E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu in the Sherlock Holmes Collection

  • Originally posted on the Bartitsu.org site on Saturday, 30th June 2012

On Thursday, June 28th, 2012 a wall display commemorating Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright was unveiled as part of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library in London. The display consists of a large framed print of Sidney Paget’s illustration of Sherlock Holmes’ “baritsu” struggle with Professor Moriarty, and a companion print offering a summary of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu and its connection with the Holmes canon. The display was designed by Tony Wolf and was donated to the Collection on behalf of the Bartitsu Society, towards the mission of memorialising Barton-Wright’s life and achievements.

Above: Emelyne Godfrey, author of the book Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature outside Marylebone Library.

Above: David Jones of the Sherlock Holmes Society strikes a pose inspired by Paget’s famous illustration. The text reads:

Above: Bartitsu instructors James Marwood (left) and George Stokoe demonstrate the Bartitsu method of self defence with a walking stick as part of Mr. Marwood’s lecture/demonstration in connection with the unveiling.

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Self-Defence with a Cane (1928)

This short article from the Motherwell Times of July 27th, 1928 remarks upon a visit to London by Herbert Gordon Lang, who perpetuated and modified the Vigny method of stick fighting.

Lang had originally learned the art from former Bartitsu Club member Percy Rolt during an extended training visit to Rolt’s Hove gymnasium, thereafter incorporating some techniques from the West Indian stick fighting art of bois. As a Police Superintendant in India, Lang taught his combined method to police trainees and also wrote the book The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence (1923).

There is in London at present a slightly-built man who would not feel very alarmed if he suddenly saw three burly hooligans rushing at him with knives in their hands.

His light malacca cane would whistle through the air three or four times. There would be cries of pain, and his assailants would be incapacitated.

This man, who can walk about the world with so much confidence, is Mr. H. G Lang, a district superintendant of police in the Bombay Presidency, India. He has recently introduced into the Indian police force a method of self-defence with a light walking-stick, believed to be of Continental origin, which has been found very effective.

Mr. Lang told a reporter that by this method a young girl could disable a powerful man with even a short umbrella. He said: – All that you need know is the vulnerable parts of a person’s body, and the means of delivering the blow. A sharp, slashing blow on the side of a man’s neck may easily kill him. A rap on his hand will make it useless. A mild blow on the inner side of the knee has made it impossible for a man to walk properly for months.

The ordinary untrained person defending himself with a walking-stick would strike down on his assailant’s head or shoulders. This is a “dead” blow which cannot be quickly repeated, while the stick can easily be caught by the other person. Glancing cuts to the side of a man’s neck can be delivered with lightning rapidity, and the stick cannot be caught. Even a man about to fire a revolver from close range could be diabled with a slash to the hand or the face.

I have found that my knowledge of this method of self-defence has given me the feeling of the greatest confidence. On one occasion in India I saw a powerful built lunatic coming toward me. I did not feel alarmed and decided just where to strike. As it happened, he did not actually attack me.

Mr. Lang has written a fascinating book describing the different strokes and guards. In this reference is made to the “Riot Enclosure” in which the Indian police are trained to deal with mobs. It consists of circular arrangement of posts with sacks and boards irregularly placed to represent a mob.

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“The King’s Man” Trailer Promises a Melange of Gentlemanly Mayhem

Delayed several times due to the pandemic, The King’s Man – a prequel to the popular Kingsman series – is currently set for release in December of 2021. As this trailer demonstrates, alongside copious sword, knife and gun-play, the suave Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) is adept at close-combat with both umbrellas and crook-handled walking sticks.

The Duke is actually the second secret agent character in Fiennes’ career to possess that very specialised talent; he also played the unflappable John Steed in the otherwise regrettable 1998 movie adaptation of The Avengers (the classic ’60s British TV series, not the Marvel superhero franchise).

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“Charley Smiler” Suffrajitsu Footage Added to “No Man Shall Protect Us” Documentary

The “Suffrajitsu” scene from the recently rediscovered 1911 movie Charley Smiler Takes Up Ju-jitsu has been edited into the 2018 documentary No Man Shall Protect Us, which illuminates the role of the secret society of martial arts-trained female bodyguards who defended the leaders of the radical suffragette movement.

