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Bartitsu and the Victorian Gentleman...

Posted Oct 25 2010 12:00am
I went on a jujitsu/kobudo course on Saturday and one of the experiences on offer was the amazing art of Bartitsu! We only spent about 20 minutes on this as a taster, so we didn't even really scratch the surface. However it did whet my appetite to find out more about it.

Bartitsu is the Victorian gentleman's self-defence system. It is also the martial art of Sherlock Holmes. When you search around the Internet you find that there is actually quite a lot written about it and its founder Edward Barton-Wright so I won't re-iterate it all here (there are some links at the end of this post). Instead, I've found a great mini-documentary about it on YouTube which summarises nicely what it's all about:

The basic premise of Bartitsu is that it is a system based on four different fighting systems that are used together to enable you to cover all distances. The main emphasis is on the  Vigny cane fighting system at the striking range and  jujitsu (and, secondarily, the "all-in" style of European wrestling) at the grappling range. Savate and boxing methods were used to segue between these two ranges, or as a means of first response should the defender not be armed with a walking stick.

Barton-Wright was clearly a man ahead of his time. One could easily argue that he was the original cross-trainer and the true father of mixed martial arts. He publicised his art through articles, interviews and demonstrations which he advertised as 'Assaults At Arms'. He also organised challenge matches against fighters representing other combat styles.

On Saturday, at our seminar, we learnt a couple of techniques with the 'swagger stick' which is a stick approximately 2 feet long and which was also used in the military as a 'pacing' stick to make sure soldiers were equally paced from each other when standing in line! These locking and striking techniques were similar to the techniques one might learn with a tanbo. We then had a go with a gentleman's cane, learning to stand in 'Gentleman's stance' and 'Swagger stance' before learning some stick defences similar to ones done with a jo. The sensei who was teaching us was very much into the culture of the art and looked very dapper in his waistcoat and cravat!

Then, of course, there's the Sherlock Holmes link. There is reference to the art of 'baritsu' in Arthur Conan Doyle's book, The Adventure of the Empty House. After years of research historians finally agreed that Conan Doyle was referring to the art of Bartitsu and had just misspelled it! Here's a video about the Sherlock Holmes connection and modern practice

Here's Sherlock Holmes in action with some Bartitsu in the recent Sherlock Holme's film

When Barton-Wright's Bartitsu club finally closed in 1902 the art was all but forgotten for the best part of 100 years. However, it is making a big revival in the 21st century. Following the discovery of Barton-Wright's original articles in the British Library by Richard Bowen, the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences (EJMAS) web site began to re-publish them in 2001.  They soon attracted a cult following and in 2002 an international association of Bartitsu enthusiasts known as the Bartitsu Society, was formed to research and then revive E.W. Barton-Wright's "New Art of Self Defence". Bartitsu clubs are now popping up all over the place! Here's a video of a 'Victorian self-defence class experience day' , filmed in 2007 (to look Victorian)

I've been fascinated by this Victorian martial art and would love to learn some of the self-defense techniques for ladies with a parasol! I believe Funakoshi effectively defended himself with an umbrella once. Edward Barton-Wright sounds like a remarkable man - a pity he died a pauper, unknown and his martial art all but forgotten during his life-time...

If you want to read more about Bartitsu visit the Bartitsu Society at:

There is also a thorough article about it at Wikipedia:

Illustration at top from:   under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License
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