Members of the Original Bartitsu Club

  • Originally published on the site on Sunday, 26th April 2009

Although E.W. Barton-Wright’s martial arts school was only open for a few years, it attracted some notable members and students.

Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon was a keen fencer who also studied Swiss wrestling at the Club, under the tutelage of Armand Cherpillod.  Gordon later achieved notoriety as one of the few adult male survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic; he was charged with having bribed the lifeboat crew members not to rescue others from the water, though his defence was that he was grateful to them and was trying to reward their courage.

Captain Alfred Hutton taught historical fencing classes at the Bartitsu Club and also appears to have studied jiujitsu there.  Along with his colleague, the novelist Egerton Castle, Hutton was largely responsible for reviving the practice of competitive fencing in England during the late 19th century, and their studies of “ancient swordplay” – the use of the rapier and dagger, two-handed sword, etc. – presaged the modern Historical European Martial Arts movement by the best part of a century.

Captain (later Sir) Ernest George Stenson Cooke and Captain Frank Herbert Whittow were members of both the Bartitsu Club and of Hutton’s training group at the London Rifle Brigade’s School of Arms.  They participated in numerous martial arts exhibitions, including several that combined Bartitsu with historical fencing, at the turn of the 20th century.

Captain F.C. Laing was a keen Bartitsu student who cross-trained in jiujitsu and Vigny stick fighting while on leave from the Army.  Returning to active duty in India, Laing wrote an article describing his training and detailing a number of Vigny/Bartitsu walking stick defence techniques.

William Henry Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough, was described by a contemporary as being “the very pattern and model of an English sporting gentleman.”  A fencer, big-game hunter and mountaineer, he swam the rapids at Niagara Falls twice, climbed the Matterhorn three times, rowed across the English Channel and was the amateur punting champion of the upper Thames.  Bartitsu would probably have counted amongst his milder pursuits.

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