The Origins of Bartitsu

The founder of Bartitsu was born on November the 8th of the year 1860 in Bangalore, India.  His name at birth was Edward William Wright.  His mother, Jessie, was of Scottish descent and his Northumbrian father, William, was a prominent railway engineer. As Edward Wright was growing up he travelled to many different countries, receiving both a traditional education and a chance to explore various martial arts.  In his early 30s he legally changed his name to Edward William Barton-Wright.

As he was to explain to Budokwai founder Gunji Koizumi:

I have always been interested in the arts of self-defence and I learned various methods including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters, and by engaging toughs I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application. (Koizumi, 1950).

While working in Japan, Barton-Wright had studied two different jiujitsu ryu (schools): the Shinden-Fudo Ryu under sensei Terajima Kuniichiro in Kobe and Kodokan Jiujitsu, possibly with Kano Jigoro, in Tokyo.

By the time he returned to England from Japan in 1898, he was a man of the world, an enthusiastic entrepreneur ready to make his mark by combining all of the martial arts that he had been exposed to into a single, unified whole. Although initially focussing on jiujitsu, which had been exhibited once or twice before in England but never taught there, Barton-Wright’s vision was broader than any one method:

Bartitsu has been devised with a view to impart to peacefully disposed men the science of defending themselves against ruffians or bullies, and comprises not only boxing but also the use of the stick, feet, and a very tricky and clever style of Japanese wrestling, in which weight and strength play only a very minor part. (Barton-Wright, 1902)

Bartitsu’s cultural origins can be traced to three primary popular trends of the 1890s. These include the media-fed panic concerning street violence, both “at home” and abroad; the public fascination with Asian (especially Japanese) culture, and the fad of Physical Culture and a means of developing both moral and corporal fitness.

The Gentlemanly Art Of Self Defence

Bartitsu was geared specifically towards the problems of self defence in an urban, industrialised society, and was promoted to the middle and upper classes at a time when the bourgeoisie of Europe were becoming increasingly alarmed about their own safety. The phenomenon of street gangsterism was receiving wide publicity through the newspapers, which had recently discovered that sensational stories about sport and violence attracted a greater readership than did political reportage.

Lurid articles detailed the latest atrocities of the Apaches, the feared street-fighters of the notorious Montmartre district in Paris, as well as the exploits of Hooligans, Cornermen, Scuttlers, and other gangsters prowling the streets of London, Dublin, Liverpool and Manchester. Even further afield, Larrikins prowled the back alleys of Sydney and Auckland, and the ethnic gang warfare of New York City was the stuff of legend.

Riding the crest of this wave, Barton-Wright promoted Bartitsu as an alternative to living in fear, both at home and while travelling abroad. It was specifically designed as a gentlemanly art of self defence. Historian Emelyne Godfrey notes:

Bartitsu was self-defence for the connoisseur, enabling the gentleman to reassert his physical presence on the street in a manner that was not only artful but aesthetically appealing. Barton-Wright’s martial art invited the gentleman to test his physical and mental skills, rather than simply purchasing one of the many weapons available. (Godfrey, 2005)


On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the “Black Ships” of the United States Navy had forced the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa. Over the next fifty years, Japanese culture became increasingly available to the Western World and Barton-Wright’s martial art was introduced at a time of almost unprecedented public interest and enthusiasm for all things Japanese.

One of his most significant Bartitsu presentations was to the members of the Japan Society of London, which had grown out of a meeting of the International Congress of Orientalists held in London on September 9, 1891.

The charter of the Japan Society was “the encouragement of Japanese studies and for the purpose of bringing together all those in the United Kingdom and throughout the world who are interested in Japanese matters”. After Barton-Wright’s lecture and demonstration the Chairman, Mr. Diosy, said that:

This wonderful art of self-defence, when used as it should be, in defending the weak against the strong, would be of great service in those countries where one would not find fair play (Lecture on “Jiujitsu and Judo”, delivered to the Japan Society of London # 20, Hanover Square, London, February 13, 1901)

Physical Culture

The third major influence upon Bartitsu was the increasing European enthusiasm for what had become known as “Physical Culture”.