The documentary also includes a short section on Bartitsu as well as interview-style re-enactments with suffragette jujutsu trainer Edith Garrud, played by actress Lynne Baker.

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Academic Boxing 101 with Tommy Joe Moore

The prolific Tommy Joe Moore offers a concise lesson in basic academic boxing, in an aggregative style that represents the baseline of gentlemanly fisticuffs circa 1900.

In combination with the destructive guards advocated by Edward Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny, these punches form the first line of defence and counter-offence for the unarmed Bartitsu practitioner, before leading into jujutsu as may be required. As Barton-Wright put it:

In order to ensure, as far as it is possible, immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, one must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which are scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applies to the use of the foot or the stick.

He continued:

Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

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More on the Bartitsu Club’s 1902 Exhibition at Oxford

Our 2017 article on the Bartitsu Club’s “grand tour” of exhibitions during early-mid 1902 included several detailed reports on the event staged at the Oxford Town Hall. One of those reports offered the intriguing detail that a Mr. Whittle, who was the university’s heavyweight boxing champion, had undertaken a bout with the Japanese champions. It was, however, unclear whether this had actually been a “boxing vs. jujutsu” contest – which would have been an extraordinary novelty in 1902 – or whether the athletic Whittle had simply agreed to try his hand at competing under jujutsu rules.

The following report from the Oxford Journal of Saturday, March 1st 1902 appears to confirm the latter scenario:


An entertainment which was both instructive and interesting was given in the Town on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The attendance was decidedly disappointing, while one or two events which had been anxiously awaited, vis, the Bartitsu defence with an ordinary walking stick and the Savate v. Boxing contest, had to be omitted owing to the indisposition of the contestants.

Nevertheless, the exhibitions given seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed and met with hearty appreciation from an audience largely composed of ‘Varsity men. Mr. Barton -Wright, the founder of the system, offered £20 to anyone who could defeat his champions, who have recently been engaged at the London Empire, where they defeated all comers, no matter how strong or big. That is the great point about this particular method. As Mr. Wright, founder and proprietor of the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, said in his opening remarks, to be successful a man need not necessarily be strong or heavy. A child who had his head screwed on the right way stood much chance as the strongest man in the world, an assertion which was proved by subsequent events, when Mr. Whittle, the amateur heavyweight boxing champion of the ‘Varsity, ascended the platform and attempted to throw one of the Japanese champions, but was thrown by the Jap. after a severe bout.

The first item on the programme was an exhibition of the secret art of Japanese self-defence. Mr. Wright explained that this form of defence had never been allowed to be shown in Japan, much less in Europe, and this was the first time the men had ever appeared in public. In Japan the only person s allowed to learn were members of rich families and Government officials. As the champions made their appearance they were given a hearty reception. They are both young, Uyeniski (sic – should read Uyenishi) being 22 years old and Tani 21, and weigh about 9 stone. The former is the light-weight champion of Japan and Tani the boy champion of Tokio.

Each advanced to the end of the platform, and then walked towards one another, Uyeniski attacking and Tani defending. When at close quarters the former made a thrust with his hand and caught hold of his opponent’s hair and grappled with him. By a dexterous movement, which requires to be seen to be properly understood, Tani freed himself and threw the champion to the accompaniment of hearty applause. It is certainly gratifying to know that even the strength of a Sandow can be successfully resisted by a light-weight knowing this method.

Another of the many instances in which the method is useful is in the event of an attack from behind with some blunt instrument while seated on a chair.

In the next item four strong men were invited to ascend the platform and strangle one of the wrestlers. Tani then lay at full length on the platform with a pole across his throat. On each end of the pole were two strong men, including Mr. Hugh Wyld, the O.U.A.C. secretary, and Mr. Whittle. At a signal the four men put all their weight on to the stick, but in less time than it takes to tell it Tani had got rid of his burden and was free, leaving the four men still bearing on the pole. The two youthful champions wrestled in Japanese style, in which the clothes are made use of to obtain holds end grip. The advantage, it was explained, of this style over any other was that it is absolutely natural and most practical. Weight and strength, as in the self-defence, only play a minor part everything depending on skill.

