A User’s Guide to the Bartitsu Society Website 2.0

The original Bartitsu Society website – www.bartitsu.org – was established by James Marwood in October of 2008, and that site served as the premiere online resource for the contemporary Bartitsu revival until it suffered a catastrophic technical failure in April of 2019.

The recovery, restoration and reconstruction process was a laborious task, but by January of 2021 the great majority of the items posted on Bartitsu.org between 2008-2019, including all of the significant technical and historical articles, had been reconstituted at www.bartitsusociety.com.

During the reconstruction the archived posts unavoidably became chronologically disordered and most of them now begin with a note recording the date when they were originally posted.

This event highlighted the fragility of electronic media and inspired the production of a third volume of the Bartitsu Compendium, in order to further preserve the best of the research presented here since the publication of the second volume in 2008. The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume III was published in December of 2022.

We hope you enjoy the Bartitsu Society website 2.0!

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“How to start Bartitsu – la canne Vigny” with Oliver Janseps

This new video tutorial focusses on basic moulinet strikes in the Vigny style.

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“Fight Like Sherlock Holmes” in Germany

Images from a recent seminar by Alex Kiermayer and Christoph “Bear-Knuckle” Reinberger.

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Guards by Distance with Oliver Janseps

German HEMA instructor Oliver Janseps offers a clear explication of Guard by Distance tactics and dynamics in this video, which is part of an occasional series.

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Vigny Cane Basics with Alex Kiermayer

Veteran instructor Alex Kiermayer offers a tutorial in the fundamentals of warming up, striking and parrying with a cane in the classic Vigny style.

If you’d like much more in the same vein, Alex’s comprehensive, multi-part instructional series Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny is available in English via Vimeo.

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Irish stick sparring/Bartitsu stick sparring comparison

The ancient art of Bataireacht (Irish stick fighting) has undergone a modern revival closely paralleling that of Bartitsu, and this sparring clip demonstrates the close technical parallels as well. Similar to Vigny stick fighting, Bataireacht emphasizes high guard positions and includes the double-handed guard, and comparable to Bartitsu as a holistic style, the Irish system also features unarmed striking and grappling.

Here’s a compilation of Bartitsu sparring clips for comparison:

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“Les Apaches: the Gangster Chic of Belle Époque Paris”

An early heads-up that Tony Wolf will be giving a live Zoom lecture on the “Apache chic” craze of the early 20th century:

At the turn of the 20th century, the exploits and styles of Parisian Apache (pronounced Ah-pahsh) street gangsters fascinated the international bourgeoisie. Readers breathlessly followed the criminal exploits of “the Terror”, “Golden Helmet” and other infamous Apaches via tabloid newspapers; nightclubbers thrilled to the danse d’Apache, which acrobatically mimicked a violent encounter between an Apache pimp and a prostitute; slumming society ladies took classes in la langue verte (“the green language”), the secret slang of Montmartre brothels and back-alleys. Apache fashions, weapons and even their ingenious pickpocketing and mugging tricks became the subjects of high society discourse, and their lore was quickly absorbed into popular culture via pulp novels, Grand Guignol plays and silent film serials.

This lavishly illustrated presentation explores the extraordinary demimonde mystique of the Apache subculture during la Belle Époque and ponders its pop-culture legacy unto the present day.

The presentation will take place at 7.00 p.m. (Eastern US time) on Monday, April 29th and bookings can be made via this site.

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“Bartitsu – Self Defence with the Hooked Walking Stick”

German HEMA instructor Oliver Janseps demonstrates three canonical Vigny/Bartitsu hooking techniques.

Crooked canes are rarely seen in action in sparring, but here’s an experimental bout from back in 2013:

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Jean Lafond, the Magician of Boxe Française

Thanks to Jean-Pierre LeLoup for this guest-post as a tribute to his late teacher, which has been lightly edited – with the author’s permission – for clarity.

