The Deadliest Ads Alive!

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the world grown smaller and the Far East drawn so near, its hard to imagine a time when martial arts had an aura of mystery about them. Nowadays, with afterschool tae kwon do, cardio-kickboxing and a slow-motion kung-fu scene in every action flick, martial artswhile still a crowd-pleaserhave long been leeched of exoticism. In the backhanded benefit of cultural assimilation, theyre practically quaint. DAN KELLY examines the once-robust campaign of martial arts ads in comic books.

(Throughout the article, click on an image to see an enlargement.)

Saying adieu to Orientalism, its impossible to approach comic book ads touting martial arts training (the golden age of which took place between 1960 and 1985), with anything but snickering derision. (For the purposes of this essay, martial arts refers to the organized systems of hand-to-hand combat and weaponry training originating in the countries of the East, particularly China, Japan, Okinawa and Korea. Western countries, obviously, also practice arts of warfare (boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and others, for example), but the term has become almost totally associated with Asian styles in the Western publics mind (ironic since the root of the word martial arts is Mars, Roman god of war). (For further details on practitioners of Western martial arts, please visit FEAR NO MAN! bellows one ad, promising you the ability to flatten out any Thug, Mug, Wiseguy or Bully rendering him ABSOLUTELY HELPLESS IN SECONDS. Another ad screams a musky-with-man-scent vow to bequeath the power of Chinese Kung-Fu, an art of crippling self-defense whereevery part of your body is a fearful weapon. Your feet, your hands, your elbows, your fingers forged into lethal weapons WITHOUT REQUIRING SUPER MUSCLE-POWER OR BRUTE FORCE. Yet another ad trumps them all, telling the lumpishSupermanreader that evenhispasty, sow-bellied self can learn torturingtechniques which are meant tomaim, disfigure, crippleorkilland have been used by oriental terrorists and assassins to MURDER!

Times and people were simpler thenaccent on the definition of simple as easily gulled. Seemingly improbable now, back then the ads were semi-convincing because people knew little about martial arts beyond what they saw misrepresented by popular media. Decked out with Chinese takeout fonts, blazingly violent copy, mystical gibberish, fear tactics and flimflam, the ads took advantage of the dying view of east Asia as a place containing ancient secrets of savage violence. Fill out and mail in the below coupon, ended each ad in a crashing crescendo, and be imbued with the bone-shattering fighting arts of the Orientand for only 99 cents at that!

Naturally, what was promised and what one actually received for that 99 cents were very different thingspar for the course with American advertising at large. What made these ads more interesting than others were the freaky mail order senseis behind them, the highly dangerous product they allegedly sold, and the unflattering way the ads reflected American attitudes and knowledge about martial arts and their places of origin. Despite what a certain mindworm of a song suggested, not everybody was kung-fu fighting. Some were just faking the moves in order to separate the kidlings from their allowances.

Famous Jiu-Jitsu and Professional Wrestling Holds, Etc.

While this article concentrates on ads appearing in so-called Silver and Bronze Age comic books, we should first make a detour to the slightly further past to understand what brought about comic ads for Yubiwaza, Aicondo and other deadly Oriental fighting arts puffery.

The biggest myth this article wants to burst is the notion that Asian martial arts were forbidden to non-Asian eyes until recent decades. Certainly, racial prejudice on both sides created insularity and thereby an unwillingness to share and explore ideas. Also, consider the historical truism of conquerors forbidding the conquered from ever practicing how to fight, causing many Asian martial arts to be practiced in secrecy for a very long time (Okinawans hid their karate training from Japanese occupiers by disguising it as classical dance practice, for example.) Regardless, Americans might be surprised at how long certain styles have been taught in the United States. Despite the hype, not all roads lead to Bruce Lee.

A full-scale survey of the presence of Asian martial arts in American history is impossible in this article, nor is it the goal. Better instead to briefly look at how they first appeared here and the way they were initially promoted. The first recorded instance of an American viewing a demonstration of Japanese jiu jitsu took place when President Ulysses S. Grant visited Japan in 1879. Pinpointing the exact moment Asian martial arts were introduced to America is nigh impossible, but its certain that judo (already present and practiced in Victorian England) sailed to the states in 1902 when Yoshiaki Yamashita, a sixth-degree master, was hired by Great Northern Railroad director Graham Hill to teach his son his not-so-gentle art. Hill and wife quickly decided martial arts were too risky for the lad but obligingly arranged for Yamashita to exhibit and promote judo in New York and Chicago. Shortly thereafter, jiu jitsu became quite the thing to do among the haute monde. Yamashita later trained another president, Theodore Roosevelt, who added a judo brown belt to his list of sporty accomplishments. For more information on the history of martial arts in the United States, visitthis site.

