For various reasons -- most having to do with the lack of a paying market for such a book -- Harrison never got around to providing Smith with a complete autobiography. In his letters, however, he often touched on aspects of his life, and so, forty years later, Joseph Svinth has edited Harrison's letters to create the following account of Harrison's life, as told in his own words.2 To maintain the integrity of the letters, no other sources (to include Harrison's own books and articles) were consulted while preparing the text.
The letters were edited and reprinted courtesy of Robert W. Smith. The article was previously published in Aikido Journal, 26:1 (1999), 48-51, and is reprinted by permission of Joseph Svinth.
You ask for a résumé of my chequered career. I had at one time adumbrated writing an Autobiography, and at my publisher's request had prepared a quite detailed synopsis of its scope and contents. In the end, however, he dropped the idea. Perhaps if the revised Fighting Spirit of Japan had sold better he might have been tempted to take a chance but although the sales of that book have repaid the advance royalty of £75 and have since netted me a few quid every half year, they have never approached those of the judo books. So I fancy that at my age it would be foolish to undertake what would be my biggest literary venture in the absence of a cast-iron assurance of its acceptance. Meanwhile, perhaps this will do.
I was born in Manchester on August 22, 1873. My recollection of my early years is one of listening to classical music. And I am told that I take after my father in interests; he was athletically inclined and ranked as the best boxer in the Manchester Atheneum Club. Unfortunately, I took after my father in stature as well. In my prime I stood barely 5 feet 6 inches and scaled stripped about 154 pounds; now in my old age I'm about 14 pounds heavier. My comparatively stunted stature has always been a sore point with me, although it was largely on that account that I was moved in early youth to take up gymnastics and "catch" wrestling. But by their necks ye shall know them, and even in this, the twilight of my mundane days, I still wear a 17-1/2 inch collar.
While I can just remember my father, I have no recollection whatsoever of my mother. There was a family rupture and my father emigrated to the USA where he married again and became an American citizen. Gradually our relations petered out and I have no knowledge of the date of his death. But I know that he had other children by his second American wife, so that it is quite likely that today there are American half-brothers and/or sisters of mine dwelling in the USA.
At the ripe age of nine or so I attended for some time the York Model School. While in Yorkshire I lived in New Earswick with my late uncle J.S.R. Phillips. He was then editor of the York Herald but later became nationally known as editor of The Yorkshire Post in Leeds. While growing up I was raised with a first cousin named Nené Phillips. Her late father, my uncle Richard Cobden Phillips by name, was a genius in his way but bereft of any business sense so that he remained materially poor until the end of his life.
Both uncles were big men alike mentally and physically. The Editor in his heyday scaled about seventeen stone (238 pounds) and stood six feet in his socks. In his youth he possessed simply colossal strength and when for a season he was employed by a big Manchester textile firm he was usually referred to as a young Hercules. His older brother R.C. was six feet one and a half inches and a splendid swimmer.
As a youth "oop North" I sampled Cumberland and catch-as-catch-can wrestling. I never dabbled in Cornish but even before my teens I took to the Lancashire style like a duck to water. (Cornish, as you know, is jacketed wrestling while the Lancashire style is the ancestor of our modern catch-as-catch can.)
I had to go to work when I was only fifteen years old and I've been working hard ever since. I am sometimes tempted to speculate on what I might have done in philology if I could have gone to the university. Yet perhaps additional scholarship would have been gained at the cost of variety (the spice of life) and adventure. One cannot have it both ways, alas. My employment was at the Manchester Reference Library, and while there I availed myself of the classics. Besides becoming an avid admirer of the Swan of Avon, I became a disciple of the historian Thomas Macaulay when about sixteen years of age, and have never for an instant deviated from my allegiance. Once you've read and admired Macaulay's essay on Johnson read and re-read his essay on Milton. Composed when he was only 25 years old, that essay without peradventure of doubt ranks among his masterpieces. Macaulay was that rare combination, a literary genius and a parliamentary orator, a poet and a classical scholar of the first rank. Of course the intelligentsia of my generation were almost suckled on his Lays of Ancient Rome. I also became a fairly expert stenographer and typist, and learned to translate French.
