Members of the The Manley Academy of Historical Swordsmanship (Surrey, England) pose with host Natasha Raskin-Sharp and comedian Paul Chowdhry after a Bartitsu exhibition to be featured in an upcoming episode of Celebrity Antiques Road Trip. In this popular BBC2 series, an antiques expert and a celebrity team up to locate valuable antiques to be sold at auction, for the benefit of the Children in Need charity.
The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, UK will be offering hands-on Bartitsu classes for children as part of an upcoming series of workshops in various historical martial arts. The classes will run daily at 11am, 1pm & 3pm between August 13-17.
I’m sad to report the passing of William Hobbs, who was among the most influential and respected fight directors of the 20th century. He died on July 10th, at the age of 79 years. His funeral will be held at 11.00 a.m. on Friday, August 3rd at London’s New Southgate cemetery.
Bill Hobbs was a true pioneer of the “modern style” of performance combat. While many of his predecessors in film, TV and stage combat had also been expert fencers, Hobbs broke the mold in crafting fights that were at least as integral to character and story as any other aspect of production design.
It’s about thinking through the character, not through spectacle. A fight has got to grow out of the situation of the play. Perhaps my advantage is that having been an actor, I’m trying only to do the move I feel is right for the character. You are not doing pyrotechnics for the sake of being pyrotechnic.
William Hobbs, quoted in The New York Times (1995)
His fighters were, for the most part, portrayed as fallible human beings. They frequently found themselves scrambling to recover from mistakes, became exhausted or enraged, slipped in the mud, sometimes succeeding (or just surviving) almost in spite of themselves.
All of this was in profound and refreshing contrast to the more purely heroic action scenes of Hobbs’ predecessors in the field, which too often eschewed messy realism and psychological substance for the swashbuckling cliches of textbook “movie swordsmanship”. Bill Hobbs’ fight choreography always sought to surprise his audience, and took the less-obvious path.
As a co-founder of the Society of British Fight Directors, Hobbs was also a pioneer in the practical research of historical martial arts. In this, along with his fellow founders Arthur Wise and John Waller, he anticipated the modern HEMA revival movement by several decades.
Career highlights, in terms of acclaim among his peers, include his work on Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1977), Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love (1998).
Perhaps his most famous fight, however, was the honour duel between Rob Roy and Archie Cunningham in Michael Caton-Jones’ Rob Roy (1995).
Younger audiences will recognise Bill Hobbs’ signature creativity and commitment to detail in the “water dance” fighting style of Syrio Forel, as featured in season one of the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones. Actor Miltos Yerolemou worked extensively with Hobbs to develop his character’s unique method of swordplay.
On a more personal note, I believe that it was an 1980s TV news item about William Hobbs’ work that first inspired me to take up fight direction as a career. In fact, his 1967 book Stage Combat: The Action to the Word was among the very few resources available to me when I set out on that path. Because there was literally no-one in my home country of New Zealand who could teach me how to become a fight director/stage combat instructor, Bill Hobbs effectively became my mentor via the written word.
When I travelled to London to attend the first ever international stage combat conference in 1995, I carried my copy of Hobbs’ book with me. A customs agent asked what I’d be doing in England, and I explained a bit about the conference, at which he smiled broadly and asked “Will you be working with Bill Hobbs? I used to flat with him in the ’60s! Welcome to England, sir!”
After his lecture, Bill was gracious enough to sign my dog-eared copy of his book. I remember that he seemed quite nervous as he spoke to us, and only afterwards learned that he’d been worried that his audience of mostly young, up-and-coming fight directors would think him “old hat”. Far from it; and I think he was a little overwhelmed by the adulation that he did, in fact, inspire in us.
Many years later, he was kind enough to review and write a foreword for my own anthology of historical stage combat essays and anecdotes, A Terrific Combat!!! Theatrical Duels, Brawls and Battles: 1800-1920 (2009).
