A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
Mass Marketing of the Martial Arts
by Christopher Dow
No survey of martial arts mass marketing in America—or anywhere else—would be complete without a look at Bruce Tegnér. In fact, the ads for Tegnér’s books that appeared in the back pages of comic books and men’s magazines throughout the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s were probably the first introduction many Americans had to the Asian martial arts. When a martial arts compatriot of mine was a teenager during that time and was being bullied at school, his dad gave him a Bruce Tegnér book, though he neglected to impart to my friend any personal training. Apparently he thought the book was sufficient instruction.
Tegnér wasn’t just a pioneer martial arts author at a time when there probably weren’t more than a handful of writers in English on the martial arts, each producing only one, or maybe two, books. Tegnér personally wrote an entire martial arts library between 1959 and 1985, though the exact number of original titles is a little hard to calculate. A list of Tegnér books I compiled from Amazon numbers almost exactly 100. That includes the contents of two boxed sets: The Martial Arts: Boxed Set containing five volumes (1974) and the Corgi Library of Oriental Martial Arts, co-authored by martial arts writer Michael Minick, containing four volumes (1975). All the volumes in these two sets are reissues of previous books.
Tegnér’s full catalog includes earlier books either retitled—perhaps with some added material—or two books later combined into a single volume. You’d have to buy copies of each and every one and then compare and contrast them all to be sure of exactly how many unique books he produced. What, for example, are the differences between Self-defense for Boys & Men: A Physical Education Course, Self-defense for Boys & Men: A Secondary School and College Manual, Self-defense You Can Teach Your Boy: A Confidence-building Course, and Teach Your Boy Self-defense and Self-Confidence? And is the material essentially the same—except for photos—as that in Self-defense for Girls and Women: A Physical Education Course, Self-defense for Girls: A Secondary School and College Manual, Self-defense and Assault Prevention for Girls and Women, and Self-defense for Your Child? I certainly don’t have the time to discover that, nor the funds. Some of the better, rarer, or first-edition Bruce Tegnér books now go for as much as $350, and many of the rest are in the $20–$50 range.
Obviously, Tegnér had a penchant for repackaging the same material in different forms under different covers and slightly different titles. Examine the accompanying list of Tegnér books, and you’ll see what I mean. But if he often repackaged and repurposed his material, he also wrote books on topics not covered by other writers for years. Perhaps the most succinct enumeration of Tegnér’s books can be found on the OpenLibrary page about his principal publisher: Thor Publishing Company. (1) OpenLibrary numbers forty-two book titles and 11 e-books published by Thor between 1959 and 1999. Tegnér’s personal output began in 1959 and continued to 1985, which was the year of his death. Most of the Thor books listed are by Tegnér or Tegnér and a co-author (usually his wife, Alice McGrath), though a few are by McGrath alone or by other authors. The OpenLibrary page even has an informative chart showing the number of titles that Thor published each year.
Over the years, Tegnér has suffered criticism in several regards. First, he often produced books on martial arts styles he did not know well, such as Tai Chi and other kung fu forms. And some karate exponents question the depth of his knowledge in that art. In discussing a video clip on YouTube of Tegnér teaching Ricky Nelson karate in an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1961, Dan Djurdjevic had this to say about Tegnér’s movement: “It’s really quite stunning in its oddness, matching and exceeding the awkward, book-learned movements hinted in the photos. Yet there is something irresistibly admirable about it at the same time. I can’t help but feel sincere respect for Tegnér. He might not have known a lot about karate, but there is a sort of ‘alpha male,’ pugnacious authenticity, toughness and diligence to his movement that makes you want to meet him, shake his hand and say: ‘Well done, mate.’” (2)
Tegnér might not have been a classical stylist, but he did possess legitimate expertise in his core arts: Judo, Jujutsu, and Aikido, which he melded into Jukado. Many other writers point out that what Tegnér did forty years ago would be considered cutting-edge today in that he was one of the first to openly mix various styles of martial arts then hone the result into a direct and efficient system of self-defense that emphasized over-all physical fitness and skill rather than strength.
