Rare Mid-20th Century Film of Vigny/Lang stickfighting

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Friday, 23rd June 2017
Above: Pierre Vigny (left) and his colleague M. Hubert demonstrate the rear and front guards of the Vigny system at the Bartitsu Club (circa 1901).

It’s well-known that the method of walking stick defence taught at the Bartitsu Club circa 1900 was devised by Pierre Vigny. Vigny himself instructed Bartitsu students in his system, and then taught it for some years thereafter at his own London self-defence school.  Curiously, however, there are only sporadic records of Vigny teaching walking stick self-defence after he returned to his home city of Geneva in mid-1908.

Above: H.G. Lang’s trainees demonstrate his “Walking Stick Method of Self Defence” (circa 1920).

The next major development of his style occurred during the early 1920s. Madras, India police superintendant Herbert G. Lang drew very substantially from the Vigny system in writing his book The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence, which was published in 1923. Although Lang’s book was only a modest commercial success, for many years thereafter it remained, effectively, the only comprehensive manual on the subject of stick fighting available in the Western world.

Above: future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (left) trains in the “long stick” style, circa 1943 (photo courtesy of Noah Gross).

During the early years of the Second World War, when members of the Haganah paramilitary organisation required a systematic method of stick fighting, they began to work from Lang’s Walking Stick Method. Translated into Hebrew, it became one of the foundations of Haganah close-combat training, which also included instruction in jiujitsu, boxing, fighting with knives and short sticks and even stone throwing.  Ironically, few at the time were aware of the system’s actual provenance, the assumption being that, since Lang’s book has been published in India and included many photographs of Indian police officers in action, the system itself must have been of Indian origin.

The walking stick method – known in Haganah circles as the “long stick” style – was practiced without any protective equipment, which was simply unavailable to its practitioners.  The numerous minor injuries, especially to hands and heads, that resulted from this training were seen by the Haganah leaders as an effective test of courage and stamina.

Eventually, many thousands of Hanagah trainees were taught the Lang system, forming what was, in essence, the first generation of Vigny stick fighting revivalists, positioned some forty years after the Vigny style’s heyday in London and about sixty years before the current revival got underway.

Israeli martial arts historian Noah Gross has located this extremely rare film of Haganah members training in the “long stick” style.  Although it’s very short, the film offers a fascinating glimpse back to a time when the walking stick method was studied in deadly earnest:

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