There’s a good deal to unpack in this advertisement for an assault-at-arms display organised by former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny, including one particularly intriguing item:
ST. JAMES’S HALL, PICCADILLY.
ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14 at 8 p-m. Under Distinguished Patronage.
GREAT TOURNAMENT OF FENCING AND ALL- ROUND SELF-DEFENCE, given by
Prof. PIERRE VIGNY.
With the participation of the societies The Tierce and Quarte Club, the Self-Defence Club, Le Centre de Quarte of London, the Japanese School of Jujitsu.
Fencing Foils, Duelling Swords, Sabres; English Boxing; French Boxing (La Savate); a Secret Style of Boxing, with numerous tricks and counters; Japanese Wrestling; Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling; Walking Stick, how anyone can defend himself in a crowd.
Foils: Mrs Roger Watts, of Fred MacPherson’s Academy, v. Madame Pierre Vigny (Miss Sanderson); Demonstration of Japanese self-defence Mr S. K. Eida and Mrs Roger Watts (first English Lady to demonstrate this wonderful system).
Reserved Seats, 16s. 6d.; Unreserved, 5s.
Tickets can obtained from Prof. Pierre Vigny, 2. Hinde-street, Manchester-square; Cafe Royale, Regent-street; and St. James’s Hall, Piccadilly.
The “Self Defence Club” was Vigny’s own school, which promoted a “combined” approach to self-defence training very much in the fashion of the Bartitsu Club, albeit with a greater emphasis on fencing than on jujutsu. Unfortunately, comparatively little is known about Vigny’s system in its own right.
The reference to a “secret style of boxing, with numerous tricks and counters” is a bit of a puzzle, especially in that it seems to be contextually distinct from both English boxing and French savate. The actual phraseology is very close to, and may well have been directly inspired by a line from a 1902 St. James’s Gazette article reviewing a Bartitsu display at the famous Bath Club, which included “(…) a secret style of wrestling, with innumerable tricks and counters.”
Perhaps the likeliest explanation is that the “secret style” was a development of the method referred to by E.W. Barton-Wright in an article from the Black and White Budget magazine, several years earlier:
Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well.
Vigny and Barton-Wright had been working together since June of 1899 and it’s clear that one of the fruits of their collaboration was a distinct modification of (kick)boxing. This “secret style” was never explicitly detailed by either man, but Barton-Wright’s comments suggest that it involved an aggressive, street-oriented variation of “standard” boxing defences, in which the defender aimed to damage the attacker’s striking limbs:
As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in (orthodox boxing) schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously.
The other likely point of distinction was that Vigny and Barton-Wright both advocated for a more realistic, hard-hitting ethos that was then the accepted norm in French savate circles. At this time, the majority of professional instructors in France were promoting a rather academic and courteous, light-contact version of savate, which was practiced at least as much as a form of “combat calisthenics” as a serious self-defence method.
In the context of Bartitsu per se, the innovation of aggressive and damaging guard techniques was a prelude to finishing the fight as may be necessary at close quarters, via jujutsu. Although the Japanese art was de-emphasised in Vigny’s school, some elements definitely were present, as described by journalist J. St. A Jewell in his 1904 article on Vigny’s school for Health and Strength Magazine:
Part was boxing, part wrestling, part Jujitsu, and part La Savate; but each move blended into the next like a piece of joiner’s dovetailing. One led and landed short, and that proved his undoing, for the next instant he was bent double, rendered helpless, and his arm was by way of being twisted out of socket. That was boxing and Jujitsu. Then the pupil rushed, driving hard with his left, but Vigny ducked aside, pivoted on his left leg and kicked on the mark with his right, in a full body swing, following up the move with back-heeling his man. That was La Savate and wrestling.
Modern HEMA pioneer Brad Waller is planning a new initiative to create a permanent, international reference archive of historical movement systems via motion capture technology. These systems will include both dance and martial arts styles that were originally recorded on paper and have been reconstructed and revived by more recent generations.
