“A Novel Ju Jitsu Demonstration” (1904)

This article from the Sporting Life of 21 December, 1904 includes a possibly-unique report of former Bartitsu Club instructors Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi working together again during the years following the Club’s dissolution.  It also represents one of the very first public exhibitions of Japanese unarmed combat by women, presaging both the craze for “jujitsu parties” and the more serious association of jujitsu with the women’s suffrage movement.


The British public are no strangers to ju-jitsu, but it is something of a novelty to see it demonstrated by two daughters of Albion.

Tani’s performances have familiarised many with the commoner manoeuvres, such the fatal arm-lock and the outside-right click, beloved of Jonathan Whitehead, the renowned wrestler of a past generation, but to the Cockney mind ju-jitsu still savours largely of mystery and magic.

In a sense, it does partake of the latter character, and at a demonstration by members of the School of Jujitsu at the Caxton Hall, it was defined as the defence of oneself by sleight of body; the utilisation of your opponent’s strength by taking ingenious advantage of the human anatomy.  To accomplish this, the master of ceremonies emphasised the need of studying the art of yielding, as opposed to resisting. Probably this is why wrestlers living outside of Japan have generally shown but limited aptitude for ju-jitsu, the act of yielding being in conflict with their natural instincts.

Those well-known exponents Tani and Uyenishi, were to the fore in illustrating the countless holds, locks, chips, and counters, and a contest between two cheery little compatriots ot theirs in Messrs. Eida and Kanaya raised the audience a high pitch of excitement when “Time!” applied its unwelcome veto.

In the course of the programme two English ladies, Mrs. Watts and Miss Roberts, exhibited some of the tricks of the art. They ware only billed to display of the more elementary points, but they certainly lacked nothing in facility of execution. Mrs. Watts also gave a demonstration with Mr. Eida, whom she appeared to match in proficiency as well as in composure, and – allowing that it was merely an exhibition – this lady showed that she had been an apt pupil.

Another performer was Mr. Miyake, who is much heavier than the other Japanese exponents, though he shares their characteristic agility.

Indeed the whole demonstration, which it is difficult to adequately describe on paper, exemplified in an unmistakable manner that, apart from other advantages, ju-jitsu is invaluable for the cultivation of suppleness. The various turns were of highly attractive order, and testified the sublety which underlies the art. At the same time, the yielding theory is apparently open to qualification. On numerous occasions the exponents undoubtedly practised this principle, but on several others they obviously resisted. This, of course, is only logical, as a policy of “passive resistance” carried to the end must spell subjugation — at any rate, on the mat.

The value of the system is strongly shown in the physiques of its votaries, and the fact of its being a regular part of the Japanese soldier’s training has probably contributed more the success of the Island Empire in Far East campaign than appears on the surface, for it develops the mental well as the physical qualities.

A number of ladies were deeply interested spectators of the proceedings, as were many of the performers’ fellow countrymen.

Yukio Tani at the Royal Albert Hall (1904)

Tani executes a rear scissor choke submission hold.

This sketch series by Percy F.S. Spence records moments from former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani’s matches at the Royal Albert Hall on July 2, 1904.  The sketches were originally published in the Illustrated London News two days after the event.

The main event that night featured a “best two out of three” heavyweight Graeco-Roman wrestling championship match between George “The Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt and Tom Jenkins, which was won by Hackenschmidt.

Tani won all three of his matches within fifteen minutes.

The “Sinbad” reference may be an allusion to the similarity between Tani’s acrobatic throws and the “knockabout” style of slapstick comedy seen in Edwardian-era pantomimes.
A possibly unique depiction of Tani doing a full handstand.

Bartitsu Seminar in Yorkshire

Members of the Tree of Shields historical fencing club (Yorkshire, UK) pose after a recent Bartitsu seminar with instructor Kevin Allmond of the Haworth Industrial Bartitsu Club.

Shields! Bartitsu night was a pain in the neck… Geddit.Tom

Geplaatst door Tree of Shields op Maandag 31 juli 2017

Above: Kevin Allmond demonstrates a neo-Bartitsu umbrella takedown.