In this manner, Asian martial arts slowly trickled into the mainstream. Training wasnt as omnipresent then as it is now, but it was available, though the affluent and particular occupations had the easiest time finding instructors. If one was a cop, one could expect a lesson or three in throwing, joint-locks and pressure-pointsuseful in the nonviolent, but no less painful, apprehension of neer-do-wellswhen the Tokyo Metropolitans Polices brand of jiu jitsu came over here (leading to the coinage of the term police jiu jitsu, which turns up in pulp fiction of the time). Any man who did a stint in the armed forces, too, received hand-to-hand combat training, and though it may not have been called jiu jitsu or judo in boot camp, thats what it was. Several army and marine instructors, in fact, went on to produce the precursors of the manuals referred to later in this article. After World War II, organizations like the YMCA added judo training to their curricula, well before the first official karate schools opened. All told, even in the early part of the last century, Asian martial arts werent invisible in America.

Nevertheless, popular entertainment of the pre- and postwar years painfully demonstrated that its creators and, presumably, its audience, had zilch knowledge of what Asian martial arts entailed. Most pulp fiction and comic book heroes made do with bullets, boxing and brass knuckles, actual knowledge of Asian martial arts being quite rare. A Marquis of Queensburyruled punch was good enough for most pulp shamuses, and while the prewar Batman was apt to deliver a swashbuckling kick as he swung from his silken cord, his more identifiably Asian style of fighting came much later.

This did not mean Asian martial arts didnt turn up occasionally as low-grade deus ex machina, such as when Conan Doyle saved Sherlock Holmes from Reichenbach Falls in The Adventure of the Empty House. Here Holmes tells Watson that he used his knowledge of baritsu, the art of Japanese wrestling, to shoulder-flip the nefarious Professor Moriarity to his death. As it turned out, this was a complete contrivance, making mention of it appropriate here. (Research by Holmes scholars showed that Doyle probably meant bartitsu, a martial art created in 1898 by jiu jitsu practitioner Edward William Barton-Wright, who actually did venture to and return from the Far East with martial arts skills.) Later on, in American pulps, the Shadow picked up a few Asian fistic arts while he learned to cloud mens minds in the Orient. Nellie Gray, the face-changing assistant to the Avenger, was specifically versed in jiu jitsu, despite appearing like a dainty and fragile Dresden doll. (Cited in Kenneth RobesonsDeath to the Avenger. Seethis site.) (So many female characters who are actually part of the action (i.e., not simply girlfriends of the hero or damsels in distress) usually have martial arts in their resumes to even the odds with the male protagonists/antagonists: Sun Girl, the Black Cat, Catwoman, the Black Widow, Black Canary and so on.)

Elsewhere, Katothe Green Hornets Filipino/Japanese aide-de-campknew multiple unnamed martial arts several years before Bruce Lee was born. Comic books saw their earliest Far East-educated hero in the Green Lama, a rich young lad who visited Tibet and returned with super strength, invulnerability, the power to deliver electric shocks and, again, unidentified fighting skills. Even more representative of the theosophical (i.e., Westerner travels to the Orient and gains quasi-supernatural powers) motif is Arthur J. Burks creation, Chinatown detective Dorus Noel, in 1933. Noel, as his origin goes, lived in China long enough to become a master of jiu jitsuodd, since it is a Japanese martial artand, in a bit of oblivious racism, yellow in skin tone, having been inoculatedwith the virus of the ancient land. (From personal correspondence with Jess Nevins, creator of the Pulp and Adventure Heroes of the Pre-War Yearswebsite. Noels yellowface minstrelsy seemed contagious, as we will see later.)

