- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Thursday, 12th February 2015
The release of Kingsman: the Secret Service promises to introduce a new generation of film-goers to the weaponised umbrella, a time-tested motif in anime, comic books, film, literature and television. The bulletproof Kingsman umbrella comes equipped with all manner of gadgets, from a stunning projectile launcher to a TASER bola.
However, while this fictional high-tech development in defensive bumbershootery is undoubtedly impressive, it is well worth noting that there has been a hundred-plus year history of attempts to weaponise the humble brolly in real life. These have included the development of martial arts techniques as well as the invention of actual, combat-augmented umbrellas.
As early as 1838, the Baron Charles de Berenger suggested several ingenious methods for using an umbrella in defence against highwaymen and ruffians, including simply shooting straight through it with a flintlock pistol:
In 1897, J.F. Sullivan proposed the umbrella as a misunderstood weapon in his tongue-in-cheek article for the Ludgate Monthy.
Only a few years later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright took the subject seriously in his two-part article series for Pearson’s Magazine, explaining the use of the umbrella and walking stick in self defence. The cane/umbrella were considered the first line of defence in the Bartitsu arsenal, which also included boxing, wrestling and jujitsu.
After the London Bartitsu Club closed under mysterious circumstances in 1902, instructors Pierre Vigny and his wife, who is known to us only as “Miss Sanderson”, continued to teach the use of umbrellas and parasols as defensive weapons. By 1908 the concept had made its way to the United States, being taught at the Philadelphia Institute of Physical Culture and featured in Popular Mechanics Magazine.
The remainder of the 20th century has seen the use of umbrellas as weapons of assassination:
… as well as numerous developments of the “umbrella sword” motif:
… and, of course, the Unbreakable Umbrella:
French news reports during mid-2011 suggested that the bodyguards of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy would soon be carrying a new defensive weapon – the Para Pactum umbrella. Reinforced with kevlar, the Para Pactum has apparently been tested against attack dogs and is also proof against knives, acid and thrown projectiles.