

We will also be using a theatrical “black box” docudrama format, with dramatic performances by costumed actors representing Emmeline Pankhurst, martial arts trainer Edith Garrud, Canadian Bodyguard leader Gert Harding, political radical Princess Sophia Duleep Singh and Chief Constable James V. Stevenson of the Glasgow police force.

In collaboration with the Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s production of Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, the documentary will also feature dynamic re-enactments of the Bodyguard Society’s origins, training and tactics, performed by a cast of twelve actors.

Check out the Kickstarter page for more info and to support this exciting new project!

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Play Suffragetto Online! – the 1909 Suffragettes vs. Police Board Game Meets the Digital Age

Tony Wolf, the author of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, has created a free, online version of the Suffragetto board game.  This recently re-discovered game, first published circa 1909, pits radical suffragettes against police constables in the mean streets of Edwardian London.

Suffragetto board demo 1

The game requires two players, who can be signed in on two different computers.

Here’s how to play:

  1. At least one player must create a free account at http://tabletopzen.com.
  2. Sign in and then click on the Suffragetto board in the Game Library.
  3. Study the rules (also listed below in this post) and then click on “Create Table” to generate a unique table for your game, with the pieces already properly arranged on the board.  You may need to re-size the game board using Ctrl and – to fit your screen size.
  4. You can now send the other player the URL for your table and they will then be able to join the game simply by creating a nickname.  Alternatively, if you are both signed in to tabletopzen.com, they can also join the game via the “Active Game Tables” screen in the Lobby.
  5. Use your cursor to move the pieces.

If you and the other player are using remote computers, it’s easy and fun to chat while you play using Skype or any similar service.

Enjoy playing Suffragetto!

Suffragetto board demo 2

Suffragetto Online Rules

Closely based on the original 1909 board game, Suffragetto represents the street battles fought between radical suffragettes and police constables in London during the years leading up to World War 1. The original game was created by the Women’s Social and Political Union and manufactured by Sargeant Bros., Ltd.

Fun fact: there was a real-life secret society of martial arts-trained female bodyguards who protected the leaders of the suffragette movement. Their escapades also inspired the 2015 graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons; see www.suffrajitsu.com for details!

SUFFRAGETTO

An Original and Interesting Game of Skill for Two Players

Suffragetto is a contest of occupation between two opposing factions, The Suffragettes and The Police.

The goal of the Suffragettes is to break past Police lines and enter the House of Commons. At the same time, The Suffragettes must also prevent the Police from entering Albert Hall.

It is the Police Force’s duty to break up a meeting of the Suffragettes, currently being held in Albert Hall, all the while, preventing the Suffragettes from entering the House of Commons.

The game is won by whoever first succeeds in introducing six members into the building guarded by its opponents.

Direction and Mode of Play

The game is for two players, each of whom has 21 pieces, representing the Suffragettes and the Police.

A coin toss determines the first player.

The rank-and-file Suffragettes are colored green, and the purple pieces are distinguished as Leaders of the Suffragette Party.

The rank-and-file Police Constables are colored dark blue, and the white pieces are distinguished as Inspectors of Police.

The Suffragettes are placed on the squares marked ‘S’ near ‘Albert Hall.’ The leaders of the party are positioned as follows: one Leader is placed in the middle of the front row, and the other four Leaders are placed at the ends of the front and second rows.

The Police Force is placed upon the squares marked ‘P’ near the House of Commons. One Inspector is placed in the middle of the front row, and the remaining four Inspectors at the ends of the front and second rows.

Moving and Hopping

Each player alternatively moves or hops one of their own pieces. Moving can result in moving to one space into a single adjacent square, hopping over your own pieces to move farther along the board, or hopping over an opponent’s piece to “arrest” or “disable” your opponent’s piece.

Moving

A piece may move horizontally or diagonally one square per turn into any of the 8 adjoining squares, as long as that square is unoccupied.

Pieces may freely move over any part of the board except:

a. No piece can be moved (except when arrested or disabled) onto the spaces marked Prison, Prison Yard, Hospital, or Hospital Grounds.

b. A Suffragette cannot move onto the spaces marked Albert Hall.

c. A Policeman cannot move onto the spaces marked House of Commons.

Hopping

On a player’s turn, they may hop a piece rather than move it a single square. Hopping means jumping over one of your own pieces into the unoccupied square on the other side of the hopped over piece (as in Checkers). A player may string together hops into multiple jumps, provided that each jump lands in a permitted zone (as listed above) and there is a space in between each piece hopped over. If the square behind a piece is occupied, the hop cannot be completed.

Any piece having gained entrance into their opponent’s House of Commons or Albert Hall may move about freely on the squares representing the building, but must not move or hop away from those squares. Moving within either the House of Commons or Albert Hall spends a player’s turn.

Arresting and Disabling

Properly hopping over your opponent’s pieces results in arresting or disabling your opponent’s piece(s). Police may arrest Suffragettes and Suffragettes may disable Police.