Sadakazu Uyenishi Saves a Drowning Man (?) in Belfast (1906)

After the Bartitsu Club closed in mid-1902, most of the instructors continued independent careers as instructors and combat sport athletes.  Although Sadakazu Uyenishi was better-known as an instructor than as a challenge wrestler, he did successfully tour the music halls “taking on all comers” under his professional pseudonym, Raku.

In August of 1906, Uyenishi’s engagements brought him to Belfast, Ireland, where he made the news for something other than his martial arts proficiency.  This event was reported in a number of regional papers, including the Belfast Weekly News:


EXCITING SCENE AT QUEEN’S BRIDGE

Rescue by a Japanese Wrestler

Raku, the Japanese exponent of Jujitsu wrestling, who has during the week been appearing at the Palace, was walking across the Queen’s Bridge yesterday afternoon, in company with Mr. Harris, the manager of the Palace, when they noticed a man struggling in the water. Without the slightest hesitation the Jap. divested himself of his coat, and running down to the Bangor Jetty dived into the water.

Raku, who is a powerful swimmer, soon reached the drowning man and succeeded in keeping his bead above water until ferryboat came to the rescue. The men were landed at the ferry steps near the Queen’s Bridge, and – the famous wrestler having applied the Japanese method artificial respiration – the man soon recovered and was able to proceed home. It appears that he fell into the water from a boat while endeavouring to recover a lost oar.


In fairness, these events may well have played out exactly as reported.  Uyenishi was, by other reports, a good swimmer and all-round athlete, and either he or Tani had previously been reported as having applied a kuatsu-style resuscitation technique to bring around an unconscious wrestling opponent.

It would be remiss, however, not to note the possibility of “swank”.  Edwardian-era show business was far from immune from staging publicity stunts to generate controversy and ticket sales.  A journalist from the Northern Whig offered a very polite note of surprise, if not overt skepticism, about one aspect of the story:


The ambulance was sent for, but the rescued individual, who had been brought round by the attentions of the gallant Raku, declined to enter it, preferring to go home in a car. His name and address do not seem have been elicited either by the rescuer or the ambulance men. This was rather a pity, because, when a public character like Raku effects a daring public rescue, the public like to know something about the identity of the rescued.


The rescued man’s name and address were then, seemingly, discovered, as subsequently reported by the Belfast News-Letter:


A WRESTLER’S GALLANTRY REWARDED

At the Palace

At the second performance at the Palace on Saturday evening, an interesting extra turn was supplied when Raku, the famous Japanese wrestler, was presented with a handsome gold watch in recognition of his gallantry in saving a man from drowning in the Lagan at the Queen’s Bridge 17th inst.

It will remembered that Raku, who was engaged at the Palace last week, was walking over the Queen’s Bridge on the Friday afternoon, when he saw a man in the water. He immediately divested himself of his coat, jumped into the river, and succeeded in keeping the man’s head above water until a ferry boat came to the rescue. The rescued man, whose name is Frank Reynolds, residing in Unity Street, soon recovered, and was little the worse of his immersion.

A number of local gentlemen formed themselves together and subscribed towards the presentation to the plucky Jap. Mr. Harris, the manager of the Palace, in making the presentation, said that he had been asked on behalf of the subscribers to hand over the gold watch in a token appreciation Mr. Raku’s heroic conduct. (Mr. Harris) was sure that he was only expressing the sentiments of the audience when he hoped that the famous wrestler would be long spared to wear it. (Applause.)

Mr. Raku’s manager, in reply, returned thanks, and said Raku desired him say that he had only done what any Britisher or Japanese would have done – namely, gone to the assistance of a man who was in danger of losing his life. (Applause.)


So – in August of 1906, Sadakazu Uyenishi may have heroically saved a man from drowning in the Lagan River, or may have been the key figure in a very elaborate publicity stunt.  Either version makes for a colourful story.

Velo-Boxe (“Bike-Boxing”) Cartoons by Marius Rossillon

The French painter and cartoonist Marius Rossillon (1867-1946), under the pseudonym “O’Galop”, invents a bizarre new hybrid combat sport in this 1895 sketch series, which originally appeared in Le Rire.

