Bartitsu Sparring

  • Originally published on the site on Wednesday, 9th October 2013

Highlights from several rounds of recreational medium/hard contact sparring at the Bartitsu Club of Chicago.

The object of this type of sparring is to pressure-test one’s skills while (re-)discovering the most combat-efficient blend of the methods that went into E.W. Barton-Wright’s original Bartitsu system, via experimentation.  Thus, the sparring repertoire is deliberately anachronistic; while there is room for spur-of-the-moment improvisation, the techniques are largely restricted to the canonical and lineage material, dating from 1899 into the early 1920s.

Most significantly, these “style points” include:

  • Predominant use of single and double-handed high guard positions in stick fighting.
  • Almost exclusive use of “hanging” or “roof”-style parries, in which the weapon-wielding hand is held higher than the point of impact between the two weapons, rather than the orthodox fencing parries in 3 and 4.
  • Stick fighting tactics are heavily weighted towards invitations (for example,  by lowering and/or widening the guard position to tempt an attack to a specific area), pre-emptive striking/feinting and “guards by distance” (simultaneous evasion and counter-attack)
  • Active integration of armed and unarmed combat
  • Predominant use of linear punches and linear, low kicks; in strictly unarmed combat, fighters employ the classic erect or backward-leaning fisticuffs stance and the “mill” pattern of vertically rotating fists.
  • When coming to grips in jacketed unarmed combat, the posture remains erect.
  • Deliberate exclusion of low-line grappling attacks (double-leg takedowns, etc.)

The minimum protective equipment for this type of sparring consists of fencing masks, hockey or lacrosse gloves and groin cups. The weapons shown are 3/4″ diameter, 36+” rattan sparring canes made by Purpleheart Armory, tipped with standard rubber cane ferrules at one end and with solid rubber “ball” handles at the other, simulating the steel ball handles of classic fighting canes. The asymmetrical balance of the cane is a key factor in this style of stick fighting.

Fighters offer a simple salute with the stick or touch gloves to indicate the commencement and conclusion of a match.

Fighters may acknowledge points verbally and/or gesturally but the emphasis is on continual action. A bout that goes to the ground may feature a successful submission hold/tapout but that does not necessarily represent the end of the match; by mutual accord, the fighters may simply recommence from a standing start if they wish.

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