Any piece standing on one of the squares in The Arena (squares marked pink) is liable to be arrested or disabled by their opponent. Any of your pieces may arrest or disable any of your opponent’s pieces.

A rank-and-file Suffragette disables the Police by hopping over him in a diagonal direction. A Leader of the Suffragette Party can disable any member of the Police Force by hopping over him in any direction.

A rank-and-file Policeman arrests a Suffragette by hopping over her in a diagonal direction. An Inspector of Police arrests any Suffragette member by hopping over her in any direction.

A piece can only arrest or disable its opponents when it is hopping, not when simply moving. Thus, one of the smaller pieces may hop over a Leader or Inspector simply to move about the board. A single piece may arrest or disable multiple pieces during one series of jumps. Suffragettes who are arrested are moved to the Prison. Police who are disabled are moved to the Hospital. No piece can be arrested or disabled in the yellow zones outside the Arena, but may move or hop freely in these zones.

Exchanges

If at any point, the Prison and the Hospital each contain 12 or more inmates, either player may insist on an exchange of 6 or less pieces. The pieces exchanged must be of equal value, e.g., a Leader is exchanged for an Inspector, and the rank-and-file of the Suffragette party for the rank-and-file of the Police.

The exchanged pieces may start moving from the squares marked ‘Prison Yard’ and ‘Hospital Grounds’ respectively. No exchange can be made while any piece remains on the Prison Yard or the Hospital Grounds.

If one player does not agree to an exchange, the exchange does not occur.

Winning

The first player with six pieces in their opponent’s home base wins.

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Edith Garrud’s role in the Suffrajitsu stories

Jujitsuffragettes-1
Edith Garrud (uppermost) demonstrates a jiujitsu armlock on one of her suffragette students.

Several Suffrajitsu reviewers have asked why Edith Garrud, who was the real-life jiujitsu instructor of the suffragette Bodyguards, seems to have been downplayed in the graphic novels.  Can you comment?

Tony Wolf: First of all, I should say that I’ve been learning about Edith Garrud’s life and martial arts activities for the past decade.  In recent years I’ve written a number of articles about her, contributed to mainstream newspaper, magazine, TV and radio profiles on her life and even wrote her biography.

Edith’s role and position in the Suffrajitsu series are mostly due to the fact that I prioritized the relationship between Persephone Wright and her uncle Edward, who was the founder of Bartitsu and the owner/manager of the Bartitsu Club. Their relationship had actually been established long before I started writing the Suffrajitsu stories, during an ongoing world-building conversation with other Foreworld Saga writers including Mark Teppo and Neal Stephenson.

Given that Persi was Edward’s niece and protégée, it made sense to turn the Bartitsu Club into the Amazons’ headquarters and to position Bartitsu as their fighting style.  That choice also offered a much wider scope for the fight scenes, in that Bartitsu actually included kickboxing and stick fighting as well as jiujitsu training.

Edith Garrud
Above: Edith Garrud training Amazon Judith Lee in the finer points of the womanly art of self defense.

So what happened to Edith Garrud?

She’s right there doing exactly what she did in real life – teaching the Amazons jiujitsu.  She makes a cameo appearance training Judith Lee in Issue #1 and then Persephone lists her along with two other real-life suffragettes, Flora Drummond and Gert Harding, who will take care of things in London while the Amazons try to rescue Christabel Pankhurst in Austria.  Persi also later refers to Edith’s own security team, the Palladium Irregulars, who will escort Christabel back to London after the rescue.

Who were the Palladium Irregulars?

In real history, Edith taught a women-only self-defense class at the Palladium Academy, which was a primarily a dance school.  Those classes were probably attended by suffragettes and may well have formed the early nucleus of the Bodyguard’s training, but we don’t know for sure.

The Palladium Irregulars are our fictional elaboration of that idea.  In the world of Suffrajitsu, they serve as a sort of reserve unit that can be called on to reinforce the Amazons in times of crisis.

But why isn’t Edith part of the Amazon team?

I should mention that, historically, Edith wasn’t actually a member of the team.  She specifically served as their jiujitsu instructor, rather than as a bodyguard herself.

That said, she was originally part of my fictional Amazon team, along with several other amazing Edwardian-era women who sadly don’t appear in the published version of the story. As I was writing the first issue, it became obvious that there were just too many Amazon characters to do justice to in the amount of space I had to work with.

The commission from Jet City Comics was for a trilogy of 24-page stories.  The requirements of writing an action/adventure storyline within those strict limits – only so many pages per issue and panels per page – meant that there wasn’t space to include many people I’d been hoping to pay homage to.  So, with a heavy heart, I had to remove and merge characters until the team was down to a workable size that offered a diversity of viewpoints, while keeping the focus on Persi as the main protagonist.