In this video manifesto, Mr. Waller explains the background and ethos of the Historical Movement Archive project. Most of his references are to 15th and 16th century martial arts, but much of what he says can equally apply to late 19th century styles such as Bartitsu:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,I would like to share with you a concept movie that I have put together on the Historical Movement Archive. It shows where I am coming from and why I feel that this project is an important one. I will need all the guidance and help that I can get moving this project forward. I would be grateful if you get a little popcorn, sit down and take ten minutes to view the movie. Enjoy my friends!
A compilation of gory, spectacular finishing moves employing the deadly sword cane weapon from the video game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. In this game, the player takes the roles of twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they battle to wrest control of 1868 London from the sinister secret society of Templars.
When not being used as multi-purpose bludgeons, the assassins’ sword canes are equipped with concealed daggers and also with retractable scythe blades at the ferrule end. As such, they are reminiscent of the various weaponised walking canes that were actually developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Embedded here for your convenience, the new 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 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.
A gallery of photos from a recent combined seminar held in Garching an der Alz, Bavaria, Germany. Participants trained in armed and unarmed Bartitsu under the watchful eye of instructor Alex Kiermayer and in classical pugilism with instructor Christoph Reinberger, and were also given the chance to tour a local “living history” museum devoted to the early 20th century.
The following article was originally published in the December 2nd, 1906 edition of The Referee, a then-popular sports newspaper. The journalist remarks upon a proposed upcoming contest arranged by a promoter named Lowes, pitting jiujitsu champion Taro Miyake against pugilist “Gunner” Moir.
The proposed match was probably inspired by the “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy that played out via numerous letters to the editors of sporting journals during 1906/7. Many correspondents argued points of technique and combative theory, while others appealed to notions of nationalism and manliness. The writer of the following article objects on rather vague grounds of “fairness” and seems to make a simple appeal to traditionalism, while exaggerating his position for comic effect. Taken as a whole, the debate closely resembled a modern Internet forum flame war.
Although the consensus was that a contest mixing boxing and jiujitsu would not, in fact, have been strictly legal at that time – they might well have been considered “brawling in a public place” – it’s clear that some such matches had alreadytaken place “behind closed doors”. Those very likely included the doors of the Bartitsu Club. It’s also clear that wrestler and self-defence authority Percy Longhurst had been party to similar experimental match-ups.
Boxing is one of the finest sports in the world, with what seems to many of us the special advantage of being essentially and exclusively English. There is no exercise equal to it, for one thing, and mentally it is as good for the honest, plucky fighter as it is physically; it teaches him quickness of decision, readiness of resource, and, better still, how to control his temper; for the man who loses it is at once handicapped.
Jujitsu is also a capital thing in its way, ingenious in the extreme as showing how a man’s powers may be most effectively utilised.
But the combination of these two sports is not — in my opinion, at any rate — in the least desirable, and it is to be hoped that if Mr. Lowes gets on his projected match with Moir we shall not have a succession of such tests. Mr. Lowes proposes to introduce a man who will take on the Gunner with 6oz. glove; rounds to be limited to three minutes each with one minute interval, Jujitsu and English boxing to be allowed.
It is not suggested that there should be any savate, or that the men should enter the ring by jumping a bar, the highest jump to win the round, or that they should leave their corners walking on their hands, the first to topple over losing a point; but these little variations would probably follow in course of time if the mixing business were once started.
If a game is worth playing, let us play it; if it is not worth playing, let us find another which is, and play that. It is not fair to British boxing to introduce Japanese details. I do not know whether this new notion is in any way due to the burlesque of golf lately devised by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, who is accustomed to pretend that an arrow is a golf hall, to shoot instead of driving off with the legitimate implement, and to substitute a ball for the arrow when on the green. Why not have another ball a foot or so from the hole, and either pot it or go in off it with a cue? Then you would get a bit of billiards in, too. I feel pretty sure that Refereaders do not approve of mongrel sports.