A User’s Guide to the Bartitsu Society Website 2.0

The original Bartitsu Society website – www.bartitsu.org – was established by James Marwood in October of 2008, and that site served as the premiere online resource for the contemporary Bartitsu revival until it suffered a catastrophic technical failure in April of 2019.

The recovery, restoration and reconstruction process was a laborious task, but by January of 2021 the great majority of the items posted on Bartitsu.org between 2008-2019, including all of the significant technical and historical articles, had been reconstituted at www.bartitsusociety.com.

During the reconstruction the archived posts unavoidably became chronologically disordered and most of them now begin with a note recording the date when they were originally posted.

This event highlighted the fragility of electronic media and inspired the production of a third volume of the Bartitsu Compendium, in order to further preserve the best of the research presented here since the publication of the second volume in 2008. The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III was published in December of 2022.

We hope you enjoy the Bartitsu Society website 2.0!

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“Titan of the Thames: The Life of Lord Desborough”

Recommended reading is this brand-new biography of William Grenfell, Lord Desborough, whose many athletic and public service accomplishments included some intriguing associations with Bartitsu.

Grenfell was the Master of Ceremonies at Edward Barton-Wright’s famous Bartitsu exhibition at the London Bath Club on the evening of March 9th, 1899. Lord Desborough not only presided over the event, but also took to the stage himself at one point to take part in a historical fencing display that preceded Barton-Wright’s demonstration.

He then became one of the earliest “promoters” of Bartitsu as a concept, describing the still-nascent art for journalists and eventually serving as the president of the Bartitsu Club, though it isn’t clear how much of a practical day-to-day role he played in the Club’s operations.

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“The Attila Gym, Volume One”

Author David Naimowicz’s book The Attila Gym Volume 1: Reconstructing the Original Method of Professor Louis Attila is currently available via Amazon:

This volume is the author’s best attempt to assemble the light and heavy system, its principles, mechanics, repetitions and training schedules. This system is also related to the use of weight training during the days of the London Prizering Rules Bareknuckle Boxing, and no holds barred Catch Wrestling in England. Attila’s influence reached early American heavyweight Boxing as he was the trainer for James Corbett, and his influence through Theodor Siebert influenced the training methods of some of the first Western students of Judo and Jujutsu. As the most celebrated trainer in the British Empire, his philosophies on Physical Culture have a high likelihood of also influencing the philosophies of Jigoro Kano, and the British Royal Marines.

The training method overall, seemed to preserve some Indian methods which were becoming uncommon knowledge in India itself, as Attila taught prominant Indian government officials. He may have influenced physical training in places such as Baroda by this instruction. This was all during the formation of the Indian Nationalist movement, known as Hindutva, which facilitated a cultural exchange between South Asia and the West. The training method has analogues and insights not only into Indian, but Chinese methods related to military exams in the Imperial era. A concentrated well of knowledge. We invite the reader to the Attila Gym.

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“The British Jujitsu Society and the influence of Kodokan Judo on early jujutsu in the UK”

Volume 13 of the Martial Arts Studies journal offers this well-researched piece on the history of the still little-known British Ju-jitsu Society. Along with the London Budokwai, the BJJS fostered the continued study of Japanese martial arts in England during the 1920s and ’30s, building on the legacies of the Bartitsu Club, the Golden Square dojo and the Japanese School of Jujutsu.

Nice to see the research on the influential Handa dojo, pioneered by Tony Wolf, Joe Svinth and Lance Gatling back in 2007-8, making its way into academic journals.

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Some “new” and unusual snippets of Bartitsu history

According to an item in the Morning Leader of Tuesday, 29 November 1898, the entertainments for an upcoming charity bazaar were scheduled to include:

Mr. E. W. Barton- Wright (who) will on Friday and Saturday give a demonstration of Bartitsu, the new art of self defence and show some Japanese wrestling. He will also explain and expose the simplicity with which certain well-known feats of strength are performed.

Although Barton-Wright gave a number of jujutsu demonstrations during late 1898, this is the first and only known report of his demonstrating “feats of strength”. Those feats were almost certainly among those he described in his Pearson’s Magazine article “How to Pose as a Strong Man,” which was published two months after the charity event.