Given that one of my priorities was to shine a light on some lesser-known figures such as Flossie Le Mar, Toupie Lowther and “Miss Sanderson“, I was OK with Edith’s eventual role and position in the graphic novel.  I can understand that some readers still wanted to see more of her, though.  I’d encourage them to read the biography Edith Garrud: The Suffragette who knew Jujutsu and also the Kindle Worlds Suffrajitsu novella, The Second Story Girl, in which she plays a more prominent role.

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“Suffrajitsu”: How The Suffragettes Fought Back Using Martial Arts (BBC News)

A BBC News article by Camila Ruz & Justin Parkinson.


The film Suffragette, which is due for release, portrays the struggle by British women to win the vote. They were exposed to violence and intimidation as their campaign became more militant. So they taught themselves the martial art of jiu-jitsu.

Edith Garrud was a tiny woman. Measuring 4ft 11in (150cm) in height she appeared no match for the officers of the Metropolitan Police – required to be at least 5ft 10in (178cm) tall at the time. But she had a secret weapon.

In the run-up to World War One, Garrud became a jiu-jitsu instructor to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), better known as the suffragettes, taking part in an increasingly violent campaign for votes for women.

Sick of the lack of progress, they resorted to civil disobedience, marches and illegal activities including assault and arson.

The struggle in the years before the war became increasingly bitter. Women were arrested and, when they went on hunger strike, were force-fed using rubber tubes. While out on marches, many complained of being manhandled and knocked to the ground. Things took a darker turn after “Black Friday” on 18 November 1910.

Black Friday protest, 1910: Suffragettes were assaulted by police and men in the crowd

A group of around 300 suffragettes met a wall of policemen outside Parliament. Heavily outnumbered, the women were assaulted by both police and male vigilantes in the crowd. Many sustained serious injuries and two women died as a result. More than 100 suffragettes were arrested.

“A lot said they had been groped by the police and male bystanders,” says Elizabeth Crawford, author of The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide. “After that, women didn’t go to these demonstrations unprepared.”

Some started putting cardboard over their ribs for protection. But Garrud was already teaching the WSPU to fight back. Her chosen method was the ancient Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu. It emphasised using the attacker’s force against them, channelling their momentum and targeting their pressure points.


A suffragette’s guide to self-defence

The first connection between the suffragettes and jiu-jitsu was made at a WSPU meeting. Garrud and her husband William, who ran a martial arts school in London’s Golden Square together, had been booked to attend. But William was ill, so she went alone.

“Edith normally did the demonstrating, while William did the speaking,” says Tony Wolf, writer of Suffrajitsu, a trilogy of graphic novels about this aspect of the suffragette movement. “But the story goes that the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, encouraged Edith to do the talking for once, which she did.”

Garrud began teaching some of the suffragettes. “At that time it was more about defending themselves against angry hecklers in the audience who got on stage, rather than police,” says Wolf. “There had been several attempted assaults.”

By about 1910 she was regularly running suffragette-only classes and had written for the WSPU’s newspaper, Votes for Women. Her article stressed the suitability of jiu-jitsu for the situation in which the WSPU found itself – that is, having to deal with a larger, more powerful force in the shape of the police and government.

The press noticed. Health and Strength magazine printed a satirical article called “Jiu-jitsuffragettes”. Punch magazine showed a cartoon of Garrud standing alone against several policemen, entitled “The suffragette that knew jiu-jitsu”. The term “suffrajitsu” soon came into common use.

“They wouldn’t have expected in those days that women could respond physically to that kind of action, let alone put up effective resistance,” says Martin Dixon, chairman of the British Jiu-Jitsu Association. “It was an ideal way for them to handle being grabbed while in a crowd situation.”

The Pankhursts agreed and encouraged all suffragettes to learn the martial art. “The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practice it as well as men,” said Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline, in a 1913 speech.

As the years went on, confrontations between police and suffragettes became more intense. The so-called Cat and Mouse Act in 1913 allowed hunger-striking prisoners to be released and then re-incarcerated as soon as they had recovered their health.

“The WSPU felt that as Mrs Pankhurst had such a vital role to play as motivator and figurehead for the organisation that she was too important to be recaptured,” says Emelyne Godfrey, author of Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.

She needed protectors so Garrud formed a group called The Bodyguard. It consisted of up to 30 women who undertook “dangerous duties,” explains Godfrey. “Sometimes all they would get would be a phone call and instructions to follow a particular car.”

The Bodyguard, nicknamed “Amazons” by the press, armed themselves with clubs hidden in their dresses.

They came in handy during a famous confrontation known as the “Battle of Glasgow” in early 1914.

The Bodyguard travelled overnight from London by train, their concealed clubs making the journey uncomfortable. A crowd was waiting to see Emmeline Pankhurst speak at St Andrew’s Hall. But police had surrounded it, hoping to catch her.

Pankhurst evaded them on her way in by buying a ticket and pretending to be a spectator. The Bodyguard then got into position, sitting on a semi-circle of chairs behind the speaker’s podium.