In such an era of underrepresentation and lack of definition, its unsurprising martial arts training ads were equally rare. Yet the martial arts course spiels of the 1960s didnt emerge from a perfect vacuum. Their precedents rest in a handful of books and pamphletseach of varying degrees of factuality and educational worthpromoted through health, mens, do-it-yourself and related magazines. Some were sincere, but most were usually slapped together in pursuit of a fast buck or as a taster for what one could expect under the tutelage of the instructor/writer at his school or, more often, from the more extended and expensive full course.

We cant point at the very first manual, but we can assess a few early ones. Most frequently, such booklets were a lagniappe to the later martial arts course ads nearest marketing kin: bodybuilding courses. Charles Atlas had long offered a free outline course on jiu jitsu (later amended to included karate during the 70s kung-fu fad). Research turned up two older ads in a 1939 issue of multi-millionaire/health nut Bernarr MacfaddensPhysical Culturemagazine, promising to provide not only terribly strange and dated workout routines (the idea of a head harness fills me with fear) but also jiu jitsu and famous wrestling holds.

One of Bernarr Macfaddens fitness ads

In the 1940s, a smattering of cheaply printed books and manuals on jiu jitsu and judo turned up, all of dubious value in turning anyone into a masterbut then, few of them promised to do that. In fact, most are just books of tips on joint locks, throws and strikes geared toward foiling pickpockets or teaching the masher in the theater seat beside you a lesson.Police Jiu-Jitsuby Kato Futsiaka and Professor Butch (1944),Martells Simplified Jujitsuby Jules Martell (1942),How to Use Jiu Jitsuby I.C. King (1944) andSelf-Defense or Jiu Jitsuby Dewey Mitchell (1942) are only a few examples of such books, all supposedly written by ex-military and police instructors. (Futsiaka and Butch are declared fantasy figures by jiu jitsu book collector Torbjoern Arntsen at the siteJu Jitsu Norge. He suggests that they are pseudonyms for Arthur Hobart Farrar, who also wrotePolice WrestlingMat Holds, Grips, FallsandAmerican Judo Illustrated, both books that present jiu jitsu techniques more for their coolness and mystiquea trend that did not abate in the coming years.) (How to Use Jiu Jitsuis especially

enjoyable, featuring clip art of 1940s Kate Hepburntype cuties performing finger-breaking techniques and head butts on churlish males.) Theyre largely worth mentioning because they set the template for such pamphlets in later years. (The format, almost to a T, follows dividing each chapter into a different technique (a throw, a leg sweep, etc.), providing each with a paragraph of descriptive though no less confusing text, accompanied by grainy photographs or cheesy clip art of two men, or sometimes a man and a woman, demonstrating the technique. The uselessness of this method of instruction is manifold: The photos provide only one possible view; techniques of several steps are usually shown with only a before and after shot, the transitional steps containing the meat of the move being lost and so on. On the other hand, there is the innate hilarity of seeing paunchy men in 1940s gym clothes doing jiu jitsu.) Indeed, some returned in bootlegged or hundredth generation form later on.

The end of World War II is a good launching pad for moving on to the Silver Age ads. As is always the case with the spoils of war, the victor often picks up the customs of the vanquished. Martial arts were no exception.


The 1960s offered a dandy juxtaposition of events that set the stage for something as ridiculous as comic book martial arts ads. Kids suddenly had disposable income and pop-cultural fads dipped into all manner of Walter Mitty fantasies (spies, science fiction, and superheroes dominated). Most sources point to Bruce Lees portrayal of Kato on the 1966 Green Hornet TV show as the ignition for 60s martial arts mania, short-lived as the show was. True, in Katos wake a number of karate-and kung-fu-themed heroes appeared in TV, film and comicsDCs Legionnaire Karate Kid for onebut a number of others were already in existence. In the spy world, James Bond knew judo while the delectable Mrs. Emma Peel of the Avengers (1965-67) was a general-purpose martial arts master. Comics had Judo Joe (1953), another white male transplant in Japan who was at least more respectful than Judomaster (1965), who didnt let his judo, karate and jiu jitsu training prevent him from referring to his World War II enemies as Japs; Karnak (1965), one of the great Jack Kirbys Inhumans; and Pete Morisis Peter Cannon Thunderbolt (1965). Martial arts in 60s TV and film veered from being a sight gag (Barbara Eden as a judo expert inRide the Wild Surf, giving the films hero what-for), to a sudden and surprising threat to the hero (Patrick McGoohans Secret Agent/Danger Man confronting a judoka who at first has the upper hand but is soon overcome by veddy English boxing) to a bottomlessly hilarious plot device (The Manchurian Candidate, in which Frank Sinatra engages in an ersatz karate battle with Puerto Rican actor Henry Silva in inept Korean makeup, leading Sinatra to karate chop a coffee table into neatly sawn pieces).