From my earliest surviving photograph I am able to verify exactly the date of my departure from England to New Westminster, British Columbia as March 23, 1893. There's also a really interesting photograph showing two other journalists and myself interviewing Mark Twain as he lay in bed in a Vancouver hotel. It was taken during his last world tour before his death. I suppose the year would be 1896. I recall that I surreptitiously took a shorthand note of his wonderful talk and that my subsequently printed interview was telegraphed all over the USA.
I was then a cub reporter on the Vancouver News-Advertiser. Soon afterwards I spent some time at Nanaimo, the BC colliery town, where, as you already know from the pages of my Fighting Spirit, I trained systematically in catch at the Nanaimo miners' athletic club. My instructor was the well-known lightweight Jack Stewart, who was the favourite pupil of the famous heavyweight Dan MacLeod. The latter was known as the Californian wonder, although actually he was from Nova Scotia.
From British Columbia I went to California. I travelled by sea from Vancouver to San Francisco without so much as a visa and got a job on the San Francisco Call on the basis of what were then called "Details" without any difficulty whatsoever. I also had the pleasure of visiting San Jose and Los Angeles, but now at this long range, alike geographical and chronological, I cannot easily visualise the scene. Then I left "God's own country" for Dai Nippon, just missing the Californian earthquake by the skin of my teeth.
In Japan I was the sole reporter and news editor for Yokohama's Japan Herald. Folks were wont to remark about me, "Oh, that is jujutsu Harrison, but what the hell does he do for a living?" Since then I seem to have become better known as Ernesas Jonas Harrisonas of Lithuania! At any rate I am one of the very few non-Lithuanians to hold the Third Class Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas in addition to the War and Victory Medals of the First World War during which I spent about two years as a wretched 2nd loot.
During my unregenerate days in Dai Nippon I practised judo almost daily. From time to time I was also wont to visit Tokyo's licensed quarters. Not, I hasten to assure you, in order to patronise the houses themselves but rather with a view to practising my Japanese in informal and jocular conversation with the inmates of the second-class brothels who in those days were compelled to exhibit themselves decked in all their finery behind the so-called hari-mise. (The verb harmise-suru means to solicit guests to a house of ill-fame, but in common parlance the noun hari-mise then meant the spacious show- window behind which the courtesans used to squat each behind her respective hibachi or charcoal-burning brazier, often smoking her Japanese pipe or kiseru.) Whenever I indulged in this unbecoming levity a small crowd would gather behind me displaying intense interest in the proceedings and not infrequently commenting in favourable terms upon my command of the colloquial, which in those far-off days of my long lost youth was by no means negligible. In summer there was no glass to the windows but strong bars prevented egress, and the girls would cluster behind them to chatter with their admirers. At the first- class houses photographs instead of the actual inmates were exhibited in the porches.
In both Yokohama and Tokyo I sometimes saw bouts pitting boxer versus judoka. As I wrote in my Fighting Arts, these proved nothing except that this fellow was better than that. I never saw any genuine all-in combats, either; those I did see were obviously camouflage. 3
I married my first wife, Cicely Ross, sister of that redoubtable judoka Dr. A.J. ("Jack") Ross of Brisbane, long ago in Japan. 4 Up until the age of sixty and a bit Jack retained almost unimpaired the colossal strength of his youth which, combined with no little degree of skill, enabled him to preserve his almost unique record of unbroken triumphs on the judo mat. As for Cicely, she is eighteen years younger than I am and now lives and works as a secretary in Sydney. Long since divorced -- during my unregenerate days as The Times' assistant correspondent in Petrograd during the First World War I "heard the chimes at midnight" once too often, and "hinc illae lachrymae" – but we still keep in pleasant epistolary touch with the entire consent of my present better half!
I've always regretted that during my sojourn in the Far East I wasn't able to visit Taiwan. On the other hand it was much more important for me as a journalist to tour East Siberia, Korea, and China. Thus I saw Lake Baikal, steamed down the Shilka and Amur Rivers to Khabarovsk, viewed the Ming Tombs and Temple of Heaven, climbed the Great Wall of China, "did" Peking, and sundry other places. 5
While living in Petrograd and Vladivostok, I became a member of various sport clubs -- including the Petrograd Sanitas Club and the Sokol ("Falcon") sports organisation of Czechoslovakian origin 6 -- and took part in many public gymnastic displays at Vladivostok and in numerous wrestling bouts in Petrograd. 7 The only wrestling taught in Russia in those days was Graeco-Roman, or as they called it, the French style of wrestling. Graeco-Roman bears a close resemblance to our English catch-as-catch-can save that in Graeco-Roman you are not allowed to throw your opponent with your legs and your feet must be kept on the mat. Understandably the scope for application of what judoka would term waza is correspondingly limited. All the same it was excellent sport and among its Russian votaries were many superb physical specimens. 8 Needless to add weight categories were essential.
