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The precise details of Tani's early jujutsu training in Japan are unclear, but he is known to have studied at two Fusen-ryu dojo as well as at the "Handa School of Jiujitsu" in Osaka. Tani is also often said to have been a student of Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu. It is also likely that he had considerable experience in competitive ne-waza (mat wrestling) at the high-school level.
Beginning in late 1900, through the influence of Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu, the nineteen-year-old Yukio Tani travelled to London with his older brother, who is known only by his initial, "K", and a man named S. Yamamoto. K. Tani and Yamamoto soon returned to Japan, but Yukio stayed in London and began appearing at music halls, giving demonstrations of jujutsu and placing challenges to all comers. On stage Tani was known as the "pocket Hercules" and was famous throughout all levels of London society. Along with fellow jujutsu practitioner Sadakazu Uyenishi, Tani was also employed as a jujutsu instructor at Barton Wright's "Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture" at 67b Shaftesbury Avenue in London's Soho district.
After breaking with Barton-Wright in 1903, Tani joined forces with veteran show business promoter William Bankier, who had himself been a music hall performer under the name "Apollo, the Scottish Hercules". Bankier managed Tani on the Music Hall circuit, where he would challenge anyone willing to test his skill. With the temptation of winning £1 for lasting each minute, for a bout of up to 5 minutes, or £5 to £100 for winning, there was never a shortage of challengers.
The rules of these matches required Tani's opponents to wrestle according to competitive jujutsu rules, which meant that they had to avoid being forced to submit within a defined period of time. As the concept and practice of submission wrestling was foreign to most European wrestlers during this period, this did offer Tani a tactical advantage in his challenge matches.
At 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 metres) Tani allegedly lost only one music hall match and that was to a fellow Japanese national (Taro Miyake in 1905). During one week at the Oxford Music Hall, Yukio Tani met and defeated thirty-three men, some of whom were well known continental wrestlers. In one six-month tour Tani defeated an average of 20 men a week, a total of over 500 challengers over the period of the tour.
In 1904 Tani and Miyake opened the Japanese School of Jujutsu that was located at 305, Oxford Street W, London. This school was to remain open for a little over two years, one of his pupils being the stage actress Marie Studholme.
Tani also partnered with Miyake in co-authoring a book, "the Game of Jujitsu", which was first published in 1906.
In 1918 Tani became the first professional teacher at the London Budokwai, initially teaching jiujitsu. During a visit to the Budokwai by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo, in 1920, Tani was awarded the second-degree black belt rank in judo. Eventually Tani reached the rank of 4th-dan.
Yukio Tani suffered a stroke in 1937 but continued to teach from the sidelines of the Budokwai mats until his death on January 24, 1950.
Book by Tani
- The Game of JuJitsu (1906)