One social consequence of the Industrial Revolution had been the perception of a steady decline in the physical condition of Britain’s increasingly sedentary middle and upper classes. This co-incided with an emerging re-definition of “sport” as a wholesome athletic activity that could be pursued by amateurs, as opposed to the gambling culture of prize-fighting, horse-racing and womanising.

This combination also led to the establishment of urban gymnasia to correct corpulency and other ailments associated with the sedentary lifestyle. By the late 1800s, a large number of competing systems of calisthenic, weightlifting and other forms of exercise had become available to the public.

Scientific boxing, along with quarterstaff play and the arts of singlestick, sabre, foil and bayonet fencing were all enthusiastically embraced by students at the salles d’armes and gymnasia that flourished in major English cities towards the end of the 1800s. Notable examples in London included the Young Men’s Christian Association, the German Gymnasium and the Inns of Court School of Arms. In these gymnasia, amateur boxers rubbed shoulders with fencers in a range of styles, wrestlers and other enthusiasts of the manly arts.

The largely middle-class physical culture phenomenon included a wide variety of exercise systems, more or less dependent upon Indian clubs, dumb-bells, rope and pulley exercisers, pommel horses, gymnastic equipment and elaborate weight-lifting apparatus. Many of these exercises found their way into the curricula of contemporary martial arts and combat sports academies and eventually also into public display via civilian Assaults at Arms, which were often arranged as fund raisers by amateur athletic clubs.

In promoting Bartitsu, Barton-Wright often noted the physical benefits to be accrued by regular practice of the art:

Besides being a most useful and practical accomplishment, this new art of self-defence with a walking-stick is to be recommended as a most exhilarating and graceful exercise. (“Self-defence with a Walking-stick (Part 2)” E.W. Barton-Wright, Pearson’s Magazine, 11, February 1901, 195-204.)

Bartitsu also comprises a system of physical culture which is as complete and thorough as the art of self defence. (“The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club”. Black and White Budget magazine, 29-12-1900)

The Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture

The physical base for Barton-Wright’s revolution of the self defence milieu was his Bartitsu Club, more formally known as the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, which was located at 67b Shaftesbury Avenue, in London’s Soho district. In several respects, the Club seems to have been the first example of the modern commercial martial arts school in the Western world. It was a well-appointed establishment, according to journalist Mary Nugent, who interviewed Barton-Wright for Health and Strength magazine in 1901. Miss Nugent, who seems to have been quite taken with Barton-Wright, described the Club as “a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions’ prowling around it like tigers.”

Vigny stickfighting in Bartitsu Club

These “champions” included an impressive roster of self defence specialists gathered from around the world. From Switzerland came Pierre Vigny, a highly experienced master-at-arms and innovator in self defence instruction, teaching the skills of la boxe Francaise (French kickboxing or savate) and his own idiosyncratic method of la canne (walking-stick fighting). Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi introduced their students to the mysteries of jiujitsu. A Swiss all-in wrestler named Armand Cherpillod ran classes in Svingen (traditional Swiss wrestling). In addition to these worthies, the Club was home to a cabal of fencer/historians led by Egerton Castle and Captain Alfred Hutton, who were devoted to re-constructing the ancient arts of fencing with the rapier and dagger and two-handed sword, and who also taught stage fencing classes to some of London’s acting elite.

Two other jiujitsuka, one of them Tani’s older brother, had taught at the club for a short time during 1899, but returned to Japan after deciding that it was improper to promote their art through public exhibitions and prize fights.

Other than the arts of self defence, Barton-Wright’s great passion lay in the field of electro-therapy. After being cured of an unidentified ailment by some electrotherapists in Berlin, he went to considerable expense in importing an impressive battery of electro-therapeutic devices such as the Nagelschmidt Apparatus, Ultra-Violet Ray Lamps, Light Baths and Thermo Penetration Machines. These and many other gadgets were duly installed in a clinic attached to the Bartitsu Club.

The Club was reported to have attracted a number of prominent Londoners as board members and as students. Notable amongst them was Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, an Olympic fencer, who was later to receive some notoriety as one of the very few male passengers to have survived the sinking of the Titanic. It was alleged that he had bribed sailors in the lifeboats not to rescue others still in the sea, although his defence was that he was grateful to them and was trying to reward their courage. In happier times, though, he was to have been found learning the all-in style of wrestling from Armand Cherpillod on the mats of the Bartitsu Club.