Suddenly Pankhurst appeared and started speaking. She did so for half a minute before police tried to storm the stage.

But they became caught on barbed wire hidden in bouquets. “So about 30 suffragettes and 50 police were involved in a brawl on stage in front of 4,000 people for several minutes,” says Wolf.

Eventually police overwhelmed The Bodyguard and Pankhurst was once again arrested. But the difficulty they had in dragging her away showed just how effective her guards had become.

Garrud did not just teach them physical skills. They had also learnt to trick their opponents. In 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech from a balcony in Camden Square.

When she emerged from the house in a veil, escorted by members of The Bodyguard, the police swooped in. Despite a fierce fight she was knocked to the ground and dragged away unconscious. But when the police triumphantly unveiled her, they realised she was a decoy. The real Pankhurst had been smuggled out in the commotion.

The emphasis on skill to defeat and outwit a larger opponent was what first impressed Garrud about jiu-jitsu. She came across it when her husband William attended a martial arts exhibition in 1899 and started taking lessons.

Garrud was soon teaching it herself and became one of the first female martial art instructors in the West. In exhibitions, she would wear a red gown and invite a martial arts enthusiast dressed as a policeman to attack her.

“As far as the suffragettes were concerned, she was very much in the right place at the right time,” says Wolf.

“Jiu-jitsu had become something of a society trend, with women hosting jiu-jitsu parties, where they and their friends underwent instruction.”

Garrud and her jiu-jitsu students continued their fight for the vote until a bigger battle engulfed them all. At the outbreak of WW1, the suffragettes concentrated on helping the war effort.

At the end of the war, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act was finally passed. More than eight million women in the UK were given the vote. But women would not get the same voting rights as men until 1928.

As time passed, The Bodyguard and their trainer began to be forgotten. “It was the leaders that wrote the books and set the history,” explains Crawford. The stories of those who helped them were less likely to be recorded.

Edith Garrud does not feature in the new film but one of its stars, Helena Bonham Carter, has paid her own tribute by changing her character’s name from Caroline to Edith in her honour.

She was “an amazing woman” whose fighting method was not about brute force, Bonham Carter has said. “It was about skill.”


Helena Bonham Carter’s character in the film Suffragette is named Edith in homage to Edith Garrud

It was this skill that helped the suffragettes take on powerful opponents. As Garrud recalled in an interview in 1965, a policeman once tried to prevent her from protesting outside Parliament. “Now then, move on, you can’t start causing an obstruction here,” he said. “Excuse me, it is you who are making an obstruction,” she replied, and tossed him over her shoulder.

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Edwardian Amazons: The English Suffragette (Kung Fu Magazine)

The Suffrajitsu media blast continues with this excellent article by KUNG FU MAGAZINE journalist Lori Ann White …

 

Hark back to days of yore, and schoolbook pictures of the women who fought for the vote in the days leading up to the First World War. Ladies in long skirts with grim faces, marching through the city streets and wielding their weapons of choice: banners and pamphlets, signs and shouting. Motherly and grandmotherly types, in starched white shirts with lace at their throats, giving speeches and picketing City Hall. Maybe—if they were extra hard-core—being arrested and going on hunger strikes.

These women are all familiar images from both sides of the Atlantic. British and American suffragettes, who won a voice for their sisters and daughters almost 100 years ago. Noble. Uplifting.

But there’s a picture that’s missing from many accounts of the history of the suffrage movement in England. A picture of the women who were totally bad-ass, with training in grappling and throws and, tucked in their bustles, clubs they were not afraid to use on the men who were trying to shut them down.

The film SUFFRAGETTE (2015) is a study of why these women wanted the skills to defend themselves. It shows the brutality of the London bobbies, who waded into demonstrations and meetings with their own fists and truncheons. More than that, it shows the assaults and insults women had to deal with every day of their lives, from their bosses, their husbands, random men on the street.

One very short scene in the film shows the heroine, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan, an Edwardian Everywoman) getting expertly dumped to the mat by Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, a steely, seasoned soldier of the cause). This is a welcome hint, but only a hint of the martial training of London suffragettes.

The reality is fascinating: A group of dedicated women trained in a hybrid art called Bartitsu who served as bodyguards for wanted suffragettes, security detail for events, and de facto Secret Service detail for Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep in the film), the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, representing the more radical faction of the suffrage movement.

Another option for learning more about these “jiujitsuffragettes,” as dubbed by the press of the day (and having fun doing it), is the graphic novel trilogy, “SUFFRAJITSU: MRS. PANKHURST’S AMAZONS” (2015), written by Tony Wolf, with art by Joao Vieira.

Set in early 1914, at the height of the suffragette movement in London, SUFFRAJITSU introduces us to the Bartitsu-trained women who protect Emmeline Pankhurst, and two of their real-life instructors, Edith Garrud, the women’s jiujitsu instructor at the Bartitsu Club, and the mysterious Miss Sanderson, who was actually Marguerite Vigny, the wife of Pierre Vigny, the cane and savate instructor at the Bartitsu Club.

