- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Friday, 5th May 2017
May 4th of 1891 is recognised as the date of consulting detective Sherlock Holmes’ fateful hand-to-hand battle with the Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty. Their fight took place at the suitably forboding and dramatic brink of the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, described here by Dr. John Watson:
It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coalblack rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring for ever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing for ever upwards, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.
Although neither Holmes nor Moriarty appeared to have survived their final encounter, we now know that Holmes had, in fact, defeated his nemesis through his knowledge of what Dr. Watson recorded as “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling“, then took the opportunity to fake his own demise to throw his other enemies off his trail.
In more recent years, the encounter between Holmes and Moriarty has frequently been dramatised in media including the 1979 Russian TV series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (click here for a detailed memoir by fight choreographer Nikolay Vaschilin):
… and the classic 1980s Granada Sherlock Holmes series:
… in comic books – most notably Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:
– and in movies such as Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:
The opening sequence of the 2011 feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes was shot at the brink of the Reichenbach Falls and in the adjacent Swiss town of Meiringen, which still celebrates its association with the famous fight scene: