Bartitsu Exhibitions in Oxford (February-March 1902)

  • Originally published on the site on Thursday, 30th March 2017

During the early months of 1902, E.W. Barton-Wright and the Bartitsu Club instructors undertook a series of touring exhibitions to venues including Cambridge University and the Mechanics Institute Hall in Nottingham. The following accounts offer considerable detail on their demonstrations in Oxford.

The following “advance notice” for the Oxford tournament is interesting in that it adds catch-as-catch-can wrestling to the usual list of contributory styles that made up Bartitsu.


Oxford Times – Saturday 15 February, 1902

An exhibition of the new school of self-defence, named by its founder Bartitsu, is to take place in the Town Hall on dates which will found in an advertisement, and the founder of Bartitsu offers £20 in money to any City or ‘Varsity man who can defeat his Japanese champions, or Cherpillod, his catch-as-catch-can champion. This seems all the more remarkable as these Japanese champions, whose names are Uyenishi and Tani, are only 20 and 21 years of age respectively, and do not weigh more than 9 stone. Cherpillod is a middle-weight, and weighs 11st. 6lb.

It may be remembered that the Japanese were engaged at the London Empire to give demonstrations some time ago, when they defeated all comers, no matter how strong or how big. It will be very interesting when they come here to test their prowess against some our Rugby forwards and boating men.

Bartitsu means real self-defence, and is a combination of all that is best in the East and Western hemispheres, and embraces boxing, the savate, the use of walking-stick as a means of self-defence, the secret Japanese art of wrestling with clothes on, in which neither strength nor weight play an important part, and then catch-as-catch-can wrestling, which is the best European form of wrestling.

All the Bartitsu exponents are world champions, and are quite prepared to meet anybody who disputes their claims to championship honours. It is further claimed for the Bartitsu method of defence with a stick that a lady who acquires a fair knowledge of it could give a very good account of herself if ever attacked when cycling or walking, besides its being most graceful and exhilarating exercise, in which the left hand is brought much into play as the right.

The exhibition interesting both in its extraordinary variety and its ingenuity. Four of the heaviest and strongest men in the audience will be invited to come upon the stage and try to strangle one of the troop, a test which, for obvious reasons, cannot be a convincing one.

This next report on the event offers several curiousities and it’s diverting to try to puzzle out the anonymous author’s take on what he saw and heard.  Sadakazu Uyenishi is confusingly described as the “‘catch-as-catch-can’ champion of the world” in the same paragraph in which the author refers to the advantages of jiujitsu, which was Uyenishi’s actual style, over catch-as-catch-can wrestling.  The reporter never mentions jiujitsu by name, so it’s conceivable that Barton-Wright simply referred to it as “Japanese self-defence” and “Japanese wrestling” during his address to the audience.

We are also offered some rather alarming new information on Barton-Wright’s self-defence experience during his extensive international travels prior to settling in England.

The report on the boxer Whittle competing with Tani and Uyenishi is particularly interesting in that it may be the first reference to the jiujitsuka taking on a boxer in a mixed-styles contest.


Oxford Times – Saturday 01 March, 1902

An interesting exhibition of the best forms of wrestling, boxing, and walking-stick play, which have been combined under the name of “Bartitsu” or “Real Self Defence” by Mr. E. W. Barton-Wright, was given in the Town Hall on Tuesday evening. There was a poor attendance, a fact which is to be deplored, as, although the first evening’s programme had to be devoted to wrestling owing to the indisposition of two members of the company’s athletes, those who were present were afforded an excellent exhibition of feats of strength and skill.

A special stage had bean constructed in front of the Town Hall orchestra, covered with matting. Mr. Barton-Wright, in the course of a few introductory remarks, said the first item on the programme which he proposed to place before them that evening would be an exhibition of the secret art of Japanese self-defence, which had never been allowed to be shown in Japan in public, much less in Europe. That was the first time the two men who would exhibit the art had ever performed in public. In Japan, the only people who were allowed to learn the art were Government officials and members of rich families.