Another notable affiliate was the prominent athlete and politician William Henry Grenfell, the First Baron Desborough. Grenfell was a fencer, big game hunter, mountaineer and rower, who served for some time as the president of the Bartitsu Club.

Military men were also well-represented in the Bartitsu Club membership, including Captain F.C. Laing of the 12th Bengal Lancers and Captains Stenson Cooke and F.H. Whittow of the London Rifle Brigade.

As well as classes for the general public, there was a certain amount of learning exchange between the instructors at the Club. Barton-Wright took it upon himself to teach boxing to Tani, although he later reported that the jiujitsuka had little aptitude for the sport. He also encouraged Tani and Uyenishi to coach Cherpillod in jiujitsu, in exchange for lessons in Swiss wrestling, so that they might all be better equipped to fight in freestyle challenge matches. Cherpillod was most impressed with jiujitsu but found that his Japanese colleagues were reticent about teaching him their more advanced tricks. He then adopted the tactic of feigning horror at their “barbaric” style, until one of the jiujitsuka agreed to simply wrestle with him in a freestyle match, which Cherpillod won. The learning exchange continued on a cautious basis, but Cherpillod knew that Tani and Uyenishi were still withholding their more advanced techniques from him.

Meanwhile, Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny seem to have enjoyed a period of collaboration. Both men shared a similar self defence philosophy, and while Vigny was the younger man by about seven years, and Barton-Wright’s employee, he was actually the more experienced self defence instructor. Vigny’s walking stick combat system, as depicted by Barton-Wright in his magazine articles, seems to have come to incorporate some jiujitsu-based techniques, presumably due to his time spent teaching at the Bartitsu Club.

The Club itself was initially established on the model of a Victorian gentlemen’s club, prospective members being voted on by a committee of prominent persons including Colonel Sir George Malcolm Fox, formerly in charge of the British Army’s physical training programme, and Captain Alfred Hutton, who also taught both modern and historical fencing at the Club.  Once admitted, members of the Bartitsu Club were required to attend a series of private lessons before being allowed to join in the group classes. The latter were run according to a type of circuit training model, with small groups of students rotating between specialist instructors.

The Martial Arts of Bartitsu

With his wide repertoire of self defence systems and his professional background as an engineer, Barton-Wright was well-placed to analyse, critique and combine the various arts at his disposal. He recognised that no one method was sufficient to cope with every possible exigency of self defence, and so intended for the Bartitsu practitioner to be well-rounded, able to shift between different skills and styles as the moment required.

Bartitsu therefore resolves itself into this: if one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field … the art of walking-stick defence is taught for a variety of purposes. It may be used safely against an opponent armed with a dagger – in which case the latter has no chance at all – against a quarterstaff, against kicking, boxing, etc. (Barton-Wright, 1902)

Bartitsu was conceptually divided into a series of four ranges, those of the stick, the foot, the fist, and of close-combat. Practitioners were encouraged to become familiar with the four major martial arts taught at the Club, each of which corresponded with one of the four ranges, and to develop enough proficiency that they could use any one style against the other if need be.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, they 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 were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick. Judo and jujitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but were only to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it was absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.” (Barton-Wright, 1902)

The greatest emphasis was placed upon Vigny stick fighting and an eclectic combination of ko-ryu jiujitsu and possibly some Kodokan judo, with boxing and savate used to bridge the gap between the preferred ranges of stick-play and grappling.

Vigny Stick Fighting

Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting art utilised a variety of types of canes and even umbrellas, but was optimised for a specially designed “self defence walking stick”, made of polished malacca cane – similar to rattan – tipped with a silver ball handle. His implicit critique of the style of canne fencing taught in most of the established French stick fighting academies was that, in borrowing most of their techniques verbatim from sabre fencing, they left the lead hand exposed to attack. One of the crucial differences between a sword and a stick was that the latter weapon lacks a hand guard.

The street-oriented Vigny system took this into account, offering a range of guards in which position and distance from the opponent protected the weapon wielding hand. The Vigny style also included a wide range of strikes, thrusts, disarming techniques, throws, the use of the stick as a bayonet in double-handed attacks, etc.

The key principle of Vigny’s art can be defined as “control the initiative”, either by invitation or by executing a pre-emptive strike to control the opponent’s movements and anticipate their reactions.

