“Baritsu (sic) and Bluff” – a Critical Article on Bartitsu from 1901

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Saturday, 19th August 2017

The anonymous author of this article from the Pall Mall Gazette of 27 August, 1901 turns a sharply critical eye to E.W. Barton-Wright’s promotion of Bartitsu.  

Noting for the sake of context that the term “Jap” carried no pejorative meaning in Edwardian English, being more in the nature of a simple abbreviation like “Brit” for British or “Aussie” for Australian.


If Mr. Barton-Wright, when he set out to introduce the Japanese style of self-defence into England, had confined himself within ordinary limits, it highly probable that athletic young Britain might have taken to the pastime —and to Mr. Barton-Wright. But the latter makes the great mistake of not knowing when he has got a good thing.

During the past three or so years he has had a capital run for his money. The Bath Club took him up and tried to make the business fashionable; but, alas Mr. Barton-Wright was too much of a showman for the game to catch on as an ordinary athletic sport. His claims were tremendous and amusing – no man, even Sandow, could stand against his system; but somehow or other Mr. Barton-Wright never seemed in condition to take on people who came forward in reply to his challenges. Probably he was right in so doing.

Now, at all events, he seems have realized that the business makes a very good music-hall turn, which, as some one prophesied many months ago was what it was best suited for. Certainly it is a pretty game on the stage, and might be useful if one was attacked by a very guileless rough of the Hooligan type. These gentlemen do not come up the in the simple way that some eminently scientific gentlemen seem think, when on plunder bent; very often one s first knowledge of them comes in the shape of a “cosh” on the head with a stick or a punch behind the ear with a fist which naturally puts one at a disadvantage from the start.

Still, provided the rough or thief does get hold of you, you may possibly throw him, especially if he keeps to sporting rules and you get off a foul on him! Indeed, this style wrestling seems to us to be made up of “fouls” – “everything in,” in fact, that precludes anyone being allowed to take Mr. Barton-Wright or his two clever men from Japan at their own game—at all events, in public. Fights to a finish, “nothing barred,” are not permitted in this country.

However, as a music-hall turn the thing is fairly attractive; but let us have no more silly talk about “no one, not even the strongest man in the world”, being able stand up to the Japs. We have had quite enough of that during the couple of years and, to use “Tommy Atkins’s” expressive phrase, we are “fed up” with it.

With the advantage of hindsight, some of the writer’s points are valid; it is, for example, likely that Barton-Wright’s efforts would have been more successful if he had sustained his relationship with the prestigious Bath Club.  The detail of why that didn’t happen has, unfortunately, been lost to history.  

Writing shortly before the commencement of Barton-Wright’s public challenge campaign, at a time when most previous displays had been more-or-less academic in nature, the author’s skepticism is understandable.  That said, he clearly underestimated the practical efficacy of jiujitsu, even against very strong men.  Although Eugen Sandow was later, in fact, challenged by Yukio Tani, the strongman refused to take on any jiujitsu wrestlers, probably because he had only a modest wrestling background and would very likely have lost the match.

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