I have never desired to be a lady pugilist, an amateur wrestler or a professional strong woman, but like most girls I've often felt strongly that I should learn how to defend myself if trapped on a dark street. After brooding about this off and on, I was finally spurred into action by a newspaper headline (TINY WOMAN DISARMS BANDIT BY JUDO TECHNIQUE); and some days later I presented myself, with various misgivings and forebodings, at Kroeger's Jujitsu and Health Academy in midtown New York.
The academy looked harmless enough. It was up one flight of stairs in a renovated studio building, and the antechamber, with its reading lamps and stacks of old magazines, was reminiscent of a dentist's waiting room. A printed notice tacked on the door announced that athletic equipment and judo robes were available at "original retail prices." Elsewhere the walls were cluttered with photographs, mostly of Broadway and Hollywood stars who had inscribed warm tributes to Mr. Kroeger, jujitsu expert and professor of self-defense. From inside came the staccato sound of a punching bag being thumped and other less identifiable whacks and grunts which were presumably of human origin.
In a moment Mr. Kroeger appeared in person—big as a mountain and dressed in a short white kimono, dark sash, and knee-length cotton pants. I looked at him in dismay; I had visualized the proprietor of a jujitsu academy as small, lithe and vaguely Oriental.
"I was thinking of taking jujitsu lessons," I said. "But perhaps it isn't a good idea. I'm only 5 feet tall and weigh 97 pounds...with shoes."
"So! We have a ladies' class, too," Mr. Kroeger said sternly. He pulled out a chair and gestured commandingly toward it. As I sank down he handed me a printed sheet giving class fees and rental rates for lockers and cubicles; at the bottom was a notice absolving the jujitsu and health academy of all liability in case I sprained an ankle, fractured a leg or broke my neck.
"Jujitsu," Mr. Kroeger said, "means in Japanese 'the gentle art.' It's a form of judo, which means 'the gentle way of life.' It was started by a doctor from Nagasaki who was watching a cherry tree and a willow tree during a storm. He saw that the cherry tree, which stood up to the wind, had all its branches broken, while the willow tree, which bent with the wind, wasn't hurt. That gave him the idea for jujitsu."
"What I want to know is this," I said. "Is it possible for a person my size to protect herself against somebody much larger? I might never have to do it, but I want to know how."
"Strength isn't required," Mr. Kroeger said testily. "You use your opponent's strength to overcome him. So! You depend upon surprise and your knowledge of weak spots of the body. Come and watch the ladies' class; it begins right now."
The professor arose and, with a flourish of his kimono, led me down a long corridor and into the academy proper. As I tagged along behind him, I felt nervously exhilarated. I, tossing people around!
It was a large room with the usual gym paraphernalia—rings, ropes, side horses—and a floor well padded with thick mats. I pushed aside a pile of boxing gloves and sat down on a bench. Three girls were on the mats practicing falls—a young, limber blonde and a tall brunette, both in their 20s, and a stoutish lady in her 40s wearing glasses. The blonde fell skillfully, maneuvering herself each time into a back somersault, but the stout lady was having trouble.