Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Jun 2003


Some Background on Captain Allan Corstorphin Smith, Author of Secrets of Jujitsu: A Complete Course in Self Defense (1920)

By Richard Bowen

Copyright © EJMAS 2003. All rights reserved.

Allan Corstorphin Smith was a pioneer of judo-based combatives instruction in the US Army. He was also the fifth Caucasian, and the first Scot, known to have been graded shodan at the Kodokan. [EN1]

Smith lived in Scotland for the first 17 years of his life. Where, I donít know, but Corstorphine is a place on the edge of Edinburgh.

Young Smith fancied that he had some ability in boxing, and so, one night in a Glasgow theatre, he decided to accept the offer to meet all comers made by some Japanese jujutsu expert. Smithís effort to defeat the Japanese was completely unsuccessful. He was impressed with the ability of the small Japanese to deal with much larger opponents, and this gave birth to his interest in jujutsu.

Around 1908, Smith arrived in Japan as an officer of some unnamed, but almost certainly British, company. His office and lodgings were in Yokohama, and finding that it was difficult to travel to Tokyo and the Kodokan as much as he wished, he made his own dojo and invited others, presumably foreigners, to attend. Soon these other members dropped off, and he was left with a Japanese 3-dan friend, Sato, as a training partner. Occasionally, however, other Japanese turned up. One notable visitor was Kyuzo Mifune. Mifune was ranked 5-dan at the time, so this visit would have been before 1912.

In 1915, Smith published a book in Yokohama called Little Lessons in Japanese. I have not seen this book, so cannot say anything about it.

On January 19, 1916 (Taisho 5), Smith received his shodan certificate at the Kodokan. Contemporary illustrations show Smith, in kilt (minus bonnet and plaid) receiving his certificate amidst dozens of onlookers. The occasion was the most important ceremony of the Kodokan year, the New Yearís rice cake cutting ceremony called kagami biraki.

An interview with Smith appears in the March 1916 issue of the Kodokan magazine Judo (volume 2, number 3, page 3). In the accompanying photograph, Smith is shown wearing the full formal Highland dress of kilt, bonnet, plaid, and skean dubh. In this interview, Smith expressed his pride in being a Scot; he even managed to get the Scottish victory over the English at Bannockburn in 1314 into the conversation. (This is the battle featured in the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart.) Smith said that Scots took pride in their traditions, just like the Japanese took pride in their traditions. He added, however, that Germany was exaggerating the enmity between the Scots and English, saying, "We are all British now." Of course, the First World War was on, and Japan was a British ally in those days.

In the interview, Smith said that when he first arrived at the Kodokan, he had trouble with the technical terms, but in time, he got over this. He tried to enlist in the British Army via the British consulate in Yokohama, but after a medical examination, he was found unfit for service because of bronchitis.

The following year, Smith turned up in the United States, apparently in the company of his 3-dan friend, Sato. How Smith and Sato got to America is still unknown. While in the United States, Smith managed to become captain in the US Army, as in 1920, he published a work in seven volumes entitled The Secrets of Jujitsu: A Complete Course in Self Defense. This book was modestly subtitled, "By Captain Allan Corstorphin Smith, U.S.A. Winner of the Black Belt, Japan, 1916, Instructor of Hand-to-Hand Fighting, The Infantry School, Camp Benning, Columbus Georgia, and at the United States Training Camps and Cantonments, 1917 and 1918." This work is interesting because it makes frequent references to the shita hara, or lower abdomen, which Smith abbreviates, "Stahara." The Stahara is also mentioned in the US Armyís Field Manual FM 21-150b, Unarmed Defense for the American Soldier, of 1942.

After that, Smith disappears again. Readers with additional information are invited to contact the editor at


EN1. The first Caucasian was David T. Weed, an American whose mother was Japanese, who received promotion in 1910. The next was the English journalist E. J. Harrison, who received promotion in 1911, and whose 1913 book, Fighting Spirit of Japan, remains a classic. After that, it was the Londoner W. E. Steers, who got his grade in 1912, and was subsequently first secretary of the Budokwai. Then it was the Russian V. S. Oshchepkov, who got his rank in 1913, and who subsequently pioneered judo (and sambo) in the Soviet Union.

JNC Jun 2003