“The Mechanical Prizefighter” (1906)

An ingenious solution to the problem of finding (or simply wearing out) sparring partners is detailed in this short article from the Scientific American of July 7, 1906.

To accommodate the needs of the professional boxer, as well as to instruct the novie in the “noble art of self-defense”, Mr. Charles Lindsey, of New Britain, Conn., has invented an automatic sparring machine.  

This machine is really a formidable fighter, and has already gained quite an enviable reputation in the many encounters it has had with local talent. Not only does it deliver straight leads and counters, but it varies these with an occasional uppercut, and its blows are rained with a speed and power that are the envy of the professional boxer.

The machine does not “telegraph,” that is, it does not give a warning of a coming blow by a preliminary backward jerk, which is so common to all but the best of boxers.  Nor can the opponent escape these blows by side-stepping, because the automaton will follow him from one side to the other. At each side of the opponent is a trapdoor, connected with the base of the machine in such a way that when he steps on one or other of these doors, the machine will swing around toward him.

The arms of the mechanical boxer are fitted with spring plungers, which are connected with crank handles turned by machinery. Separate crankshafts are used for the right and left arms, and they carry pulleys between which an idle pulley is mounted. These pulleys are connected with the main driving pulley by a belt which is shifted from side to side, bringing first one and then the other of the boxing arms into action. The belt-shifter is operated by an irregular cam at the bottom of the machine, and this gives no inkling as to which fist is about to strike.

Aside from this, the body of the boxer is arranged to swing backward or forward under the control of an irregular cam, so that the blows will land in different places on the opponent; for instance, a backward swing of the body will deliver an uppercut. The machine is driven by an electric motor, and can be made to rain blows as rapidly as the best boxer can receive them, or it may be operated slowly for the instruction of the novice. As the machine is fitted with spring arms and gloves, an agile opponent can ward off the blows and thus protect himself.

By 1939 a simplified version of the mechanical pugilist, employing trigger-activated pneumatic pistons, was being touted by its inventor, Frederick Westendorf:

C.F. also the various contrivances of boxing armour produced by eager pugilist/inventors around the turn of the 20th century.

“Jiu-Jitsu with the Umbrella” (1909)

A concise sketch illustration of some of the umbrella self-defence techniques taught by Marguerite Vigny, the wife of Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny. Madame Vigny – who also went by the name “Miss Sanderson” – devised her own method of self-protection, based upon her husband’s but specialising in the use of parasols and umbrellas rather than walking sticks, the latter being more typically carried by men than by women.

Madame Vigny’s method favoured thrusting attacks with the steel ferrule – referred to by Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright as “bayonet thrusts” – and hooking attacks with the crook handle, the latter backed up by the judicious use of the feet and knees.

Umbrella defence had previously enjoyed a brief media vogue during 1904, when several articles about Mademoiselle Marie Gelas appeared in American newspapers. Further articles on the Gelas method, especially highlighting umbrella techniques, were published in 1908/09, coinciding with reports on Madame Vigny’s system.

A sketch based on one of Marie Gelas’ demonstrations.

The notion of women’s self-defence via bumbershoot was then largely forgotten until circa 1970, when Los Angeles radio producer and fencing enthusiast Jill Maina devised her own take on the art.

“The Art of Self-Defence by Jiu-Jitsu Methods” (1918)

A full-page, colour ad for a 1918 film starring the notorious Captain Leopold McLaglen, whose martial arts misadventures are detailed in this article (note that his name was frequently spelled “McLaglan” in publicity releases, etc.)

Going by the rifle/bayonet theme, the now-lost film probably featured a demonstration of his bayonet fighting system, which he taught to numerous national militaries during the First World War.  Giving credit where it’s due, it’s possible that the McLaglen method, which included an emphasis on jiujitsu-like close-combat techniques, may have been better-suited to the grim realities of trench warfare than the more orthodox, “charge and stab” systems taught in most boot camps of the period.

The “Secret Science of Warra” may, conceivably, have been a garbled version of yawara – a term which generally refers to short fist-load stick weapons, but which was also sometimes used synonymously with jiujitsu.  Exactly what Leopold McLaglen may have meant by it is anyone’s guess.

