Light Unarmed Sparring

Some more light, speculative Bartitsu-style unarmed sparring from the Highland Broadsword Society. Note the savate inflections and the moment of standing grappling.

Milling the fists and destructive elbow blocks are characteristic of the “secret style of boxing” believed to have been developed by Barton-Wright and Vigny.

Sans kicks, an edited compilation of key moments from a bout at vintage fisticuffs.

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“Bartitsu” in Street Fighter 6

The incursion of Edward Barton-Wright’s New Art of Self Defence into modern pop-culture continues via the new Street Fighter 6 fighting game, in which the main villain, known as “JP”, is portrayed as a Bartitsu expert.

This isn’t the first time Bartitsu has been incorporated into a video game – that happened back in 2013 when the game Urban Rivals introduced a dapper Bartitsu-trained flamingo character named Flint, and again in 2016 when the Mortal Kombat franchise added a highly stylized version of Bartitsu cane fighting to the arsenal of Drunken Kung Fu stylist Bo Rai Cho.

JP’s “Bartitsu” bears a similarly tangential relationship to the real fighting style, not least because JP also possesses magical or psionic powers that enable him to do significant damage without ever getting close to his opponents. That said, his kicking attacks are reasonable approximations of both high and low savate kicks, some of his cane attacks are at least in the real-world ballpark and he occasionally pulls off a jujutsu-like throw. It’s even possible that his idiosyncratic kneeling defensive posture may have been loosely inspired by actual Vigny cane fighting techniques:

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Historical Pugilism

These bouts of light, technical pugilism sparring are also a good approximation of Bartitsu boxing as alluded to and partially described, but unfortunately never detailed, by E.W. Barton-Wright. Note especially the use of “chopper” (hammerfist) punches and destructive elbow guards.

For further technical details on the speculative reconstruction of Bartitsu boxing, see The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III.

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“Mrs. Pankhurst’s Bodyguard: On the Trail of ‘Kitty’ Marshall and the Met Police ‘Cats'”

Self-defence historian Emelyne Godfrey’s long-awaited new book is now available from Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

Some of the most extraordinary narratives of the radical women’s suffrage movement are those of the Bodyguard – a secret society of martial arts-trained women who protected fugitive suffragettes from arrest and assault.  Notorious in their day, their story was largely forgotten during the cultural chaos of the First World War, only recently re-emerging into popular awareness.

Drawing substantially from bodyguard Kitty Marshall’s unpublished memoir Suffragette Escapes and Adventures, Emelyne Godfrey skilfully conveys their many escapades of evasion, deception and – when necessary – confrontation with much more powerful opponents: 

Kitty Willoughby Marshall broke with convention. In 1901, she daringly divorced her husband and joined the WSPU, campaigning for women’s suffrage. She married Arthur Marshall and the couple soon became a powerhouse team in the movement, Arthur defending the suffragettes in court while Kitty, trained in ju-jitsu and a member of the elite team ‘the Bodyguard’, helped her close friend Mrs Pankhurst evade the clutches of the authorities under the Cat and Mouse Act. All this took place under the watchful eye of the Metropolitan Police and Special Branch detective Ralph Kitchener, who frequently came into contact with the Marshalls in his work trailing suffragette ‘mice’. This gripping new book by Dr Emelyne Godfrey follows events on both sides as the ‘cats’ hunted the ‘mice’, making extensive use of unpublished material and unseen images.

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Antique English jujutsu gi discovered

Thanks to David Brough for passing along these images of an extremely rare antique English jujutsu gi, which was discovered inside a suitcase in an English antiques shop. The suitcase also contained a 4th-edition copy of the Text-Book of Ju-Jitsu, As Practised in Japan, by former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi, Bruce Sutherland’s book Ju-Jitsu Self Defence, a rubber practice knife and a collection of correspondence courses sold by The Kodokwan Ju Jitsu Association run by H. Johnston, who was based in South Africa.

Photos courtesy of Gary Harper:

The short-sleeved jacket is entirely typical of jujutsu gi of this period.
The Health and Strength League was a society devoted to both nationalism and physical culture, active from roughly 1906 through the 1930s.
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Dr. Emelyne Godfrey Reviews The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III

Boasting over 600 pages, the long-awaited third edition of the Bartitsu Compendium is a real treat, being an exploration of Bartitsu yesterday and today, ideal for both new students of martial arts as well as the general reader. This anthology is aimed at anyone who wants to know why attitudes to crime and violence altered throughout the nineteenth century and why some forms of physical culture went out of fashion while others gained in popularity.