At 26, Rue d’Enghien, in Paris, a plaque indicates that here is practiced: “Boxe Française, modern savate, stick, cane, umbrella, fencing and weight training”. With my son, I cross the porch and pass through a courtyard. We climb a well-polished wooden staircase up to the second floor, where the master of the salle is sitting behind his desk, waiting to introduce us to his school. On the left is the massage studio, and here on the right, the main training room with its impeccable parquet floor. At the rear, to the right, the weight training room is equipped with dumbbells and apparatus made by Jean Lafond himself. In the annex are the changing rooms with a shower and a sauna, also self-made. A curiosity adorns the locker rooms: old black suitcases with the names of the regulars who store their boxing gear there.

This setting might seem old-fashioned, but I would call it “traditional” because, here, Boxe Française is a matter of heritage – of lineage. Jean followed the teaching of his father Roger (who followed his own father, Eugene); together, they created and refined the “Roger and Jean Lafond Method.” It is a combat sport. Jean Lafond rejects the term “martial arts” and the title “master” exasperates him. He is an accomplished sportsman, holding a diploma in physical education. He is also a lifeguard and managed a private beach in Normandy with his father for many years.

The physical culture he teaches is far from bodybuilding because it is focused on health, flexibility and fitness, rather than the search for an imposing musculature. Several students from the physical training establishment of Professor Desbonnet, located nearby in the rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, started here when their gym was converted to offices. Their gym had been founded in 1885 by Desbonnet, often called the pioneer of physical culture in France. It had the same Parisian atmosphere of the “Belle époque”. Desbonnet’s original school at 55 Rue de Ponthieu had been the first school in France to offer training in jujutsu, dating back to 1905.

Jean deepened his knowledge by becoming a masseur. For two years, he was the assistant of Doctor De Sambucy, the originator of French osteopathy. This experience influenced his practice and his teaching as he insisted on the respect for the body and its natural possibilities.

Above: Jean Lafond and a student practice canne de combat in his family salle d’armes.

Boxe Française according to Jean Lafond

Courses consist of learning many sequences, with varied levels of contact, to lead the opponent into making errors; priority is given to kicks, usually with the front leg, delivered without retraction before striking in order to be as lively and unpredictable as possible. After a demonstration, the famous magician Gérard Majax told Jean: “We do the same thing. We use misdirection to fool people.” After that, Majax became a regular student of the salle.

Another characteristic, neglected in modern practice, is swinging back the arm when kicking for balance and aesthetics. The blows are fast and in bursts with quick, “stinging” strikes and are followed with a quick return to guard. Generally, we would follow up with an English boxing session.

After the repetition of the techniques, we move on to the attacks. We then realize that the learned sequences come automatically. It becomes an elegant fight, with constant movements and fast techniques to disrupt the opponent. Jean’s role model was the American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson whose elegant style, relaxed and in constant motion, made him a true legend and Muhammad Ali’s hero.

It was almost impossible to hit Jean, who could see every blow coming. “Don’t look where you’re going to hit, you’re giving me an indication!” Other remarks such as ” you couldn’t punch through a paper bag with that” were meant to motivate the student to move to a higher intensity.

The weapons

The main weapon is the fighting stick: a light cherry wood cane. The Lafond method uses the same principles as Boxe Française: feinting and reeling before striking in order to distract the opponent’s attention before delivering an unexpected blow to another part of his body. There is no retracting of the cane before striking, either; everything happens around the wrist, switching from the right hand to the left hand. To protect against the attacks, one puts on a helmet. The strikes come at an amazing speed and it is common to emerge with one’s chest striped by the impacts.

The training of the French grand baton (staff) is done in the same way, keeping it in constant motion by sliding it smoothly between the hands to benefit from all its possibilities.

The defensive handling of the umbrella is also taught with emphasis on hooking with the curved handle. Jean’s father, Roger, taught this method to the British actor Patrick MacNee for the famous TV series ” The Avengers”.

Combining styles for self defence

Jean, like Roger, insisted on the elegant side of their discipline, but they also created “the Panaché de combat ” that uses “dirty” moves. The feint is always the key method used to fend off malicious individuals. It is not only a question of countering attacks, but of taking and keeping the initiative in the fight when confrontation seems inevitable. In this case, words and the gestures are used to divert their attention, followed by a flurry of strikes.