At the time, Karl Pozhela, a Lithuanian who served in the Russian army during the First World War, was at his zenith and had beaten all comers. He later migrated to the USA where he continued to star as a professional. But he was fated to die some years ago from cancer in his sixtieth year. Recollecting him as one of the finest specimens of manhood I've ever seen this news shocked me terribly. 9
While in Petrograd I advertised in the Novoe Vremya to teach judo and as a result gave several lessons to a Herculean Russian army doctor named Petrov whom I met again years later when I acted as Assistant Correspondent under the late Robert Wilton, Chief Correspondent for The Times. Petrov told me that the superficial knowledge of judo he had acquired from me had proved of great service to him when he took part in a world amateur wrestling contest in London, and came out, if I mistake not, second on the list!
Around 1916 I joined the so-called Chinese Labour Corps. 10 After training at Camp Tsangkou, China, we proceeded through Canada to England, thence to France. Can't remember now exactly how long I served there with the imposing rank of second lieutenant, but I was eventually transferred to the Military Intelligence on the strength of my knowledge of Russian. Under General now Lord Edmund Ironside I was sent to North Russia (Archangel) with the Allied Expeditionary Force. 11
After demobilisation in 1919 with the rank of Lieutenant I was appointed to a post as secretary on the British Mission to the Baltic Provinces (sic) under then Colonel now Sir Stephen Tallents. After serving in Riga, Latvia, Reval (Tallinn), and Estonia I was appointed vice-consul in Lithuania. I suppose this would have been about August 1919. It was a pretty exciting time, and I saw considerable fighting in Estonia and Lithuania.
I left Lithuania in 1921 to take up an appointment as a press attaché for the Lithuanian legation in London. I worked there for nearly twenty years until, as history records, those loathsome sub-humans, the Russian Reds, took forcible possession of the country in 1940, and then relocated some 100,000 persons, including babes in arms, to slave labour camps in Siberia and elsewhere in Soviet Russia. In the process I lost my job which, had things gone smoothly, would have provided me with quite a decent pension for my old age. As it was Rene (my second wife) and I were ruined and have ever since had a tough struggle to make ends meet.
During the Second World War I served four years in the Postal and Telegraph Censorship as a First Grade Examiner for Russian, Lithuanian, and Polish. Since 1945 Rene and I have done our best to make a livelihood by running a guesthouse, or "furnished lettings". Were it not for our crippling mortgage and ever-growing overheads since nationalisation stunts became the fashion we might just about break clear. I keep in the friendliest touch with my former Lithuanian Chief, the Minister Balutis, but he has been largely immobilised with a serious heart attack and lives the life of a recluse.
On November 16, 1954, our only child and then 27-year old daughter Aldona (a Lithuanian name) sailed with her husband Nick Collins and our twin six-year old grandsons Jonathan and Glyn for Calcutta where the husband had a contract for Remington Rand. After 3-1/2 years, Nick completed the contract and the family returned to England on May 20, 1958. Our son-in-law is quite a handsome fellow, 100 percent qualified for his work, and a university graduate, and so it wasn't long before he got a worthwhile billet with Burroughs adding machine company. Our daughter meanwhile is a decidedly handsome woman. Before her marriage she underwent a two-year training at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in anticipation of a stage career but instead, after but brief experience as an actress, got married. Nor are her mother or I sorry because unless the candidate achieves success he or she seems doomed for the most part to lead a hand-to-mouth existence. There's a hoary joke current among us on the subject of journalism. The question is posed: Where is journalism mentioned in Shakespeare? The answer is: In Macbeth where Lady Macbeth exclaims, "This is a bloody business." So with equal warrant might acting be summed up in the same five words. As for the not-so- heavenly twins – their decidedly raucous voices and incessant radio playing jar upon the nerves! -- I dedicated my Judo for Beginners to them. As yet they haven't learnt much from it, but they did learn the crawl stroke during their sojourn in India and in December 1956 they swam the mile in 42 minutes and a bit.