“Velo-Boxe” appears to have been a satrical comment on state of the French honour duel during the very late 19th century.  With both the law and social sentiment steering sharply away from the tradition of life-risking duels, aggrieved parties who wanted to settled their differences physically developed some creative alternatives.  However, as the artist points out, honour can only be satisfied physically at a physical cost – the implicit question being, is it worth it?

Rosillon was also, not incidentally, the creator of the “Michelin Man” character, here illustrated delivering the Coup de la Semelle Michelin (“The Kick of the Michelin Tread”) in a 1905 advertising poster:

Pierre and Marguerite Vigny at the Royal Albert Hall (1904)

The speed and visual trickery of Vigny’s signature art of walking stick defence is depicted by the artist as a blur of movement.

In early 1904, former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny set up his own self-defence school in London.  By July of that year he and his wife/associate instructor Marguerite (a.k.a. “Miss Sanderson”) were performing promotional demonstrations in some prestigious venues, including the Royal Albert Hall.

These sketches by Percy F.S. Spence record the Vignys’ exhibitions on the evening of July 2nd, appearing on a bill that included their Bartitsu Club colleague Yukio Tani and the famed “Russian Lion”, wrestling champion Geroge Hackenschmidt.

Originally a fencing champion, Marguerite Vigny later developed her own unique art of self-defence with umbrellas and parasols.

A Review of “Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick”

Here follows a review of the new English-language edition of the instructional DVD Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny, which was originally released with German-language captions and narration.  The DVD features instructor Alex Kiermayer assisted by Christoph Reinberger and was produced by Agilitas.tv, a company that has previously produced a number of instructional HEMA DVDs.

Mr. Kiermayer and Mr. Reinberger are dressed in the simple white shirt, suspenders and dark pants ensembles that frequently stand in for Victorian/Edwardian attire in Bartitsu exhibitions.  Their demonstrations take place in a large, distraction-free studio space and are well-covered with a truly impressive range of camera angles, including some high overhead shots as well as well-placed closeups.  The technical presentations are methodical and crystal clear and the DVD itself is well-produced, including the new English narration.  Some of the phrasing is a little awkward, possibly because of the necessary translation from German, but this is no way detracts from the value of the DVD as a training resource.

Also, the chapter select feature very efficiently allows the viewer to refer not only to particular chapters but also to technical sub-sections within those chapters.

Chapter 1: Theory first covers the general history of Bartitsu’s rise and fall at the turn of the 20th century and then offers a special focus on Pierre Vigny and his stick fighting method.  These sections are well-illustrated and very highly accurate.  It’s worth noting that recent (largely subsequent to the video’s original production) discoveries about the so-called “secret style of boxing”, a.k.a. “Bartitsu boxing”, have enabled us to make educated deductions about exactly how it differed from the orthodox boxing/savate practiced circa 1900.

The next section presents a variety of knob-handled and crook-handled sticks, noting their relative pros and cons for both self-defence and training purposes.

In Chapter 2: Basics, the various guard positions are clearly described and demonstrated, including the orthodox front (“right”) and rear (“left”) guards and double-handed guard variants.  Gripping the stick is addressed, including the important but seldom-addressed matter of shifting into a fighting stance from the ordinary walking-stick grip position.  The fundamentals of body mechanics via stance and footwork are also methodically detailed in this section.

Mr. Kiermayer also includes several lowered guards, which are shown as positions of invitation (but not defined as guards per se) in the canonical material.  This section then develops into a series of exercises which serve triple duty as as warm-ups, conditioning training and dexterity drills.  These include moulinets and many techniques of passing the cane from one grip to the other, emphasising the crucial ambidexterity of Vigny stick fighting.

Chapter 3: Attacks begins with a simple demonstration of preferred targets including the face and head, solar plexus, elbow, hand, knee/shin, etc.  Effective use is made of graphics, as red circles are superimposed over the key areas of Mr. Reinberger’s anatomy.

The next section deals with striking mechanics, beginning with “snapping” strikes from the sabre grip (i.e., strikes made primarily from the wrist with the thumb extended along the shaft for extra support and precision, although the point is correctly made that this type of grip is not actually advocated by the Vigny style, which defers to the “hammer” grip instead).  “Sweeping” strikes are described as the “bread and butter of la canne Vigny”, requiring a larger preparation but offering much greater power; these are further developing into the characteristic “fanning” strikes of the Vigny system.

