A spectacular jiujitsu moment from the popular 1917 comedy play Wanted, A Husband, in which the protagonist, a young writer named Mabel, mischievously advertises for a husband to spark ideas for her new novel. Mabel’s “strenuous” friend Maud, who is well-versed in boxing and in Japanese wrestling, volunteers to serve as a “chucker-out” – effectively, a bouncer – and has occasion to tie one over-eager “Colonial” suitor into a pretzel.
The anonymous author of this short article, originally published in the Perthshire Advertiser of 31 October, 1902, makes the valid point that the first rule towards winning a fight is to know that you’re in one (the second being that there are no rules).
The Grand Duke Michael, who is become quite a familiar figure of late, was one of the distinguished onlookers at a performance of an unusual kind, which took place this week in a hall in Berners Street. It was nothing less than a demonstration of how to tackle Hooligans, given by a French professional man, M. Vigny.
Everybody knows how effectively an umbrella may be used as a means of defence against a mad bull (though very few people ever put that theory to the practical test). M. Vigny argues that if a bull is afraid to face an umbrella, there is no reason why a walking-stick should fail to frighten a Hooligan. Certainly in his hands the humble, everyday support of man becomes a powerful ally indeed, and, if we had a score of French professors like this to let loose on them, the odds are that the Hooligans would all have their eyes put out.
The fatal objection to all such plans is that they depend for success on the person who is attacked keeping a cool head. What most people want on these occasions is not a nice walking-stick, but a good nerve.
Nine men out of ten—and it is no reproach to them – fall into a state of such excitement when they are suddenly and unexpectedly set on by roughs, that the Hooligan is able to do his business, usually assault and robbery, in double quick time, and get clear away before the victim realises what has happened. It is only when he is once more alone and begins to collect his scattered senses that the poor man notices for the first time that his watch is gone and feels the blood trickling down his face.
I noticed that the stick itself was held about eight inches from the end, so that after a crashing blow has been delivered it was quickly followed up by a stabbing movement with the ferrule end, which was used as if it was a dagger.
Street Self-Defence: How to Handle the Hooligan (1904)
One of the characteristic tactics of the Vigny stick fighting style is the use of the “short end” of the cane as a close-combat weapon. Despite not being directly illustrated in the classic Pearson’s Magazine series, this method is frequently referred to in other sources, notably including Captain F.C. Laing’s The ‘Bartitsu’ Method of Self-Defence:
Points are made with the butt end of the stick at any part of the body, the most favourable places being at the throat and ribs.
“Point” in Laing’s usage refers to a thrust as distinct from a strike, and either the butt or ferrule end or the heavier ball-handle end (as demonstrated by Vigny in the photograph above) could be used for this purpose.
Aside from the “backhanded” preparation described and illustrated by Laing, the Vigny style also includes a guard that prepares for a forehand or direct short-end strike, shown in the second of these four illustrations from a 1904 Detroit Free Press article:
The caption for this guard reads:
2) In this posture a blow is delivered from the shoulder, or as an alternative the small end of the weapon may be used as a dagger.
Numerous observers of Vigny’s stick fighting demonstrations at the turn of the 20th century noted his use of the short-end of the stick at close quarters, and especially its effectiveness as a surprise attack. An opponent who is set up to expect a sweeping strike with the cane may well be taken off-guard when his adversary steps in close and converts the “strike” into a stabbing thrust with the opposite end. This description, from the London Daily News of Wednesday, October 29, 1902, is typical:
Holding a malacca cane by one hand at each end, the Professor calmly awaited the onslaught of a skilled opponent with a similar stick. The spectator never knew which hand was to deal the blow, the released end moving with lightning speed, and a short hold was taken, so that the assailant, in guarding against an impending blow, often found himself hammered or prodded with the butt.
Favoured targets for the short-end strike include the ribs, face, throat and eyes. According to the anonymous author of L’Art de la Canne (1912), a detailed survey of the Vigny style:
After which, you advance upon him while quickly turning your wrist, thrusting the steel ferrule of the cane like a dagger into his eyes or beneath his nose. And here is a man … amazed!
Assume “first position,” guard head, then, before he has time to recover himself, hit him rapidly on both sides of his face, disengaging between each blow as explained, the rapidity of these blows will generally be sufficient to disconcert him; the moment you see this; dash in and hit him in the throat with the butt end of your stick, jump back at once and as you jump hit him again over the head.
A man without a stick rushes at you with his fist. He will probably strike out at your face or body with his left hand; if so, take up the ” rear guard” position and as he strikes guard with left arm, seize his left wrist, and hit his left elbow with your stick, advance right leg and point with butt end of your stick at his throat, then follow this up by thrusting your stick between his legs and so levering him over.
Originally published in The People newspaper of October 23, 1904, this newly rediscovered article offers a rare glimpse into former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny’s Hinde Street school.
Although Vigny and his wife Marguerite remained in England for some years after the Bartitsu Club closed in mid-1902, comparatively little is known about the Vigny self-defence system, per se, during that period. Reading somewhat between the lines, however, it’s apparent that Vigny’s post-Bartitsu Club style was similar to what had been taught at the Bartitsu School of Arms, albeit with a greater emphasis on fencing than on jiujitsu.
The author, “A. F.”, closes with a pot-pourri of more-or-less accurate information on boxing, including a self-defence technique borrowed from “Ruby Robert” Fitzsimmons’ 1901 book Physical Culture and Self-Defence.
One can hardly take up a daily paper without reading of street attacks by hooligans. Only a few days ago one heard of the sad case of a poor needlewoman of nearly 70 years of age who died at the Royal Free Hospital from wounds inflicted by three cowardly and despicable scoundrels; so that, consequently, when one learns that with an ordinary stout walking stick, or hooked umbrella, one can venture into the very haunts of the hooligan, one is all attention.
The idea of using any other means of self-defence then the good, time- honoured “dibs” at first appears un-English, yet one must bear in mind that the gentry who are in the habit of molesting pedestrians are absolutely unscrupulous in the weapons they employ.
One reads of the knuckleduster, buckled belts, and even bars of iron concealed in newspapers. The reader, when he calls to mind these facts, and also that the quarterstaff was formerly used by every Englishman as a weapon of defence, especially in the western parts of the kingdom, will find that any prejudice he may have with regard to the use of the stick will be of short duration.
One recalls an excellent description of the use of the quarter-staff in Washington Irving’s “Dracebridge Hall,” that helps us to understand the important part this weapon formerly played in street self-defence. There appears to have been, in the reign of Henry VIII, a Devonshire gentleman who was such an expert with the quarterstaff that he was known to have held his own with this weapon alone against three opponents armed with rapiers and poniards, and, strangely enough, this is exactly what Prof. Pierre Vigny, who has an academy for self-defence in Hinde St., Manchester Square, teaches his pupils to do, armed only with a walking-stick.
The Vigny self-defense stick is a stout malacca cane about 3 feet long, crowned with a solid metal knob about the size of a golf ball. It is flexible, beautifully balanced, and, in the hands of anyone who knows the proper way to use it, sufficient to keep a crowd of hooligans at bay. Even a Fitzsimmons would have a very poor outlook were he to come in contact with a pupil of this novel school of self-defence.
The great mistake that the uninitiated make in using the walking-stick is that, after dealing a blow, the weapon is allowed to remain when it has fallen, instead of being drawn back to the position of self-defence. It is this drawing, or rather cutting, blow that is so telling, and is the foundation of Vigny’s system.