SUFFRAJITSU: MRS. PANKHURST'S AMAZONS book cover art by Joao Vieira

“The first part of the story is very closely based on real history,” says author Wolf, “as the Amazons engage in escalating confrontations with the police. The strategies of jiujitsu were seen as a metaphor for the womens’ fight to get the vote, and the Amazons served as symbols of women’s defiance against the state’s authority as well as functional bodyguards. Both sides were really engaged in an all-out, hearts-and-minds propaganda battle by that point.”

Wolf is a martial artist, martial arts scholar, fight choreographer and stuntman whose credits include developing the different styles used by the various races in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003). He got his start in eastern styles such as Taekwondo, but became intrigued by the history of martial arts in Europe. His researches led him to Bartitsu, a hybrid style developed by E. W. Barton-Wright (hence the name), a British engineer who spent three years in Japan, which he introduced in London in 1898, according to Wolf.

“Bartitsu was an eccentric ‘mixed martial art‘ combining boxing, jiujitsu, kicking and the Vigny method of self-defense with a walking stick,” says Wolf. It is quite probably the source of Sherlock Holmes’ “Baritsu” style.

In about 2002 Wolf used what he calls “historical detective work and practical pressure-testing” to bring back the lost art of Bartitsu. “Reviving Bartitsu as a sort of gentlemanly Jeet Kune Do, or maybe ‘Edwardian Dog Brothers,’ has been my main martial arts interest since then,” he says.

Wolf’s first exposure to Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons happened much earlier, though.

“I remember first coming across an anecdote about the ‘jiujitsuffragettes’ in a martial arts history book when I was a teenager,” he says. “Apparently, young, middle-class London suffragettes would shinny down the drainpipes and sneak off to secret self-defense classes in the dead of night.”

An appealing image to a rebellious teen, but Wolf did not begin to study them in earnest until he was researching the history of Bartitsu. “I came across more and more information about the suffragette Amazons. Eventually I incorporated that information into some Bartitsu-themed books and a documentary I co-produced in 2010.”

Amazons training in the Bartitsu Club

Then well-known science fiction and fantasy author Neal Stephenson, a Bartitsu aficionado, approached Wolf to write the story of the Edwardian Amazons for Stephenson’s vast shared-world project, the Foreworld Saga.

“I think [Stephenson] was really taken by the idea of a group of bad-ass Edwardian ladies and wanted to see that happen somewhere in the Foreworld,” Wolf says.

With more experience in non-fiction than fiction, Wolf approached the project with some hesitation. “It was a bit of a leap of faith for Neal to get me involved in the Foreworld project,” Wolf says. “I’m very grateful that he did, though, because it was a blast to get to work creatively with all the jiujitsuffragette material I’d been gathering for years.”

Bartitsu Sparring match.

The truth is almost as strange, though, and provides a fascinating glimpse into women in the martial arts in the early 20th century. A number of circumstances—some positive, some less so—had begun to open up the pursuit of martial arts to women.

“Women who wanted to learn jiujitsu weren’t typically considered to be less than ladylike,” Wolf says. “It dovetailed nicely with several other popular trends, including ‘physical culture’ or exercise training, which was generally looked on with good favor, and there was also a lot of popular enthusiasm for Japanese culture at the time.”

On a darker note, says Wolf, “There was a growing awareness of assaults in public spaces, on board trains, and so on, especially as more and more women went into employment and started to travel in cities without chaperones.”

It’s probable that both Marguerite Vigny and Edith Garrud developed new techniques for the women under their tutelage, says Wolf. “Madame Vigny’s system was a pragmatic adaptation of her husband’s method, based on using the umbrella or parasol as a combination of rapier and short spear,” he says, while the women learned some interesting and very effective techniques with Indian clubs, either from Garrud or through trial and error.

“There are very few specific records of how the clubs were used, but the Amazons did learn to target police constables’ helmets, because if the constables lost their helmets, they had to pay for them to be replaced,” Wolf says. Knocking a helmet off a bobby’s head generally sent him scrambling after.

The women also found a useful technique for dealing with the mounted police. “One of the suffragettes figured out that, if you struck a police horse on the back of its knee with an Indian club, the horse would sit down quickly and dump a mounted constable off its back. The horse wouldn’t be hurt, so that was a great counter-move.”

Suffragettes Assemble!

According to Wolf, the suffrage movement in the US did not employ similar tactics. “The US suffrage movement was nowhere near as radical as the suffragettes in the UK,” he says. By some accounts, the violence employed by the more radical suffragettes in London set their cause back by a few years. But following World War I the men of England realized that the women of England deserved a voice and a vote.

After all, there’s only so much you can say with your fists.