Mr. Kiermayer also introduces a simple numbering system for the sake of convenience in training, comparable with the traditions of numbered positions in fencing (“cut to tierce”, etc.) and numbered angles of attack in the Filipino martial arts.  This was alluded to in E.W. Barton-Wright’s Self Defence with a Walking Stick articles, which included a few references to fencing numbers. Although there is no evidence of a consistent number system being emphasised within the canonical style, it’s a useful tool for training purposes.

A range of striking exercises includes simple standing and lunging attacks employing various dynamics and drills in which the training partner spontaneously presents a striking target at various angles and positions.  This section also includes logical extrapolations from the canonical material, such as strikes in which the sections of the cane held between (or extending beyond) the hands in the double-handed grip are used as striking weapons at close quarters.

In addition, it showcases the use of the “short end” of the cane as a dagger-type thrusting weapon at close quarters, which was referred to by numerous observers of Vigny’s Bartitsu demonstrations and also by Captain Laing in his 1902 article.  Curiously, however, this section does not include examples of attacks in which the stick is held with both hands at one end.

Tha Attacks chapter closes with a series of sample combination exercises – each one finishing with the characteristic “attack while moving back into guard” tactic – and a demonstration of freestyle striking against a hanging car tire target.

Chapter 4: Defences opens with the basic parries of classical canne fencing, named after the fencing convention of numbered hand positions.   Although there is some commonality with the Vigny style, classical canne also includes types of defences that are categorically not part of Vigny’s method, including parries in the tierce and quarte guards (in which the point of impact between the sticks is above the defender’s stick-wielding hand) and low parries against leg attacks.

The classical canne parries are also demonstrated via three-count parry/riposte drills and then via a more elaborate drill adapted from one of Henry Angelo’s early 19th century cutlass exercises.  Again, the latter includes defences which are not part of Vigny’s system, and so while these techniques and drills are of academic interest for the sake of comparison between historical styles, they run the risk of confusing beginners who may be following the exercises step by step, because they will then have to be “forgotten” when the focus shifts back to the Vigny style.

The classical canne section is followed by an examination of Vigny’s single-handed hanging guards, which are directly relevant to the practice of Bartitsu stick fighting.  Again, the progression from isolated technique into defence/riposte drills is shown effectively, and there’s a useful graphic that superimposes “after-images” of the defence positions as Mr. Kiermayer runs through the sequence of five basic parries.

The “stick up” variants that follow, however, again contradict the basic defensive premise of the Vigny style, and the inclusion of these parries in the context of a Vigny-style instructional DVD is regrettable. These techniques were not featured in any of the historical Vigny sources, and in fact were actively argued against – the logic being that hanging guards better protect the weapon-wielding hand, resulting in the range of high guard positions that fundamentally characterise the style.

Although lowered guard stances are featured in the Bartitsu canon, they are exclusively used as positions of invitation (to bait the opponent into attacking an apparently exposed target), with any subsequent parry action being executed from a high or hanging guard.  That said, if – in the heat of a sparring match, for example – a fighter is caught momentarily unawares while in a low guard, he or she may be forced to perform a parry in 3 or 4 out of expedience.

The next section involves the use of double-handed blocks, which do not appear in the circa 1900 material but which are present in H.G. Lang’s 1923 book Self-Defence with a Walking Stick. It’s possible that these were among the techniques Lang interpolated into the Vigny style from the Caribbean bois method.

We then move through several variations of the canonical “guard by distance”, in which the defender invites an attack to a deliberately exposed target in order to slip the attack and riposte.  The first variant is curious in that the defender invites a mid-level attack to his elbow and then counters to the attacker’s weapon-wielding hand, which requires a rather awkward, slightly upward-angled strike leaving little room for error.  The equivalent canonical technique involves a low/mid-level invitation to attack the defender’s hand and the counter is performed to the attacker’s head, allowing for a more powerful and unobstructed riposte.