Bruce Tegnér was born October 28 or 29, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents—Jon and June—were both professional-grade practitioners of Judo and Jujutsu, and his mother also studied Kodakan. In fact, she was the first Caucasian woman to earn the rank of 3rd dan in Judo. Bruce’s parents started him off on the same path when he was 2 years old. According to his one-page bio in his first book, Karate: The Open Hand and Foot Fighting, his nursery was furnished like a dojo, with mats lining the walls, and his judo instruction took place daily. He also studied with several experts in various martial arts, including fighting champion T. Shozo Kuwashima. At age 17, Tegnér won California’s state Judo title, and by the time he was 21, he was the youngest 2nd dan judo black belt in the U.S. (3, 4) He continued to practice the martial arts throughout his lifetime, studying Judo, Jujutsu, Aikido, karate, Japanese sword and stick fighting, Savate, Tai Chi, and other Chinese kung fu forms.
Tegnér’s traditionalist background eventually gave way, as happened with Bruce Lee, and he began to coalesce his knowledge into a unified system that was direct and simple to learn. The result was Jukado, which, as previously mentioned, combined Judo, Jujutsu, karate, and Aikido. As with Lee, Tegnér took a lot of flak for loosening the bonds of traditionalism in favor of direct and modernized applications. (5)
Tegnér’s books detail three different training routes: training for sport martial arts, training for classical martial arts, and training for self-defense. (3) During his career, he taught military self-defense instructors, created self-defense courses for law enforcement officers, devised fight scenes for film studios, instructed a number of Hollywood actors and operated several dojos over the years. (5) Some of Tegnér’s students can be found commenting favorably about him on web articles devoted to him and his life.
Tegnér wasn’t the only martial arts writer to successively study various martial arts, become relatively proficient in them, and then produce a string of books. Leo Fong quickly comes to mind. (REVIEWS HERE) But Tegnér came before all of them. He produced, as I said earlier, an entire martial arts library, and he did so at a time when books in English on the martial arts were scarce to nonexistent.
Tegnér died of a heart attack at age 55 on August 28, 1985, in Ventura, California. He was survived by his spouse and frequent co-author, Alice McGrath, who died in 2009. McGrath is fascinating in her own right. You can check out the Wikipedia page about her HERE. (6) Since Tegnér’s death, the mixed martial arts, which he helped pioneer, have risen to the forefront, often eclipsing the classical styles in the minds of many people. Tegnér, though, has only rarely received recognition for his contributions to this aspect of the martial arts, and following his death, he was largely forgotten by the martial arts community.
But not totally. According to Bradley J. Steiner, 10th degree black belt and instructor at American Combato in Seattle, Washington, “Tegnér…was a much-maligned and far underappreciated teacher of practical self-defense…. There is great value in what Bruce Tegnér wrote and taught.” Steiner lists six of Tegnér’s books that he feels are particularly strong: The Bruce Tegnér Method of Self-defense, Stick Fighting for Self-defense, Instant Self-defense, Bruce Tegnér’s Complete Book of Self-defense, Jukado, and Judo and Karate for Law Enforcement Officers. (7)
Bob Rosenbaum, who was a student under Tegnér, had this to say: “For many years, there have been those who take great joy in putting Bruce down. Unfortunately, they have no knowledge of Bruce outside of his books. The books he wrote were for people with no knowledge or very little knowledge of martial arts. None of his books were meant to make experts out of the readers, but to allow those with limited athletic ability to learn to defend themselves from the average attacker.” (5)
But our purpose here isn’t to review or critique Tegnér’s books. You can find that article HERE. Instead, we’re looking at his output in the context of mass marketing, and in this endeavor, as a whole, Tegnér again proved that his trailblazing capacities went far beyond simply writing a slew of martial arts manuals. The majority of his books were published by Thor Publishing Company, which was founded in 1959 and incorporated in California in 1982. (8) The Thor articles of incorporation list Tegnér as a principle owner along with Alice McGrath. The company was later dissolved, apparently at or just before McGrath’s death having remained in business for more than 34 years.