It was delightful to see a rare childhood photograph of Edward Barton Wright (who would later legally change his surname to Barton-Wright), the engineer who raised public awareness of Japanese martial arts in Britain. Featured alongside his brother, he is dressed in the fashionable 1860s Zouave-style jacket and suit combination. It seems as if this tousle-haired little boy is humouring the photographer with a cheeky smile, his mind likely on interesting subjects. As my son of around the same age put it, he looks like he ‘wants to go off to build steam trains’. When it comes to the section of the book on Barton-Wright’s professional and personal life, it is clear how contributors around the world have given their support to the project, leading to some surprising discoveries about Barton-Wright.

Tony Wolf navigates the reader through the technical aspects of Bartitsu and explains, for instance, the differences between singlestick play (associated with Sherlock Holmes) and Pierre Vigny’s art of self defence with the gentleman’s walking cane. It was interesting to read that the jujutsu sacrifice throw as demonstrated during Barton-Wright’s performances was so novel because to fall upon one’s back was associated with defeat in nineteenth century English wrestling. Also, the Compendium details the various ways in which Bartitsu stick fighting was distinct from comparable systems, such as the active use of the non-weapon hand and arm.

There are articles on Enola Holmes, Honor Blackman and the jujutsuffragettes. In fact, we get a rare glimpse into Edith Garrud’s Golden Square dojo taken in 1911 and see some surprising stills from the film, Jujitsu Downs the Footpads, believed to have been lost. Alongside pieces on personal protection with the umbrella, we encounter knuckleduster jewellery, pneumatic boxing wear and Amazon self-defence against Hitler’s army – this article reminded me of Edith Garrud who reportedly told interviewer Godfrey Winn that she stood in her garden, shaking her fist at the bombers. On a lighter note, the “Velo-Boxe” cartoons always end in a chuckle, no matter how often I’ve looked at them. What added to the excitement of reading was the way that within their categories, these articles were ordered in a looser manner – one never knew what was around the next corner.

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Announcing The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III

Published 120 years after the Bartitsu School of Arms in London closed its doors for the last time and marking the 20th anniversary of the modern Bartitsu revival movement, the Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III is now available from Amazon.

Over six hundred pages in length and profusely illustrated with rare historical images, Volume III represents the cutting edge of current knowledge on Edward Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

The book is divided into four sections:

Pierre Vigny demonstrates walking stick self defence.

Drawing from two decades of intensive research, The Bartitsu Story is the first truly comprehensive, long-form social history narrative of the rise and fall of Edward Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

This 160+ page essay includes previously unrevealed aspects of Edward Barton-Wright’s biography as well as in-depth analysis of the evolution of Bartitsu as a martial art.

A women's self defence demonstration.

The Antagonistics Anthology compiles the 50 best historical articles from the site (now in addition to a collection of new articles of diverse interest to Bartitsu enthusiasts, including:

  • Behind the Scenes of Jiu-Jitsu Downs the Footpads, or, The Lady Athlete – A Pioneering Martial Arts Movie Shot in 1907
  • “Making the ‘Knock-Out’ Safe”: Innovations in Boxing Safety Equipment (1895-1913)
  • The Gentlemanly Arts of Self-Defence on the Small Screen
Pierre Vigny demonstrates "Bartitsu boxing".

Techniques and Tactics highlights the key “style points” that distinguished Bartitsu from other self defence systems at the turn of the 20th century, with entries including:

  • “Not at All Like the Guards Taught in Schools”: Bartitsu Tactics of Unarmed Defence
  • Style Points: Key Techniques and Tactics of Vigny Stick Fighting
  • Captain Frederick Laing’s “Practices” & “Examples” of Bartitsu Stick Fighting, Illustrated
A modern Bartitsu demonstration.

