“About Martial Arts, E.W. Barton-Wright and Yukio Tani”

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Monday, 25th January 2010

Marcus Rowland’s short article About Martial Arts, E.W. Barton-Wright and Yukio Tani was first published in Valkyrie magazine in 1996, and accompanied a CD-Rom which included all five of the articles E.W. Barton-Wright had written for Pearson’s Magazine between 1899-1901. As such, Rowland’s article appeared at the very beginning of “modern” Bartitsu scholarship, several years before copies of Barton-Wright’s articles were broadcast online via the EJMAS website.

Since the original publication of Mr. Rowland’s essay, the Bartitsu Society has undertaken considerable further historical research on Bartitsu and on Barton-Wright himself, and offers the following comments and corrections:

Barton-Wright worked in Japan from 1891 to 1899, and towards the end of this period he trained under the sensei Yukio Tani, then aged nineteen. When he returned to Britain, he persuaded Tani and his older brother to accompany him, with the aim of setting up a martial arts school in London. Why they agreed is unclear; while Tani was obviously very talented, he was also very young to be a sensei, and it seems possible that there were simply few opportunities for him in Japan. The picture shows Barton-Wright with a bearded Japanese martial artist, possibly Tani or his older brother.

Barton-Wright actually lived in Japan for approximately three years, between 1895 and 1897. There is no evidence to suggest that he met Yukio Tani while resident in Japan; his major martial arts training there appears to have been in Kobe, at the Shinden-Fudo Ryu jiujitsu dojo of sensei Terajima Kuniichiro. Barton-Wright also claimed to have taken some lessons with professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo, but nothing more is known of that connection except that Barton-Wright apparently later corresponded with Kano “and other friends in Japan” towards arranging for some jiujitsu instructors to work at the Bartitsu Club in London.

The identity of Barton-Wright’s demonstration partner in the photographs for his “New Art of Self Defence” articles remains a mystery, but it is certainly not Yukio Tani, nor Tani’s elder brother.

Bartitsu was never very popular, possibly because Barton-Wright’s changes deterred sportsmen with an interest in authentic Ju Jitsu and its associated ceremonies, and the dojo closed within a few months.

The Bartitsu Club was active for a little over two years, between late 1899 and early 1902 and in fact, a number of athletes did train at the Club. It is also worth noting that no-one else in England during this period actually knew what “authentic jiujjitsu” was, and that there is nothing to suggest that anything other than “authentic jiujitsu” was taught at the Club. Barton-Wright’s concept of Bartitsu essentially involved cross-training between the various martial arts and combat sports taught at the Club, thus including jiujitsu, fisticuffs, kicking and Vigny stick fighting; a crucial point that has eluded many critics between the early 1900s and the present day.

He next tried to make money by putting on Ju Jitsu displays on the music hall stage; Tani’s brother promptly denounced this abuse of the art and returned to Japan.

Barton-Wright had publicised Bartitsu via lecture/demonstrations on music hall stages since 1899, well before any of the Japanese fighters had arrived in London. Of the original group of three (Yukio Tani, his elder brother who is only known to us by his initial, K, and their associate S. Yamamoto), K. Tani and Yamamoto taught at the Bartitsu Club and participated in exhibitions for a short period before returning to Japan. No-one is certain why they left England, though their departure aroused some controversy at the time. Barton-Wright’s version of the story was that, through a mis-communication, K. Tani and Yamamoto had not realised that they would be required to exhibit jiujitsu in the music halls. Yukio Tani evidently had no problem with that arrangement and became a popular “star turn” in the halls throughout and for many years after the Bartitsu Club era.

How To Pose as a Strong Man (January 1899) shows some simple tricks based largely on martial arts concepts of leverage. It was not written to publicise Bartitsu, but does illustrate Barton-Wright’s opportunistic approach; it seems unlikely that a more dedicated student would have written it.

Barton-Wright was evidently fascinated by the mechanics and psychology of these types of leverage stunts, and his article was actually written as an exposé of the tricks employed by athlete/entertainers such as the “Lulu Hurst, the Little Georgia Magnet”, who often claimed that their performances displayed supernatural powers of “electricity” or “animal magnetism”. This is comparable to the modern practice of exhibiting similar feats as demonstrations of ki or chi power. It’s difficult to see how Barton-Wright’s article can be viewed as being opportunistic, or as demonstrating a lack of dedication; if anything, it suggests an advanced understanding of body mechanics that could only have augmented his martial arts skills.

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