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History and Nostalgia:
Police Tactics from Comic Books

by Steven J. Kaplan

As a child growing up in the 1950s, comic books were a primary source of entertainment. Computers and video games were unheard and unthought of—comic books could take us to worlds yet to be discovered. On the inside back cover of nearly all comic books, there were ads for a variety of products, e.g., novelty gifts, greeting card sales opportunities, bodybuilding lessons. Included among these were self-defense books. Published by the long defunct Padell Publishing Company of NY in 1937, one title that appeared consistently for many years was, Police Jiu-Jitsu (with the subtitle: As Taught To Police, “G” Men, Soldiers, & Members Of The U.S. Coast Guard).

This 92-page book featured line drawings of an officer subduing two assailants on the cover of the book. The accompanying text read: “Featuring Kato Futsiaki and Professor Butch”. In addition to the material on the jiu-jitsu techniques themselves, there was also a section on wrestling techniques applicable for police. I would venture to say that this book was responsible for many children growing up wanting to be cops.

With the jiu-jitsu and “American Wrestling” techniques combined, there were approximately thirty-five techniques taught. One would think that with all that was thus far described, coupled with some very campy text, the book would offer something less-than-useful and effective. Quite the contrary. While the entry portion of the techniques demonstrated leaves much to be desired, and is certainly not what is taught in modern police tactics (and probably were not taught that way even back then), the techniques are those that today's officer would find practical and useful.


There are strikes, throws, restraints, come-alongs, ground work, and mat work, all from a variety of settings. The line drawings are not the best when compared to works of similar nature in the 1950s and later; however they nonetheless help to get the point across when accompanied by the easily understandable text. Though not specifically stated, taisabaki is seen in many of the defenses, both in blocks and counters.

This book has value from a few perspectives. Historically, this author does not recall any book written and published earlier than 1937, in English, that specifies the techniques are in fact “police” techniques for self-defense. Additionally, we read in the Foreword (which occasionally includes what today would be considered non-politically correct phrasing), that the Japanese “...gave our governmental forces of law and order a weapon that aided materially in the suppression of disorderly elements throughout our great cities”. It goes on to say that it took time for these methods to be accepted, since Americans tend to have a prejudice about anything foreign. In both a historical as well as cultural light, this in itself is an important glimpse into what 1937 life and attitudes were like in America.

With Police Jiu-Jitsu, we do in fact have general history, culture, and police tactics combined with some wonderful nostalgia, particularly for those who grew up in that era.

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