The final section, Revival and Legacy, offers a look back at the first 20 years of the Bartitsu revival via the activities of the Bartitsu Society and the impact of Barton-Wright’s “New Art” art on modern pop-culture, with entries on diverse topics such as:

  • “Engaging Toughs” – Bartitsu Sparring
  • Why Bartitsu is for Everyone
  • Creating “Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons”

“What Bartitsu Was and What it Can Be”, by Tony Wolf

I first proposed the ideas of “canonical” and “neo”-Bartitsu back in the very early days of the Bartitsu revival, circa 2003. The canon included all the materials presented under the Bartitsu banner by Edward Barton-Wright and his associates at the turn of the 20th century, whereas neo-Bartitsu comprised “Bartitsu as we know it was and as it can be”.

These conceptual approaches were necessary because, unlike many other historical martial arts revivalists, Bartitsu enthusiasts did not have a full technical catalogue to work from. Barton-Wright had offered detailed instructions in some areas but only cryptic clues and hints in others. Thus, the Bartitsu revival was a historical mystery box; a matter of piecing together hard-won evidence, gathered from antique book stores and obscure newspaper archives over the course of many years, before pressure-testing our discoveries in the gym.

The first volume of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005) presented the canon and the second volume (2008) offered further resources for revivalists via a curated cross-reference of works produced by former Bartitsu Club instructors and their first generation of students, dating into the early 1920s.

Volume III draws from the past 20 years of intensive research towards authoritatively answering the question of “what Bartitsu was” as well as indicating “what it can be” on that basis, arguing that Barton-Wright’s “New Art” was – simultaneously – a method of cross-training between several systems of circa 1900 antagonistics and a unique martial arts style in its own right. That style deserves careful attention and development by current and future Bartitsu revivalists, towards continuing the experimental work-in-progress that originally ended in 1902.

This volume also extends the theme of Bartitsu as a window into social history. If Barton-Wright’s “New Art” was a stone dropped into the pond of London society at the turn of the 20th century, then the ripples extended out into popular culture (everything from music hall ballyhoo to the Sherlock Holmes stories) and into social movements including “Orientalism”, physical culture, feminism and the moral panic over the so-called “Hooligan menace”. Looking back over the first 20 years of the Bartitsu revival offers a surprising perspective on how history repeats itself.

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Antagonistic Action in “Enola Holmes 2”

During the climactic scenes of Enola Holmes 2, Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and the Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) exert their antagonistic prowess against a cadre of crooked coppers in a music hall, while the titular heroine (Millie Bobby Brown) does battle high above the stage.

Although Sherlock isn’t the featured combatant in this scene, his combination of walking stick fighting, jujutsu (or a throw, at least) and fisticuffs is a decent rendition of “baritsu” as a fictional analogue for Bartitsu.

Earlier in the story, Enola, her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) and jujutsuffragette trainer Edith (Susan Wokoma) took on the same villains in a woodland glen:

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The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 3 Now at Proofing Stage

At well over 600 pages – approximately the size of Volumes 1 (2005) and 2 (2008) combined – the third volume of the Bartitsu Compendium is a hefty tome. One print copy now exists for proofing purposes; all being well, we’ll announce the official publication date soon.

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The Oldest Gym in America?

This gymnasium was part of architect W.W. Boyington’s original design for the Hegeler Carus Mansion, which is located at 1307 7th St, La Salle, Illinois.  Spanning the basement and ground levels and dating to the year 1876, the unique design and fittings of this room may represent the oldest surviving example of a private gymnasium in the United States.

Original blueprint of the ground floor and basement of the Hegeler Carus Mansion, including the gymnasium.

The Hegeler Carus gym is also believed to be a uniquely preserved example of a 19th-century Turnverein (gymnastics association) turnhall.

“Turnvater Jahn”

The German Turnverein (“gymnastics association”) was founded in the early 19th century as a confluence of the patriotic and athletic ideals of Freidrich Ludwig Jahn.  Born in the year 1778, Jahn, who became known as the Turnvater (roughly, “Gymfather”), was deeply involved in the struggle to liberate Germany from the tyranny of Napoleon I of France.  He believed that the union of physical confidence, strength and skill with nationalistic fervor would both equip and motivate German youths to defend their homeland against invaders. In this, he was inspired by the classical Greek and Roman traditions of education, which stressed a balanced approach to physical, intellectual and ethical development.