So, not only did Tegnér write as many as three dozen martial arts books at a time when few were writing more than a single volume, he also published them through his own publishing company. Further, in a brilliant move, instead of trying to sell his offerings through bookstores, he advertised them in comic books and men’s magazines, targeting the very audiences most likely to be interested in the product he had to sell, maximizing his profits in the process by cutting out the bookselling middleman. This maneuver also dramatically bolstered his martial arts marketing empire, firmly implanting the Tegnér’s name in the minds of millions of American males of all ages. Even those who never saw a Tegnér book knew he was a kick-ass guy teaching Asian martial arts to American wannabes. And in fact, before Tegnér, a lot of Americans didn’t even know the Asian martial arts existed.
“But wait!” the pitchman promises. “There’s more!” Tegnér’s first book was Karate: The Open Hand and Foot Fighting (1959), and in the back of the book can be found the next element of Tegnér’s martial arts marketing assault: advertisements for martial arts clothing and equipment available from House of Yama. (Check out the prices! Some Gis for under $10!) Subsequent books added more gear to the catalog, which eventually included ads for previous Tegnér books. If Tegnér taught something, such as yawara stick strikes, you could be sure you’d find an ad for yawara sticks in the back of the book.
Internet searching has yet to reveal to me any hard information on House of Yama, but since Tegnér is the model in the photos for the equipment, it’s safe to assume that House of Yama also was Tegnér’s company. A great many other well-known martial artists have since followed Tegnér’s lead in creating a company to sell martial arts gear, particularly those with substantial schools or followings. Brendan Lai is an excellent but not isolated example. But Tegnér was active in this aspect at least by 1959.
It doesn’t seem that Tegnér took advantage of the only home moving pictures format available to consumers at the time, which was 8mm film. Maybe that just wasn’t cost-effective for him. After all, home video is ubiquitous now, but in the 1960s, you might be able to find one family in the neighborhood who had an 8mm projector, and they probably weren’t going to let you hang out at their house and watch Bruce Tegnér films. But he did take advantage of the one mass-audience visual format familiar to everybody at the time: movies and TV. You can see his few isolated appearances on YouTube video clips, but he also furthered his reputation at the time by choreographing screen fights for movies and TV and teaching a fair number of Hollywood actors, including James Coburn, Ricky Nelson, and Frank Sinatra, among others.
Considering the timeframe, his film and TV work will have to substitute for personally authored films or videos of what he was teaching. So, if you add all his film work to his other mass-marketing achievements, it’s clear that, right from the beginning, Tegnér was incorporating just about every aspect available to him to sell the martial arts to American consumers. And I do not mean this in a negative way. By all accounts, Tegnér had integrity and enthusiasm as well as skill and athleticism, and it’s clear that, while he intended to make money off his knowledge, he also intended to impart to his students and readers real knowledge that produced real results.
In the final analysis, Bruce Tegnér can be considered the first person to mass-market the Asian martial arts in America—and maybe the West at large—taking advantage of every avenue available to achieve his goal, from print and visual media to the selling of equipment and supplies. As with the other famous martial arts Bruce of his day, he died prematurely, leaving us only speculation about where he might have taken both his martial arts and his marketing efforts. Whatever might have happened, we can be sure that, had the two Bruces lived, the martial arts would not have developed in America in quite the same way that they have.
1 “Thor Pub. Co.” OpenLibrary, https://openlibrary.org/publishers/Thor_Pub._Co.
