Bartitsu

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Bartitsu is an eclectic martial art and self-defense method originally developed in England during the years 1898-1902. In 1901 it was immortalised (as “baritsu”) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. Although dormant throughout most of the 20th Century, Bartitsu has been experiencing a revival since 2002.

In 1898, Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who had spent the previous three years living in the Empire of Japan, returned to England and announced the formation of a “New Art of Self Defence”.[1] This art, he claimed, combined the best elements of a range of fighting styles into a unified whole, which he had named Bartitsu. The word was a portmanteau of his own surname and of “Ju jitsu”.[2]

As detailed in a series of articles Barton-Wright produced for Pearson’s Magazine between 1899 and 1901, Bartitsu was largely drawn from the Shinden Fudo school of koryu (“classical”) jujutsu and from Kodokan judo, both of which he had studied while resident in Japan. As it became established in London, the art expanded to incorporate combat techniques from Tenjin Shinyo, Fusen and Daito Ryu schools of jujutsu as well as British boxing, Swiss schwingen, French savate, and a defensive la canne (stick fighting) style that had been developed by Pierre Vigny of Switzerland. Bartitsu also included a comprehensive physical culture training system.

In 1902, Barton-Wright wrote:[3]

Between 1899 and 1902, Barton-Wright set about publicizing his art through magazine articles, interviews and a series of demonstrations or “assaults at arms” at various London venues. He established a school called the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, known informally as the Bartitsu Club, which was located at #67b Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho. In an article for Sandow’s Magazine published in 1902, journalist Mary Nugent described the Bartitsu Club as “… a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions’ prowling around it like tigers.”[4]

Via correspondence with Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo, and other contacts in Japan, Barton-Wright arranged for Japanese jujutsu practitioners K. Tani, S. Yamamoto and the nineteen year old Yukio Tani to travel to London and serve as instructors at the Bartitsu Club. K. Tani and Yamamoto soon returned to Japan, but Yukio Tani stayed and was shortly joined by another young jujutsuka, Sadakazu Uyenishi. Swiss master-at-arms Pierre Vigny and wrestler Armand Cherpillod were also employed as teachers at the Club. As well as teaching well-to-do Londoners, their duties included performing demonstrations and competing in challenge matches against fighters representing other combat styles.[5] In addition, the Club became the headquarters for a group of fencing antiquarians led by Egerton Castle and Captain Alfred Hutton and it served as their base for experimenting with historical fencing techniques, which they taught to members of London’s acting elite for use in stage combat.[2]

Bartitsu Club membership included Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, who was later to achieve notoriety as one of the few adult male survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, as well as Captain F.C. Laing of the 12th Bengal Infantry, who subsequently wrote an article on Bartitsu stick fighting techniques which was published in the Journal of the United Service Institution of India.[6]. Other Club members included Captain Stenson Cooke and Captain F.H. Whittow, both members of the London Rifle Brigade.

Barton-Wright later reported that, during this period, he had challenged and defeated seven larger men within three minutes as part of a Bartitsu demonstration he gave at St. James’s Hall. He said this feat earned him a membership in the prestigious Bath Club and also a Royal Command to appear before Edward, Prince of Wales.[7] Unfortunately, Barton-Wright then suffered an injury to his hand, due either to a fight in a Kentish country lane or a bicycling accident, which prevented him from appearing before the Prince.[8]

It is unclear whether Barton-Wright ever devised a formal curriculum for Bartitsu as a self defence method. He encouraged members of the Bartitsu Club to study each of the four major hand-to-hand combat styles taught at the Club, with the goal of mastering each style well enough that they could be used against the others if needed. This process was similar to the modern concept of cross-training.

Based on Barton-Wright’s writings upon this subject, contemporary researchers believe that Bartitsu placed greatest emphasis upon the Vigny cane fighting system at the striking range and upon jujutsu (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; these sports were also probably practiced so that Bartitsu students could learn how to defend against them through the use of jujutsu and Vigny stick fighting. Barton-Wright also modified the techniques of both boxing and savate for self defence purposes, as distinct from academic and fitness training or sporting competition. [2]

According to interviewer Mary Nugent, Barton-Wright instituted an unusual pedagogical system whereby students were first required to attend private training sessions before being allowed to join class groups.[8] It is currently believed that both private and group classes included pre-arranged exercises, especially for use in rehearsing those techniques that were too dangerous to be performed at full speed or contact, as well as free-sparring and fencing bouts.[2]

Many Bartitsu self defence techniques and sequences were recorded by Barton-Wright himself in his series of articles for Pearson’s Magazine. The specific details of other Bartitsu stick fighting training drills were recorded in Captain Laing’s article.