In fact, the exercises with the walking-stick that I had the pleasure of witnessing the other morning at Manchester-sq. gave me much the impression that many of the cuts resembled closely the cutlass drill of the Royal Navy, and yet Vigny’s pupils manipulated the “canne” in manner that defies desription, for the rapidity with which the stick was twirled, acting as a complete guard, and which made me instinctively shrink back in my chair, needs to be witnessed to be thoroughly appreciated. I noticed that the stick itself was held about eight inches from the end, so that after a crashing blow has been delivered it was quickly followed up by a stabbing movement with the ferrule end, which was used as if it was a dagger.
I think I can safely say, without wishing to advertise Monsieur Vigny’s appliances, that his stick in the hands of even one possessed of ordinary judgment, is sufficient to dispose of half a dozen hooligans. In fact, the professor informed me that, one winter evening when in a low quarter in Paris, he was actually attacked. I wish I had been there to see the fun.
The Swiss master-at-arms also teaches his pupils how to defend themselves unarmed in the streets, a series of tricks into which la savate and Japanese wrestling are introduced. We are able to reproduce here a drawing showing Prof. Vigny in his self-defence guard for the streets, and also that splendid Australian boxer, Bob Fitzsimmons, in his “right position.”
Even Fitzimmons, with all his science, knows that one man against many is an uphill game, and consequently has several tricks at his fingertips that he can put into execution should the necessity arise. An interesting lesson in street self-defence is that given in his book on physical culture. Here he depicts an opponent threatening to start a fight with him, and a speedy method of placing his opponent at his mercy.
This is done by grasping his opponent’s coat by the collar on either side, and whipping it down over his back and arms, thus leaving him at his mercy, for, with the coat turned back in this position, it is impossible to bring the arms forward without first removing the garment, and while thus engaged it will be clearly seen that the opponent leaves his “oration trap” entirely at the disposal of his adversary .
Origin of the Knuckleduster
With reference to the knuckleduster as an implement still in use by hooligans, it is interesting to note in connection with this instrument of torture, and the history of self-defence, that it is a survival of the “cestus” used by the ancient Roman gladiators. This “cestus” was composed of strips of leather wound around the arm as far as the elbow, and studded on the knuckles with knobs loaded with lead. Theseus is supposed to have invented boxing – by boxing one means, of course, the skilled use of the fist and arms and assault and defense .
In heroic times fighters sought rather to be fat and fleshy in person, than firm and pliable, for they considered that, in order to withstand blows, plenty of flesh was essential. This form of the manly art of self-defence appeared in England in 1740, and it owed its introduction to Broughton, who built a theatre for pugilists in Oxford Road. It was this fighter who was champion of all England for 18 years. 55 years later a new system of boxing was introduced by Jackson, Lord Byron’s professor, by which the legs were used in avoiding blows and the correct estimate of distance (striking no blows out of range) was arrived at.
Of course, one can hardly expect to be successful in any encounter unless one keeps in fair training, and for this purpose one cannot do better than follow the Australian champion’s advice, showing how any man, who is kept indoors much of the time, may keep in fairly good trim. It sums up as follows – abstain from the use of fatty and starchy food; eat all kinds of meat except pork; eat all kinds of green vegetables, fruits and dry toast; drink tea (without sugar), and do not eat potatoes, butter, fresh bread, or sugar.
This is the diet and sit down by Fitzsimmons, and, if the middle aged businessman who is beginning to increase in weight will follow the diet laid down by the man who has done more for the cause of scientific boxing (and the art of self-defence) than any other person has ever accomplished, he will find that not only will he be free from aches and pains, but that, with a moderate indulgence in self-defence exercises, he will drop from 2 pounds to 5 pounds a week, and, what is equally to the point, never a farthing into the pocket of the troublesome hooligan.