The Defences chapter continues with a progression of partnered attack/riposte drills, many of which are strongly reminiscent of the drills described in Captain F.C. Laing’s 1902 article The Bartitsu Method of Self Defence.  These exercises gradually introduce greater complexity and degrees of “aliveness” by requiring one or both partners to react to spontaneous, rather than pre-arranged attacks.

There follows a section on using the double-handed cane grip to ward off unarmed attacks, including straight right and left punches and both front and roundhouse kicks, and then a useful study of release techniques against seizure to the cane-wielding defender’s weapon or clothing.  This latter classification is notably lacking in the canonical material and the release defences presented here are martially plausible.

Chapter 5: Additional Techniques and Tactics introduces a number of the canonical sequences originally presented in Barton-Wright’s articles and in Lang’s 1923 book, especially those representing the fusion of Vigny’s cane style with Barton-Wright’s jiujitsu.  It’s pointed out that Barton-Wright particularly recommended this type of technique when faced by an opponent armed with a heavier and stronger weapon.

Many of these techniques are presented with slight “neo-Bartitsu” variations, which are then extrapolated into a series of purely neo-Bartitsu close-combat cane takedowns.  Some discussion or demonstration of how to best train these techniques, particularly against a non-cooperative opponent, would have been useful.  In combination, however, this section illustrates the important point that the Vigny style includes a range of close-combat locking and takedown options.

The final section in Chapter 5 usefully introduces a series of basic unarmed combat techniques, with particular attention to using straight punches and low kicks in combination with the leverage-based releases covered in Chapter 4 to assist in releasing your cane if it’s seized by the opponent.  It’s mentioned that a planned future DVD will focus on unarmed Bartitsu.

Chapter 6: Applications offers a series of self-defence scenarios as examples of how the previously-learned material might be applied in practice.  These include the common-or-garden double-handed lapel grab, a single-handed lapel grip and punch with the free hand, a double-handed shove that pushes the defender to the floor, knife attacks, etc.   As the “attacker”, Mr. Reinberger wears body protection for a number of these sequences, allowing Mr. Kiermayer to demonstrate some of the impact force that would be applied in a real attack situation.

Most of the example defences are logical and realistic extrapolations of the Vigny system as it was practiced at the Bartitsu Club circa 1901, combining basic savate and jiujitsu with the use of the cane; though again, some more discussion of training practices allowing for spontaneity and active resistance would have been helpful.

Finally, Chapter 7: Free Fencing offers a demonstration of several bouts of light freestyle sparring in the Vigny style.  Gratifyingly, both Mr. Kiermayer and Mr. Reinberger demonstrate fluid shifting between a wide variety of guard positions and active ambidexterity in their attack and defence techniques, and there are several points where the fights continue at close quarters (although no actual locks nor takedowns are shown in this section).


In conclusion, Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny is an excellent new training resource for Bartitsu revivalists.  In the sense that each rendition of the style has added novel elements – from the blending of stickfighting and jiujitsu at the original Bartitsu Club, to the incorporation of African/Caribbean techniques by H.G. Lang in the 1920s – most of the innovations introduced here are both stylistically logical and martially plausible.  The only serious criticism is, again, that the inclusion of certain classical canne parries will serve to confuse beginners and to dilute the canonical style.

The expanded range of double-handed cane techniques and the inclusion of release techniques are particularly valuable, serving to “fill in the gaps” left by the scenario-based canonical sequences from Barton-Wright’s articles. In many ways, Mr. Kiermayer’s DVD is in the spirit of Captain Laing’s 1902 essay on Bartitsu self-defence, which likewise offered a systematic progression of technical drills.

The English-language edition of Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny is currently available from this website.  It will soon also be available on DVD from the Freelance Academy Press and then as a series of streaming downloads via Vimeo.

Suffrajitsu Mini-Documentary on BBC Two

Suffragettes do jiu jitsu | Back in Time for School

Did you know that some suffragettes used martial arts to protect themselves while campaigning?! 🥋✊

Geplaatst door BBC Two op Donderdag 3 januari 2019

Instructor Jennifer Garside teaches suffrajitsu-style self-defence in this educational mini-feature for the UK’s BBC Two channel.