2 Bruce Tegner: Another Western Pioneer of Martial Arts,” The Way of Least Resistance, http://www.wayofleastresistance.net/2014/11/bruce-tegner-another-western-pioneer-of.html
3 “Bruce Tegner—A Man Before His Time,” USADojo.com, https://www.usadojo.com/bruce-tegner-before-his-time/
4 “Bruce Tegner,” Martial Talk, http://www.martialtalk.com/threads/bruce-tegner.34346/
5 “Bruce Tegner,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=48116464
6 “Alice McGrath,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_McGrath
7 "The Works of the Late Bruce Tegnér," American Combato, http://seattlecombatives.com/?p=1456
Books by Bruce Tegner
Compiled from Amazon.com, alphabetical order. Note that many of these appear to be re-issues, perhaps with additional material, or previous books combined into single volumes.
Aikido and Bokata (1983)
Aikido and Jiu Jitsu Holds & Locks (1969)
Aikido for Self-defense: Holds & Locks for Modern Use (1965)
Aikido Holds and Locks (1970)
Aikido Self-defense: Holds and Locks for Modern Use (1961)
Black Belt Judo, Karate, and Jukado (1973)
Black Belt Judo, Karate, and Jukado: Advanced Techniques for Experts (1967)
Black Belt Karate, Judo & Jjujitsu (1980)
Book Of Kung Fu And Tai Chi (1976, 1973)
Bruce Tegner’s Book of Kung Fu and Tai Chi: Chinese Karate and Classical Exercises (1973)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Aikido and Holds & Locks (1970, 1974)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Judo (1967, 1968, 1973)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Jujitsu (1978, 1986)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Jukado Self-defense: Judo, Karate, Aikido, Jui Jitsu (1968, 1970, 1974)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Karate: Two Complete Courses (I. Self-defense, II. Sport Karate) (1967, 1970, 1973, 1978)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Self-Defense (1963, 1978, 1992, 1994)
Bruce Tegner’s Kung Fu and Tai Chi: Chinese Karate and Classical Exercises (1973)
Bruce Tegner Method of Self-defense: The Best of Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Savate, Yawara, Aikido, and Ate-Waza (1960, 1969, 1972)
Bruce Tegner’s Book of Kung Fu, Tai Chi: Chinese Karate and Classical Exercises (1968, 1973)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Aikido and Holds and Locks (1971)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Judo: Beginner to Black Belt Sport & Self-defense (1967, 1975)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Jukado Self-defense—Judo, Karate, Aikido (Jui Jitsu Modernized)—White Belt through Black Belt (1968)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Jukado Self-defense—The Only Step-by-Step Illustrated Course (1970)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Jujitsu (1976, 1977, 1978, 1986)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Karate (1974, 1975, 1981)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Karate: Self-defense Karate and Sport Karate (1970, 1973, 1981)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Karate: Beginner to Black Belt Sport and Self-defense (1975)
Bruce Tegner’s Compete Book of Self-defense (1975, 1978, 1992)
Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Self-defense Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Savate, Yawara, Aikido, and Ate-Waza (1961)
Bruce Tegner’s Karate: Beginner to Black Belt (1983)
Complete Book of Aikido and Holds & Locks, with Step-by-Step Illustrations (1975)
Complete Book of Judo (1967, 1970)
Complete Book of Juijitsu (1978)
Complete Book of Jukado Self-defense: Judo, Karate, Aikido (Jiu Jitsu Modernized): White Belt Through Black Belt (1970, 1974)
Complete Book of Ju-jitsu (1978)
