Ben Miller

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Early 20th century books on “Manly Sports”–become an “expert” for only 10 cents!

In Everyday Life, Gender Roles, Martial Arts on February 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Clubs cover

I have in front of me a modern (2005) facsimile edition of Indian Clubs and Dumb Bells, by J.H. Dougherty, which was originally published in 1911, by Spalding’s Athletic Library. In the front of the book is Spalding’s list of available books at that time–their entire Athletic Library, in fact–and the section on “Manly Sports” is especially interesting:

 No. 140–Wrestling.   Catch-as-catch-can style. Seventy illustrations of the different holds, photographed especially and so described that anybody can with little effort learn every one. Price 10 cents.

No. 18–Fencing.   By Dr. Edward Breck, of Boston, editor of The Swordsman, a prominent amateur fencer. A book that has stood the test of time, and is universally acknowledged to be a standard work. Illustrated. Price 10 cents.

 No. 162–Boxing Guide.   Contains over 70 pages of illustrations showing all the latest blows, posed especially for this book under the supervision of a well-known instructor of boxing, who makes a specialty of teaching and knows how to impart his knowledge. Price 10 cents.

 No. 165–The Art of Fencing.   By Regis and Louis Senac, of New York, famous instructors and leading authorities on the subject. Gives in detail how every move should be made. Price 10 cents.

No. 236–How to Wrestle.   The most complete and up-to-date book on wrestling ever published. Edited by F.R. Toombs, and devoted principally to special poses and illustrations by George Hackenschmidt, the “Russian Lion”. Price 10 cents.

No. 102–Ground Tumbling.   Any boy, by reading this book and following the instructions, can become proficient. Price 10 cents.

No. 289–Tumbling for Amateurs.   Specially compiled for amateurs by Dr. James. T. Gwathmey. Every variety of the pastime explained in text and pictures, over 100 different positions being shown. Price 10 cents.

 No. 191–How to Punch the Bag.   The best treatise on bag punching that has ever been printed. Every variety of blow used in training is shown and explained, with a chapter on fancy bag punching by a well-known theatrical bag puncher. Price 10 cents.

No. 200–Dumb-Bells.   The best work on dumb-bells that has ever been offered. By Prof. G. Bojus, of New York. Contains 200 photographs. Should be in the hands of every teacher and pupil of physical culture, and is invaluable for home exercise. Price 10 cents.

No. 143–Indian Clubs and Dumb-Bells.   By America’s amateur champion club swinger, J.H. Dougherty. It is clearly illustrated, by which any novice can become an expert. Price 10 cents.

No. 262–Medicine Ball Exercises.   A series of plain and practical exercises with the medicine ball, suitable for boys and girls, business and professional men, in and out of gymnasium. Price 10 cents.

No. 29–Pulley Weight Exercises.   By Dr. Henry S. Anderson, instructor in heavy gymnastics Yale gymnasium. In conjunction with a chest machine anyone with this book can become perfectly developed. Price 10 cents.

No. 233–Jiu Jitsu.   Each move thoroughly explained and illustrated with numerous full-page pictures of Messrs. A. Minami and K. Koyama, two of the most famous exponents of the art of Jiu Jitsu, who posed especially for this book. Price 10 cents.

No. 166–How to Swing Indian Clubs.   By Prof. E.B. Warman. By following the directions carefully anyone can become an expert. Price 10 cents.

No. 326–Professional Wrestling.   A book devoted to the catch-as-catch-can style; illustrated with half-tone pictures showing the different holds used by Frank Gotch, champion catch-as-catch-can wrestler of the world. Posed by Dr. Roller and Charles Postl. By Ed. W. Smith, Sporting Editor of the Chicago American. Price 10 cents.

The Spear in Japanese Martial Culture

In Martial Arts, Military, Weapons and Armor on January 31, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Article by David Black Mastro

In various martial cultures around the world, the sword is held in the utmost esteem–it is a weapon that has transcended its original role as a tool of war, and it is thus also seen as a symbol of power, justice, and so on. As the great European swordsman Sir Richard Francis Burton once wrote, “The history of the sword is the history of humanity”.

That being said, the aura of romance surrounding the sword has done much to cloud the fact that there are, in fact, other edged weapons which are far more formidable.   Among the numerous hand weapons which fighting men have developed over the centuries, the simple spear is perhaps the greatest, and most misunderstood.

