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Saturday, January 13, 2018

"Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies" by Colonel Monstery, ed. by Ben Miller. A Review

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and QuarterstaffSelf-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff by Thomas Hoyer Monstery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There it was, that dashing bar-fight scene where Sherlock Holmes (played by Jeremy Brett) fights Mr. Woodley as a gentleman. The scuffle ends with victory for Mr. Holmes, the prostration of Mr. Woodley and the applause of the pub patrons. The fighting style looks odd when compared to more modern versions of Sherlock Holmes, but there is a historical twinge to the scene. In the 19th Century England and America there were men putting themselves forward as experts in self-defense, some of whom had personal experience. On U.S. soil Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery was one of these. From December 1877 to January 1879 Monstery wrote several articles on self-defense in the New York magazine "The Spirit of the Times". These articles have been reclaimed, re-collected and republished in the 216 page glossy hardback "Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff" by Ben Miller, award-winning filmmaker, author and fencer.

"Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies" begins with a short and delightful biographical sketch of Monstery. Miller chronicles Monstery's martial progress and exploits from adolescence to adulthood. These include his thirst for training in various forms of Western martial arts, which encompassed fencing, saber-fighting, broadsword, and boxing. After serving as a soldier of fortune under twelve different flags, he established his training school in Baltimore, San Francisco, Oakland, New York and Chicago. In these schools he trained many people to defend themselves in real-life circumstances against local rouges and ruffians. Because of Monstery's breadth of training and personal combative experiences, he adapted his training in unique ways; "his system was ultimately intended for self-defense without gloves" and so he advocated "a guard position somewhat different than those in other treatises of the period" (40). Further, he developed a striking style that seems to come close to certain Asian Martial Arts' strikes: "to establish a line of power from the shoulder to the knuckles of the second, third and forefinger. The principle is the same in fencing" (ibid.). The biography succeeds in describing that Monstery's approach was not only born in the sanitized training school, but also on the streets and ships' decks.

The remainder of the tiny volume are the articles Monstery wrote for "The Spirit of the Times". They include his own sparse sketches and diagrams. Much of the material seems to assume that the reader has a modicum of working knowledge in fencing and boxing. Though it was written for the then average reader, it comes across more as a guide to instructors on how to teach his particular approach and to guide their trainees. Since there is a meager visual display in the book, and the writer assumes more from his readers than may have been realistic, it makes it difficult to conceptualize how a move is to be accomplished, and what it will look like. Nevertheless, a trained martial artist will quickly recognize the genuineness of the material, even with its eccentric properties. Economy of motions looks to be the reigning principle governing all actions.

"Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies" may not be the most expert and expeditious training manual in personal protection, nevertheless it is a well-done historical resource. It also contains some nuggets of gold, both in in fighting and in fighting as a gentleman or lady. It is an easy read, and will enhance the martial artist's historical perspective in American fighting styles. Additionally, the volume should find its way into the lending library of any dojo and self-defense school to show how striking principles and situational awareness are not esoteric aptitudes, but recognizable traits in any genuine martial art. I recommend the book.

The book may be purchased here: "Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies"

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