Boxing and Savate

Barton-Wright was well aware of the advantages of reach, and also of the likelihood that no-holds-barred combat was likely to enter grappling range. In designing Bartitsu he allowed for all contingencies, realising that a determined or lucky opponent might penetrate the stick fighting range and disarm the defender, or indeed that the defender might not have a stick or umbrella handy at the moment of truth. Under these circumstances the Bartitsuka was to resort to savate and boxing defences in the first instance.

As taught at the Bartitsu Club, both skills were modified to make them better applicable to actual street fighting:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, and which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate. This latter, Mr. Barton-Wright explained, is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it. (“The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club”. Black and White Budget magazine, 29-12-1900)

Jiujitsu and Judo

Barton-Wright defined the guiding tactics of Bartitsu as:

(1)to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant; (2) to surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength; (3) if necessary to subject the joints of any part of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strain which they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist. (Barton-Wright, 1899)

His own jiujitsu training was mostly in kata-based ko-ryu forms of the art. While in Kobe he had studied at the dojo of the Shinden Fudo Ryu, alongside a Dutch anthropologist, Dr. Herman ten Kate, who was another of the very first Europeans known to have studied the Japanese martial arts. Their instructor was named Terajima Kuniichiro and he was a student of Yata Onseisai; apparently, this branch of the Shinden Fudo Ryu was not related to the school of that name currently associated with the Bujinkan lineage. Barton-Wright also mentioned that he had taken some lessons with Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo.

Barton-Wright’s first articles on Bartitsu presented a selection of ko-ryu paired kata, making frequent use of atemi-waza (striking techniques such as uraken, the back fist strike, as well as headbutts and pressure-point attacks). Most of his throwing techniques involved either tripping the opponent, twisting his head and neck or manipulating his elbow joint; notably absent are the variety of hip and shoulder throws that came to characterise judo.

There is little doubt that when Uyenishi and Tani arrived in London to teach at the Bartitsu Club and to compete in prize fights as professional music hall wrestlers, they began to steer the jiujitsu curriculum towards competitive jiujitsu. Their own books on these subjects, Tani’s “Game of Jujitsu” and Uyenishi’s “Text-book of Jujutsu as Practiced in Japan”, were entirely devoted to sporting applications of the art. However, the books published by their own students, such as William Garrud’s “Complete Jujutsuan” and W. Bruce Sutherland’s “Jiujitsu Self Defence” demonstrate that they also taught the full complement of more combative, self defence oriented techniques.

Exhibitions and Challenges

During Bartitsu’s brief heyday, Barton-Wright embarked on a sideline career as a promoter of self defence exhibitions and challenge matches. His exhibitions were held, in the fashion of the day, as “Assaults at Arms” combining pre-arranged self defence demonstrations with bouting and sparring in different styles. They received mixed reviews; although his audiences were intrigued by the different self defence systems on display, the exhibitions were often plagued by late starts and disruptions. As one reviewer wrote:

It cannot be said that the conduct of the Tournament was a matter for congratulation to those concerned in its organisation. And, to anticipate for the moment, though a good evening’s sport was eventually obtained, we did not learn much about Bartitsu. The hall is large and was fairly well filled, particularly as regards the unreserved seats, where a lusty and expectant throng filled every available corner.
Everything comes to him who waits. The audience did that. Further, they indulged in occasional catcalls, frequent references to the statement on the programme that the tournament would begin at 9 p.m. punctually, and instructive comments upon the personality of fresh comers among the spectators. Also, they whistled. (Anonymous, 1901)

There was also some skepticism regarding the systems themselves, especially the novel art of jiujitsu. Journalist W.T.A. Beare, writing in an article called Antagonistics in which he compared various national martial arts, commented:

I cannot accept Mr. Barton-Wright’s system, valuable as it may be, as a royal road to invulnerability, nor can I imagine that he is himself invincible… I should very much like to see a bout in real earnest between Mr. Barton-Wright and some lightweight expert in boxing and wrestling, English style. I am not too strongly inclined to prophesy that the English style would prevail right away; indeed I doubt if it would. There is so large an element of trickiness about the Japanese method that the English expert might well be caught unawares. But what I do contend is that a really clever man would not be at a loss for long. There is one main underlying principle throughout Mr. Barton-Wright’s system, and that is, broadly stated, application of unnatural strains to the limbs. My presumed clever performer would quickly become alive to this – not necessarily, as I have suggested, in the first meeting – and would refrain from affording his opponent facilities for his peculiar holds, which are easily possible so long as they are unexpected. (Beare, 1901)

