“Are You In Danger?” – a Curious Article on Umbrella Self-Defence (1900)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Thursday, 12th November 2015

The following short article on umbrella self defence was originally published in the Dundee Evening Post on April 3, 1900.

It’s diverting to speculate on the identity of the anonymous inventor of “umbrella fighting”, who is described in the article as “a captain in the British Army in India”. Taking that description at face value, the temptation is to identify the “inventor” as Captain F.C. Laing, who did, indeed, hold that rank and who was, circa 1900, serving with the 12th Bengal Infantry. Laing had also studied both stick fighting and jiujitsu at the Bartitsu Club.

In 1903 Captain Laing produced an interesting article titled “The ‘Bartitsu’ Method of Self Defence” for the Journal of the United Service Institution of India. A year later he followed up with a second article, proposing a design for a radically new type of cavalry sword, again recommending the Bartitsu stick fighting method.

There are, however, some discrepancies that prevent a positive identification. Most problematic is that the Dundee Post article is dated April 3rd, 1900, whereas by Laing’s own account, he studied at the Bartitsu Club while on furlough in London for several months during 1901. Allowing that the exact dates might have simply slipped his mind, the Dundee Post article is adamant that its subject was the inventor of “umbrella fighting”, whereas in Laing’s own articles he was fulsome in his praise and credit to his Bartitsu Club instructors, including E.W. Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny.

Vigny, meanwhile, had been demonstrating his idiosyncratic method of cane self-defence in London since at least May of 1899, and by 1900 he was on staff at the Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue.

It’s possible that there lived another British Army captain with an interest in eccentric self-defence methods, who developed his own umbrella system independently of Laing or Vigny. Alternatively, Laing may have been experimenting with a system of his own prior to training with Vigny. In any case, the system sketched in the Dundee Post article is reminiscent, in some ways, of the Vigny/Bartitsu style …


How To Use Your Umbrella in Self Defence.

If you were about to undergo some experience in which you were likely to incur personal danger, you would certainly provide yourself with, a revolver, or life preserver, as a weapon of defence. Would you not?

The possibilities of the umbrella in this direction have been quite overlooked except by a very few people. Nevertheless, “umbrella fighting” is, in the hands or an expert, a very dangerous form of attack or defence. A captain in the British army in India has made a special study of this, and, as a hobby, has made varied experiments dealing with the power of the ordinary umbrella, which everyone carries, to seriously injure, if not to kill, an adversary.

To be thoroughly effective, the umbrella must be one of the modern type, with a thin rod of steel for the stick. A handle of wangee or some other flexible cane is also more useful for purposes of defence than a handle which is stiff and will not bend.

Although it would appear at first glance that, the heavier the weapon, the greater its value, yet experience has proved just the contrary.

A light umbrella
of the afore-mentioned type is the ideal for the civilian’s sword. One of the most dangerous and also one of the most difficult methods of attack with an umbrella is the stab. The umbrella is held about a foot from the handle and poised, lightly, behind the head. The force of a stab which has the whole poised weight of the arm and shoulder behind it is tremendous – if it be well delivered. The almost needle-like steel point of the modern umbrella will penetrate nearly anything.

The difficulty of this method lies in the taking of your aim. A man’s head is not an easy thing to hit, and an umbrella would hardly stop a big man in a rush if it stabbed him in any other part. Clothes are not easily penetrated by a blunt point.

The inventor of umbrella fighting suggests that anyone who wishes to become expert at it should practice at a paper target the size of a man’s head, fixed upon the wall.

After a stab has been delivered, and if it does not atop the rush of your adversary, a quick fall on to one knee will result- in his tripping over you and coming down. Meanwhile, the stab will have done its work and, in all probability, the contest will be over.

To Deliver a Blow
with an umbrella it should be held almost at the end, as close to the ferrule as it consistent with a good grip. By this means the whole flexibility of the steel rod and cane handle is able to contribute to the force and precision of the blow.

It is absolutely surprising, to one who has never tried it, to find what force and weight an umbrella has when used in this way. A blow like a sledge-hammer can be delivered with it.

The umbrella forms an excellent weapon used in combination with the fist. Held in the centre, a little obliquely in front of the body, it very greatly aids the force of a blow with the clenched hand. Moreover, it forms is bar all along the body of an adversary and la a great obstacle to his advance.

There are hundreds of different ways of using the umbrella and the inventor of the new hobby has at least twenty exercises which he recommends for practice. The ones mentioned above are the most important. Anyone easily amplify them for himself.

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