The Japanese have always had a very strong martial culture, and they did not ignore the development of the spear. Early Japanese spears were of the hoko type, made with a metal socket which the wooden shaft fitted in–much like Continental Asian and European spears. According to Donn F. Draeger in his classic text Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts, the hoko remained in use from c. 200 B.C./B.C.E., to the late Heian or early Kamakura period (c. late 12th century A.D./C.E.). Then, the Japanese developed their distinctive yari, which featured a spearhead with a very long tang, that was fitted into a hollowed-out portion in the shaft of the weapon.

From a purely combative sense, the great advantage of the spear was obviously its superior reach. For a swordsman, facing a spearman is a daunting prospect. Draeger’s protege, Hunter B. Armstrong, commented on this in his excellent article, “Owari Kan Ryu Sojutsu–Classical Japanese Spear Arts”, which appeared in the February 1998 issue of Exotic Martial Arts Around the World. Armstrong correctly noted that “it was the spear that dominated the battlefield,” and, “In a one-on-one combat between a spearman and swordsman, the sword had little chance.”

Practitioners from other martial cultures have noted this truism. In his Paradoxes of Defence from 1599, the great English swordsman George Silver wrote that, “The short staff (quarterstaff) or half pike (spear) have the vantage against the… two hand sword, the sword and target (round shield), and are too hard for two swords and daggers…” In other words, a spearman could safely engage and defeat two men armed with sword-and-dagger, facing him at once. 

The great difficulty for the swordsman in facing a spearman lies in the fact that the spearman can make what are generally referred to today as “slip-thrusts”–i.e., a thrust delivered with the rear hand, where the shaft of the spear slides through the loose grip of the forward hand (similar to using a pool stick). The use of slip-thrusts makes it extremely difficult for the swordsman to judge the ma-ai (combative engagement distance, what Western swordsmen refer to as “fencing measure”). The spearman can thus make feints high and low, to the outside and inside lines, and is himself safe from counters, since the swordsman cannot immediately reach him.

The Japanese took the slip-thrust concept & technique to its most extreme, by sometimes making use of a small metal tube (kuda), which fits around the spear shaft, and is held by the forward hand of the spearman. With the kuda, the slip-thrusts can be made with even greater speed, due to the reduced friction. Kan Ryu sojutsu–which makes use of a yari nearly 12 feet long–features the use of the kuda.

Another advantage of the yari–one not featured on all spears around the world–is the fact that it also has functional cutting edges. Yari heads are typically of a stout triangular cross-section, and have two edges. The spearman can therefore make sweeping cuts to various parts of the opponent’s body, in addition to thrusts.

Yari were available with a variety of spearheads. In addition to the conventional head described above, there were some yari that featured a crossbar called a hadome, at the base of the head (similar to the crossbar or toggle seen on European boar spears), which could be used for parrying and trapping. In addition, there were yari with more elaborate heads, like the magari-yari (also known as the jumonji yari), with side blades more or less perpendicular to the main blade. These side blades apparently could function like a hadome, but they were also sharpened, giving the spearman more cutting options. During the 16th century, when the Portuguese arquebus (a type of matchlock musket) entered the Japanese arsenal, the nagae-yari or long spear was developed, which, at some 16 feet or more in length, was akin to the European pike. The nagae-yari was used by the ashigaru (lit., “light feet”), the footsoldiers of peasant stock who served as pikemen and arquebusiers. These organized infantrymen represented a Japanese parallel to the rank-and-file Swiss reislaufer and German landsknechte–low-born footsoldiers who could use the reach of the pike and the even greater reach of the arquebus, to down their social betters (the samurai and knights, respectively). 

 A weapon as devastating as the yari was naturally bound to produce its share of legendary users. Author Anthony Bryant, in his Osprey book, Samurai 1550-1600, noted the great Watanabe Hanzo, who was one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s retainers. He was so skilled in spear-fighting that he ultimately gained the nickname “Yari no Hanzo” (lit., “Hanzo of the Spear”). Another famous spearman was Kato Kiyomasa, one of the commanders in Hideyoshi’s army that invaded Korea in 1592. During lulls in the fighting, Kiyomasa was known to hunt tigers, using only a spear. This was yet another example of professional fighting men hunting and/or fighting big, dangerous game using spears, as an adjunct to their military training. Northern Europeans often hunted wild boar with spears, and Spanish knights engaged in bullfighting with swords and lances. While such practices may seem repugnant to the modern mind, they nevertheless require substantial skill, and a great deal of nerve.

 Even after the demise of the Feudal bushi in the mid-19th century A.D./C.E., spear technique did not die. Just as European pike and half-pike technique survived in the use of the bayonet, so did Japanese sojutsu contribute to juken-jutsu. And so the spear–one of Man’s earliest weapons–tenaciously refuses to be forgotten. Though it lacks the popular mystique of the sword, its sheer effectiveness and practicality cannot be denied.