Barton-Wright reported that he had once challenged all comers during a demonstration at the St. James’s Hall, which was a regular meeting place for combat athletes:

I challenged anyone to attack me in any form he cared to choose. I overcame seven in succession in three minutes. All were fourteen stone. Through this feat I received a Royal Command from King Edward the Seventh. (Koizumi, 1950)

Unfortunately, he was unable to demonstrate his art for the King, having reportedly injured his hand while fending off two roughs during a bicycle excursion to the Kentish coast. Barton-Wright reported that as the two men blocked his path, he sprang off his bicycle, winding one attacker with a shoulder strike and felling the other with a punch, but in so doing he broke his hand.

Barton-Wright’s early demonstrations of jiujitsu, performed soon after he returned to London, seem to have followed the kata paradigm. After an exhibition arranged by his editors at Pearson’s Magazine, in which he allowed amateur champion Cumberland/Westmoreland style wrestler Eric Chipchase free choice of holds, the magazine reported:

Extraordinary interest has been evinced in this new art of self-defence by the privileged few who have already had the opportunity of forming an opinion as to its efficacy. Colonel G.W. Fox, for instance, the Assistant Adjutant-General of the York district and ex-Inspector General of Army Gymnasia, writes; “I have no hesitation in pronouncing Mr. Barton-Wright’s system as absolutely sound in theory, exceedingly practical and very scientific. I was much impressed with the extremely easy and graceful way in which he seemed to disturb the balance of his opponent and render him helpless. And although Mr. Barton-Wright repeatedly allowed his opponent to choose his own hold and take him at the greatest possible disadvantage, he never seemed to be at a loss what to do, and how to throw his opponent instantaneously. I am quite certain that if our police were to learn some of his throws and grips, they could cope much more successfully with every kind of resistance.

Mr. Chipchase’s opinion as an expert may not be uninteresting. He says; “In spite of my being a much heavier man than Mr. Barton-Wright, his system of defence and retaliation is so much more scientific than my style, that, when practicing with him, however great may be my determination to remain firm on my legs and to keep my balance, my efforts are invariably frustrated and I am ignominiously thrown. Mere strength has no chance of withstanding the science of this new art.

In all, Barton-Wright seems to have been much more interested in developing Bartitsu as a self defence art than in sporting competition. However, it was in the sporting arena that his champions Tani, Uyenishi and Cherpillod were soon to prove their mettle. All three men competed in all-in wrestling tournaments and enjoyed considerable, if sometimes controversial, success.

In his 1933 autobiography, Cherpillod described one of the challenge bouts fought between Uyenishi and a Russian wrestler and strongman named Klemsky, who had boasted that his neck was too strong for him ever to be choked unconscious:

The theatre was completely filled by a public intrigued by the innovation of this fight and drawn by the reputation of the Russian wrestler. As soon as Klemsky had donned the Japanese jacket, the two men came to grips. Both had been caught by their jackets, and in less time than one could take to tell it, Yanichi had whirled his powerful adversary into the air and had let him fall down on his back. As quick as a flash, the Japanese leaped onto the Russian and seized him by the collar of the jacket, on hand on each side of his neck, by crossing the wrists, and learnedly exerted the famous pressure on the carotid arteries which brings choking, and even unconsciousness. The hold did not seem to have any effect on the Russian who simply smiled at the audience. Astonished by this resistance, the Japanese wrestler’s eyes gleamed with malice. He rolled across the ground past the Russian while preserving his hold and, to increase the force of the pressure on the neck, planted his two feet in the pit of Klemsky’s stomach. This tightened the grip so extremely that a net of blood escaped from the mouth of Klemsky and sprinkled his face. It was only then that Yanichi released his hold and let fall beside him the apparently lifeless body of the Russian.

