These vintage photographs come from an untitled album from the 1890s which records various self-defense hand-to-hand maneuvers.
The two finely dressed gentlemen demonstrate a variety of defensive moves that involve chokeholds, body slams, kicks, chops, and arm twists.
Each two-picture spread depicts the moment of confrontation between two glowering men followed by the appropriate maneuver, although what they are doing ranges from the bizarre and the obscure to the plainly improbable.
The album provides a rich example of a late Victorian instructional handbook, produced during a period when photography was tapped by thousands for its pedagogical potential.
The broad spectrum of self-defense can be considered as having come from the dawn of time even the earliest humans had to learn how to protect themselves and teach their strategies to others.
From there self-defense evolved into less primitive forms and into delineated and disciplined forms, such as with martial arts.
Broadly speaking, martial arts share a single objective: to defeat a person physically or to defend oneself from physical threat.
Some martial arts are linked to spiritual or religious beliefs/philosophies such as Buddhism, Daoism, or Shinto while others have their own spiritual/non-spiritual code of honor.
Martial arts are commonly associated with East Asian cultures but are by no means unique to Asia. Throughout Europe there was an extensive system of combat martial arts, collectively referred to as Historical European martial arts, that existed until modern times and are now being reconstructed by several organizations while Savate is a French kicking style developed by sailors and street fighters.
In the Americas, Native Americans have a tradition of open-handed martial arts, that includes wrestling and Hawaiians have historically practiced arts featuring small and large joint manipulation, a mix of origins occur in the athletic movements of Capoeira that was created in Brazil by slaves, based on skills brought with them from Africa.
While each style has unique facets that make it different from other martial arts, a common characteristic is the systemization of fighting techniques.
Methods of training vary and may include sparring or forms (kata), which are sets or routines of techniques that are performed alone, or sometimes with a partner, and which are especially common in the Asian and Asian-derived martial arts.
The word ‘martial’ derives from the name of Mars, the Roman god of war. The term ‘Martial Arts’ literally means arts of Mars.
This term comes from 15th century Europeans who were referring to their own fighting arts that are today known as Historical European martial arts.
(Photo credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art).