In 1811 Jahn opened his first Turnplatz, or outdoor gymnasium, training some five hundred young men and boys in physical culture.  Although encouraging a spirit of challenging play, Jahn was also known as a strict disciplinarian who insisted upon good manners as well as the perfection of form in physical exercises.   When King Frederick William III of Prussia issued a call to arms on March 17, 1813, Jahn and his Turners were among the first to respond, and their fitness and discipline were proved battle-worthy.  

After Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Jahn became dissatisfied with the new German political regime, and spoke forthrightly in favor of the German people being awarded a constitution.  His Turnverein movement grew in strength, fervency and influence and by 1818 the German government began to perceive the Turners as a subversive organization.  Following the assassination of journalist August von Kotzbue by student radical Karl Sand, who belonged to an organization that had ties to the Turners, the authorities responded by closing Turnverein gymnasia. Later that year, Jahn was arrested on charges of high treason.  He was confined for two years and suffered persecution from the authorities upon his release.  Despite Jahn’s largely retiring from the political arena to pursue a life of scholarship, this persecution continued until 1840, when Frederick William IV ascended to the throne.

The prohibition against the Turners was repealed in 1842 and numerous new clubs were formed, holding to Turnvater Jahn’s ideals of athletic prowess and nationalistic politics.  However, the government remained indifferent to the popular demand for a German constitution and for greater democratic freedom.  Public frustration finally boiled over into open revolution in 1848.  This conflict divided the Turners into two camps: the conservatives, favoring a constitutional monarchy as well as athletic and social programs, formed by the Deutscher Turnerbund, and the more politically radical Demokratischer Turnerbund, under Friedrich Hecker and Gustave Struve.

During this same eventful year, Friedrich Jahn was again thrust into public prominence as an elected representative of the National German Parliament.  However, Jahn’s politics, vitally relevant in defying Napoleon’s tyranny, were now out of step with the more aggressive ideals of many of his followers, and he found himself estranged from the greater part of the movement that he had founded.  Withdrawing from the Turners, embittered and misunderstood, Jahn died in Freiburg on October the 15th, 1852.

The “Forty-Eighters

The 1848 revolution had failed.  A large number of prominent revolutionaries, many of them highly educated, socially progressive professionals, left Germany in an attempt to help establish more democratic societies in the New World.  Many emigrated to the United States of America and to Canada.  Among them were former leaders of the Demokratischer Turnerbund, who quickly established new Turner societies in their new countries, where they became known as the Forty-Eighters.

The first American Turner society was the Cincinnati Turngemeinde, founded by Friedrich Heckler on November 21, 1848.  A number of similar clubs were formed over the next several years, uniting as the Turnerbund or National Turner Association during 1850-51.  Although there were no legal barriers to the establishment of Turner clubs, the Forty-Eighters did meet with substantial opposition at the social level from the anti-immigrant Native American Party, better remembered today as the Know-Nothing Party, from their practice of demanding that members claim to “know nothing” when questioned about Party activities.  As visible representatives of German culture in the United States, the Turners were often harrassed by Know-Nothing Party affiliates.

Despite external harassment and internal political difficulties, the Turnerbund continued to grow and staged a series of successful Turnfests (gymnastics festivals) throughout the country.

However, the heated argument between the Northern and Southern states regarding the issue of slavery was quickly reaching a crisis point.  The pro-democratic Turners largely aligned with the anti-slavery movement and this led in turn to an increase in clashes with the Know-Nothing Party.  One turnfest in Cincinnati was invaded by Know-Nothing affiliates and the ensuing riot resembled a battle.  The Turners were well trained in self- defense and were victorious, but some of them were arrested and charged with assault with intent to kill; these charges were eventually dropped.

At a Turnerbund convention in 1855, the majority of Turners officially stood against slavery and thereafter Turner groups frequently served as bodyguards for Abolitionist speakers.  Meanwhile, however, the political and organizational disputes between regional Turner societies led to the factionalization of the movement.  

In 1860 the Executive Committee of the Turnerbund urged all members to support Abraham Lincoln’s bid for presidency.  After his electoral victory, the Turners were thrust into more violent clashes with pro-slavery and anti-immigrant groups; civil war was just around the corner.

The Turners in the Civil War

As they had when King Frederick William III had declared war against Napoleon, the Turners were among the first to enlist for battle.  In regions where German immigrants were most populous, entire Union companies were recruited from Turner ranks.  Some twenty-four Turner regiments went on to play important parts in the conflict, although the exodus of athletes and organizers into the armed services inevitably weakened the Turnerbund’s cultural and athletic base.  However, regional groups continued to organize turnfests and a Turnerbund convention in Washington on April 3, 1865 served to heal many of the rifts that had opened in the movement during the pre-War years.  

The defeat of the Confederacy at Gettysburg co-incided with the re-unification and re-invigoration of the Turnerbund, which was also bolstered by a new wave of German immigrants.  The relative post-War prosperity of the North, combined with the energy and enthusiasm of the newcomers, many of whom were already trained Turners, saw the American Turnerbund enter an unprecedented period of growth.  During the following decade, old turnhalls (gymnasia and social clubs) were revived or rebuilt and new ones were established.

The Hegeler Carus Mansion Turnhall

Among the new generation of Turnhalls was that built in the LaSalle, Illinois mansion of German-American industrialist Edward C. Hegeler, in 1876.  A partner in the Matthiessen Hegeler Zinc Company, Hegeler had a large family and had architect W.W. Boyington design a private turnhall in the mansion’s basement.  

The Hegeler Carus turnhall was converted into a storeroom during the early 20th century and most of the exercise equipment was stored away in the adjacent basement space, where it remained until 2008, when physical culture historian Tony Wolf paid a visit to the mansion. Recognizing the potentially unique historical significance of the turnhall, he approached the Hegeler Carus Foundation with an offer to locate, identify and reassemble the equipment.

The exterior of the Hegeler Carus Mansion today.

During a family reunion and seminar series arranged by the Hegeler Carus Foundation, Wolf was given the opportunity to search the storage spaces and discovered several key items of exercise apparatus in various states of disassembly. Close examination of the gym’s fittings offered concrete clues as to how and where some of them had originally been arranged.

In 2009 Tony Wolf was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, with special responsibility for the turnhall and its preservation.

Special Features

The Hegeler Carus turnhall is supported by an architecturally unique parabolic arch made of solid brick.  
An adjustable climbing ladder supported by two wall frames.
A large collection of wooden dumbbells and Indian clubs
An early motorized exercycle, probably added to the gym during the 1940s.
“Roman rings” suspended from the ceiling
A climbing pole used by the famous Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki during his early 1890s residence at the mansion.
A horizontal gymnastics pole and support beam
A wall mounted pulley-weight exercising machine
A “teeter ladder”; rare even during the 19th century, this is believed to be a unique surviving example of this type of exercise device.

The mansion’s sports and exercise apparatus collection also includes antique wooden stilts, skis, two extremely early basketball hoops and a set of skittles. Towards extending the turnhall’s collection, the Hegeler Carus trust has also purchased an antique pommel horse and a wooden bowling set.

Tony Wolf also discovered a copy of the book Hausgymnastik für Mädchen und Frauen (“Home Gymnastics for Girls and Women”), written by E. Angerstein and G. Eckler in 1888, on one of the mansion’s bookshelves.  This book includes instructions and illustrations of many of the types of exercise to be performed on the apparatus housed within the Hegeler Carus mansion turnhall.

The Hegeler Carus Turnhall Today

Once reassembled, the turnhall became a highlight of the regular tours of the mansion operated by the Hegeler Carus Foundation. For a time visitors were able to enter the gym space and examine the equipment, but unfortunately one over-eager patron accidentally pulled the climbing pole from its display moorings, and so now viewings are only available from the stairs and landing. Occasional exceptions can be made by arrangement, as when Tony Wolf demonstrated some of the equipment to a group of Bartitsu enthusiasts in connection with the 2nd annual Bartitsu School of Arms event in September of 2012.

In 2013 the adjustable ladder was damaged by vandals attempting to break into the mansion through one of the basement windows, but luckily the building’s alarms repelled them before any further damage could be done.

At present the gym remains a unique example of a 19th century turnverein-style turnhall and it is believed to be the oldest private gym in the USA, if not the world. While light preservation is carried out as required, long-term plans include the full professional restoration of the gym and its equipment; however, that will be a massively expensive undertaking, as the entire mansion is slowly restored to its former glory.

In the meantime, prospective visitors are welcome to tour the mansion.

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