The public believed that Klemsky had died. They howled their anger and their disapproval of Yanichi (sic). This latter, triumphant, appeared to be insensitive to the hostile remonstrations of the public. He went to sit down on the sidelines, beside his compatriot, in the manner of the tailors at work, by crossing his legs beneath him. And while the spectators redoubled their cries, our two Japanese entered into an animated conversation and even laughed together, contemplating the victim who did not give any sign of life. Suddenly, one of them rose, as if driven by a spring, and approached Klemsky. He leaned on the body of the Russian and gave some sort of vibration or massage to the cardiac area, which revived the victim gradually. Then, to the great astonishment of the audience who were now gasping, Klemsky opened his eyes and asked where he was. This seemed magical, and even more than before, Jiu-jitsu appeared to be a most mysterious form of fighting. When someone asked Klemsky for his impression of the event, he said that while losing consciousness he had heard the sound of bells.

The spectacle was over. Nobody other than Klemsky wanted to risk a voyage in the Nirvana, even for one very short moment. The fact remained that on this evening, Jiu-jitsu had acquired great respect throughout England. (Cherpillod, 1933

Cherpillod himself enjoyed a string of victories against wrestlers representing many different styles. His first public bout was a matter of great national pride, as the Swiss style came up against the famous English Catch-as-catch-can style, represented by heavyweight champion Joe Carroll.

The bout was, from the start, a battle of giants. Both men were in fine fettle, though the Swiss was, perhaps, in better condition. Neither man took any risks, and the wrestling was of a steady nature, and occasionally monotonous. Several times Carroll found himself in a tight place, but his defensive abilities and general slipperiness stood him in good stead. More than once the Swiss swung his opponent up, but was unable to throw him with both shoulders down. At one moment both men came down, and a heated discussion took place as to whether the wrestling was for a pin fall or a flying fall (though it had been announced most plainly that the fall must, to count, be of the former description). As the pair had fallen “off the mat,” no fall was allowed.

At length the protracted struggle came to an end. Cherpillod’s superior condition served him well, and lifting Carroll clean off the stage by the middle and one thigh, he gained a fair backfall in 1 hour 20 minutes.
Cherpillod was ready to go on with scarcely a breathing space, but Carroll’s party insisted on the statutory 15 minutes rest. When the pair faced each other for the second bout, it was easy to see that victory for the Swiss was only a matter of time. Carroll had suffered considerably from his previous exertions, and evidently realised this. He acted merely on the defensive, the active aggression all coming from Cherpillod.
Less than half-an-hour’s wrestling brought the end, and the Swiss champion achieved a most deserved and creditable victory, which Carroll was the first to gracefully acknowledge. (Anonymous, 1902)

Between the three of them, Uyenishi, Tani and Cherpillod are estimated to have fought thousands of such matches during the first decade of the twentieth century. However, Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu was to quickly fade from the public memory after 1903.

Barton-Wright’s Later Years

The last recorded major Bartitsu exhibition in London (during December of 1901) took place at St. James’s Hall during December of 1901.  The event started late and was then marred by unseemly public arguments about the arrangements made for refereeing a wrestling match as part of the display.  Subsequently, during early and mid-1902, Barton-Wright and his instructors toured a series of exhibition events to venues including the Oxford Town Hall, Cambridge University and the Mechanics Institute Hall in Nottingham.

At some point during mid-1902, the Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time, under circumstances that remain somewhat mysterious. Subsequent speculation by jiujitsu instructor William Garrud held that the enrollment fee and tuition fees had been too high; it is also likely that Barton-Wright had simply over-estimated the number of wealthy Londoners who shared his passion for exotic self defence systems.

According to Barton-Wright’s own report, recorded forty-eight years later when he was interviewed by Gunji Koizumi, B-W also had a falling-out with his “star” champion and instructor, Yukio Tani. Tani had been “troublesome” and had not been keeping appointments. When Barton-Wright proposed to dock his wages, Tani threatened him and the argument developed into a physical fight, which Barton-Wright claimed to have won.  It is not known whether this parting of the ways was directly connected to the end of the brief Bartitsu Club era.

Armand Cherpillod returned to Switzerland, where he continued to work as a professional wrestler. He also became instrumental in introducing Jiujitsu, which he had learned from his fellow Bartitsu Club instructors, to Germany and other countries on the European continent. Tani, Uyenishi and Vigny all remained in London and established their own self defence schools, with the Japanese instructors focussing on jiujitsu while Vigny continued the tradition of eclecticism.