The use of weighted scarves as improvised and concealed weapons has a pedigree extending at least as far back as the early 19th century, when members of the Indian Thugee and Phansigari cults infamously employed their rumāl scarves to strangle their victims. A heavy coin knotted into the end of the rumāl allowed Thug assassins to swiftly and silently “noose” their prey from behind. This weapon and technique was elaborated by the French popular novelist Eugène Sue, who detailed the art of Thuggee strangulation in his 1884/5 series The Wandering Jew:
(The Strangler) then took a long and thin cord which was encircled round his waist, at one of the extremities of which was a ball of lead, in shape and size like an egg. After having tied the other end of this string round his right wrist, the Strangler again listened, and then disappeared, groping his way along the tall grass in the direction of the Indian, who came on slowly, singing his plaintive and gentle ditty.
At this instant, the sinister visage of the Strangler arose before him; he heard a whistling like that of a sling, and then felt a cord, thrown with equal swiftness and power, encircle his neck with a triple fold, and, at the same moment, the lead with which it was loaded struck him violently on the back of his head.
The assault was so sudden and unexpected, that Djalma’s attendant could not utter one cry — one groan.
He staggered — the Strangler gave a violent twist to his cord — the dark visage of the slave became a black purple, and he fell on his knees, tossing his arms wildly in the air.
The Strangler turned him over, and twisted his cord so violently that the blood rushed through the skin. The victim made a few convulsive struggles, and all was over.
Although the strangler cults were successfully suppressed, the notion of robbers making use of elaborately deceptive tactics – particularly involving strangulation techniques – made its way into the emerging urban folklore of European cities, as in during the “garroting panics” of 1850s and ’60s London. A very similar tactic was employed by Parisian Apache muggers during the early 20th century, as in the notorious coup du pere Francois trick.
Famed “baritsu” practitioner Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) wields an adaptation of the Indian rumāl in the 1979 movie Murder by Decree, which pits Holmes against the arch-fiend Jack the Ripper.
In one scene set in Holmes’ lab, Dr. John Watson (James Mason) advises his comrade to arm himself, and offers Holmes a revolver – but Holmes demonstrates that he is, in fact, already armed, by smashing through a large glass beaker with a roll of coins concealed in a hidden pocket in his long scarf. Holmes then begins to explain the weapon’s origin, but Watson remarks that he already knows about the rumāl from his time serving as an Army doctor in India.
The climactic fight scene represents what may well be the only combat scarf vs. sword-cane encounter in the annals of cinema:
In 2010, American martial artist Jason Gibbs released the BattleScarf – essentially a standard scarf with pockets, but accompanied by a DVD illustrating how to use it as a striking and entangling weapon. Here’s a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) promotional clip, demonstrating the serious striking power that can be generated by this type of weapon under ideal circumstances:
Although the BattleScarf per se is no longer available, winter scarves with pockets at the ends are easily obtained from clothing stores and may be worth the consideration of modern urban adventurers.
Re-posted here for the benefit of newer enthusiasts who may not be aware of it, the first 12 minutes of this 2013 BBC documentary offer one of the most comprehensive mainstream media treatments of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “new art of self-defence” and of the suffragette jiujitsu phenomenon.
The documentary features interviews with historian Dr. Emelyne Godfrey and Bartitsu/suffrajitsu researcher Tony Wolf, as well as “antagonistics” demonstrations by instructors James Marwood and George Stokoe.
The following interview with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette of 5 September 1901, during the height of the Bartitsu Club era. It was found and republished by the Bartitsu Society in October of 2011 and subsequently inspired several new insights into the tactics of Bartitsu as a practical martial art.
This post re-examines the interview in light of more recent discoveries, with added notes (in italics) for context and clarity.
BARTITSU: ITS EXPONENT INTERVIEWED
One of our contributors lately called on Mr. Barton-Wright in his well-appointed gymnasium in Shaftesbury Avenue, when the following conversation took place:
What is the word Bartitsu? – It is a compound word, made up of parts of my own name, and of the Japanese Ju-jitsu, which means fighting to the last.
What do you claim for your system? – It teaches a man to defend himself effectively without firearms or any other weapons than a stick or umbrella, against the attack of another, perhaps much stronger or heavier than himself.