As for my routine in this autumn of my days, the Harrisonai's – that's Lithuanian for Harrisons -- dire need for currency keeps my swollen proboscis to the literary grindstone. I try to keep abreast of literary developments by going through the serious Sunday rags and the weekly Statesman and Nation – the latter for the sake of its high literary quality but not for the sake of its liberal politics which are to me anathema. Also it is necessary for me to keep up my knowledge of my various languages -- my other languages, apart from Japanese and Lithuanian, are Russian, Polish, French, German (not too good) and Spanish (ditto) – and that alone is almost a fulltime job. Anyhow, I rise from my virtuous couch at 7.00 a.m. sharp. Shave, bathe in cold water, go through half- an-hour's physical training – most mornings I can still do twenty or more push-ups on my clenched fists -- and rouse my wife's young nephew John Scott-Oldfield at 7.30 (his father occupies a highly responsible post with the Nigerian government railways), and the wife at 7.45. After breakfast, my chores comprise the morning shopping, stoking our boiler, getting up coal and sandwiching in between such commitments as my own literary labours, subject of course to frequent interruptions such as telephone calls and answering the outer door.
Could I afford to turn up my snout at the offer of filthy lucre, I'd gladly chuck my hand in and rest upon my laurels, such as they are, for the duration. The reason is that like our mutual friend Malcolm Gregory, I have become bored to the verge of tears by the almost non-stop preposterous claims advanced by well-meaning but undiscriminating enthusiasts seeking to interpret judo not only as the most wonderful and ethical sport in the world but also as a unique philosophy, obedience to whose basic principles must sooner or later transform its disciples into something not far removed from the status of a superman. As doubtless you yourself have noticed such claims are closely associated with the concept of the MICHI (invariably printed in capital letters) which the disciple is adjured to follow if he sincerely wishes to join the serried ranks of the elect. Doubtless future readers badly infected with the virus of twaddle will denounce me from the housetops as a backsliding heretic but I hardly think that their yells and cellar-flaps will disturb my sleep at night. I owe my beloved Lithuanians a bloody sight more than budo, bushido, bujutsu, and the rest.
As for human intercourse, frankly speaking, I am apt to prefer our cats' society to that of the average human being! With even one of our five cats for company and some congenial reading matter after nightfall it matters not the Spanish figo how long I'm left alone and I can cheerfully dispense with human society or the distractions of radio or TV, neither of which do we possess.
Regarding what the immortal Count Smorltolk dubbed "politics", if you want my credo in brief, then here it is without extra charge. On the national scene, I rate the lives of my own cats higher than those of Comrade Khrushchev and his satanic scientists. If it were ever possible for every mother's son of them to be instantly obliterated do you imagine I'd lose a second's sleep or miss a single meal? Would you? Would any save an infinitesimal minority? What can one think of monsters so lost to all sense of humanity as to use helpless animals for their diabolical experiments? If we had anything like a "moral sense" that fact alone would suffice to make us ostracise the entire accursed Soviet Russian nation.
Locally, in spite of all the raucous ballyhoo about the amenities of our Merrie Welfare State and Spongers' Paradise, the sad fact remains that we are hag-ridden with a bloated bureaucracy. The most appalling outrages camouflaged as "law" are daily being perpetrated by countless local and central authorities, in the form of the compulsory purchase of land at prices arbitrarily fixed, which prices rarely if ever bear the remotest relation to the actual market value of the land or the prices paid by the dispossessed owners. Thus that hoary old adage about an Englishman's home being his castle has become a sorry jest. Already one poor victim of such an outrage has gone and hanged himself.
Finally, from the present pinnacle of my ninth decade I cannot expect to totter much longer on the surface of this "goodly frame, the earth". But I won't say the "grave doth gape" for me because I intend to be cremated and have my ashes scattered to the four winds of heaven. Truth to tell that seems hardly so awful, either, as I have begun to feel that I really am a survival of a bygone age. Certainly I am out of touch with the modern Zeitgeist, with its repulsive proliferation of sex at every turn, its modern music and art, the ever-increasing ramifications of our bloated bureaucracy, our crushing taxation, etc. Meanwhile, mortgaged here to the hilt and with no capital to speak of to leave behind me when my turn comes to "shuffle off this mortal coil," I have never regretted the step I took in those far-off days and continue to hold a very poor opinion of any young man who sets much store by "security" and longs to "settle down". Horrible, horrible, most horrible!