Another Video of Pugilistic Sparring

Here’s another take on “classic pugilism” sparring, this time by participants at the 2018 HEMAC event in Dijon, France.  In contrast to the recently-posted video of a generic mid-late 19th century style, the specific style here is inspired by that of Daniel Mendoza, a famous champion of the late 1700s who is sometimes referred to as “the father of scientific boxing”.

“Glima: Wonders of the Secret Sport of Iceland Which Beats Ju-Jitsu” (1911)

This self-defence article by the Icelandic wrestler and showman Johannes Josefsson was published in the Sydney Sun newspaper on June 9th, 1911.

Readers familiar with the basics of both jiujitsu and glima may well wonder at a number of Mr. Josefsson’s techniques, which seem to bear a far greater affinity to the former than to the latter.  

During recent years public interest in any and every really valuable form of self-defence has increased very largely, and on that account it will be a matter of the greatest surprise to me if the true merits of “Glima,” the particular form of self-defence that has actually been practised in Iceland for nearly one thousand years, do not, when once known, become generally recognlsed, for, as has been proved on countless occasions, it is at once the simplest and yet withal the most efficacious of all exercises.

But as to the present time, the ancient pastime of my countrymen has been jealously guarded from all foreigners. Indeed, the only occasion when strangers were allowed to witness it during the whole of the last century was when it was displayed before King Christian IX of Denmark at Thing-vellir, when he visited Iceland in 1874, and even then only two men took part — the presont Rev. Sigurour Gunnarsson, of Stykkisholm, and the Rev. Larus Halldorsson, of Reykjavik.

But times change, and thus to-day, even in far-away Iceland, where news from the outside world is slow to creep in, we have at last recognised that no good purpose is being served by still keeping secret our ancient form of self-defence, the knowledge of which, valuable though it is in everyday life, must necessarily play “second fiddle” in scientific warfare. On that account, therefore, to-day I feel no qualms in divulging to readers the secrets of this form of self-defence, which has been practised In Iceland since 1100, when my country was a Republic. It was not then limited to the platform nor to any special occasion, for throughout the land, from the country, farm to the Althing (Parliament), it was a daily exercise in which most men took part.

Tho essential idea of this Icelandic form of self-defence is to enable the weaker to hold their own with the stronger, and I am not exaggerating when I say that. If she will take the trouble to learn some of the tricks and “hitches” of Glima, even a woman possessed of only ordinary strength will be able to defend yourself against, and overcome, an opponent possessed of far greater physical strength.

In recent years, too, the perfection to which Glima has been brought has proved it to be, in a very high degree, an exercise which gives health and endurance to the body, and which also acts as a real source of refreshment to tho mind, while, at the same time, sharpening the courage, smartness, and intellect of those who take part in it. I would mention that most of the grips are formed by the aid of the feet and legs, so that, even should an exponent of Glima have his or her hands tied, a capable resistance can still be made, n0 matter from which side the attacker may decide to start

It would be easy to write at considerable length about the history of this wonderful form of self-defence, for the story of how, little by little, new holds and hitches have been thought out to enable its exponents to be prepared for all emergencies is full of interest.   Still, in the space allowed to me, I could not do sufficient justice to the subject, so I will content myself by explaining various tricks which are likely to prove most useful in cases of emergency in everyday life. Even in these civilised days, the hooligan and larrikin is far from “a back number,” as cases so frequently reported in the press clearly prove, but I would dare swear that these amiably-inclined “gentlemen” would speedily havo cause to regret their temerity if they were to attempt an assault on an opponent conversant with Glima.

Perhaps the most common form of attack is with the fists, and, generally speaking, a man posssessed of some knowledge of how to box must inevitably have a great pull over an opponent who has never learnt how to use his fists. I will, therefore, explain how an attack with the fists can be easily warded off, and also how the attacker can be reduced to a state of lamb-like passivity.

