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Intelligence Gathering & Jujutsu - Part 6 - The Perfect Cover

At the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century, the access abroad obtainable to ‘Jiu-jitsu’ (as it was commonly referred to at the time) men (often wrestlers) was quite extraordinary.  These men spread out across the globe - Asia, North and South America, Europe - the interest in Japanese martial arts, especially unarmed methods, was riding high.   Jiu-jitsu, including Judo, was demonstrated at the Whitehouse, and demonstration and teaching was commonly carried out at western military academies and law enforcement institutions.

Early pioneers found what was to be a most excellent occupation in terms of accessing people and places and enabling movement from place to place.

The SOE gave the following advice to its agents in training with regards to their selected occupation, as part of their cover:

a. Cover occupation

…a real one is best.  An occupation is necessary:-

i To account for presence in locality.
ii To explain the source of livelihood…

The Job which you select should afford you cover and facilitate your activity… you must have adequate technical qualifications… Good background is hard to build up and easily destroyed.

There is no doubt that Jujutsu would make an excellent occupation for an agent - the perfect reason to travel, to gain access to important people and facilities, to interact with other Japanese in any location.

On top of this, it was quite reasonable to stop somewhere and establish a dojo.

The SOE gave the following advice to its agents in training with regards to the use of premises:


It is important that strangers may be able to find their way without arousing suspicion by making enquiries or by their appearance being out of tune with the district…

(b) Cover.

i For the establishment.

Wherever possible an attempt should be made to utilise an existing concern… The usual office hours should be kept, bills paid normally and genuine business conducted.

It must fit into the background…

ii For visitors.

It must provide cover for agents who come to visit it - suitable cover for both for regular cut-outs and for irregular visitors or complete strangers - e.g. from abroad.   Visitors must have ‘genuine’ reason for coming.

Here again, there is no doubt a dojo would make an excellent choice of premises for subversive activities.  An entirely plausible business, which can be freely advertised, which is an entirely reasonable excuse for gathering Japanese, including strangers and ad hoc visitors.

Not just civilian visitors mind you.

W.E. Fairbairn, the father of modern combatives, practiced Jujutsu in Shanghai, at the time a hotbed of political intrigue, a city split by three nations.  He recalled, completely without suspicion, how the dojo was often visited by members of the Japanese Navy on shore leave.

If we are allowed a little speculation, his teacher was entirely able to run an establishment at which trained a future deputy commissioner of the Shanghai Municipal Police, located within a centre of espionage, at which visits by military personnel didn’t raise an eyebrow.

If we move to Indonesia (or at the time Java in the Dutch East Indies) we encounter, for instance, the Saito brothers running a Jujutsu dojo in Semarang.  One of their students before the Second World War was probably the most influential man in terms of Jujutsu in Australia, the late Jan de Jong.

One of the brothers was a photographer - another typical occupation for an agent.

Jan Ruff-O’Herne noted him as being a spy:

Many Japanese businessmen appeared on the scene in the years leading up to the Japanese invasion of Java,  They were planted there on purpose to get ready for the forthcoming invasion.  Our friendly Japanese photographer turned out to be a spy too.  He was the most popular photographer in Semarang and he had taken several of our family photos, including the one on the cover of this book.  While these people had been bowing and smiling at us, they had been preparing for our destruction.

And so we begin to touch on an ice-berg - perhaps using Jujutsu as a cover is a plausible idea, but how widespread was this tactic?

(Please don't take the links below as recommendations, it is just the smartest way for me to link to a source).

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