For further reading:

 Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts by Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith

Classical Bujutsu–The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan Vol. One by Donn F. Draeger

 Samurai 1550-1600 by Anthony Bryant (Osprey Warrior Series 7)

Samurai Warfare by Dr. Stephen Turnbull

 Samurai–The weapons and spirit of the Japanese warrior by Clive Sinclair

 “Owari Kan Ryu Sojutsu–Classical Japanese Spear Arts”, by Hunter B. Armstrong (from the February 1998 issue of Exotic Martial Arts Around the World)

 Paradoxes of Defence by George Silver

 The Book of the Sword by Richard F. Burton

“Fat” Gladiators: Modern Misconceptions Regarding the Dietary Practices of Swordsmen of the Ancient Roman Arena

In Antiquity, Food and Diet on January 30, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Article by David Black Mastro

In the November/December ’08 issue of Archeology magazine, author Andrew Currey covered the recent findings by paleo-pathologist Karl Grossschmidt of Vienna, concerning the diet of ancient Roman gladiators. Grossschmidt and his colleague, Fabian Kanz, examined the bones of gladiators from a site in Western Turkey. Currey wrote:

But the biggest revelation to come out of the Ephesus cemetery is what kept the gladiators alive–a vegetarian diet rich in carbohydrates, with the occasional calcium supplement.  Contemporary accounts of gladiator life sometimes refer to the warriors as hordearii–literally, “barley men.” Grossschmidt and collaborator Fabian Kanz subjected bits of the bone to isotopic analysis, a technique that measures trace chemical elements such as calcium, strontium, and zinc, to see if they could find out why. They turned up some surprising results. Compared to the average inhabitant of Ephesus, gladiators ate more plants and very little animal protein.

This in itself is not surprising, but Grossschmidt’s conclusion as to why the gladiators’ diet was predominantly vegetarian is problematic at best:

The vegetarian diet had nothing to do with poverty or animal rights. Gladiators, it seems, were fat. Consuming a lot of simple carbohydrates, such as barley, and legumes, like beans, was designed for survival in the arena. Packing in the carbs also packed on the pounds. “Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat,” Grossschmidt explains. “A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight.” Not only would a lean gladiator have been dead meat, he would have made for a bad show. Surface wounds “look more spectacular,” says Grossschmidt. “If I get wounded but just in the fatty layer, I can fight on,” he adds. “It doesn’t hurt much, and it looks great for the spectators.”

Grossschmidt’s assertion that gladiators purposely “packed on the pounds” with a carb-heavy diet poses several problems. For one thing, it ignores the devastating nature of ancient edged weapons. While a layer of subcutaneous fat can indeed give some amount of protection from the cuts of smaller knives, it is of no use against the types of weapons that gladiators typically had to cope with. Of the various gladiator types, many–as the very name “gladiator” indicates–were swordsmen. Of the sword-armed gladiators, most fought with the combination of the short sword (gladius) and the long shield (scutum)–in this category were the myrmillo, secutor, and provocator. The other main type of sword-armed gladiator was the Thracian, who fought with the curved sica and a small round or square buckler (parma). The gladius was a devastating weapon, capable of horrible, mortal wounds with both its point and edge. The original gladius was the gladius Hispaniensis, so-called because of its use by Iberian warriors. This early type of gladius featured a broad, slightly waisted, double-edged blade, that swelled at the COP (center of percussion), and then tapered to a long, acute point. A perfect example of “form following function”, the design of the gladius Hispaniensis was intended to provide a short weapon capable of fearsome cuts, as well as thrusts. In his book The Republican Roman Army 200-104 BC, archeologist Nicholas Sekunda noted that the ancient author Livy commented on how the Macedonians feared the cutting capacity of the gladius Hispaniensis–it was easily capable of shearing off limbs, or decapitating a foe. The gladius Hispaniensis was ultimately supplanted with a simpler form, featuring a shorter point, and parallel edged, and its broad blade could still cut very well. The sica of the Thracian could deliver slashing strokes with its convex edge, chopping blows with its concave edge, and wicked, hooking-style thrusts. Against such weapons, subcutaneous bodyfat would have served no genuinely beneficial purpose.