The Leader of Thursday, 29 June 1899 included the following short article, which is the only known example of Barton-Wright himself promoting the Bartitsu Club prior to its opening:

“BARTITSU” CLUB, WHERE ALL THE LATEST SELF-DEFENCE ARTS WILL BE TAUGHT.

“Bartitsu,” be it known, is the art of self-defence, and a club is being formed where this art in all its phases will be practised.

“It will be purely a sports club,” explained Mr. Barton-Wright to a Morning Leader representative, “where men and women, girls and boys, can be instructed in fencing, sabre play, la savate, boxing, and Bartitsu.”

The club will be somewhere in Piccadilly. One special feature will be the instruction of members, especially lady members, in the art of defending themselves with a walking stick

“As you know, I have given exhibitions of Japanese wrestling, which art I am now teaching to certain well-known society leaders. But for the Bartitsu Club, which is to be a limited company, I am going over to Japan to secure some of the best instructors in certain of Japanese wrestling. I have lived and travelled in nearly every country on the globe and this is the most perfect form of self-defence. It is one that, with a little study, can be acquired by women equally as well as men and once learnt is never forgotten. Classes will be arranged, and instruction given privately. We are expecting a full complement of members from the beginning.”

The Hampshire Post and Southsea Observer of Friday, 24 March 1899 adds a hitherto unknown third verse to the “Bartitsu” poem quoted in several other newspapers around that time:

What’s the new Bartitsu?

Well, a fellow gits you

By the wrist,

and with a twist,

on the floor he sits you.

Into knots he knits you,

Every joint he splits you.

Winds your coat

Around your throat,

Throttling into fits you.

When at length he quits you,

Wondering whether it’s you,

With a broom

They clear the room,

That’s the new Bartitsu!

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“The Brutal World Of Bare-Knuckle Boxing In Victorian Britain”

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Bartitsu and early British jujitsu with Tony Wolf

Martial arts podcasters Gavin Davies and David Brough interview Tony Wolf on the past and future of Bartitsu, with a bonus pro-wrestling anecdote.

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The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III reviewed by the Martial History Team

After buying and surveying the first two volumes in this series, I had to buy volume III when it arrived in 2022. My copy of The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 3: What Bartitsu Was and What it Can Be is a massive paperback measuring 8 5/16 inches by 11 11/16 inches, with 630 (!) black and white pages, in print-on-demand format. I wish I could have just bought PDFs of all three of these books!

This volume presents four parts: a “narrative social history” (pp 11-163), a collection of articles previously on the Web (pp 164-442), techniques and tactics (pp 443-545), and “20 years of revival” (pp 546-626). 

This book represents an amazing accomplishment by the author and his colleagues. They lost a lot of online content due to technical issues, but recovered and published that material here. I am a fan of publishing blog and related information in formats like this as an insurance policy against technical failures and “Web or link rot.”

I noted in the text the claim that Barton-Wright (1860-1951) apparently trained Shinden Fudo Ryu jujutsu for about 3 years with Terajima Kuniichiro and “took some lessons” with Kano starting around 1895, when the pair were each about 35 years old.

Here are a few sample pages for flavor:

If you are interested in Bartitsu, you need this book.

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“What is the mysterious Western martial art Bartitsu, used by Sherlock Holmes?”

Martial artist Niimi Satoshi offers some creative interpretations of neo-Bartitsu techniques.

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“The Police (of the Future)”, 1886

The letter to the editor of the Daily Chronicle that inspired this cartoon referred to the advantages of wicker-work shields (which actually were in use by some police departments during the late 1880s) and noted that the quarterstaff should be studded with nails to prevent it from being seized by opponents. The fireworks and squibs, electric rattle, shocking wires, water tank etc. were embellishments by the cartoonist.

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Light Unarmed Sparring

Some more light, speculative Bartitsu-style unarmed sparring from the Highland Broadsword Society. Note the savate inflections and the moment of standing grappling.

Milling the fists and destructive elbow blocks are characteristic of the “secret style of boxing” believed to have been developed by Barton-Wright and Vigny.

Sans kicks, an edited compilation of key moments from a bout at vintage fisticuffs.

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