Bartitsu on BBC3 Radio’s “A Time Traveller’s Dictionary”

Dr. Naomi Paxton offers a brief but highly accurate summary of Bartitsu in this new edition of BBC3’s Time Travellers podcast series.

Dr. Paxton (right) squares off against fellow academic, stand-up comic and jiujitsu purple belt Iszi Lawrence.

Dr. Paxton also has a longstanding interest in suffrajitsu and has previously offered several entertaining public lectures on that subject, including this 2014 presentation at the Camden Comedy Club:

 

Stick Drills at the Bartitsu Lab

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some shillelagh-influenced stick drills courtesy of the Bartitsu Lab in Worchestershire, U.K.

Stick play part 2

Geplaatst door The Bartitsu Lab op Maandag 18 maart 2019

Close quarter stick play

Geplaatst door The Bartitsu Lab op Maandag 18 maart 2019

In common with the Vigny and Cunningham methods, traditional Irish stick fighting makes heavy use of the deceptive double-handed guard, from which attacks may be launched with either hand.

Edith Garrud and Suffrajitsu Featured in “Beauty Bites Beast”

Self-defence expert Ellen Snortland’s 2016 documentary Beauty Bites Beast includes a short feature on Edith Garrud’s role in training the “Amazons” of the women’s suffrage movement.

The suffrajitsu excerpt, including images from Bartitsu.org, is featured in this teaser trailer:

Beauty Bites Beast makes a strong case for appropriate study and funding in support of women’s self defence courses.  The documentary is currently available to rent or purchase from Amazon.com and is freely available for Amazon Prime members.

“Vice, Crime and Poverty: How the Western Imagination Invented the Underworld”

This new book by French cultural historian Dominique Kalifa explores the notion of the criminal underworld in Western popular culture, including the infamous Parisian Apache and London hooligan phenomena that fed – and were fed by – numerous scaremongering media reports at the turn of the 20th century.  Those reports, in turn, fuelled the urban self-defence craze that arguably began with E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu and continued largely via English, French and American sources until the outbreak of the First World War.

Vice, Crime and Poverty: How the Western Imagination Invented the Underworld is now available for pre-order Amazon.com and will be released on April 16th, 2019.

“The Quarter-Staff Then and Now” (1934)

The “last hurrah” of the venerable English tradition of quarterstaff fighting took place on the gladiatorial stages of the early 18th century, when professional roughhousers such as James Figg “took on all comers” with various weapons for the chance to win prize money. As the sport of boxing overtook weaponed stage-fighting, the quarterstaff largely receded into folklore, aside from sporadic and largely undocumented revivals via rural fairs.

During the mid-late 19th century, however, the confluence of newly-devised protective equipment for sports such as cricket and fencing and the renewed enthusiasm for the tales of Robin Hood laid the basis for a widespread quarterstaff fencing renaissance.

From the 1870s onwards, the old/new sport became particularly popular among soldiers and was frequently a highlight of “assault-at-arms” exhibitions, featuring displays of martial gymnastics and all manner of antagonistics. Two instructional manuals were produced – Thomas McCarthy’s Quarterstaff: A Practical Manual (1883) and a chapter in R.G. Allanson-Winn’s  comprehensive Broadsword and Singlestick (1898).

Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright claimed that he had often had to defend himself against attackers armed with quarterstaves – among an alarming variety of other weapons – during his travels abroad.   It’s likely that he was referring to his time working in mining settlements in Portugal, where the folk-sport/martial art of jogo do pau was widely practiced during the late 19th century, though the question of why he may have been repeatedly attacked there remains open to speculation.  In any case, according to Barton-Wright’s own reports, his favoured tactic of closing in against opponents armed with superior weapons – notably a feature of his presentations of the Vigny method of stick fighting – was inspired by these encounters.

In England, quarterstaff fencing exhibitions persisted well into the 20th century, sometimes incorporating crowd-pleasing “stunt” elements, which had been disparaged by Thomas McCarthy as “made-up affairs, just for show”.  Interestingly, a number of late-19th century reports on quarterstaff matches refer to disarmed combatants immediately shifting to boxing – though it’s difficult to say to what extent this may also have been tongue-in-cheek showmanship for the crowd.

This rare snippet of film from a 1925 military display in Portsmouth features a moment from a particularly “showy” bout with staves, reminiscent of professional wrestling:

British Quarterstaff (1925)

Hung Kyun’s “Double Ended Staff” (Seung Tau Gwan), China? No – British quarterstaff fighting, Portsmouth, England 1925. This is how kid’s used to play (!). Very #PHK! Read the article here > http://practicalhungkyun.com/2013/02/traveller-monks-staff-hang-je-paang/

Geplaatst door Practical Hung Kyun op Dinsdag 28 november 2017

“Look, what’s that up there?!”  An old trick given a new twist.

