Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Dec 2001
EJMAS Tip Jar
Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, USMC CQB Pioneer
By Joseph R. Svinth
Copyright Â© EJMAS 2001. All rights reserved.
Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle (1874-1948) was a pioneer of bayonet and hand-to-hand combat training in the US Marine Corps, and reading the New York Times (February 15, 1942), one learns that:
When the first World War started, Colonel Biddle opened a military training camp near Lansdowne [Pennsylvania], where he trained 4,000 young Philadelphians in military manoeuvres. His system then, as now, was based on long hours of callisthenics and gymnastics to harden young bodies for the rigors of the advanced training.
When he judged his charges ready for the more arduous training Colonel Biddle taught them the use of the machete, saber, dagger, bayonet, and hand grenade. He taught them also the techniques of jiu-jitsu and the French punch-and-kick man-killing attack known as savat [sic].
He was the first to give Gene Tunney, later to become heavyweight champion of the world, boxing lessons at Quantico [a US Marine base in Virginia].
That said, it is my opinion that Biddle was primarily an enthusiastic promoter. As I wrote in Kronos (1900-1939):
Biddle was a Philadelphia socialite who fancied himself a boxer, and in 1906 he began taking a first-rate professional boxer named "Philadelphia" Jack OâBrien on visits to Sunday School classes at Philadelphiaâs Holy Trinity Church. Founder of a movement called Athletic Christianity that eventually boasted 300,000 members, Biddle loved telling the children how Christ had been an athlete who "had gone into the jungle [sic] for forty days to train for a match with the Devil."
Biddle also hosted boxing teas at his home. His guests included many of the best white pugilists in the country. (Although Biddle was not averse to sparring with black men, he was a man of his times, and would not invite one to eat at his table. So, when Biddle sparred with Jack Johnson in Merchantville, New Jersey in 1909, he did so incognito, using the pseudonym "Tim OâBiddle." According to his daughterâs account, Biddle came out fast, causing Johnson to tell him, "âNow, you boy, there; donât get yourself stirred up.â But Father was always stirred up, and Johnson finally had to fetch him a smart whack on the side of the head to settle him.")
At Biddleâs teas, guests first sparred a few fast rounds with the host, then ate dinner with the family. ("May the good God âelp us to eat all wotâs on the tyble," is how Cordelia Drexel Biddle recalled Bob Fitzsimmonsâs prayer.) Most guests behaved appropriately, and only the California heavyweight Al Kaufmann ever took Biddleâs boxing seriously. (Kaufman knocked Biddle out with his first punch.)
These boxing teas started "Philadelphia" Jack OâBrien to thinking about how to teach middle-aged businessmen to box without pain, a program he established in New York City during the 1920s. (You canât learn boxing without pain, OâBrien later told A.J. Liebling, but he could teach it without pain.)
Biddle, meanwhile, joined the Marine Corps in 1917 as a 41-year old captain. He toured British and French training camps in 1918, and then convinced Headquarters Marine Corps to make boxing part of Marine Corps recruit training. The style taught was essentially English amateur boxing. Although said to closely resemble rifle-bayonet fighting methods, the boxing was useful mostly for increasing recruitsâ physical self-confidence.
After the war, Biddle stayed in the Marine Corps Reserve. In 1919 he exhibited rifle-bayonet fencing before the Willard-Dempsey prizefight, thereby delaying the main event because after the Marines scuffed up the canvas, it was no longer usable for fighting. Biddle also supported the legalization of boxing in New York, and during a 1922 court case charging Tex Rickard with sexually assaulting teenaged prostitutes, Biddle said, "Rickard is the finest and noblest sportsman I ever knew." During the 1930s, Biddle taught close combat to FBI agents, a job he owed in part to a relative who was Franklin Rooseveltâs Attorney General....
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