The emergence of Japan as a major world power in the early twentieth century generated anxiety over America’s place in the world. Fears of race suicide combined with a fear of the feminizing effects of over-civilization further exacerbated these tensions. Japanese jiu-jitsu came to symbolize these debates. As a physical example of the yellow peril, Japanese martial arts posed a threat to western martial arts of boxing and wrestling. The efficiency and effectiveness of Japanese jiu-jitsu, as introduced to Americans in the early twentieth century, challenged preconceived notions of the superiority of western martial arts and therefore American constructions of race and masculinity. As Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. nation wrestled with the Japanese and jiu-jitsu, they responded in various ways to this new menace. The jiu-jitsu threat was ultimately subjugated by simultaneously exoticizing, feminizing, and appropriating aspects of it in order to reassert the dominance of western martial arts, the white race and American masculinity.
- © 2015 by the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association