The blows are mainly strikes on sensitive points (chin, plexus, liver, carotids, genitals, etc.). The heel of the palm of the hand is used a lot because many people could get hurt by striking with their fists; the “finger spike” is used because it can be felt even through a jacket, and finally the edge of the hand is not forgotten.

Counters to blows, holds and knives attacks are also worked on with simple techniques, based on natural and fast movements, and a few throws. The ground game is also studied; it is a matter of avoiding being struck when one is on the ground. Elegance is no longer the question; rather, doing everything that is possible and effective to save one’s skin is the order of the day.

The clientele of the salle

The regulars of the Lafond gym are looking for personal defense, a sport and a method of physical training at the same time. We can talk about “customers” because it is a private studio with a professional teacher. The students are numerous because the gym is open from 8 am to 10 pm with group training and private lessons. People also come for Jean’s charismatic personality – his outspokenness, humor and infectious energy. This salle has a friendly atmosphere, and everyone talks with one another. One meets professionals, waiters, neighboring shopkeepers, actors (Clovis Cornillac trained here for 3 years) and prostitutes from the nearby rue Saint Denis; all these people mix in a spirit of bonhomie. If you don’t respect this, the owner will throw you out, as happened to a famous actor who, according to Jean, “played it up” a little too much.

Jean Lafond.

A complete practitioner of combat sports and self defence

The range of disciplines taught at the Lafond hall is rich. Jean was a black belt in karate, but he did not continue in that style. He also did several “technical exchanges” with experts of this martial art who had just arrived from Japan.

He was very friendly with Robert Duranton, a famous bodybuilder and wrestler.

The combat sport that Jean recommended as a complement to his method was academic fencing, because of the work on movements with its own techniques and not “bastardized.” Traditional Judo, supple and elegant, as well as Capoeira with the quality of its kicks and movements also interested him.

Five years ago, I was shocked to learn of Jean’s death. I phoned my son who had been going with me since he was 10 years old to the gym on the rue d’Enghien. He was saddened: “It seems unreal,” he said. Jean was a part of our lives, an example, and his memory will stay with us forever.

Jean was a well-rounded person who savored the pleasures of life. He participated in car races, went on photo safaris, enjoyed gastronomy and shows. On weekends, he often retired to his Normandy home, thought he was truly a connoisseur of Paris, which he crisscrossed on his motorcycle. He only took the metro once in his life!

Jean Lafond was an inspiring character who deeply affected his students. His method is still alive and well, and I personally continue to train daily according to his precepts alone, with my son or with friends.

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“Match de boxe: professeurs de l’École de Joinville (Leon Beaulieu’s flipbook)” – G. Méliès (c.1897 )

Recently reanimated for the first time in over 120 years, this 10-second clip of a boxe Francaise sparring exhibition between two instructors at the Joinville military school is believed to be all that remains of a lost documentary film by the famous, pioneering French director Georges Méliès. The oddly cartoon-like quality is due to the fact that the original photoseries was preserved in an animated flipbook produced by Leon Beaulieu, and the individual photographs were probably retouched by hand for clarity.

Allowing that this is an exhibition for the camera, the style of sparring shown in this short sequence – light contact, favouring elaborate high kicks, etc. – would probably have been critiqued by Edward Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny, who developed a harder-contact, more down-to-earth version of the sport for the members of the Bartitsu Club.

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“Titan of the Thames: The Life of Lord Desborough”

Recommended reading is this brand-new biography of William Grenfell, Lord Desborough, whose many athletic and public service accomplishments included some intriguing associations with Bartitsu.

Grenfell was the Master of Ceremonies at Edward Barton-Wright’s famous Bartitsu exhibition at the London Bath Club on the evening of March 9th, 1899. Lord Desborough not only presided over the event, but also took to the stage himself at one point to take part in a historical fencing display that preceded Barton-Wright’s demonstration.

He then became one of the earliest “promoters” of Bartitsu as a concept, describing the still-nascent art for journalists and eventually serving as the president of the Bartitsu Club, though it isn’t clear how much of a practical day-to-day role he played in the Club’s operations.

His involvement with Bartitsu was, however, just one small facet of a long and fascinating life, which included serving as a principal organiser of the first Olympic Games ever held in London as well as many pioneering sporting and cultural achievements.

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