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A Suffrajitsu Salon with Tony Wolf and the Obscura Society

Salon 5

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November …”

The evening of November 5th marks the commemoration of Guy Fawkes Night in England and throughout parts of the British Commonwealth.  Although originally framed as a celebration of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot conspiracy of 1605, the festival has, in more recent decades, taken on something more of an anarchic, anti-authoritarian tone.  For many people, Guy Fawkes Night has become almost more a celebration, via fireworks, bonfires and even mass street protests, of the attempt to destroy the English House of Lords.

As such, it was fitting that Thursday, November 5th 2015 saw a salon commemorating the secret society of radical suffragettes who, circa 1913/14, employed incendiary means – including vandalism, bombs and arson – in their subversive campaign to win the right of women to vote in English elections.

Hosted by Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf and facilitated by the Illinois Obscura Society, the Suffrajitsu Salon took place in the Victorian-themed Hutton Lounge at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood.

Salon 1

A capacity audience, some of whom arrived in suitably Victorian attire, enjoyed partaking of a variety of tasty teas and finger foods while perusing a gallery of framed pages from the Suffrajitsu graphic novels and a slideshow of rare suffragette photographs and cartoons.

Salon 3

Meanwhile, ragtime music and a large bouquet of green, white and purple flowers – the symbolic colors of the radical suffragette movement, representing hope, nobility and purity – further set the mood.

The first part of the lecture dealt with the historical origins and adventures of the suffragette “Amazon” Bodyguard team, including their training by Edith Garrud and anecdotes about some of their daring escapes, rescues and battles with the police.

After a short refreshment break, the second part of the presentation highlighted the recent trend towards celebrating the Amazons in fiction, such as the new Suffragette feature film and the Suffrajitsu graphic novels.

Salon 4

An enthusiastic question and answer session then segued into a demonstration of “suffrajitsu” self defense, in which a member of the Amazons – attired in an authentic, antique “physical culture” uniform – took on a fully uniformed, truncheon-wielding British police constable.  The value of jiujitsu as a means of “victory by yielding” was displayed, as well as combat tricks with the Amazons’ signature weapon – the Indian club – and also means of self defense with an umbrella or parasol, in the fashion of “Miss Sanderson’s” unique system.

Salon 6

The evening salon was an unqualified success.

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The Suffragettes Who Learned Martial Arts to Fight for Votes (Atlas Obscura)

This new Atlas Obscura article by writer Tao Tao Holmes highlights both the Suffrajitsu graphic novels and the real history of the suffragette Amazons, including an interview with Suffrajitsu author Tony Wolf.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Wolf describes himself as a ‘very staunchly feminist sort of guy,’ and while writing Suffrajitsu, he approached the women as a group of professionals, political radicals committed to an ideological goal. “The fact that they were female was third or fourth in the list of priorities in terms of how I wanted to present them,” he explains.

At the same time, he didn’t want it to be ‘women: good; men: bad.’ There were many men who very assiduously supported the radical suffrage movement to the point that they earned their own nickname: suffragents. Suffragents supported these women while they engaged in very aggressive, though non-violent civil disobedience. ‘These women were very careful and also very lucky that no one was physically harmed in their protests—even the extreme stuff like bombing,’ says Wolf.”

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Suffrajitsu: A Graphic Novel Celebrating The Fighting Spirit Of The Suffragettes (Konbini)

Journalist Kate Lismore of Konbini recently interviewed Tony Wolf on the inspirations and process behind the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy:

Money shot

Kate Lismore:  What inspired you about the Suffragettes to create your comic/graphic novel?

Tony Wolf: I’d been fascinated by the real-life history of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons for many years, so when Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo asked me to contribute a graphic novel story to their Foreworld Saga franchise, I jumped at the chance to get creative with that theme.

Given that I’d never actually written a graphic novel before, it was a bit of a leap of faith on Neal’s part to get me involved, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.  He actually makes a guest appearance in the first story, as a well-dressed villain …

Beyond that, though, I just think it’s awesome that a group of women in Edwardian England – “King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men!” as Mr. Banks sings in Mary Poppins – actually risked their safety and freedom, over and over again, to improve the lives of future generations.  The fact that some of them were also kick-ass martial arts-trained bodyguards is the icing on the cake.

Constables copy

Lismore:  What is it about comic book genre that makes moments in history more accessible/engaging for people?

Wolf: I think it’s the appeal of a dramatic character-based narrative over “dry”, academic history, although I love the genres of modern, popular historical nonfiction that are bringing so many amazing stories to light.  History is everything that ever happened before now – there’s a lot of very cool stuff in there.

I’m hoping that the Suffrajitsu trilogy, along with the new Suffragette movie, will serve as a kind of edutainment.  It’s astounds me that so few people know about the radical suffragette movement.  It was an incredibly complex, dramatic and interesting period in recent British history, and yet women’s suffrage is mostly remembered as meek ladies waving placards, Emily Davison being hit by a racehorse and a funny song, also from Mary Poppins.

