Switching the flip
In 1967, a teen martial artist demonstrated an ultra-effective self-defence technique. Jessica Dee Humphreys traces its origins
At a crucial moment in the women’s liberation movement in 1967, the Toronto Star published this powerful photo of 17-year-old Jackie Jory demonstrating a self-defence method girls could use to protect themselves against potential attackers.
The technique, originally called Combato, was developed by Cpl. William Underwood. Born in 1895 in Britain, but later emigrating to Canada, Underwood had been inspired by demonstrations of Japanese jiu-jitsu techniques he had seen as a child. Though small in stature, this veteran of the First World War spent years studying jiu-jitsu and developing this approach, which could be used against much larger fighters.
Raheem Jiwa is co-owner of the school where Underwood’s methods are still being taught. “Bill taught the system to Mike Mandel, who then opened the Toronto School of British Jiu-Jitsu to preserve it,” Jiwa says. Mandel’s protégé, Adam Sutherland, now serves as head instructor.
“Legend has it,” says Jiwa, “that the method came to Canada when Bill was requested to teach it to the military at a secret location.” Too old to serve, Underwood is known to have trained Canadian and British troops in Combato during the Second World War.
Underwood then began receiving requests to train law enforcement all over the U.K., the U.S. and Canada. Jiwa explains why Underwood was reluctant to do so: “He designed this system for soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat, but he had to shelve it because he deemed it too dangerous.”
Instead, Underwood adapted it to make it less aggressive and better suited outside a theatre of war, renaming it Defendo. “It’s very efficient,” Jiwa says, “designed to neutralize an opponent in two seconds or less.”
Traditional martial arts aren’t always appropriate for “real-life situations where your life is in danger,” Jiwa says. “It would take years to develop the mastery to neutralize an opponent. With our system, within an hour (a beginner could) learn pressure points, small joint manipulation, even vocal commands using principles of psychology and hypnosis.” Because Defendo is easy to learn and doesn’t rely on extreme physical strength, it can be appealing to young women like Jory, providing techniques to quickly break the hold of attackers.
Underwood enjoyed demonstrating his system, and in his later years was a regular on talk shows. At age 85, he even took down Lou Ferrigno, TV’s Incredible Hulk, on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” In 1981 a short film about Underwood was nominated for an Oscar. Its title: “Don’t Mess With Bill.”