Complete Book of Karate (1966, 1970)
Complete Book of Karate: Beginner to Black Belt and Self-defense (1967)
Complete Book of Aikido Holds and Locks (1970)
Complete Book of Self-Defense (1965, 1968, 1970, 1992)
Corgi Library of Oriental Martial Arts (4 vols. boxed set) (with Michael Minick) (1975)
Defense Tactics for Law Enforcement: Weaponless Defense and Control and Baton Techniques (1972, 1986)
Instant Self-defense (1965)
Isometric Power Exercises (2013)
Judo and Karate Belt Degrees (1963)
Judo & Karate Exercises: Physical Conditioning for the Un-armed Fighting Arts (1963, 1965)
Judo: Beginner to Black Belt (1982)
Judo for Fun: Sport Techiques Made Easy (1961)
Judo for Fun: Sport Techniques (1970)
Judo for Fun: Sport Techniques for Exercise, Recreation, Tournament (2013)
Judo Sport Techniques for Physical Fitness and Tournament (1976)
Judo, Karate for Law Officers (1962)
Judo: Step-by-Step Instruction: Beginner to Black Belt (1976)
Judo: Sport Techniques for Physical Fitness and Tournament (1976)
Karate (1961, 1968, 1994)
Karate and Judo Exercises: Physical Conditioning for Oriental Sport Fighting Arts (1972, 1981)
Karate: Beginner to Black Belt (with Alice McGrath) (1965, 1982)
Karate: Traditional Forms for Sport (Vol. II) (1961, 1963)
Karate: Self-defense & Sport (1963, 1970, 1973)
Karate: Self-defense & Traditional Sport Forms (1973)
[These may be two separate books also combined into Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Karate (1974)]
Karate: The Open Hand & Foot Fighting (1959, 1961)
Karate: The Open Hand & Foot Fighting, Vol. I: Self-defense (1965)
Karate: The Step-by-Step Illustrated Training Manual (1965)
Kung Fu and Tai Chi: Chinese Karate and Classical Exercises (with Alice McGrath) (1969, 1973, 1986)
The Martial Arts: Boxed Set (Five vols. boxed set) (1974)
Nerve Centers and Pressure Points for Atemi-Waza, Jukado, and Karate (1968)
Savate (1970, 1983)
Savate: French Foot Fighting, Self-defense, Sport—What Is Savate? (with Alice McGrath) (1960, 1970, 1977)
Self-defense: A Basic Course (1979, 1982)
Self-defense and Assault Prevention for Girls and Women (1977, 1986)
Self-defense for Boys & Men: A Physical Education Course (1973)
Self-defense for Boys & Men: A Secondary School and College Manual (1968, 1969)
Self-defense for Girls and Women: A Physcial Education Course (1972)
Self-defense for Girls: A Secondary School and College Manual (with Alice McGrath) (1967)
Self-defense for Women: A Simple Method (1961, 1969)
Self-defense for Your Child (with Alice McGrath) (1993)
Self-defense Nerve Centers & Pressure Points - For Atemi-waza, Jukado and Karate (1968, 1973)
Self-Defense: Nerve Centers & Pressure Points for Karate, Jujitsu and Atemi-Waza (1978, 1983, 1984)
Self Defense Nerve Centers & Pressure Points for Atemi Waza, Jukado & Karate (1968)
Self-defense Tactics for Law Enforcement (1972)
Self-defense You Can Teach Your Boy: A Confidence-building Course (1970)
Solo Forms of Karate, Tai Chi, Aikido and Kung Fu (with Alice McGrath) (1981, 1988)
Stick Fighting Forms (1982)
Stick Fighting: Self Defense: Yawara, Aijkido, Cane, Police Club, Quarter Staff (1961, 1982)
Stick Fighting: Sport Forms (1982)
The Survival Book (with Alice McGrath) (1981, 1983)
Teacher’s Guide for Self-defense for Boys and Men: A Secondary School and College Manual (1968)
Teach Your Boy Self-defense and Self-Confidence (1961, 1967)
Note: There may be many more of these than I discovered.
Guia Completo de Kung Fu Tai Chi: 370 Movimentos Ilustrados com Fotos (1973)
Le guide marabout du Kung Fu et du Tai ki
Libro Completo De Karate
Libro Completo de Karate (Un curso ilustrado de karate deportivo de principiante a cinta negra) (1990)
El Libro de la Supercivencia (with McGrath) (1988)