Another interesting bout was that between the champion heavy-weight Cornish and Devon wrestler and Uyeniski, the latter throwing his opponent three times. Tani then gave an exhibition of falling in dangerous positions without being hurt, and the entertainment concluded with a 925 catch-as-catch-can contest for the championship of England, which was to have been between William Clark (professional champion of the South of England) versus A. Cherpillod (Bartitsu instructor and champion of the world). Clark being unable to appear owing to vaccination, Zara, the Swiss champion, was brought down at short notice. The bout lasted an hour and was fiercely contested, but in the end neither wrestler had been successful in securing a throw and a draw was the award. The champion’s also gave a wrestling bout as used by Swiss shepherds. This lasted for a quarter-of-an-hour and again no throws were recorded. The entertainment lasted for about two hours.

The “Swiss shepherd” style referred to was almost certainly schwingen, at which Cherpillod was an acknowledged expert in addition to his accomplishments in catch-as-catch-can.

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American Jiu-Jitsu in the “Walled City”

The following passage is excerpted from “The Walled City: a Story of the Criminal Insane”, written by Edward Huntington Williams and originally published in 1913. It describes an apparently un-named, but at least partially codified system of self defence and escort/restraint holds covertly developed by workers in American psychiatric hospitals during the 19th century.

The Japanese are credited with originating the much-heralded art of “jiu jitsu.” But long before the word that stands for joint twisting, nerve-squeezing, and muscle-pulling was known in this country, a system of similar, if less elaborate, disabling methods was known to practically every veteran keeper in all the Walled Cities of the country.

Without some such effective system— some system of self-defense that gave them a distinct advantage over their charges—it would have been difficult for the attendants of half a century ago to have kept some of the more violent cases within bounds, since striking with the closed hand was forbidden the attendants, altho no such restriction was placed upon their charges. And so ingenious keepers, some time early in the history of asylums, studied out an elaborate system of what we should now call “jiu jitsu,” and this was surreptitiously communicated to colleagues all over the country from Atlantic to Pacific. Surreptitiously, since if it had been made public it would have been vigorously supprest by the authorities, no matter how useful it might be, in deference to public opinion already hypersensitive to the subject of “asylum abuses.” But in point of fact, this same system of “American jiu jitsu,” if it may be so called, was sometimes a merciful as well as an effective way of handling excited and ungovernable patients.

One of its chief merits, from the attendant’s point of view, was the fact that it could be used without detection by any but an initiated onlooker. This was of inestimable value when patients were being escorted through places outside the walls of the City. At such times Citizens are likely to become excited, or take advantage of their surroundings and the sympathy of the gaping crowds, which is almost invariably with the captive, no matter how black a criminal he may be. Under these circumstances, should he become unruly, and be handled roughly by the attendant, even in self-defense, that officer would more than likely be set upon and mobbed by the onlookers. On the other hand, no one would be likely to offer more than verbal interference if the officer seemed merely to be holding his charge firmly.

Knowing this, the attendant, orientated in “jiu jitsu,” could take his patient by the arm, to all appearances simply holding his wrist with one hand and grasping his upper arm just above the elbow with the other, and guide him where he pleased without much trouble. For unknown to the spectators, the keeper’s fingers, resting apparently innocently upon his charge’s elbow, really covered a large nerve trunk on the inner side of the elbow joint, where the slightest contraction of his fingers could be made to produce a sensation that would bring any but the most unruly Citizen under control.

This was simply one of the multiform methods of controlling patients, a score of other “jiu jitsu” twists and locks being known and used on occasion. None of these methods were countenanced by any of the officers in control of any institution; and, in truth, a large number of the officers never even suspected their existence, although the attendants sometimes used them under the very noses of their superior officers, without detection, or without injury to the patient. And when the much advertised Japanese jiu jitsu took the country by storm as a novelty a few years ago these veteran attendants had their little laugh all to themselves. It wasn’t so much of a novelty to them as to the generality of people.

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“New” Canonical Bartitsu Technique Discovered

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Friday, 16th April 2010

The Bartitsu Society conceptually divides practical Bartitsu into two related areas. Canonical Bartitsu is the art as we know it was; the specific self defence techniques detailed by E.W. Barton-Wright and his colleagues between 1899 and 1902. Neo, or modern Bartitsu is both “Bartitsu was it may have been” and “Bartitsu as it can be today”; it describes our modern attempts to continue the mixed martial arts experiment begun by Barton-Wright in 1899.

