Bruce Tegner and Self-Defence
“Self defence is Nature’s eldest law.”
– John Dryden
Bullying has become a hot topic of conversation in my part of the world in recent weeks. Such a spike in interest and general pontification about its reality among young people is due to a recent suicide by a vulnerable teenage girl after she foolishly flashed her breasts on a social media site.
If it’s anything like when I was in school, so many years ago, being bullied is both a terrible experience and a pervasive fact. People, especially immature kids, will take advantage of their larger physical size, higher status, or greater power of most any kind to wreak their will on the less fortunate, especially those whom they deem weak or undeserving of respect.
In the long time since my youth, or even five years ago, the sudden pervasiveness of social media, and the myriad avenues of communication they make available have provided more ways for the dedicated bully to make him or herself felt.
It seems to be part of being a social animal, unfortunately. I remember seeing this, as a boy in northern BC where we had a lot of room, among the litter of dogs — perhaps six or seven — we once allowed to grow up together. The puppies after a very few months had it in for one of their number.
He was just a little smaller, with perhaps more of a whiny disposition, and his siblings took to ganging up on him without provocation. The poor thing couldn’t even eat without being set upon. We tried to protect him and separate him from the worst of the rest’s attention. But he liked to run with the pack, never mind the consequences. We hoped the pack would grow out of this obsession towards the runt, but as the dogs grew, he got more savaged. Eventually the others killed him.
I was fortunate not to have been bullied too much in school. Although bookish with glasses, I was of decent size and prone to fight back if excessively provoked. But I tended to hang out with fellow outsiders, you could call them, who did receive more than a little attention from schoolyard bullies.
Perhaps because of this, I did take an interest in self-defense at an early age, and being bookish, of course I looked for writings on the subject. I also took up wrestling in high-school and built my own boxing ring at home, where, after taking off my glasses, I could spar inexpertly with my neighbourhood friends and acquaintances. So it wasn’t purely a theoretical pursuit for me.
Before Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris
In the days before Bruce Lee and the more mainstream acceptance of martial arts, there were very few books available on karate or judo or on self-defense in general.
One of the few authors who did write such books in the dark ages before martial arts magazines was Bruce Tegner.
He is little remembered now — there is only a very short article at Wikipedia — but in his day during the 1960s and into the 1970s he authored as many as 25 books on judo, jujitsu, karate and even aikido and savate.
Interestingly both his parents were professional teachers of judo and jujitsu. Bruce Tegner was born in 1929 and his parents apparently began his instruction at the tender age of two years old.
There is a video available here of Tegner and his mother demonstrating jujitsu, although he’s much older than two! (The other mustached participant in the video may be his father.)
He became California state judo champion by the time he was twenty-one. From 1952 to 1967 he operated his own school in Hollywood, California and had a number of actors among his students, including Ricky Nelson, James Coburn, and George Reeves.
He choreographed movie fight scenes, perhaps most famously the one between Frank Sinatra and Henry Silva in the Manchurian Candidate (you can see it here.) Tegner has Silva using one of the common fighting stances from his writings.
He was also said to have taught military police and coached sport judo teams. By the mid 70s he was teaching judo at several colleges including as an instructor for a criminology program, and continued to write books. He died in 1985 of a heart attack at the age of 56.
Tegner had a modernist attitude towards the martial arts. He was more interested in effectiveness than tradition, and in keeping techniques simple enough to be employed by those who weren’t trained athletes. He went out of his way to demystify the esoteric aura of the martial arts and to downplay any imagined superhuman abilities of black belt practitioners.
Between the popular nature of his books and his lack of awe about martial arts culture in general, he was largely ignored and forgotten by the martial arts community.
But for a teenager in northern British Columbia wondering how best to defend himself, if it came to that, acquiring Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Jukado Self-Defense in 1968 provided what seemed to me then, and still does looking at it now, a workable way to dealing with physically aggressive people. “Jukado” was Tegner’s combined approach to martial arts with elements of Judo, Karate and Aikido.
Even now I retain some of his key concepts. One is the ‘thoughtful guard’ as if thinking, one hand near the chin, the other in support at midriff, hand near the raised hand’s elbow. This is particularly useful in ambiguous circumstances where an aggressive person may be shouting but not yet prepared to take a swing. The stance doesn’t show belligerence nor indicate a challenge.
Another concept that I still appreciate is the idea, especially if confronted by a baton or knife, of moving or even jumping to one ‘corner’ and delivering a serious kick to the knee. This makes so much more sense to me than fumbling around with some ‘technique’ at closer quarters.
The other book of Tegner’s that I have is Stick-Fighting: Self-Defense which I found in a second-hand bookstore decades after the first one. It covers use of the cane, the yawara hand-stick, umbrella and walking stick. I must have got it in preparation for my elder years!
There is a place for books such as these on self-defense, but unless one practices some method in a regular way, and finds a way to bring it into your body, all of that information usually flees in difficult circumstances.
For those who may wish to investigate a more modern book on self-defense, I would heartily recommend Attack Proof, by John Perkins, Al Ridenhour, and Matt Kovsky. This is a very thoughtful, insightful approach to self-defense with topics like “Guided Chaos Body and Mind Principles” and is endorsed by real world police and military types.
Many of the drills they recommend have similarities to the essence of what is also trained in aikido and tai chi.
And I was glad to find their recommendation, for instance, of what they call the Jack Benny Stance, which is the same as Tegner’s ‘thoughtful guard.’
Notes on photos from top down:
The first three are from an online obituary for Bruce Tegner.
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