Tani made the best of it, by joining forces with an experienced show business promoter named William Bankier, a colourful character who had been a successful variety hall strongman under the name “Apollo, the Scottish Hercules.” Bankier’s shrewd management further established Tani as a star performer, a great novelty in the popular field of professional wrestling, and the fame of his jiujitsu continued to spread throughout England and then all of Europe.

Unfortunately for Barton-Wright, the new-found popularity of jiujitsu and then judo completely eclipsed that of Bartitsu, and in the self defence craze that followed between 1905 and 1914, he found himself on the sidelines of the movement that he had started. Although Barton-Wright continued with his work as a physical therapist, establishing a succession of clinics around London, he never again achieved the public prominence of his heyday between 1898 and 1902.

Barton-Wright had no formal medical training and, as the manager of a therapeutic institute, he was often viewed with suspicion by the medical establishment. His business was the subject of several lawsuits and bankruptcy proceedings during the first decades of the 20th century. With the advantage of a hundred years of hindsight, we can say that the therapies that he was promoting were of varying quality. Some, like the Ultra-Violet Ray Lamp and the Thermo-Penetration Machine, were among the early ancestors of modern cosmetic and medical apparatus (the sun bed and diathermy machine, respectively). Other devices were of questionable value and some of them may actually have been quite harmful.

In any case, Barton-Wright persisted in this field for the rest of his career, eventually coming to specialise in the use of various heat and vibration treatments to alleviate the pain of rheumatism. By the time Gunji Koizumi tracked him down for an interview, in 1950, Barton-Wright was a spry elder of ninety years, full of old war stories and evidently still proud of his art of Bartitsu. Later that year, he was presented to the audience at a large Budokwai gathering in London; but sadly he was never really to receive the accolades owing to him as the true pioneer of the Japanese martial arts in the English-speaking world.

Edward William Barton-Wright died in 1951 and, according to the late martial art historian Richard Bowen, was buried in “a pauper’s grave, because there was no money for a proper grave.”

The Bartitsu Legacy

The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes

The name “Bartitsu” might well have been completely forgotten if not for a chance mention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. In the Adventure of the Empty House (1903), Holmes explained that he had escaped the clutches of his enemy Professor Moriarty through his knowledge of “baritsu, or Japanese wrestling”.

No-one knows why Doyle mis-spelled the name of the art; he may have been concerned about a copyright infringement, or may have simply have mis-remembered or mis-heard the term. It is also possible that he was simply quoting a London Times article from the previous year, which had been titled “Japanese wrestling at the Tivoli” and which had likewise misspelled Bartitsu as “baritsu”. The cryptic reference was enough to intrigue Holmesian scholars for the best part of the next century, and their various efforts to identify “the martial art of Sherlock Holmes” included bujutsu, sumo and (close, but no cigar) judo. Meanwhile, “baritsu” took on a life of its own, and it was duly recorded that other fictional heroes, including Doc Savage and the Shadow, had been initiated into its mysteries.

Women’s self defence classes and the Jiujitsuffragettes

One of the most enduring aspects of Barton-Wright’s legacy was the concept of specialised self defence classes for women. Female students were admitted to the Bartitsu Club from the outset, and although it seems to have been felt that boxing was not suitable for womens’ self defence, savate, Vigny stick fighting and especially jiujitsu were all touted as practical and effective methods by which Edwardian-era women could take their defence into their own hands. This was something of a revolutionary idea, co-incident with the increasing acceptance of women participating in sports such as bicycling, fencing and “physical culture” in general.

Indeed, one of the most prominent jiujitsu instructors in London during the years following the demise of the Bartitsu Club was Edith Garrud, who owned her own dojo and specialised in teaching women and children. Mrs. Garrud was also a sympathiser with the Suffragette cause, campaigning for the right of women to vote in general elections, and her dojo actually became a safehouse for radical suffragettes engaged in civil disobedience in the streets of London.

According to Antonia Raeburn, the author of Militant Suffragettes:

At six o’clock another contingent made an assault on shops in Regent Street, and fifteen minutes later Oxford Street was attacked. Mrs. Garrud’s jiujitsu school was just off Oxford Street in Argyle place and six of her Sufragette pupils were taking part in the stone throwing. [..]

Mrs. Garrud’s gymnasium was one of the bolt holes after the raid. She had taken up some of the floor-boards and covered over the gaps with heavy tatami mats.