From Weird Terror 7 (1953; click to enlarge)

While Mr. Lee certainly had his greatest influence during the early 70s, ascribing the 60s craze entirely to his role as Kato just seems wrong. More likely it reflected what happened when thousands of men returned from overseas service. Stationed in Japan and Okinawa and attuned to war as an occupation, it was inevitable that a number of American servicemen observed and decided to get karate and jiu jitsu training from the source. Was the story of Dorus Noel coming true at last?

Hardly. At first the old saw about Asian insularity seemed true. In some cases, Japanese instructors were more chauvinistic than secretive, believing that Americans lacked the stamina to handle the intensity of karate training and repeatedly turned down all requests until finally breaking down and admitting Americans to see if they had the stuff to see it through. Others, apparently, had no problems with training Americans, such as when career soldier and karate pioneer Hank Slomanski signed up at a Beppu police station for training. (Cited in Michael CollingsChito-ryu Diversity, with contributions by Don Schmidt.U.S. Chito-kai.) (Slomanski was a man of many martial art and military accomplishments who later became an Orthodox priest before dying on April 23, 2000. He also has the interesting distinction of being Elvis Presleys first karate instructor, training and then awarding the King his first black belt.) Elsewhere, American karate school pioneer Robert Trias was approached by Chinese missionary Master Tung Gee Hsing, who asked to be teached American boxing by Trias in exchange for lessons in Hsing-Yi, a Chinese martial art. There was nothing mystical about the training in any of these situations. Invariably, it was long, brutal and bereft of hocus-pocus. If the stories are to be believed, respect was hard won on both sides. Which makes the later ads all the more embarrassing for the martial artists behind them.

Again, it was a simpler time. Still, you have to wonder why karate and jiu jitsu masters would entrust the promotion of their ancient arts to people more accustomed to shilling joy buzzers than self-defense training. Well never know what the marketers thought they were doing; their names and stories have been lost. Officials at Marvel and DC had no information available about employees and advertisers from way back when, and the few comics pros of the period who returned my e-mails told me that the creative and advertising departments generally avoided one another. Unlike the comic artists and writers funded by their ad budgets, none of the marketers are legends. Few, too, probably directly interacted with the instructors themselves, which is just as well as it seems in one case, as we shall see, the instructor was extremely unhappy with the hyperbole.

It might be best to explore the Yubiwaza ads first. Any discussion of them likely makes the participants, dead or alive, cringe with embarrassment. Including all the colors of the rainbow, the ad is topped by a photo of Nelson J. Mitch Fleming, looking a bit imperious and, perhaps, stunned. Boys! Men! he says by word balloon:

Ill help you master YUBIWAZA*

*(Yubiwaza is the secret, amazingly easy art of self-defense that turns just one finger or your hands into a potent weapon of defensewithout any bodily contact)

In just 2 hours after you receive YUBIWAZA you will be on your way to being an invincible Yubiwaza Master, at home, this Fast, EASY picture way or it costs you nothing.

It is commonly known that with the aid of Yubiwaza, young menand girls too! with only a few hours of training, turn back 2, 3 and even 4 attackerstemporarily DISABLING ONE, putting another to flight, making a third howl with pain, while the fourth begged his opponent to stop!

The experts in Japan, who know and teach these ONE-finger techniques, have now explained that YUBIWAZA is a centuries-old system of Self-Defense which is so simple and so effective that outsiders were never instructed in its use Many of the very techniques in my Yubiwaza book, once highly guarded secrets of the ancient Samurai warriors never shown to outsiders are now shown to youFIRST time!

Make no mistake! The world is crowded with anti-social enemies who think nothing of sticking a knife into the ribsor attacking peace-loving citizens just for the fun of itor molesting boys and girls shamelessly. There is a crying need for a system of self-defense that relies on KNOWLEDGE, not big muscles or strength

And that system, yes, you guessed it, is YUBIWAZA.

