To “Obviate the Risk of Being Disarmed by Being Hit Upon the Fingers”

  • Originally published on the site on Tuesday, 12th June 2018

Under “Bar-titsu ” I comprise boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking-stick as a means of self-defence in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers.

– E.W. Barton-Wright, “Ju-Jitsu and Ju-Do”; Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, London (1901)

Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s articles and presentations repeatedly highlighted the Vigny system’s innovative guard structure, which was geared around protecting the defender’s weapon-wielding hand.

The basic combative logic of this style of guarding was clearly explained by Barton-Wright in 1901:

It must be understood that the new art of self-defence with a walking-stick, herewith introduced for the first time, differs essentially from single-stick or sword-play; for a man may be a champion in the use of sword or single-stick and yet be quite unable to put a walking-stick to any effective use as a weapon of defence.

The simple and sufficient reason to account for this is that both in single-stick and sword-play a cut is always taken up by the hilt of the weapon, whereas if you attempted to guard a blow with a walking-stick — which has no hilt — in the same way as you would with a sword, the blow would slide down your stick onto your hand and disable you.

Therefore, in order to make a stick a real means of self-defence, it has been necessary to devise a system by which one can guard a blow in such a way as to cause it to slide away from the hand instead of toward it, and thus obviate the risk of being disarmed by being hit upon the fingers.

After some fifteen years of hard work, such a system has been devised by a Swiss professor of arms, M. Vigny. It has recently been assimilated by me into my system of self-defence called “Bartitsu.”

– Barton-Wright, “Self-defence with a Walking-stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions (Part I)”, Pearson’s Magazine, 11 (January 1901)

Within the scheme of Vigny’s style, protecting the weapon-wielding hand was accomplished by:

1) Guards by Distance

Like many martial arts and fencing instructors, Vigny favoured “guards by distance”, i.e. avoiding an opponent’s attack while simultaneously counter-attacking:

2) High Guard Positions

Vigny’s implicit critique of more traditional stick fighting systems was that these styles essentially treated the cane as if it were a substitute sabre.  Crucially, that meant that they included the standard sabre-style parries of tierce and quarte, in which the weapon-wielding hand is held lower than the point of impact, leading to the risks referred to above by Barton-Wright:

Above: a mid-level parry in tierce.

Students in more traditional cane defence classes wore heavily padded gloves to mitigate the chance of injuries to their hands and fingers in training, but of course these items, like hilts, are not present in spontaneous street altercations.  Therefore, Vigny eliminated tierce- and quarte-style parries from his own system, which was specifically designed for self-defence rather than academic fencing.

Similarly, being further spatially removed from the opposing weapon, the characteristic high guard positions of the Vigny style – particularly the Rear Guard, shown in the centre above – reduce the chances of the weapon-wielding hand being targetted and “sniped” by an alert opponent.

Casual perusers of Barton-Wright’s articles on stick fighting are sometimes confused by the incidence of fighting stances in which the defender’s cane appears to be held in tierce/quarte.  Those stances, however, fall into two specific categories:

  • representations of the (presumably not Bartitsu-trained) “opponent” assuming a tierce/quarte-type guard stance for purposes of demonstration, as Pierre Vigny (right) does here:
  • representations of the Bartitsu-trained defender assuming a position of invitation, in which the defender deliberately lowers, widens or otherwise modifies his front guard stance in order to “bait” the opponent’s attack to an apparently exposed target, as Vigny does here:

The defences that emerge out of those positions include hanging guard parries, pre-emptive strikes and closing in to grapple with the opponent at close quarters.  They never include actual parries in the tierce or quarte positions, which contradict the basic strategy of the Vigny style.

3) Hanging Guards

“Hanging” guards are those in which the defender’s weapon-wielding hand is positioned higher than the point of impact between the two weapons at the moment the attack is parried.  This position has the effect of deflecting or “shedding” an attack downward along the shaft of the cane:

The combination of the “guard by distance” tactic, the default to high guard positions and the options of hanging guards as backup defences represents the combative ideal of “striking without being struck” and offers the optimal chance of avoiding disarms and hand injuries in a stick fight.

This entry was posted in Canonical Bartitsu, Instruction, Vigny stick fighting. Bookmark the permalink.