A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
The Bruce Tegnér Library
Books by Bruce Tegnér
(Various publishers, 1959–1985)
Review by Christopher Dow
No survey of martial arts literature 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 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 alone 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 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). Apparently, 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 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 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, below, 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 eleven 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 by Tegnér and a co-author (usually his wife, Alice McGrath), though a few are by McGrath alone or by other authors.
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 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 movie and TV 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 non-existent.
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.” (4)
In this review we’ll look at only three of Tegnér’s books because these are the ones in my martial arts library. I did not purchase these at the time of their release but later, when I was scouring used-book stores for martial arts titles in the days before the Internet made such books easier to find—though passing time has generally made them more expensive. The first book we’ll look at, I’m happy to say, is Karate: The Open Hand and Foot Fighting (Thor Publishing Co., 1959, 106 pages) which was Tegnér’s first release. Incidentally, my copy is a first edition.
In a sense, a review of Karate is a review of all—or at least most—of Tegnér’s titles. Since I haven’t seen all of his books, I can’t say that he didn’t break the mold with some of them, but the vast majority of his books are Category I, giving basic background information on the art or style in question, followed by instruction in forms, katas, and applications. “This is a text book,” Tegnér writes in his foreword. “My intention is to instruct—not discuss.” Even so, Tegnér does go on to discuss his motivations for teaching karate strictly as a sport and for self-defense, divorced from any Eastern religious foundations. He also discusses the need for personal discipline in developing one’s skill, no matter what level of achievement one aspires to.
A one-page bio of Tegnér appears next, and this is followed by the beginning of the instruction section. As with most such sections in martial arts manuals, Tegnér’s instruction includes both text and photos. He opens with a twenty-six page catalog of “Karate Striking Methods,” which include just about any way one can strike, jab, or rake with the hand (open or closed), arm (from wrist to shoulder), head, legs, and feet. Except for the two pages detailing high kicks, these are all demonstrated in clear-enough photos in which Tegnér is seen striking a straw-padded post. The high kicks are demonstrated against a partner.
Twelve pages of charts and text descriptions detail a great number of nerve centers and pressure points broken into several categories: “temporary disabling,” “stunning or very painful,” and “temporary paralysis or unconsciousness.” Several pages of basic stances follow, then it’s on to a section on blocking techniques to defend against various strikes from the arms and legs. In these photos, Tegnér faces an opponent. Each attack shows both a block and a response, and all are thoroughly described in the text facing each page of photos.
The next section shows karate defenses against attacks ranging from “simple or annoying” to “deadly.” Again, Tegnér faces an opponent. Most of the defenses are against bare-hand attacks, but Tegnér also shows defenses against attacks employing a club, knife, and gun.
The final chapter of the book discusses breath control and other training and conditioning requirements. First, Tegnér writes about “ki-ya,” the method of expelling the breath in a vocal cry that helps one focus energy in strikes and kicks. He then goes on to discuss yogic breath control, showing how this can help develop the ki-ya, and he gives several exercises that do just that. Last comes a brief look at such issues as diet, endurance, and patience.
Savate: French Foot Fighting (Thor Publishing Co., 1960, 166 pages) was Tegnér’s second book, and again, I have a first edition, for what that’s worth. It follows much the same pattern as Karate, beginning with a short history of Savate. This provides an interesting analog to the well-known scenarios of the development of the Asian martial arts in China, Japan, Korea, and so forth, showing much the same progression. Tegnér, who began his Savate training at age 17, begins his history with a man named only Michel, who gathered material from several European fighting styles and codified it into a unified art. Tegnér then provides thumbnail descriptions of several important masters during the subsequent development of the art—master passing teachings on to an apt pupil who then becomes the next master.
The instruction section begins with a look at stances, and Tegnér compares the Savate stance with the stances of several other martial arts, including boxing, to show the differences. Some of the Savate stances demonstrated are intended to challenge and improve one’s balance. Feinting with the hands and feet, advancing and retreating, and toe and heel pivots come next.
After this, Tegnér shows a great number of leg conditioning exercises—one of which is very similar to Tai Chi’s Snake Creeps Down and a few of which look extremely uncomfortable. You’d have to be young to do some of these. A couple of pages showing vulnerable areas of the body to strike wind up this section. Next comes forty-six pages of kicks against a heavy bag. These range from simple front snap kicks to elaborate and athletic leaps that culminate in kicks with both feet. (See the accompanying photos for examples.)
Basic blows with the fists also are shown against a heavy bag, but then Tegnér faces an opponent to illustrate blocks and counters against a great number of attacks from the fists and feet. As with similar material in Karate, some of the defenses are against clubs, knives, and guns.
The book’s final chapter is by Tegnér’s frequent co-author, Alice McGrath, and it details the rules of French Savate boxing put forth at the time by the National French Savate Association of America. This discusses the layout of the ring, the fighters themselves, medical considerations, equipment such as gloves, the length of the bouts, and refereeing and judging parameters.
The final Tegnér book we’ll look at is Stick Fighting for Self-defense: Yawara, Aikido, Cane, Police Club, Quarter Staff (Thor Publishing Co., 1961, 144 pages). This, apparently, was Tegnér’s sixth book, with Bruce Tegnér’s Method for Self-defense, Teach Your Boy Self-defense and Self-confidence, and Self-defense for Woman appearing between it and his first two books. My copy of this book also is a first edition.
McGrath provides the introduction, giving a brief history of the stick, in its various forms, as a weapon, and after this comes a curious section titled “Preparation for Instructing the Blind.” I won’t go into any details here, but, yes, this is about teaching martial arts to sight-impaired individuals—shades of Zatoichi.
The section amusingly titled “Distraction—Stay Alive: Use Your Head and Your Club” gives some practical advice about facing an opponent, including using any sort of readily available club or stick, such crutches and umbrellas, to assist your defense.
The instruction section begins with blocking methods and charts of strike points. Then it moves on to ways to use a small stick, such as the yawara. Attacks with and defenses against small sticks are included, as are ways to use a small stick against various types of opponents, such as boxers, and against various types of other weapons, such as clubs and knives.
Clubs, such as police batons, are treated next in much the same way, and the sections after also follow the same general pattern with cane, medium stick, long stick, and quarter-staff. A chapter specifically on self-defense for women using improvised short sticks, such as pens, lipstick tubes, and wallets comes next. The photos in this chapter show McGrath using such weapons in dealing with assailants. Several police methods for takedowns, come-alongs, and arm locks are next, and the last section in the book shows a wheel-chair-bound Tegnér using a yawara and cane against an aggressor.
Bruce Tegnér was clearly no slouch when it came to self-defense. He might not have been the greatest stylist in the world, but he was an enthusiastic and talented exponent of the martial arts as a whole, and his many literary contributions to the field practically spawned American martial arts literature as well as informed several generations of American about the Asian martial arts in general. Your martial arts library owes him a great debt, even if none of his books are on your shelf.
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: These are just the translations I ran across. There may be many more.
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)