Another problem with Grossschmidt’s theory is that it runs contrary to what ancient sources say about the gladiator’s diet. In his classic work, Gladiators, author Michael Grant pointed out that no less an authority than the ancient physician Galen was, in fact, critical of the gladiators’ carb-heavy food:

The schools were also provided with resident medical consultants to check the men’s diet, and both Galen and a leading doctor of the preceding century, Scribonius Largus, concern themselves with this aspect. Gladiators were called hordearii, barley men, because of the amount of barley that they ate, a muscle-building food but (combined with beans as it was at Pergamum) criticized by Galen for making the flesh soft. (emphasis added)

Galen’s reservations about the preponderance of barley “making the flesh soft” suggests that gladiators would not have sought to purposely “pack on the pounds”. Gladiators, like any other fighting men, would not have gained any real advantage from excess bodyfat (and arguably, such extra weight could have actually been a liability).

The condemnation of excess bodyfat can also be seen in the late Roman writer Vegetius’s Epitoma Rei Militaris (Epitome of Military Science). Vegetius wrote specifically about ideal army recruits, but his requirements apply to fighting men in general:

So let the adolescent who is to be selected for martial activity have alert eyes, straight neck, broad chest, muscular shoulders, strong arms, long fingers, let him be small in the stomach, slender in the buttocks, and have calves and feet which are not swollen by surplus fat but firm with hard muscle. When you see these points in a recruit, you need not greatly regret the absence of tall stature. It is more useful that soldiers be strong than big. (emphasis added)

The final evidence which refutes Grossschmidt’s suggestion is ancient artwork. Period representations of gladiators typically show them to be lean & sinewy, like other warriors. Take, for example, the following relief, which shows bestiarii (animal fighters):

The fighters look lean, and the muscle development and definition is very much in evidence.

Given all of the above, it would appear that all those carbs were burned off in the daily toil of training, and in the arena. Grossschmidt’s theory frankly makes little sense.

So, why, then, did the gladiators subsist on a predominantly vegetarian diet? We know from archeological evidence that Roman soldiers (legionaries and auxiliaries), while also relying principally on grains like wheat and barley (they were, after all, from an agrarian society), also consumed a substantial amount of animal protein. In his excellent text, Warriors of Rome: An illustrated history of the Roman Legions, Michael Simkins noted modern archeological evidence “shows conclusively that meat was consumed in the forts, along with a great variety of other foodstuffs”.

And it was, indeed, a great variety. In her online article, “Did Roman Soldiers Eat Meat?”, N.S. Gill wrote:

Much of Davies’ work in “The Roman Military Diet” is interpretation, but some of it is scientific analysis of bones excavated from Roman British and German military sites dating from Augustus to the third century. From the analysis, we know the Romans ate ox, sheep, goat, pig, deer, boar, and hare, in most places and in some areas, elk, wolf, fox, badger, beaver, bear, vole, ibex, and otter. Broken beef bones suggest the extraction of marrow for soup. Alongside the animal bones, archaeologists found equipment for roasting and boiling the meat as well as for making cheese from the milk of domesticated animals. Fish and poultry were also popular, the latter especially for the sick.

For Gill’s full article, go here:

Why were things apparently different for the gladiators? I personally suspect it has to do with the gladiators’ place in ancient Roman society. Gladiators were slaves, and among their ranks were countless prisoners of war and condemned criminals. It was clearly more economical to feed them a predominantly vegetarian diet. Grains and beans and legumes could be combined, and they served not only for their carbohydrates, but also as a good source of protein (the combination makes for a better amino acid profile). Anyone who thinks that vegetarians and vegans cannot build muscle and be powerful has clearly never seen people like old-time strongman George Hackenschmidt (demi-vegetarian), bodybuilder Bill Pearl (vegetarian), MMA fighter Mac Danzig (vegan), strength coach Mike Mahler (vegan), or hardcore music legend & all-round hard guy John Joseph (vegan). Therefore, gladiators were fed a primarily vegetarian diet simply because it was comparatively cheap, and because it still worked to produce lean, fit fighters.

For Currey’s original article, go here:

Thanks go out to Marc Smith, for inspiring me to write this article, and to Carl Massaro and Alex Wilkie, who have both greatly helped me in exploring the sheer power of edged weapons, over the years.


Primary Sources:

Epitome of Military Science by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

The Rise of the Roman Empire by Polybius

Secondary Sources:

Gladiators by Michael Grant

Gladiators 100BC-AD200 by Stephen Wisdom

Warriors of Rome: An illustrated history of the Roman Legions by Michael Simkins

Republican Roman Army 200-104 BC by Nicholas Sekunda

Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly

Swords and Hilt Weapons (esp. the chapter “Greece and Rome” by Peter Connolly)

The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler and Diana Holtzberg

Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier

Evolution of a Cro-Magnon by John Joseph

“Did Roman Soldiers Eat Meat?” by N.S. Gill (