For the sake of example, let us say that he leads off with the left, as shown in the accompanying illustration.  As he strikes out, all that it is necessary to do is to throw yourself down on your left hand, at the same time throwing the right foot across his right leg just above the knee, and quickly gripping your left foot behind and over the opponent’s right, when, by pressing your right foot back and your left foot forward, you have him in such a position that you can throw him to the ground, and, by exertlng pressure, keep him there until he has decided that further attack would be, to put it mildly, a most indiscreet undertaking.

On paper, no doubt, this explanation may not seem quite clear, but if you will practise the hold for a minute or two with any opponent you will be able to prove its value at once. But I do not think I need give any clearer example of the merits of this trick than by saying that, although I am not a boxer myself, I am, nevertheless, prepared to challenge even the champion of the world, and to throw him to the ground before he can make any real use of his fistic ability.

When unarmed, to be attacked by an opponent with a knife is a happening which even Mark Tapley would assuredly not have found particularly cheering. However, such an attack can be rendered completely ineffective, as follows. Let us suppose that the attacker strlkes out with his knife in
the right hand. As he does so, the attacked must move slightly to the left, so that the arm comes over his shoulder.

He must then turn quickly to the right, at the same time twisting his left leg round the attacker’s right, as shown above, and also pulling the attacker’s right arm across his chest, when the former will find himself in a position from which he cannot possibly extricate himself, for, by putting on even slight pressure, his opponent can break either his arm or his leg with the greatest of ease.

Maybe, in explaining what can be done, I must seem rather a bloodthirsty person. As a matter of fact, however, I should like to say that I am the most peacefully-inclined individual in the world. Still, to show how Glima can he made of real value in everyday life in the case of attack, it is necessary to point out the unenviable position any opponent must find himself in if he
struggles against a Glima “hold.”

An excellent means of throwing an opponent off his balance is known in the Icelandic form of self-defence as the “inverted hitch.” This is performed with either right foot on right (as shown above) or left on left, by hooking the foot slantwise round an opponent’s heel, the attacker’s knee bent slightly forward and his opponent’s slightly inward, so that the foot is locked in the position shown in the illustration. The attacker then draws his foot smartly to one side, and with his hands he keeps his opponent from jumping, for it is important to keep him down, otherwise the trick can be frustrated.

Another valuable trick for unbalancing an opponent is the “leg trick.” This is performed by placing the right foot on the opponent’s foot, or vice versa, so that the inner part of the foot touches the outer part of his foot. The feet are then drawn from him, and the hands used to complete the fall.

I would mention, by the way, that the last two tricks I have described will be found particularly effective should any reader encounter some individual in a crowd, or elsewhere, who shows some inclination to assert his position in an unploasnnt manner by jostling or otherwise using undue pressure. Yes, the “leg trick” and “inverted hitch” will be found invaluable replies to a jostler’s idiosyncrasies.

An opponent possessed of “firearms” and unamiable inclinations is never a particularly pleasant person to meet. Still, at close quarters it is possible to deprive him of much of his advantage if you will act quickly, and act as follows: —

Let us suppose that he is trying to extort money or the fulfilment of some wish by levelling a revolver at your head, and threatening “your money or your life” unless you consent to his dictates. As he raises the revolver step quickly back, at the same time leaning backwards, and with your right foot kick up his wrist in such a way that his aim is completely “put out of joint,” in that, whether he fires or not, the shot must inevitably miss its destination.

I do not pretend, of course, that this trick is in any way infallible, for an opponent with firearms and his finger on the trigger must necessarily be possessed of an enormous advantage over an unarmed adversary. At the same time, with sufficient practice, the simple device I have explained can be performed so rapidly that, while the arm is being raised to fire, the foot acts more quickly, and reaches the wrist before the revolver is in the requisite position to make an effective effort.

Another extremely useful way of disarming an opponent— if only you are quick enough — is shown here. As the attacker levels his revolver at his adversary’s head, the latter quickly bends down and grasps his opponent’s right wrist with his left hand and the latter’s left with his right hand, the while forcing his left wrist back.  With his right leg he then encircles the attacker’s left in such a way that he can easily throw him backwards, when, by gripping the wrist of the hand In which he holds the revolver, and by pressing the thumb on the back of the armed hand and gripping his palm with the other fingers, an opponent is inevitably forced to drop the revolver.
Try this grip on anyone you like, no matter how strong he may be, and you will find it extraordinarily effective.