Most of what we know of canonical Bartitsu is drawn from a series of four articles by E.W. Barton-Wright, originally published in the London-based Pearson’s Magazine. “The New Art of Self Defence” was published in two parts during March and April of 1899, and “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” appeared in January and February of 1901. After being re-discovered in the British Library archives by the late judo historian Richard Bowen, these articles were first broadcast via the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences website in the year 2000.

Pearson’s was a popular journal and was also published in an American edition. Recently-discovered copies of the US issues for March and June of 1899, which included slightly modified re-prints of Barton-Wright’s first two articles, have revealed the following “new” information on Bartitsu.

Note.—Mr. E. Barton-Wright, the author of this article and of its companion to be published next month, is shortly to visit this country in order to introduce a system of self-defence which would seem to render anyone acquainted with it practically impregnable against all forms of attack, however dangerous and unexpected they may be.

In fact, as far as we know, Barton-Wright did not introduce Bartitsu to the United States, though it is diverting to imagine what might have happened if he had.

The following image is a “header” used for the March article, significant in that it offers a portrait-style photograph of Barton-Wright himself. This is only the second such photograph ever discovered by the Bartitsu Society.

The June article header offers a handsome Art Nouveau effect:

Most intriguing, though, is that the June article from the US edition includes a previously unknown addition to the canon of classical Bartitsu techniques. We can only speculate as to why this technique was not included in the original, and now widely-known, articles from the British edition. Perhaps it was omitted for reasons of space, or perhaps the photographs supplied to were of inadequate quality; it is the only technique in the June article not to have been illustrated.

No. 1.—One of many Means of Defence when a Man Strikes at You Low or Below the Belt.

Should an assailant strike at your wind or heart with his right fist, step backward with your right foot, and in doing so place your right hand over your heart, with the palm outward, and grasp his wrist by placing your left hand over his wrist (the placing of the right hand over the heart is only a precautionary measure in case you miss catching his wrist when he leads off at your body).

As soon as you feel you have hold of his wrist, pull it towards you with a slight outward motion leftways, take a step forward with your right foot, placing it behind his right leg, and seize him by the throat, pressing your thumb into his tonsil or just under the back of the ear, which is extremely painful.

Then with a sharp leftward pull with the left hand, and a thrust or a push leftward with the right hand (keeping your right calf or the side of your knee tightly behind his right knee), you throw him on his back; retain your hold on his throat and ear, and dropping upon the right knee you pull his arm towards you so that his elbow is just across your thigh. With the slightest pressure you could break his arm. At the same time you extend your right arm vigorously and press your thumb well into the cavity under the ear, which will cause great pain, preventing him from getting up.

Alert readers will note that, contrary to what is suggested by the title, this technique does not in fact deal with a defence against a low, below the belt attack, but rather with countering a punch to the torso. The simplest explanation may be that the US Pearson’s editor became confused and incorrectly matched one heading with another technical description; if so, then there may have been at least one more canonical technique (the defence against a “low strike”), in Barton-Wright’s original submission.

The game is afoot to track down the April, 1899 edition of Pearson’s Magazine (US edition), which might include more “new” Bartitsu material.

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Amalia True’s Parasol of Fury: Did Late Victorian-Era Women Really Use Weaponized Umbrellas?

In the alternate history of Joss Whedon’s new TV series The Nevers, a mysterious event in the skies over London during 1896 leaves a minority of the population endowed with bizarre, apparently supernatural powers. Three years later, the sociopolitical establishment has come to view this newly potent underclass – known collectively as “the Touched”, whose members are mostly women, immigrants and so-called “deviants” – as a potential threat to the status quo.

As we join the story, the Touched are slowly gathering around the dynamic team of Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), who manage a refuge/community known as the Orphanage. Mrs. True and Miss Adair are, themselves, in possession of supernatural endowments; Penance’s ability to perceive potential energies translates into a genius-level skill at mechanical invention, whereas Amalia experiences “ripples” of the time continuum, affording her flashes of insight into future events.