Heartily reciprocated good wishes to you and yours.
1 Additional details of this correspondence appear in Robert W. Smith, Martial Musings (Erie, PA: Via Media Publishing, 1999).
2 The precise letters are dated July 1953; Dec. 7, 1953; Feb. 22, 1954; Aug. 20, 1954; Sep. 11, 1954; Oct. 10, 1954; Nov. 24, 1954; Jan. 8, 1955; Jan. 29, 1956; Jun. 17, 1956; Dec. 4, 1956; Feb. 12, 1957; Apr. 10, 1957; Oct. 20, 1957; Jul. 11, 1958; May 31, 1958; Jul. 11, 1958; Aug. 29, 1958; Feb. 21, 1959; May 19, 1959; Jul. 16, 1959; Sep. 2, 1959; Oct. 13-14, 1959; and Mar. 21, 1960.
3 For a description of a bout in which the judoka won, see Japan Times, Nov. 7, 1913, page 1. For a comparable description of a bout in which the boxer won, see Heinie Miller, "Now You Tell One!" Ring, Dec. 1922, 5. Supporting Harrison's contention that the outcome of the bouts was prearranged is the fact that the judoka won in Tokyo and the boxers won in Manila.
4 Ross, who introduced Kodokan judo into Brisbane in 1928, was a physically imposing six-footer who had started studying judo while living with his parents in Japan. Although he tried to popularize judo in Australia by holding fairground wrestling matches, he found little interest in his methods until World War II, when the Australian Army hired him to teach hand-to-hand combat. Sue Hendy, who took the gold in the 1978 world championships, is the probably Australia's best-known post-war judo practitioner.
5 Descriptions of these travels appear in Harrison's War or Peace East of Baikal? (Yokohama, 1910).
6 In 1862, Miroslav Tyrs and Henry Fugner created the Sokol ("Falcon") system of national gymnastics in Bohemia. This system offered women a greater part than did German gymnastics, and more importantly supported Czech nationalism better than Prussian Turnverein. Sokol methods influenced Czarist Russian sport during the 1890s and Soviet sport after 1918. Internationally known graduates of Sokol schools include wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko and acrobat Otto Arco.
7 During the mid-1850s, French professional wrestlers started spreading La Lutte Française, or French Classical wrestling, outside Marseilles and Paris. As French Classical wrestling started becoming in Germany and Austria during the 1880s, it became known, for reasons of nationalism, as "Greco-Roman" wrestling. The sport entered Russia in 1885. Contemporary pictures show French Classical wrestlers as beefy, barefooted men dressed solely in shorts. Outdoors, competition took place in sandy pits. Indoors, the mat was more likely canvas thrown over hay. Stylistically, holds were permitted from the head to waist. Head-butts, choke-holds, joint-locks, and attacks on the legs were not allowed. The goal was to throw or twist the opponent's shoulders to the ground. As these men invariably had very powerful necks, the neck-bridge (le pont) was their chief defense against being pinned.
8 Examples included George Hackenschmidt, Ivan Padoubny, and Karl Pojello.
9 For details of Pojello's bout with judoka Masato Tamura, see Joseph Svinth, "Judo versus Wrestling: Masato Tamura and Karl Pojello, Chicago, 1943," Furyu: The Budo Journal, forthcoming.
10 In an effort to obtain title to some German-owned property in Shantung Province, the Chinese government sent 100,000 students to help with the Allied war effort in Europe during World War I. While the students were supposed to be on a work-study program, what they did was dig trenches. Toward the same end, the Japanese sent a few destroyers to Malta and a handful of aviators to France. But, as the Chinese government supported the Germans until at least 1916, whereas the Japanese had supported the British from the beginning, after the war the Allies awarded the German holdings to the Japanese. This outraged many Chinese, and the upshot was street riots in 1919 and the creation of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.
11 During the Red scare of June 1918, a joint British-French-American force seized Murmansk. Six weeks later, the same Allied force also seized Archangel. The Allied army remained in Russia until October 1919. At the same time, US and Japanese battalions also seized Vladivostok. While the Americans left Siberia in April 1920, the Japanese remained until October 1922. For a brief introduction to these campaigns, see R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History(New York, 4th edition, 1993), 1092-1096.
JCS Nov 1999