“They came back to the school because it was easy. They came straight in and turned those mats up. I made them strip off their outside clothes and give me their bags with their stones and any other missiles they had left over. All went under the floor-boards and back went the mats. They were all in their jiu-jitsu coats working on the mats, when bang, bang, bang on the door. Six policemen! I looked very thunderstuck and wanted to know what was the matter. “Well, can’t we come in ?” said one of the policemen. I said : “No I’m sorry, but I’ve got six ladies here having a jiu-jitsu lesson. I don’t expect gentlemen to come in here.” He said : “Are they pupils ?” I said : “Yes, pupils.” So, it ended up by one old man coming in and having a look round. He didn’t see anything, only the girls busy working, and out he went again.” (Raeburn, 1974)

Edith Garrud was also clandestinely involved in the training of “the Bodyguard”, a secret society of women who were sworn to physically protect Suffragette leaders during their public protest rallies, which were often violently disrupted by conservative Londoners and by the police. The very public participation of the suffragettes in jujitsu training established an early association between martial arts and the political philosophy of feminism.

Military And Civilian Close-Combat Training in The Post-Bartitsu Era

Although Barton-Wright’s martial art was sidelined, a similar philosophy of pragmatic eclecticism was taken up by other early 20th century European self-defence specialists, including Percy Longhurst in England and George Dubois and Jean-Joseph Renaud in France. All three went on to devise their own eclectic self defence methods, combining boxing, jiujitsu, savate and walking-stick fighting.

A former wrestler and boxer, Longhurst’s first exposure to Bartitsu had been in 1901, trying conclusions twice with the Japanese jiujitsuka when they appeared at the Tivoli theatre, and he had been favourably impressed with their skill and art. Later, he was one of a group of four London-based jiujitsu instructors who broke away from the established order and formed their own organisation, known as the British Jiujitsu Society. His book on Jiujitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence (1906) and series of pamphlets on Combined Self Defence followed in the Bartitsu tradition, incorporating a wide range of techniques from both Asian and European martial arts and combat sports.

On the other side of the Channel, the flame was borne by George Dubois, an expert fencer and savateur who had lost a 1906 challenge match to a wrestler/jiujitsuka named Ernest Regnier, who fought under the name Re-Nie. Dubois went on to learn the Japanese art himself and to publish a book called Comment se Defendre, expounding a notably realistic fusion of Japanese, English and French combat styles.

Dubois’ contemporary Jean-Joseph Renaud was a prolific author with a long-standing interest in the arts of self defence, and his four hundred and twenty page book on Defence dans la Rue (“Defence in the Street”), published in 1912, became something of a classic work on this subject. His comments on realistic self defence, as opposed to the academic exercises and sporting conventions often passed off as practicality, demonstrate that some things have not changed greatly over the past hundred years:

The professors do not seem – for the most part – to recall that practical reality to which their lessons should correspond; they are teaching an excellent form of physical exercise rather than “how to fight when you have to”.

This book will make an effort to explain:

1 – Precisely to those”virtuosos” of boxing, shooting, cane, jiujitsu, etc, those dimensions of their sports when are most practical when applied to a serious confrontation.

2 – To those people who cannot spare a little time to devote to training, a certain number of simple and secure methods of defence

The “virtuosos” in question are often found to be out of their element when engaged, not in a sparring match or fencing bout, but in a true combat.

Those habituated to the conventions of the school or the ring find themselves disoriented before the manner of improvised battle employed by their adversary; it is a new experience; they hesitate, strike badly, too quickly, too far or too near, and especially find that they cannot employ the strikes that they know.

Nothing is more dangerous, for example, than to attempt to kick at punching range, and vice-versa.

Happier still, if they should not have occasion to test one of these incredible “fantasies” that work so well … in demonstrations and in books (Renaud, 1912)

A similar philosophy was later to be embraced by Bill Underwood, William E. Fairbairn and others, who were charged with developing close combat systems for use by troops during the First and Second World Wars. Underwood had actually studied jiujitsu with Tani Yukio and another jiujitsuka, Miyake Taro, in London during the first decade of the 20th century. These systems became the basis for most military and police close-combat training throughout the Western world.

[Originally written by Tony Wolf 15/01/07]