A trick I would earnestly commend to ladies is known in Glima as the “zig-zag trick”. By this manoeuvre, even a child can throw a strong man to the ground with lightning rapidity, and in my native country I have often seen a little Icelander bring about the overthrow of a man who, in a hand-to-hand struggle, would probably have defeated her “with two fingers.” The requisite position in which to bring this trick into play can be understood at once by glancing at the illustration.

The “zig-zag trick” is “laid” by placing the right foot round an opponent’s right leg, when, by quickly gripping him by the wrists and swinging him slightly to the left, he will find himself on his back in a fraction of a second. The valuo of this trick is derived entirely from the laws of balance, and, if practised a few times, ladies will find it particularly useful as a means of subjugating someone much stronger than themselves.

The “gentle hooligan” who relics upon a knife or dagger to bring about an opponent’s downfall can he subdued as follows. As he strikes downwards with his knife, the person attacked bends slightly backwards, at the same time gripping the right wrist with the left hand and his right ankle with the right hand from the outside, when, by pressing the leg upwards, as shown in the illustration, an opponent, no matter how strong he may be, can be thrown backwards to the ground.

I quite realise that “the hypercritical reader,” who, maybe, has never even heard of Glima, will probably scoff at the tricks I have explained, by reason of the fact that in cold, hard print they probably sound far from easy of accomplishment. I would hasten to say, therefore, that every Glima trick explained in this article will be found perfectly simple after a little practice. After all, it is on practice, and practice alone,  that each and every form of self-defence depends for its real value in times of stress; and when I point out that a really clever exponent of Glima is more than a master for an adept at any other form of self-defence, I am merely giving this Icelandic pastime the credit to which it is entitled.

In conclusion, I would lay special stress on the necessity of each trick being performed sharply and decisively.  Had space permitted I could have explained many other tricks which might possibly have come in useful at some time or another to readers. If, however, they will be content to thoroughly master the various “self-defence” exercises set forth in this article, they will find that they are armed with a stock-in-trade of defensive tactics which will assuredly serve them is good stead should necessity to bring them into play arise.

No speclal gymnasium is required in which to practice Glima tricks; any ordlnary-sized apartment will serve the purpose.  In fact, a plot of level ground anywhere furnishes an excellent school, providing there are no stones.

I would mention, too, that no carpet is required, and the tricks may be practised in ordinary clothes, though, until they become fairly expert, I would counsel beginners not to wear too-heavily-soled boots or shoes; soft shoes, or the stockinged feet, are best when commencing to practise Glima tricks, as – speed being so essential to their successful accomplishment – unnecessarily hard knocks are sometimes given when heavy footwear is worn.

The “Old Timey Boxing Stance” Explained

The popular TodayIFoundOut.com site offers this in-depth, entertaining  and mostly-accurate explanation of the generic late-19th century pugilism fighting stance.

The sweeping claim that Victorian boxers held their guards “low” (relative to the modern style) because they preferred to target the body over the face is mildly controversial.  Manuals of boxing and written reports on boxing matches during the bare knuckle era consistently demonstrate punches to all legal targets.  It’s worth noting that the way pugilists posed for portrait paintings and photographs did not necessarily reflect their actual fighting stances, which in turn depended very much on individual styles, measure and the stances and tactics adopted by their opponents.  Also, for the record, “pugilism” should be pronounced with a soft “g”, as in “pew-jill-ism”.

A Photo Gallery from Day 2 of BartitsuCon 2018

Instructors Peter Smallridge (top) and Tommy Joe Moore demonstrate jiujitsu ne-waza (mat fighting).
The shuto or tegatana (“hand-sword”) of jiujitsu atemi-waza (striking techniques).
The savate fouette median (mid-level roundhouse kick).
A lunging palm-heel strike.
Savate sparring: the chassé frontal (front kick).
Savate sparring: the revers lateral tournant (spinning hook kick).
Jiujitsu newaza randori (freestyle mat grappling).
Savate sparring: Tommy Joe Moore (left) evades a coup de pied bas (low front kick).
Southpaw fisticuffs!