Accompanying Fleming is a picture of his wife, Yoshie Imanami, who upstages her husband with the ads most memorable bit of phraseology:

I weigh only 98 Lbs. Yet I can paralyze a 200 pound attacker with just a fingerBecause I know Yubiwaza!

A quarter-page ad also exists, and this one is ceded entirely to Imanami, who makes an appeal to all the young women apparently reading Marvel Comics Strange Tales in 1968. Once again, Imanami brags about the power of her pretty little fingers:

I CAN PARALYZE A 200-LB. ATTACKER WITH JUST ONE FINGER! Yet I weigh only 93 lbs.! YOU TOO can protect yourself with my SECRET Oriental System of Yubiwaza.

Simply press your finger on one of the vital spots shown in this Yubiwaza system and your attacker may lose consciousnessor become paralyzedcompletely unable to move. He releases his grip on you instantlybecomes helpless himself!

Fleming was likely the first of the comic book senseis. Contemporary accounts indicate he was a serious martial artist, and his intentions to promote his style, Sosuishi-Ryu jiu-jitsu, were apparently good. Regardless, his Yubiwaza ads stand out as a prime example of martial arts marketing silliness. Fleming studied jiu-jitsu in Japan, where he was raised to third degree black belt and to brown belt in Kodokan Judo. There, he married Imanami, who apparently shared in his training.

As the story goes, the publisher of Yubiwaza signed up at Flemings New Jersey school for six months of private lessons back in 1960. The publisher convinced Fleming to write a book about his techniques. Fleming did, receiving only 200 bucks for his trouble. Fleming had no input on the advertising either, and here all his troubles began.

Yubiwaza is not a heretofore unknown martial art, which was probably what the publisher tried to make it sound like. Translated as finger techniques, it involves pressure point strikes with the fingers and thumbs. Calling Yubiwaza a martial art is akin to calling punching a martial art. Whats more, while some pressure point strikes require very little training (kick to the groin, anyone?), learning to correctly employ one to cause paralysis, or even to drop a weapon, takes years of training. On the off-chance anyone was ordering Yubiwaza with the intention of heading into a biker bar to pick a fight, this was dangerous stuff. It also made Fleming look and feel like a chump.

Fleming was extremely displeased with the ad and Yubiwaza, the manual, in general. Where he imagined a heftier book of 100 pages, the publisher slimmed it down to a mere 14. Yubiwaza was also more intended for women, not Boys! Men!, as shown by the instructional photos within it, showing Imanami defending herself against an attackernamely, Fleming. He received letters of thanks from women who claimed this or that Yubiwaza technique saved their purses, honor, or lives, but Fleming disliked the trickery of it all. According to the Nov.-Dec. 1964 issue ofBlack Belt Magazine, he was especially frosted that the publisher created a Yubiwaza Federation (Yubiwaza came with an official membership card in this entirely unofficial, and wholly fictional, federation.)

While the Yubiwaza ad came to represent how badly Madison Avenue could miscarry martial arts, Fleming weathered the storm and enjoyed a respectable career as a teacher andAmerican Sosuishi-Ryurepresentative until he died in 1987.

If Flemings experience was a warning for serious martial artists to beware of marketing wolves in sheeps clothing (or, in this case, ju jitsu gis), Wallace W. Reumann didnt learn itthough his ads show slightly more restraint than the Yubiwaza ones. Some have suggested that Reumann was likewise misled by marketers, but it seems he ran far too many ads for too long to be entirely innocent of hucksterism.

A soldier for much of his young adult life, Reumann trained in Chito-Ryu Karate under Senseis Hank Slomanski and Fukamoto for the five and a half years he was stationed in Japan. Reumanns ads claimed he returned to the States with a fifth-degree black belt (though other sources note this took place later, in 1965, which seems likelier), opened a couple of karate schools in New Jersey (and later in California) and founded the American Karate Federation. (See Blackbelt Communications Inc.Instructors Profiles.)

