- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Tuesday, 8th March 2016
If I have been fortunate enough to interest the readers of this Journal in one of the many forms of “Bartitsu,” I shall hope to describe later in another article a further series of “walking-stick defence” tactics, combined with some of the most useful and punishing falls and grips used in Japanese wrestling (…)
– Captain F.C. Laing, “The ‘Bartitsu’ Method of Self Defence”, Journal of the United Service Institution of India (1903)
For a period of several months during 1901, Frederick Laing, a Captain with the 12th Regiment of the Bengal Infantry, studied at the Bartitsu Club while on furlough from the army. Although it seems that Laing did not actually write a follow-up article addressing the combination of walking stick defence with Japanese wrestling, his quote above is one of the few concrete records of the fact that the Bartitsu curriculum actively combined those two styles. One hundred and fifteen years later, this essay is an attempt to address that combination in the context of the Bartitsu canon.
Savate and stick fighting instructor Pierre Vigny appears to have arrived in London during early/mid-1899. While it’s evident that at least one of his style’s signature characteristics (an emphasis on ambidexterity) was already present during that period, reports on his early demonstrations do not make any reference to tripping, throwing nor other wrestling techniques.
Otherwise, in fact, very little is known of Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting style prior to its presentation in Barton-Wright’s two-part article “Self Defence with a Walking Stick”, which appeared in Pearson’s Magazine during January and February of 1901. In his introduction, Barton-Wright wrote that Vigny’s style had “recently been assimilated by me into my system of self-defence called ‘Bartitsu’.” It’s likely that, by the time this article appeared, Vigny and Barton-Wright had already been collaborating, more or less formally, for about one year.
Vigny’s style as recorded in SDwaWS and thereafter was highly idiosyncratic by comparison with the cane styles that were then commonly taught on the European mainland, particularly in France and Italy, which more closely resembled sabre fencing. Most notably, the c1901 Vigny style placed an unusual emphasis on ambidexterity in attacking and defending; operated largely from a variety of high guard positions, excluding the standard fencing parries of 3 and 4; and incorporated a variety of trapping, tripping and takedown techniques. These latter techniques were particularly unusual in comparison with the more mainstream cane fighting styles that had preceded the Bartitsu Club.
Of the twenty-two set-play sequences illustrated in SDwaWS, Vigny is shown as the active defender in every sequence involving counter-strikes and the use of the crook in hooking techniques, the latter techniques appearing in three separate sequences. Barton-Wright is shown as the active defender in every set-play involving joint-locks and leg trips. The only (quasi-)exception to this pattern is shown in SDwaWS 1/10, in which Vigny demonstrates the use of the cane in levering the attacker to the floor by pressure against his lead thigh.
As a working hypothesis, therefore, it seems likely that the joint-locking and takedown content evident in the Pearson’s articles was at least partly the result of the collaboration between Vigny and Barton-Wright during the year 1900, resulting in the series of hybrid cane/jiujitsu close-combat techniques referred to by Captain Laing. Significantly, all of these techniques are presented in the tactical context of following a high-line attack intended to force a better-armed opponent to guard high, at which point the defender enters to close-quarters and either grapples or trips the opponent to the floor.
Here follows a selection of the relevant SDwaWS set-plays, with corresponding jiujitsu techniques for comparison:
An elbow and shoulder lock leading into a rear takedown, with variants from “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” and “The New Art of Self Defence”.
Throwing the opponent backwards over the thigh, again with variants from “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” and “The New Art of Self Defence”.
A sweeping trip to the lead foot, with variants from “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” and Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi’s “Text-Book of Ju-jitsu”.