If you’ve ever trained in hand-to-hand or close-quarters combat, you probably have Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Sr. to thank.
A Marine officer in the early twentieth century, Biddle was an expert in hand-to-hand and close-quarter combat who, quite literally, wrote one of the authoritative books on the subject.
Biddle penned Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat, which covered hand-to-hand, knife, and empty-hand combat skills, leading to his becoming considered a preeminent mind on the subject. He trained Marines over both World Wars and was instrumental in outfitting the earliest iteration of FBI agents with the necessary skills in close-quarters combat.
Biddle came to the Marines late in life, joining at age forty-one in 1917. Almost immediately, though, he began shaping the Corps in his image. He convinced his superiors of the benefits of calisthenics and eventually persuaded them to include boxing as a manner of Marine Corps recruitment training. By 1919, he was promoted to major and by the early 1930s, he was awarded the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Biddle took his expertise back to his hometown of Philadelphia when he opened a military training facility in suburban Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. There, he employed calisthenics and gymnastics while teaching his trademark close-quarters skills along with machete, bayonet, and dagger combat, hand grenade usage, boxing, jiu-jitsu and savate.
The grandson of famed banker Anthony Joseph Drexel Sr. -- who found his fortune in the rise of modern global finance in the post-Civil War era -- Biddle grew up in the lap of luxury in Philadelphia, with an inherited fortune that allowed him to pursue theatricals, self-publishing and athletics as full-time endeavors. He was both a fellow of the famous American Geographical Society and one of the earliest benefactors behind the legitimization of boxing as a regarded sport.
A fervent amateur fighter who regularly sparred with legendary pugilist Jack Johnson and even hosted “boxing teas” (where boxers would spar with Biddle followed by a family meal) in his home, Biddle’s passion for the sport of boxing was renowned.
After his death in 1948, Biddle’s daughter wrote a novel based on her father’s life called My Philadelphia Father. The book was eventually turned into the Oscar-nominated film, The Happiest Millionaire.
Biddle may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, allowing him to never once have to worry about real-world concerns like money. But that didn’t stop him from devouring as much knowledge as he could on topics and endeavors that he felt impassioned about. And it certainly didn’t stop him from sharing his expertise with those around him, aiding the very nation that his family helped establish.