For a more in-depth treatment of this subject, check out the free independent documentary No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards:

… and if your appetite for the subject extends to fiction, the 2015 graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons is available via Amazon and ComiXology.  Here’s the video trailer:

“Bartitsu Cane Combat” Workshop at Dreynevent 2019

Instructor Stefan Dieke will be running a Bartitsu cane seminar at the upcoming Dreynevent HEMA conference in Vienna. The conference will take place in February 2019.


Bartitsu Cane Combat – the framework and how we filled its gaps

Trainer: Stefan Dieke

Description:  In 1901 a two-volume newspaper article with the title of “Self-defence with a Walking-stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions” was published in Pearson’s Magazine, showcasing a number of example techniques of Bartitsu cane fighting to the general public.

This article forms the main source for Bartitsu cane combat. Unfortunately, the purpose of such an newspaper article is not to provide detailed information about the system but to stirr curiosity and create interest in the subject. Obviously this is a problematic source for HEMA practitioners as it only provides a selection of example techniques (which may even be altered to be suitable for the readers of the magazine) and not the complete system with the underlying principles.

This class is about what the system may have looked like, based on careful analysis of the illustrations, reading between the lines and practical experience when applying the techniques in freeplay.  We will look at some of the iconic Bartitsu cane combat techniques for fundamental body mechanics, some questionable techniques which are key to our assumptions for the system and at least one really clever technique which gives a glimpse at how advanced the system might have been.

Required Equipment:  A wooden stick (eg, beak or hazelnut) of approximately 22mm (7/8″) diameter and 95-100 cm (38-40″) length, fencing mask, (padded) gloves.

Skill level of Participants:  This workshop suitable also for complete beginners but knowing a twerhau/entrüsthau has some advantages.

The Sting of the Green Hornet

Having previously shone a spotlight on John SteedAdam Adamant and Harry Hart, it’s fitting that our periodic documentation of the use of umbrella and cane weapons by fictional heroes should now focus on Britt Reid – better known to generations of pop-culture aficionados as the Green Hornet.

The Hornet was created in 1936 for a WXYZ radio serial produced by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker.  As such, the character narrowly pre-dated the costumed superhero tradition generally (though arguably) conceded to have begun with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, which was published in April of 1938.  From the successful radio series, the Hornet flew straight into a movie serial, pulp novels, comic books and, most famously, a 1966-7 TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee.

In common with many of his predecessors, Britt Reid was a wealthy businessman who assumed a masked persona to foil wrongdoers who considered themselves to be above the law.   As far as the police, the general public or the criminal underworld were aware, however, the Green Hornet was, himself, a mob boss; Reid believed that the best way to dismantle crime was from within.  He and his partner/bodyguard Kato employed a range of ingenious weapons and gadgets, most famously including the Black Beauty – a “rolling arsenal” in the guise of a tricked out sedan – and the “hornet sting”, an extendable sonic ray gun that could destroy locks or even blow doors off their hinges.  The “sting” also occasionally doubled as a cane weapon in hand-to-hand combat.

The fight scenes in the Green Hornet TV series are typical of their vintage, apart from the unique and indelible presence of Bruce Lee, whose gung fu skills were first showcased for a mainstream audience as Kato.  The Hornet’s own fighting style was the standard ’60s Hollywood concoction of cowboy haymakers and general roughhousing, except for when he happened to have the hornet sting in his hands at the moment the action kicked off.  Under those circumstances, the masked hero tended (sensibly enough) to hold the weapon in an extended “bayonet grip”, using the shaft to parry or block incoming punches and retaliating with bar strikes; he also very occasionally used single-handed strikes to disarm enemies at close quarters.

Here’s a quick compilation of excerpts from the Green Hornet series mostly showcasing the hornet sting as a close-combat weapon:

The tone of The Green Hornet series was much darker and more realistic than that of the contemporaneous Batman show, which was produced by the same company.  It did not, however, achieve Batman’s pop-culture resonance and lasted only one season.  The characters of the Green Hornet and Kato have lived on via sporadic comic book revivals and in the 2011 action-comedy feature film starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou.