Report on Bartitsu at the 2011 Western Martial Arts Workshop

  • Originally published on the site on Monday, 19th September 2011

Instructor Tony Wolf ran a series of Bartitsu classes at the recent 4-day Western Martial Arts Workshop in Racine, Wisconsin.

The first session on Thursday morning was an introduction to Bartitsu as a cross-training method.

After a precis of Bartitsu’s colourful history, participants practiced strolling around the room as Victorian ladies and gentlemen, sticks and parasols in hand. This segued into a demonstration and discussion of triangular posture and skeletal alignment, re. founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s first principle of maintaining one’s own structure while disrupting the opponent’s equilibrium. This was practiced first in “freestyle”, experimental fashion, then specifically as a sampling of linear c1900 boxing punches, making controlled contact and “pressing through” to slightly push the training partner off balance.

Next up was a simple attack/defence/counter low kicking drill, in which the coup de pied bas kick was evaded and then countered with a low chasse. Then the kicks were integrated back into the punching exercises, so that everyone began to develop a sense of c1900 kickboxing.

The remainder of the three-hour class was spent first learning representative canonical jujitsu and cane sequences, and then “mixing them up” on the assumption that something goes wrong with the pre-set sequence, with the opponent muscling through or otherwise foiling the defender’s “plan”. The challenge was then to work improvisationally to regain the initiative and bring the opponent under control, sometimes within certain restrictions. For example, if the canonical jujitsu sequence was interrupted by the uncooperative opponent, the defender’s challenge might be to flow directly into (kick)boxing strikes to regain the advantage.

The practice of alternating between, for example, jujitsu and stick sequences helped the participants grasp the holistic nature of Bartitsu as a self defence training method, rather than as a series of discrete components. Likewise, the constant emphasis upon re-integrating previously learned material into “new” scenarios generated by the opponent’s unpredictable actions, which took participants to the brink of sparring.

On Saturday Wolf and his co-host, “Professor X”, introduced an Assault at Arms as pre-banquet entertainment. This was a lightly-tongue-in-cheek event running half an hour, including an introduction to the history of the Assault at Arms, a series of exhibition bouts in suitably c1900 antagonistics including foil, military sabre and French canne/baton and also a short display of Bartitsu as self defence for the Edwardian gentleman about town. The Assault at Arms came to a somewhat spectacular conclusion when a rogue Suffragette began haranguing the audience; she then proceeded to Suffrajitsu one of the hapless moderators as he attempted to put her in her proper place.

The final Bartitsu class took place on Sunday afternoon, and was on the theme Belabour him as you see fit: Bartitsu combat improvisation. This was an experimental format of progressively adding new elements to a basic movement drill, so that participants could improvisationally explore a wide variety of unbalancing options. The same ethos was then applied to a selection of the canonical stick fighting sequences, as a method of training in thinking and moving outside the “box” of the formal canonical Bartitsu set-plays.

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