“Ju-Jitsu to the Rescue” (1913)

Here’s a newly-discovered Bioscope playbill for the short silent film Ju-Jitsu to the Rescue, which starred former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and which played widely throughout England during late 1912-early 1913.

The film itself is sadly lost, but scarce and scanty reviews indicate that it began with a technical demonstration – possibly as part of a scene in which Tani was instructing a student – and then closed with a dramatic fight sequence in which Tani rescued a third party who was being unfairly set upon. One reviewer mentioned that “the villain is defeated by Tani by means of his well-known arm lock”, which almost certainly refers to the extended jūji-gatame lock by which Tani won many of his music hall challenge matches.

Tani was actually the second Bartitsu Club affiliate to star in a film, as Edith Garrud had famously appeared in a short subject called The Lady Athlete, Or, Jujitsu Downs the Footpads, which was produced in 1907.  A number of other very early short films also featured Japanese unarmed combat, including Juvenile Ju-Jitsu and A Lesson in Ju-Jitsu (both released in 1909) and the slapstick comedies Charlie Smiler Takes Up Ju-Jitsu and Nobby’s Ju-Jitsu Experiments (both 1914).  None of these films are known to have survived, although it’s worth noting that the great majority of items in the British film archive have not yet been catalogued.

A closer look at the Ju-Jitsu to the Rescue playbill illustration:

Bartitsu Gift Ideas 2018

The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 1: History and the Canonical Syllabus (2005) and The Bartitsu Compendium Volume II: Antagonistics (2008)

Compiled by members of the Bartitsu Society, volumes 1 and 2 of the Bartitsu Compendium are available in print from Lulu.com.

Volume I collates most of the canonical Bartitsu material and features over two hundred and seventy pages of original essays, rare vintage reprints and never-before-seen translations, illustrated with hundreds of fascinating photographs and sketches.

Volume II provides resources towards continuing Barton-Wright’s martial arts experiments. It combines extensive excerpts from fifteen classic Edwardian-era self defence manuals, including well over four hundred illustrations, plus a collection of long-forgotten newspaper and magazine articles on Bartitsu exhibitions and contests; new, original articles on Bartitsu history and training; a complete course of Edwardian-era “physical culture” exercises; personality profiles, essays and more besides.

Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes documentary (2011)

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing, and stick fighting into the “Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. After Barton-Wright’s School of Arms mysteriously closed in 1902, Bartitsu was almost forgotten save for a famous, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House.

In this fascinating 54-minute documentary shot in Switzerland, Italy, the UK and the USA, host Tony Wolf reveals the history, rediscovery and revival of Barton-Wright’s pioneering mixed martial art.

Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes is available from the Freelance Academy Press.

Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons graphic novel trilogy (2015)

London, 1914: The leaders of the radical women’s rights movement are fugitives from the law. Their last line of defense is the secret society of “Amazons”: women trained in the martial art of bartitsu and sworn to defend their leaders from arrest and assault.

After a series of daring escapes and battles with the police, the stakes rise dramatically when the Amazons are forced into a deadly game of cat and mouse against an aristocratic, utopian cult…

The Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy is available as e-books from Amazon and comiXology – we strongly recommend comiXology’s Guided View system for a fluid, intuitive online reading experience – as well as in print form as part of the Blood and Honor anthology.

Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick (2018) instructional video series

German Bartitsu instructor Alex Kiermayer has collaborated with Agilitas.tv in producing this new instructional video series on the art of Vigny stick fighting, as incorporated into the original Bartitsu curriculum at the turn of the 20th century.

The series runs to 2 hours and 53 minutes and the German-narrated version is now available as a streaming download via Vimeo and on DVD via this site.

