Modern Self-Defense, by Robert H. Sigward

Published in 1958 by William C. Copp And Associates New York City

How well we remember the old Sigward Sports Academy in New York City. Not only was the Sigward System of Self-Defense taught there, but that grand old ju-jutsu master the late Professor Kiyose Nakae taught there for a while. Like the old Al Roon Health Studio the Sigward Academy was nothing like the modern, in our opinion ripoff “health clubs”, but instead offered good, basic, sensible physical training instruction, swimming facilities, and all sorts of athletic programs for fitness conscious New Yorkers. This was in the 1950’s.

The original hardcover edition of Modern Self-Defense is a collecotr's item. The book is good one for the professional to add to his library and to study — although discretion needs to be used as some of the techniques are of questionable value in hand-to-hand combat. Others, however, are quite sensible and good.

The original hardcover edition of Modern Self-Defense is a collecotr's item. The book is good one for the professional to add to his library and to study — although discretion needs to be used as some of the techniques are of questionable value in hand-to-hand combat. Others, however, are quite sensible and good.

Robert H. Sigward was an accomplished ju-jutsu expert. In fact, with all due respect to the late Prof. Nakae, Sigward’s ju-jutsu was superior for practical use. We studied both systems. Nakae was a fine and dedicated teacher of authentic Japanese ju-jutsu. Sigward leaned more toward the kind of ju-jutsu that Charlie Nelson (one of our three most significant teachers) taught. In fact, some of Sigward’s and Charlie’s techniques were identical.

Modern Self-Defense began as a series of how-to articles that were published in a law enforcement magazine. Happily, these articles were organized into a book, with new material added.

The great strength of Sigward’s book is that it emphasizes practicality and realism. No competition. No fancy stuff. He correctly introduces the edge-of-the-hand blow early on, and teaches the chin jab, poking the eyes, and the old fingertips jab to solar plexus, advocated by Fairbairn. (Personally, we do not like this blow; but for those who like it and find it physiologically compatible, it’s an excellent attack method). In the initial chapter  i.e. “Keys To Blows, Bars, And Blocks”) Sigward illustrates some genuinely practical methods to employ against a downed assailant — although we prefer more severe methods. Unfortunately, a lot of Sigward’s actions include wrist turning and arm locking. These are certainly necessary techniques for police to learn, but their employment in a serious emergency against violent attackers is pointless.

A chapter on falling techniques is useful — but it must be emphasized that these kinds of falling methods are important for conditioning and to enable throws to be practiced on a mat. They really are not applicable in hand-to-hand combat.

The chapter on “Wrist And Arresting Holds” is, as stated earlier, of use to law enforcers. The saving grace of these methods, though — and something we really appreciate — is that Sigward includes a sharp kick to bolster the effectiveness of these “holds”.

The chapter on “Choking Defenses” is okay, but we prefer simpler actions against these types of attack.

“Clinching Defenses” include a few less-than-ideally practical moves, but by and large the skills illustrated are sound, if you learn them well and apply them vigorously and quickly. A few are similar to Fairbairn’s old “Defendu” (i.e. his pre-WWII Shanghai approach).

The chapter on “Mugging And Strangling” is one we must caution the reader not to take to heart. The actions taught are risky and there are better ways to handle side and frontal headlocks than the ones that the book advocates.

The use of the over-shoulder throw against a rear mugger’s forearm strangle attempt is actually a viable technique, but it must be done before the attacker pulls you off balance to the rear. You must be able to mobilize your abdominal muscles fully, and you need a strong forward bend capability to make this action work. Sigward’s mugging defense was taught as “combat judo”, and such prestigious teachers as the late Professor Theodore Shozo Kuwashima of the Kodokan also advocated this technique.

Wisely, Sigward illustrates a sample action to be taken when held from behind (full nelson) and attacked by a second man from the front. The intelligent reader can extrapolate principles for handling two men in the illustrated defense.

“Throws And Leg Trips” includes the “Front Leg Throw”, a technique we learned (under a different name) from Charlie Nelson. Not a bad defense technique at all. The remaining throws and takedowns are all right; but clearly considerable practice is needed for them to be made reliable enough to employ in an encounter.

We dismiss the chapter “Defense For Women” as impractical. Not trying to offend anyone here, but to expect the statistically average female to be able to apply the techniques illustrated against the statistically average (let alone violent and insane!) male is absurd.

Sigward includes a chapter “Boxing” in which he demonstrates numerous defenses against a boxer. It might be possible for a young, tough, expert-level ju-jutsu man to apply some of these moves, but we must recommend against them. We worked with boxers to develop our boxing counteractions, and one thing we came away with after doing so was a profound respect for boxers and boxing. Fancy or complex moves will not work against them!

There is some good material in the chapters on “Knife Disarming” and “Revolver Disarming”, but these should be studied and scrutinized so as to extract what good points they contain. The full techniques taught would in our opinion be of questionable value.

The final chapter, “Further Steps In Modern Self-Defense” is interesting. It instructs some worthwhile techniques and — what we regard as its strongest point — it illustrates and describes the head butt followed by a knee to the testicles.

On a scale of 1 to 10 we’d rate Modern Self-Defense a “5” or maybe a “6”. Not bad. It is a book that all professionals will want to have in their library, and it is also — in its original hardcover edition — a fine collector’s item.

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