Obviously, there was a huge amount that, with the best will in the world, I simply couldn’t fit in to a 66-page action-adventure graphic novel, but I tried to communicate certain key points.  For one thing, lots of progressive men supported the suffragettes – the newspapers nicknamed them “suffragents” – and lots of conservative women vehemently opposed them, especially as the protest campaigns became more militant.  Two male supporting characters, Edward Barton-Wright and Vernon Kell, represent the suffragent perspective in my stories.

There was also a great diversity of opinion among the suffragettes themselves.  For example, Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst who led the radical Women’s Social and Political Union, became a strident nationalist during the First World War.

She was a very fierce and intelligent strategist and she campaigned for young men to be shamed into entering the armed forces, by having young women hand them white feathers, symbolic of cowardice.  That was extremely controversial at the time, similar to Internet shaming campaigns today. In the Suffrajitsu stories, Persephone Wright, who has been one of Christabel’s loyal bodyguards, takes serious ethical issue with the white feather business.

Pankhursts

Lismore:  Your series focusses on the Amazons and their work protecting the other Suffragettes, how much were you able to take from real life accounts and how much were you able to create for Suffrajitsu?

Wolf: Almost all of the main events in the first issue are very closely based on real-life accounts.  Sometimes people hear that Suffrajitsu is an “alternate history” story and jump to the conclusion that the central premise is fictional, but no – there really was a secret society of martial arts-trained women who protected the leaders of the radical English suffragettes!

I think a lot of people are surprised to hear about this because they assume that, if something that awesome really happened, it would be common knowledge by now.  Unfortunately, though, as with many interesting social phenomena of the very early 20th century, the Amazons were virtually forgotten in the cultural chaos of the First World War.

It sometimes also happens that people go the other way and assume that Suffrajitsu is supposed to be a verbatim documentary, but the reality is that the story was always intended to combine history and fiction at many levels.

Almost all of the characters are fictional representations of historically real people, the major exception being my main protagonist, Persephone Wright, who is the leader of the Amazon team.  Persi is partly inspired by a number of real women,  including Gert Harding – the young Canadian who led the Amazons in real life – and Edith Garrud, who was the team’s martial arts instructor.  Edith also makes a cameo appearance in the graphic novel, and she’s received quite a lot of press over the past couple of years.

Persi is her own woman, though.  She’s what would have been called a “bohemienne”, basically an artistic, free-thinking Edwardian hippie chick, who also happens to be highly trained in the martial arts.  She’s bisexual and, like many people during the early 20th century, she’s heavily addicted to cocaine, which was prescribed by doctors as a wonder-cure for all kinds of ailments.  In Persi’s case, it was “melancholia”, or what we’d think of as depression, arising from a trauma that occurred when she was seventeen.  So, all together she has a pretty complicated life, but fundamentally she’s a person with a very strong drive to protect other people and to fight for what she believes in. Literally, when necessary.

Our representations of the Amazons’ confrontations with the police are very faithful to the historical record, with only minor tweaks for storytelling purposes.  That includes the spectacular “Battle of Glasgow”, in which 30 suffragettes brawled with squads of police constables on the St. Andrew’s Hall auditorium stage, in front of an audience of 4000 shocked spectators.  Again, yes, that really happened.  However, there’s an event at the end of the first story that is a radical departure from history, and that event really spins the adventure off into the Foreworld universe.

That said, the second and third stories are also shot through with historically real characters and locations.  Even our main villain was directly based on a real person, although he’s much more powerful and successful in the story than he was in reality – which is a very good thing!

Riot

Lismore: Often the term “feminism” is considered a very loaded term; how do you think young men and women can reclaim this and make it more positive?

Wolf: I think that feminism is ideally a position of positive advocacy.  For literally as long as I can remember, I’ve understood that all people deserve equal rights and responsibilities, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc.  I worked for several years as a women’s self-defence instructor, which enlightened me to some extent as to the power imbalances that still play out every day, everywhere, and I do what I can to redress those imbalances when I have the chance.

The serious risk with any “-ism” is that it mutates over time into a parody of itself.  The worst case is that an originally positive, dare-I-say common sense position can degenerate into a kind of dogmatic, conformist control mechanism that supplants individuality, open-mindedness and critical thinking.  “Be careful what you hate”, and so-on.

I’m about half a century old now, so young people should feel free to ignore my opinions, but it does give me pause to hear about student activists agitating for “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces” and so-on.  I appreciate the sentiment, but I have to say that previous generations, from the suffragettes through to the women’s liberationists and other social activists of the ’60s and ’70s, did not typically portray themselves as victims, except as a tactical choice.

Frankly, students should be seeking out challenges rather than demanding to be protected from ideas that they don’t like.  These trends trouble me because I want to be able to respect and support these young men and women as the next generation of social progressives.

So, that’s me being all curmudgeonly.  My best advice for the younger generation is to be skeptical, imaginative, curious and honest.

Suffragette that knew jiujitsu

Lismore:  How did you learn about the Amazons? Despite learning about women’s suffrage in school I’d never heard of them before.