Amalia True is also a startlingly gifted hand-to-hand fighter, though her ability in that sphere is yet to be explained within the story. In the first episode she makes adroit use of a weaponised parasol reminiscent of the combat umbrellas used by Kingsman agents; it’s not only sturdy enough to deal devastating blows when swung as a club, but it also comes equipped with an electrical charge powerful enough to render opponents unconscious and an elaborate mechanical “knuckle duster” built into the handle:

Mrs. True’s parasol does have some historical precedent, albeit just a few years after 1899, when the action of The Nevers is primarily set. Notably, during the Parisian Apache (street gangster) panic of the very early 20th century, there arose a middle-class fad for combat-ready walking canes equipped with concealed guns and blades. At about the same time, Marguerite Vigny – the wife of former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny – was teaching her unique adaptation of her husband’s stick fighting system specifically as a means of self-protection for ladies, who customarily carried umbrellas and parasols rather than gentlemanly canes.

Madame Vigny

Finally, members of the Suffragette Bodyguard society as fictionalised in the 2015 graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons also employ reinforced combat parasols, nicknamed “Sanderson Specials”:

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Jiujitsu versus Boxing in Paris: When Yukio Tani Took On Marc Gaucher

As detailed in the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium, the year 1906 saw a vehement “boxing versus jiujitsu” debate played out in the pages of some British sporting journals. Many participants were essentially armchair quarterbacks, including a number who argued to the effect that manly English fisticuffs ought to prevail in any such encounter, by simple virtue of being manly and English. Others, however, debated from a more purely practical point of view.

Although the consensus was that a contest of this nature would be difficult to arrange (and might actually be illegal under Edwardian English law, being interpreted as “brawling in a public place”), none of the debaters seem to have been aware that former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani had actually taken on boxer Marc Gaucher in Paris earlier that same year. Although the Tani/Gaucher contest was quite widely reported via the French athletic media, it seems to have received only a single notice in England by way of The Sporting Life, whose Monday, January 22 issue reported that Tani had fought Gaucher two days earlier.

The combat had taken place at the Bostock Hippodrome in Paris and was fought according to stipulations devised by Gaucher himself, to the effect that:

1. The contest shall comprise ten two-minute rounds, with breaks of one minute.

2. If Yukio Tani cannot make me submit within these ten rounds, I should be declared the winner.

3. Dislocations of the fingers and attacks to the eyes or genitals shall be forbidden; punches are only allowed above the belt and only the normal grips of Jiu-Jitsu shall be permitted.

4. I shall wear eight ounce gloves.

As with the much more famous November, 1905 savate vs. jiujitsu encounter between “Re-Nie” (Ernest Regnier) and Georges Dubois, which had likewise taken place in Paris, the Tani/Gaucher contest was somewhat anticlimactic. During the first two-minute round, both men sparred cautiously and nothing was gained. The second round opened with a bit more action as Gaucher threw some punches, including a right hand that caught Tani on the side of his head, but Tani then found his opportunity to break through Gaucher’s guard and, after a momentary standing struggle, took his opponent to the mat. Moments later Gaucher was forced to submit to Tani’s strangle-hold, and so Tani was declared the winner.

The details of the Tani/Gaucher contest would probably not have surprised anyone with a close practical knowledge of the relative advantages of boxing and jiujitsu circa 1906. As Edward Barton-Wright had noted back in 1901:

Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

The critique that Japanese unarmed combat was not necessarily equipped to defend against boxing punches was valid, as was the widely-held consensus that a boxer would stand little chance of defending against jiujitsu throws and submission holds should the jiujitsuka manage to penetrate his guard and “get to close quarters”. This is clearly why Barton-Wright and then others, including William Bankier, William Garrud and Percy Longhurst all argued for an intelligent fusion of both styles for purposes of self-defence. Barton-Wright himself had attempted to coach Tani in boxing – possibly with an eye towards arranging a similar bout – but he reported that Tani showed “little aptitude for the sport”.

It’s worth noting that, two years after his fight with Marc Gaucher, Tani did, in fact, compete in a similar contest on British soil, but by that time the boxing vs. jiujitsu debate had calmed down and the combat attracted little notice in the press.

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