How does it differ from the usual fencing or boxing? – The fencing and boxing generally taught in schools-of-arms is too academic. Although it trains the eye to a certain extent, it is of little use except as a game played with persons who will observe the rules. Most of the hits in (single)stick or sabre play are taken up by the hilt, which a man is not very likely to take out with him on his walks.
This was a frequent theme of Barton-Wright’s (and, implicitly, of Pierre Vigny’s), and refers to the exclusion, within Vigny’s stick fighting system, of parries in the orthodox fencing-based guards of tierce and quarte. The Vigny system was virtually unique for its time in defaulting to high or “hanging” guards, in which the defender’s stick-wielding hand is always positioned above the point of impact between the two weapons.
Barton-Wright’s pointed comment about recreational fencing and boxing being “too academic” was significant especially with regards to the ongoing “practicality vs. artistry” arguments in French martial arts circles.
The head, too, which is a part which an assailant who means business would naturally go for, is so well protected that the learner gets careless of exposing it.
And the boxing? – The same objection. The amateur is seldom taught how to hit really hard, which is what you must do in a row.
Pierre Vigny also addressed this point, in some detail, in a rare October 1900 letter published in the French journal La Constitutionelle. In contrast to the extravagantly polite, academic style that was then being successfully promoted by Vigny’s rivals Charles and Joseph Charlemont, the style of kickboxing taught by Vigny at the Bartitsu Club was closer to the continuous, full-contact model of English and American boxing.
Nor is he protected against the savate, which would certainly be used on him by foreign ruffians, or the cowardly kicks often given by the English Hooligan.
A little knowledge of boxing is really rather a disadvantage to (the defender) if his assailant happens to be skilled at it, because (the assailant) will know exactly how his victim is likely to hit and guard.
Barton-Wright here alludes to the so-called “secret style of boxing” which appears to have been a collaboration between himself and Vigny; more to follow on that subject.
And you can teach any one to protect himself against all this? – Certainly. The walking-stick play we will show you directly. As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously.
So we teach a savate not at all like the French savate, but much more deadly, and which, if properly used, will smash the opponent’s ankle or even his ribs.
Even if it be not used, it is very useful in teaching the pupil to keep his feet, which are almost as important in a scrimmage as his head.
Anything else? – My own experience is that the biggest man in a fight generally tries to close. By the grips or clutches I can teach, the biggest man can be seized and made powerless in a few seconds.
Barton-Wright evidently considered jiujitsu to be something of a “secret weapon” – an entirely valid point of view at this time, because his Bartitsu School of Arms was literally the only place outside of Japan where English students could learn the “art of yielding”. Jiujitsu was presented as the “endgame” in all of the various tactical unarmed combat scenarios proposed by Barton-Wright during this period.
If you sow this knowledge broadcast it might be bad for the police.– Yes; but it cannot be picked up without a regular course of instruction, or merely by seeing the tricks. Moreover, this is a club with a committee of gentlemen, among whom are Lord Alwyne Compton, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, and others, and no-one is taught here unless we are satisfied that he is not likely to make bad use of his knowledge.
Previous commentaries upon Bartitsu from outside observers, including some journalists, had questioned whether the art had any real application other than by “chuckers-out” (Edwardian slang for nightclub bouncers). The Pall Mall Gazette interviewer was not the first to worry about what might happen if “hooligans” were to learn the art, though still other commentators imagined scenarios in which Bartitsu Club members might patrol “hooligan infested” areas of London to exercise their proficiency.
This skepticism over motivations raises the important point that Bartitsu was an extreme novelty in its time and place; a method of recreational antagonistics that was nevertheless practiced primarily to prepare the student for self-defence, with sporting and exercise benefits being of secondary concern. Vetting by the Bartitsu Club’s “committee of gentlemen” was, thus, a necessary step towards establishing social respectability.
It must have taken you some time to work out all this? – Yes, but it was in great measure a matter of necessity. As a mining engineer in all parts of the world, I have often had to deal with very unscrupulous fighters, and, being a light man, I had to protect myself with something else than my fists.