Wolf: I first learned about the Amazons as a teenager, reading a book on martial arts history which included an anecdote about young London “society girls” shinnying down drainpipes and sneaking off to secret suffragette jiujitsu classes in the dead of night.

The “secret society” aspect – the idea of this cat-and-mouse game between guerilla suffragettes and the police, playing out in the streets at the height of what was almost a state of civil war – struck a very romantic and transgressive chord.  I experienced something similar a few years later, during the massive and frequently violent social unrest that erupted during the South African Springbok rugby team tour of New Zealand, when anti-apartheid protesters clashed with rugby fans and police.

When the Internet came along I became seriously involved in reviving Bartitsu, which is an eccentric “mixed martial art” for ladies and gentlemen that was founded in London right at the turn of the 20th century.  As I was researching Bartitsu I started to come across more and more information about the suffragette bodyguards.

I included chapters on the Amazons in several Bartitsu-themed books I produced between 2005-2008, and then I wrote the book Edith Garrud: The Suffragette Who Knew Jujutsu, which was intended to interest young teenagers in herstory and in learning self defence. The Amazons were also featured in a Bartitsu documentary that I co-produced in 2011, and I’ve advised on quite a number of articles and academic theses about them over the past few years.

Suffrajitsu three covers

Lismore:  You’ve released the trio of Suffrajitsu comics, are there any more adventures in the works?

Wolf: I’d love to do more, and I’ll never say never, but Suffrajitsu was commissioned as a stand-alone, self-contained trilogy.  That said, the idea of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazon team obviously cries out for expansion beyond what I was able to do in one graphic novel.

Last year I organised a project that brought together four other writers who have produced further adventures set in the Suffrajitsu milieu, incorporating many characters from my stories.  I gave the writers advance access to the graphic novel scripts plus a detailed “world guide”, as well as editorial feedback. Their short stories and novellas are now available as e-books via Amazon.com’s Kindle Worlds, which is a platform for licensed fan fiction set in numerous fictional universes, including the Foreworld Saga.

Incidentally, we have an open invitation for writers to contribute their own Suffrajitsu stories via the same scheme, and I hope more people do join in.  I enjoyed every bit of the process of developing the Kindle Worlds stories – it was both humbling and deeply satisfying to have others playing in my sandbox!

Bwang

Lismore:  Is there much collaboration between your storylines and Joao’s illustration? How did you decide on your strong visual aesthetic?

Wolf: There was a great deal of collaboration over about 12 months, all by email as Joao lives in Brazil and I’m currently based in Chicago, USA.  I wrote the graphic novel script as if it were a screenplay, with detailed “stage directions”, etc., anticipating a close collaboration with the artist.  Likewise, there was a lot of email collaboration with BOOM! Studio in Seattle, who handled the colouring, lettering etc.

The visual aesthetic was very much a team effort.  Joao Vieira has a superb sense of dynamic action and a real flair for illustrating the Edwardian period, plus expertise in framing and “camera angles”, and our colourist, Josan Gonzales, found exactly the right palette.  I had strong ideas about certain things – the Art Nouveau covers, etc. – and, because I also work as a fight choreographer for theatre, TV, feature films and video games, I had definite opinions about the Bartitsu action scenes.

I sent Joao a large number of character, item and location reference photographs, which I’d compiled during my years of academic research. Some of those are just little personal touches, like a brandy flask which is shown at one point, which is based on a flask I inherited from my grandfather.

Myself and my wife, Kathrynne, who is an actress, posed for some further reference photographs, and there are also “guest appearances” by my parents and my son Josh, who appears as a back-alley Soho hooligan in the third story.

I also had the chance to revise the script in certain areas, in response to what the art team was doing.  I was delighted with the look of the comics.  I’m sure this is old hat to experienced graphic novel writers, but there was something magical about having the scenes that I’d been visualising brought to life on the page.

Shield wall

Lismore:  If there’s one lesson that today’s society, particularly young women, could learn from the Suffragettes and the Amazons, what do you think it is?

Wolf: To have the courage of their convictions.  The group of domestic violence protesters who creatively disrupted the red carpet premiere of Suffragette had the right idea.  “Deeds, not words” was the suffragette battle-cry, and I think that has a particular resonance today, when so much of our daily lives are lived in virtual space, bouncing tweets and likes and shares back and forth.  The Internet is a fantastic tool, but if you want real-world change, you have to get out there and do it.

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Suffrajitsu goes (semi-)viral

Money shot

Thanks to the recent BBC News article about the radical suffragettes’ use of the martial arts, which featured Tony Wolf’s Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, popular awareness of the suffragette Amazons has reached an all-time high.

The article and subsequent BBC World Service radio interview with Tony have generated over 15,000 tweets and Facebook posts over the past two days, plus numerous articles in other media.

Emelyne Godfrey, the author of two books on self-defence during the “long Victorian era”, has also recently been interviewed on this subject for BBC Wales radio.

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