The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 Q&A

  • Originally published on the site on Saturday, 4th August 2012

A Q&A session with Tony Wolf regarding the upcoming second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture event, to be hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio between September 8-9.

Q – First things first; what is Bartitsu?

A – Bartitsu is a 100+ year old method of cross-training between several martial arts and combat sports including fisticuffs (old-school boxing), jujitsu, wrestling and the Vigny method of self defense with a walking stick. The founder, E.W. Barton-Wright, had traveled the world as a young man and had sampled a wide range of “antagonistics”, as martial athletics were known in his day. In 1899 he set up the original Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue.

Q – And what happened then?

A – The School was successful for a few years, attracting quite a colorful group of athletes, actors and actresses, politicians and soldiers as students. Barton-Wright was a bit of a social climber and he needed the Bartitsu Club to appeal to a relatively wealthy clientele. Then, in early 1902, for reasons that are still a historical mystery, it closed down and the instructors dispersed. Barton-Wright spent the rest of his career working as a physical therapist and Bartitsu itself was almost completely forgotten.

Q – Apart from the Sherlock Holmes connection …

A – Yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave Bartitsu a sort of cryptic shout-out in “The Adventure of the Empty House”, when it was revealed as the means by which Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fight at the Reichenbach Falls. That one obscure reference was the clue that eventually led to the modern revival of Bartitsu, which began almost exactly 100 years after the original Bartitsu School closed down.

Q – How is the Bartitsu School of Arms event tied in with that revival?

A- The Bartitsu Society has been operating as an informal collective of enthusiasts since 2002, and last year (2011) we held our first School of Arms in London. We wanted to model the event as closely as was practical on the way Bartitsu was originally taught, even down to things like renting a genuine Victorian-era warehouse as a venue. We also developed a somewhat radical team-teaching system based on circuit training, which appears to be how classes were run at the original Club. The overall goal was both to boost participants’ skills and also to boost the revival of Bartitsu itself by encouraging networking and skill-sharing between practitioners.

Q – So what about the 2012 event?

A – The plan is to alternate between North America and Europe annually, so this year we’re based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago. Forteza was actually directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s club; it’s a 100 year old building that’s been outfitted to resemble a c1900 gymnasium, including a “gymuseum” collection of functional antique exercise equipment. It’s also the base of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, which will be hosting the 2012 School of Arms.

Q – What’s on the agenda?

A – We’re starting on Friday the 7th with an optional tour of the Hegeler Carus mansion in LaSalle, which is about a two-hour journey from Chicago. The mansion has a fascinating history of its own – among other things, it was the place where Zen Buddhism was introduced to the Western world – but the highlight for Bartitsu enthusiasts will be the turnhall (gym), which is believed to be the oldest still-extant private gymnasium in the US. It’s still equipped with its original apparatus, including wooden Indian clubs, climbing ladders, etc.

We’ll be running cross-training and circuit training sessions all day on Saturday and Sunday, featuring instruction from myself and my colleagues James Marwood, Allen Reed and Mark Donnelly. The object is to both preserve what is known of Barton-Wright’s original style and to continue his experiments, which were basically left as an work in progress when the original Club closed down in 1902. Every instructor has their own “take” on the material, so participants will enjoy a wide range of drills, exercises and perspectives. On Saturday night we’ll all go out for dinner at O’Shaughnessy’s, which has a great Victorian-style side-room – really ideal for this type of event.

Q – What about the “Antagonisticathlon”?

A – That’s happening on Sunday afternoon. It’s basically a fun way to test your Bartitsu skills via “martial arts obstacle course”. Participants represent Victorian-era adventurers fending off assassins and street hooligans while moving through a series of obstacles and challenges set up around the gym. We’re planning some surprises for the next course, including some booby traps …

Q – Sounds like fun. Can people just come along to watch the Antagonisticathlon?

A – Yes, spectators are welcome!

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