In March of 1902, a report on a Bartitsu Club exhibition at Oxford University included the following anecdote about Barton-Wright’s perilous travels abroad; “He had frequently been attacked abroad, where they did not believe in our methods of fair play and would injure a man with a bottle, knife, chair, or any weapon which came to hand, and it was very useful to know how to prevent a man from using a knife upon one, though he might not stab one very deeply, yet there was danger of bleeding to death in some lonely place before help could be brought.
He had been attacked with picks, crowbars, scythes, spades, and various other weapons, and, as quick as he was in boxing, he was obliged to close with his man, and had he not known anything of wrestling, he would have been overpowered many times. As a means of meeting emergencies of that kind, he recommended (this) form of self-defence.”
Mr. Barton-Wright then gave our contributor a demonstration of his method. His fencing-master, M. Pierre Vigny, stripped to the waist and without any other weapon than an ordinary walking-stick, will allow you to attack him with singlestick, sabre, knife or any other short weapon without your being able to touch him, he taking all blows on what fencers call the forte of his stick. He will at the same time reply on your head, and knuckles; while, if he is given a stick with the ordinary crook handle, he will catch you by the arm, leg or back of the neck, inflicting in nearly every case a nasty fall.
He has also a guard in boxing on which you will hurt your own arm without getting within his distance, while he can kick you on the chin, in the wind, or on the ankle. As to the usual brutal kick of the London rough, his guard for it (not difficult to learn) will cause the rough to break his own leg, and the harder he kicks the worse it will be for him.
Again, emphasis is given to the destructive blocks of the “secret style of boxing” practiced at the Bartitsu Club.
Mr. Barton-Wright himself shows you wrestling tricks, by which, by merely taking hold of a man’s hand, you have him at your mercy, and can throw him on the ground or lead him about as you wish, the principle being, apparently, that you set your muscles and joints against your opponent’s in such a way that the more he struggles, the more he hurts himself.
Instructor and pioneering Vigny cane revivalist Craig Gemeiner will be offering a seminar in Vigny cane fighting and defense dans la rue (early 20th century French street self-defence) on Sunday, 24 February 2019. The seminar will take place at Toowoomba East State School and is being hosted by the Historical School of Defence – Toowoomba.
La canne Vigny :
The “walking stick method of self -defence”
Pierre Vigny was one of the most innovative masters of la canne. Born in 1869, he began his training at a young age venturing from one academy to another, learning new European martial arts techniques and testing his skills against anyone who would pick up a sword, stick or pair of boxing gloves. By 1889 Vigny had perfected his own method of la canne, the system could be described as a mixture of several European self -defence methods. Vigny’s stick fighting method focused on personal protection and not the academic nor sporting applications as commonly taught during the era. La canne Vigny is well documented and today practitioners are privileged to be able to tap into a system that’s time tested, versatile and still very workable on the street.
Defense dans la Rue:
As a system of personal combat Defense dans la Rue (DDLR), meaning ‘defence in the street’ was heavily influenced by the social conditions of the late 1800s. Urban violence fuelled by Parisian street gangs called the Apaches, along with the advent of Belle Epoque period mixed martial arts competition was the catalyst for its creation. Renowned as a simple but highly efficient system of self -defence, techniques included Savate open hand strikes, low line Savate kicking (Leclerc method) English boxing, grappling and weapon base skills. Since its early development Défense dans la Rue has gone on to acquire a unique style and tactical application. Defense dans la Rue is well documented and today practitioners are privileged to be able to tap into a system that’s time tested, versatile and still very workable on the street.
Sherlock Holmes (Kenneth MacMillin) exerts his baritsu skills against a gorilla (Permin Trecu) in a scene from The Great Detective, a ballet by the Sadler’s Wells Company in London. Staged in 1953, the production also included a Holmes vs. Moriarty baritsu fight performed as a shadow play: