Bartitsu at the Museum of London

Late London sherlock

Instructor James Garvey demonstrates a canonical Bartitsu takedown as part of his November 21 presentation for the Museum of London’s exhibition, Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die.

“Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons” coming in early 2015

Money shot

The graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, written by Tony Wolf with art by Joao Vieira, will be published by Jet City Comics in early 2015:

London, 1914: with Europe on the brink of war, the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement are fugitives from the law. Their last line of defence is the elite secret society of Amazons; women trained in the martial art of Bartitsu and sworn to protect their leaders from arrest and assault.

The stakes dramatically rise when the Amazons find themselves playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse against an aristocratic, Utopian cult …

Stay tuned for updates!

“Wrestler vs. boxer”

A series of promotional photographs, subjects unknown, dating to the first decade of the 20th century.








“… brutal flicks of peaky blinders …”


The historical drama series Peaky Blinders is named for a fearsome Birmingham street gang armed with razor blades sewn into the rims of their flat “peaky” caps.  But did that really happen?  And even if it did – would a razor blade cap actually work as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat?

The series takes some liberties with history; for example, whereas the Peaky Blinders were a real Birmingham gang, their heyday had been during the late 19th century rather than during the post-WW1 period. Also, as noted by Birmingham historian Professor Carl Chinn, the historical record seems to make no reference to Peaky Blinder gangsters using razor blade cap weapons:

The hooligan gangs active in 1890s Birmingham were infamous for wielding steel-capped boots, stones and sometimes knives; they also used heavy belt buckles as flails and kept their pockets full of iron bolts to be thrown as projectile weapons. Straight-razors (rather than razor caps) were used as weapons by street gangsters in cities as far-flung as Glasgow, Sydney and Sao Paolo during the early decades of the 20th century.

The first documented reference to razor blade caps, however, actually appears to have been in a popular novel written by Birmingham author John Douglas in 1977.

In A Walk Down Summer Lane, which is set between the two World Wars, Douglas describes the bills of the gangsters’ “peaky” caps as being “slit open and pennies or razor-blades or pieces of slate inserted and stitched up again.” In close combat, according to Douglas, the cap would be “whipped off the head and swiped across the opponent’s eyes, momentarily blinding them, or slashing the cheeks.”

pb2 pb3

Douglas also refers to this nasty street-fighting trick in his poem, The Legend of Summer Lane:

I was born in Newtown Row – down Summer Lane we dursen’t go,
To show our face because, you know, they’re always fighting drunk, lad.
They’d shop their gran for two and six, or blind your eyes with brutal flicks,
Of ‘peaky blinders’ – just for kicks – but only just in fun, lad.

Douglas may have been referring to a bit of real Birmingham history that went unreported at the time the Peaky Blinders were most active, or simply repeating a colourful local urban legend. It’s also possible that he invented an improvised weapon out of whole cloth, as it were, for storytelling purposes. However, A Walk Down Summer Lane undoubtedly spread the folklore of the razor cap, especially when it was serialised in the Evening Mail newspaper during the late 1970s.

But would it work as a weapon?

Regardless of its historicity, is a cap with razor blades sewn into the rim a plausible weapon in hand to hand combat, as described by John Douglas and as shown in the Peaky Blinders TV series? What sort of damage could it do?

We stitched two relatively heavy antique razor blades into the brim of a tweed flat cap and set about testing the weapon. Our first observation was that, in order for the blades to be sufficiently exposed to serve as weapons, they have to be stitched so as to project at a particular, dynamic angle relative to the cap brim. While the razors might not be noticeable at a distance they are quite obvious (and potentially intimidating) at close range.

Gripped by the rear of the cap and swung with force, the blades consistently slashed cleanly through braced sheets of 1/4″ cardboard, leaving 3″ long cuts. Covering the cardboard targets with light cotton fabric reduced the depth and length of penetration and heavier fabric reduced it to negligible levels, so exposed-skin targets such as the face and hands are the most plausible.

Although the Peaky Blinders series often shows a single slashing attack with the cap dealing several parallel wounds simultaneously, our experiments suggest that to be impossible if the razors are all stitched into the cap brim in parallel.

Our conclusions are that the razor blade cap could plausibly be used as a weapon in surprise attacks, albeit not an especially effective weapon when compared to knives or straight razors. It is, however, unquestionably potent in works of dramatic fiction.

International Pugilism Symposium (May 2015)


All historical fisticuffs enthusiasts should mark their calendars for the first ever International Pugilism Symposium, to be hosted by the Gallowglass Academy.

Dates: May 30 – 31, 2015
Location: the Clock Tower Resort in Rockford, IL, USA.
Martin “Oz” Austwick (UK)
Ken Pfrenger (USA)
Kirk Lawson (USA)
Tim Ruzicki (USA)

More details will be forthcoming!

“Japanese Ways of Chivalry” (Illustrated London News, May 1919)

Japanese Ways of Chivalry

This Illustrated London News article describes some of the unusual Japanese martial arts displayed at the Aeolian Hall on May 31, 1919. As well as jujitsu, the visiting kendo master Sonobe Masatada demonstrated aspects of kendo as well as combat with the kusarigama (chain and sickle), nito (pair of swords) and nabebuta (saucepan lids). Madame Hino Yoshiko also took part in the display, demonstrating naginatajutsu (fencing with the halberd).

“Self Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies”

Advance notice that this book – a compilation of self-defence articles written by famed duelist, mercenary and raconteur Col. Thomas Hoyer Monstery – will be published in April of 2015.

According to the synopsis:

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies is the treatise of Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, a master swordsman who participated in more than fifty duels, fought under twelve flags, battled gangsters, and was constantly involved in the great conflicts and upheavals of his time. Monstery’s treatise—originally published in the 1870s as a series of newspaper articles and collected here for the first time—is his magnum opus, a highly detailed dissertation on the art and science of defense. Filled with profound insight as well as practical advice based upon personal combative experience, it proposes a holistic approach to self-defense, including both unarmed and armed methods for use against a wide variety of fighting styles and weapons, as well as touching upon issues of health, exercise, diet and longevity.

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies presents a unique look into the Victorian fighting world, describing styles of the era such as British “purring” (shin-kicking), Welsh jump-kicking, and Danish head-fighting. Additionally, the book’s section on the quarterstaff is the only American source on this weapon prior to the 20th century. Aside from its historical value, however, Monstery’s teachings on unarmed self-defense, cane fighting, and responding to unpredictable situations are still useful today, especially for those martial artists focused on “real world” self-defense. Fifty rare drawings and photographs from the period provide a fascinating glimpse into Monstery’s world and training, while an extensive glossary of terms and an introductory biography of Colonel Monstery–including fascinating details of his many duels as well as his groundbreaking devotion to teaching fencing and self-defense skills to women–update Monstery’s text to make it accessible to a broad and modern audience.

Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery: The Unknown American Martial Arts Master
I. Introduction.
II. The Logic of Boxing.
III. Standing and Striking.
IV. Advancing to Strike and Feinting.
V. Simple Parries in Boxing.
VI. Parries with Returns.
VII. Effective or Counter Parries in Boxing.
VIII. Offence and Defense by Evasions.
IX. Trips, Grips, and Back-Falls.
X. Rules for a Set-to with Gloves.
XI. Observations on Natural Weapons.
XII. The Use of the Cane.
XIII. The Use of the Staff.
Appendix: Monstery’s Rules for Contests of Sparring and Fencing

Colin Firth wields a mean umbrella in “Kingsman” trailer

Naginata fencing at the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition


As shown in this spectacular illustration for The Graphic of May 28, 1910, the use of the naginata was demonstrated alongside jiujitsu at the famous Japan-British Exhibition.

“Exercise With the Double-Handed Sword” (1894)

Double-handed swords


A very rare colour version of artist Percy Macquoid’s Exercise With The Double-Handed Sword, part of his Types of Old Swordsmanship series for The Graphic newspaper, dating to 1894.

The swordsmen who posed for these pictures were members of the historical fencing club established by Captain Alfred Hutton at the London Rifle Brigade’s School of Arms.  In 1900 Hutton became both an instructor at, and a Committee Member of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club and several of his senior students became members of the Club.

For more on this subject, see Ancient Swordplay: The Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London.

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