Bartitsu sparring cane from Purpleheart Armory

Widely used by members of the Bartitsu Society, these rattan training canes are recommended for both drills and sparring applications.

The BlackSwift Raven self-defence walking stick

Combining a stylish, low-profile appearance with superb dexterity and great strength, the BlackSwift Raven is especially recommended as a “carry” cane for self-defence purposes.

The Unbreakable Umbrella

Developed by Thomas Kurz specifically for self-defence applications,  Unbreakable Umbrellas are available in a variety of styles including ball-handle, crook-handle and telescopic models.  All Unbreakable Umbrellas are capable of withstanding extreme stress and impacts that would destroy regular umbrellas.

Bonus free gift: No Man Shall Protect Us (2018) suffragette bodyguard documentary

Embedded here for your convenience, the 2018 documentary No Man Shall Protect Us details the origins and exploits of the jiujitsu-trained Bodyguard Society who protected the radical suffragettes of England just before WW1. The documentary refers to Bartitsu and offers a special focus on Bodyguard martial arts instructor Edith Garrud, who was one of the most prominent self-defence teachers in England during the early 20th century.

In Memoriam: Ricky Jay (1948-2018)

Master magician, actor, magic consultant/historian and martial arts aficionado Ricky Jay has passed away at the age of 70.

Although Jay’s fame was due to his extensive accomplishments as a scholar and performer, his long-term involvement with the martial arts dated back to the 1970s, when he took up karate.  He later admitted that, as a professional sleight-of-hand artist, the danger of hand injuries from intensive martial arts training had been a foolish risk.

After karate came aikido – a style that shares more than a few principles with the art of legerdemain.  His aikido sensei was Fred Neumann, who would recall challenging Jay to repeat a particularly confounding sleight of hand trick while Jay was showering after a training session.  Without missing a beat, and with no evident means of preparation, Jay casually performed the feat again, stunning his sensei.

Ricky Jay’s 1977 book Cards as Weapons quickly became an underground cryptohoplological classic, purporting (with a fairly straight face) to teach a unique method of self-defence via card-scaling; the venerable magician’s feat of hurling playing cards with great accuracy and force.  The book combined absurdist humour, quirky historical scholarship and practical instruction, also featuring “guest appearances” by some of Jay’s acquaintances, including singer Emmylou Harris and scientist Carl Sagan.

Twenty years later, when he was cast as a villain in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Jay was asked to exert his card-throwing prowess in a scene with Pierce Brosnan as Bond:

At one point, they wanted me to throw cards as weapons to attack Bond, but the first time they asked me to do it in rehearsal, I was an enormously long distance away from Pierce Brosnan, and I warned them that the cards went very, very hard and fast, and they said no no, they had someone in front of it to block the shot, and I again said, “I don’t think you should do that,” they said, “No, no, it’ll be okay.” And Pierce seemed to be fine with it.

So I whaled a card, I don’t know how far, 50 or 75 feet away, and they said, “Just throw it at his face,” and I hit him right above the eye, and realized that I almost ruined the most lucrative franchise in the history of film. Suddenly that scene was no longer in the movie. [Laughs.] So in a way that was horribly disappointing, but the rest of it was fun.

Here’s the master himself, performing a number of his “cards as weapons” stunts:

In 2002, Jay playfully scaled cards at action movie star Jackie Chan during a mutual appearance on a talk show hosted by Conan O’Brien.

Throughout his career, the magician frequently drew parallels between the disciplines of close-up magic and martial arts, and likened the mentor/mentee relationships of traditional magic apprenticeship to those of a sensei and his students.  Although he “retired” into more sedate and academic pursuits later in life, Jay’s involvement in the martial arts continued via his close friendship with playwright, screenwriter and jiujutsuka David Mamet.  Mamet cast Jay as an unscupulous fight promoter in his peculiar, cerebral martial arts movie Redbelt (2008):

And finally, here’s Jay reciting a poem written for (and about) him by the late Shel Silverstein, encapsulating the arcane dangers of a life lived in the service of deception:

Rest in peace, Ricky Jay – man of mystery, scholar of the obscure and sworn enemy of the mundane.