That form of wrestling was not to be confounded with the other kind of Japanese wrestling, which was naked wrestling (the writer refers to sumo – Ed.). The secret wrestling was practised by men weighing anything from eight to eleven stone and it did not matter a bit whether a man was strong or heavy: a child who had his head screwed on the right way had a good chance against the strongest man in the world.

The exponents of the art before them were Uyenishi, “catch-as-catch-can” champion of the world, and Tani, the “boy champion” of Tokio —in fact, of Japan. These men were respectively 21 and 20 years of age and weighed 9st 6lb and 9st 3lb. (Mr. Barton-Wright) offered £20 to anyone who would throw either of the men. He was an exponent of that style of wrestling himself, and said that it was quite impossible to throw a man, never mind how small he was, unless (one) thoroughly understood the balancing of the body. He advocated that style of wrestling because it was suitable to people of civilised countries, where clothes were worn, and had, therefore, a great advantage over “catch-as-catch-can” which was suitable for people who did not wear clothes (in this case, the writer refers to the wearing of wrestling tights rather than jackets – Ed.). In the latter style, too, strength and weight played very important parts indeed, as well as “science”.

(Mr. Barton-Wright) had had many years of travel as a manager, and he had had some peculiar and dangerous people to deal with at times. He had, in consequence, devoted a great amount of time to self-defence, and as a result founded the school of self-defence known as “Bartitsu,” which embraced everything that was best in the best styles of scientific self-defence, both Eastern and Western. He had frequently been attacked abroad, where they did not believe in our methods of fair play and would injure a man with a bottle, knife, chair, or any weapon which came to hand, and it was very useful to know how to prevent man from using a knife upon one, though he might not stab one very deeply, yet there was danger of bleeding to death in some lonely place before help could be brought.

He had been attacked with picks, crowbars, scythes, spades, and various other weapons, and, as quick as he was in boxing, he was obliged to close with his man, and had he not known anything of wrestling, he would have been overpowered many times. As a means of meeting emergencies of that kind, he recommended (this) form of self-defence.

His two champions then entered upon a bout, hurling one another across the stage in a manner which, if practised upon person who had not mastered the correct way to fall, would result in the breaking of most of his bones. After this, the champion of the world, Uyenishi, exhibited the various falls used. One requires to be something of an acrobat to perform there without being severely hurt, as the “bump” is terrific.

Four men of heavy weight were then invited on the platform, and tried all they knew to strangle Uyenishi by pressing with their whole force upon a pole laid across his throat while he lay on the stage. When he had had enough, with a sudden twist and a spring the Japanese released himself in a truly surprising manner, leaving the four men still bearing the pole.

The next item was a contest between Tani and Odgers, the champion heavy-weight professional Cornish and Devon wrestler. In this, the Japanese had the best of three falls, holding the Cornish champion down with his leg by means of a “lock” with which, Mr. Barton-Wright explained, it was quite easy to break the arm of a defeated opponent.

Mr. Whittle, champion heavy-weight boxer of the ‘Varsity, then mounted the stage, amid loud applause, and had a “bout” with each of the Japanese.  Although for a time he gave the little Japs a considerable amount of trouble, they succeeded in throwing him in the end. Several extraordinary falls were then illustrated by the Japanese, after which commenced a catch-as-catch-can contest, which was protracted for the better part of an hour. The contestants were Cherpillod, the catch-as-catch-can champion the world (who, it is said, has defeated all comers at the St. James’s Hall, and won the International exhibition at Paris against all styles represented), and Zara, the Swiss champion. The struggle between these two was long and determined, and told heavily on both, and eventually the result was declared to be dead-heat.

Mr. Barton-Wright apologised for the absence of two of his men, owing to illness, and the exhibitions of boxing, savate and walking stick defence defence had to postponed till the following evening. The programme, curtailed as it was, however, kept the audience interested until after 10.30.

This entry was posted in Canonical Bartitsu, E. W. Barton-Wright, Exhibitions, Jiujitsu, Wrestling. Bookmark the permalink.