Reumann apparently did double duty when he returned to America. Still working for the Army, he managed to concurrently run a school in Trenton and his mail-order business. A personal description of Reumann from Lee Frank, who worked with him briefly in an Army Intelligence mailroom at the time of the ads, sounds like someone whose fighting and filing techniques were both unstoppable:

Did I mention Wally was impressive? Six-foot-two, shoulders requiring special tailoring, a crewcut that looked like it could take paint off the wall, and the biggest hands I ever saw. Or shook. These hands were also the strongest Id ever seen. Other people in the office used the new electric typewriters. Wally used a monster manual Olympic whose keys I could barely depress. Seated at the Olympic, Wallys hands played a rapid rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat, not unlike a machine-gun in both speed and power. (See Franks Army Me: Going Home, from I Guess Thats Me (A Reflection).)

No doubt Reumann was a competent karateka and instructor. Still, his ads claims are a tad inflated and if not over the top, theyre within fingertip distance of it. A half-page ad for his booklet

Karate is the secret, Oriental art of self-defense that turns your hands, arms, legs into paralyzing weaponswithout any bodily contact.

With KARATE you can disarm and disable two, three, and even four attackers. You can apply a simple pressure of your thumb and finger against any one of a dozen vital nerve centers of your opponent and watch his gun or knife fall from his limp hand while he himself sinks to the ground completely helpless and faint.

Unlike Flemings Yubiwaza adswhich seem almost like daily affirmationsReumanns fear tactics are shameless, indeed almost cruel in their chiding of the mark:

Whatwouldyou do if you were insulted by a bully?or if 3 or 4 hoodlums passed remarks about your girl?or if you were suddenly mugged from behind?or if someone came at you with a baseball bat?

If youre like millions of other Americans, youd be absolutely helplessand youd be ashamed, humiliated, robbed, beaten, kickedand pitiful in the eyes of your girl or friends.

Like Fleming, Reumanns ads vaguely pay respect to his Japanese Chito-Ryu training, but that doesnt mean he and his marketers didnt exploit a little Orientalism here and there. One ad, from a 1968, in point of fact, is titled after the booklet its selling,, going for the gut by suggesting those inscrutable yet dangerous Asians possessed more sinister arts that lack even a distinctive name. I suspect that this signals a shift in tastes as the Japanese/Okinawan martial arts discovered during the occupation were made way for Bruce Lees New! Improved! Kung-funow more Oriental and forbidden than ever. Its likely Reumann wanted to repackage his karate as something that sounded like kung fu.

Reumann, or his marketerswe may never know whowent wacky with Asian othering. Drawing upon a purposeless Japanese Kabuki mask for a spot illustration and using such buzz words as forbidden, secret and outsiders, Reumanns advertisers attempted to spookify Asian martial arts. His ads also claim a Japanese wife. Though, unlike Yoshie Imanami, she does not appear in the ads, that relationship gave him that fabled access to the secrets of the Orient: As a youth in the U.S. Army, stationed in Japan, Reumann met and married a Japanese girl. This gave him the SPECIAL privileges and family ties that allowed him to learn Oriental defense and attack techniques not ordinarily available to outsiders.

GaijanReumanns marriage is stressed to show that he is an exceptional man, one privy to these secrets despite his whiteness. He has gone beyond the repressiveness of familiar America and exceeded us with this insider knowledge. Unusual that no one told his equally white fellow soldiersincluding his sensei Hank Slomanskithey were missing all the good stuff by not marrying into it.

Unlike his half and full-page ads, in Forbidden Oriental Fighting Arts karate is only mentioned in passing, and in a very deprecatory way: Best of all, even if he is a judo expert, or knows karateyou can still flatten him, because the methods in this revealing course are the pure gold of self-defenseextracted and refined from the leading Oriental systems, by one of Americas top self-defense experts: Wallace W. Reumann. Which isnt saying much for his fourth-degree black belt. All those years of training and his karate could still be easily defeated by his forbidden Oriental fighting flummery.

Say what you will about his ads, Reumann was persistent, outlasting all the mail-order martial artists before and after him. His most persistent appeal, the half-page ILL MAKE YOU A MASTER OF KARATE ad, showed up in a 1982 issue of MarvelsDaredevil. Reumann must have been a good businessman, because he seemed to have an eye for trends. In this case, an artist named Frank Miller had taken overDaredevil. Suddenly, a hero who was essentially Batman if he was blind became viewed through Akira Kurosawas camera lens. Reumann or his ad agency must have sensed an opportunity to clear the warehouse of booklets and giant li