The Boy Scouts also took to quarterstaff fencing and, for a brief period, it was listed alongside singlestick play, boxing, foil fencing, wrestling and even jiujitsu as accomplishments required to achieve the Master-at-Arms badge.  The Scouts also produced their own, simplified manuals for the instruction of young staff fencers.

The following, newly-discovered pictures represent a fairly late addition to the corpus of English quarterstaff fencing materials.  They originally appeared in an Illustrated London News article titled “The Quarterstaff: Then and Now”(1934).  The photos were taken at the Royal Air Force Depot in Oxbridge, and feature R.A.F. swordsmen Sergeant Turner and Sergeant Jarrold, “refereed” by Professor Ware.  Note that, although Turner and Jarrold are shown here in regular gym kit for purposes of demonstration, during competitive staff play they would have worn protective equipment of the type shown above.  The captions are by M. Pollock Smith.

A swinging a blow from Sergeant Turner, right, at his opponents ribs, successfully parried. Had the defending man had the grip of his left hand reversed, he would have been in a better position to retaliate with a riposte on his assailant’s head.
A swinging cut aimed low. This is the blow that in olden times would knock a man off his legs or break his knee, unless he parried successfully. Here the defender has thrown his right leg back and grounded his staff to help withstand the force of the cut. A parry taught by the French and used centuries earlier in England.
A downward cut at the head successfully intercepted by the French head parry, like that of old English quarterstaff fighting. It will not take the defender a second to swing his staff round to hit at his adversary as he returns to guard. The lunge is a modern addition to the game.
As frequently happened in old-time fighting, one man has had his staff knocked out of his hands, so he has closed quickly, before receiving the coup de grace, to engage in a hand to hand struggle for the remaining stick. In modern play, dropping the staff would count as being hit .

“Professor Kano and His Judo School” (from “A Woman Alone in the Heart of Japan”, 1906)

Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright spent three years, between roughly 1895-98, living in Kobe, Japan, where he worked as an antimony smelting specialist for E.H. Hunter and Company.  By his own account, Barton-Wright spent much of his free time there practicing jiujitsu at the traditional Shinden-Fudo Ryu (“School of the Immovable Heart”) dojo of sensei Terajima Kunichiro.  Thereby, he became one of the very first Westerners to known to have made a practical study of the Japanese martial arts.

However, Barton-Wright also mentioned that he had taken some lessons with the famed Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo.  Details of their association are scanty, but Barton-Wright also later stated that, when it came time for him to arrange for some jiujitsu experts to travel to England, he had corresponded with “Professor Kano and other friends in Japan”.  This is curious in that, of the three jiujitsuka who originally made that trip, only one – Seizo Yamamoto – had any confirmed prior connection to the Kodokan.

In any case, while Barton-Wright’s experience as a trainee was highly unusual, some other Westerners living at Japan at around the same time did take a more academic interest in the martial arts.  The following account of training at the Kodokan was penned by self-described “nomad” and travel writer Gertrude Adams Fisher, and represents a rare and picturesque glimpse into Professor Kano’s famous academy during the very early 20th century.


A contrasting institution, of equal fame in the land, is the Judo school of Professor Kano, its founder, who is a unique factor in the country. As Kano was journeying in China, Tomita Tsunejira carried on the school and received the guests. Red tape and a special permit secured the entry, and repaid all effort. A score of men jumped to their feet, as my riksha rolled into the court. Spectators are always drawn to the school, and there were idlers, and coolies in blue. The lobby seemed a dressing-room, where scores of suits were pigeon-holed, and where clogs awaited their owners. The urbane manager smiled sweetly and bowed low to my card of introduction, and, in stockinged feet, I curled up like a Turk on the platform, while a score of sturdy men tumbled and bumped and rolled and spun, landing on the classic floor which, for a quarter of a century, had trained athletes and developed wrestlers renowned throughout Japan. The unfurnished room was the cradle of physical skill, the spot where many, by scientific training rather than by weight or power, have learned how to handle men.

Professor Jigoro Kano.

Professor Kano, known as the “Father of modern wrestling,” is a philanthropist, loved by his people. His skill and his devotion have given to the Japanese their reputation as the best tumblers and the most daring acrobats in the world. Neither he nor his manager nor his teachers receive a penny for their work. Love and enthusiasm inspire the workers. Professor Kano has no desire to be wealthy. He is content to draw a salary as professor in the Higher Normal School. There is no sordid motive in his private enterprise, and no school could be more public. “Whosoever will, may come,” without entrance or tuition fee. Money is an unknown element in his school, and its platform is truly democratic. The true sporting spirit for fair play and equal rights prevails. Nobleman, rikman, and coolie are on an equality, and skill in throwing is the only badge of merit. Five thousand pupils have tried their strength on this wrestling field, and they number in their lists a secretary to the British legation. Small boys and mature men are proud to practise here. All wear the same costume, of heavy white, with loose, open jacket and very short trunks. Men of noble families wear a purple sash, while the sash of the ordinary citizen is white, and this is the only mark to distinguish plebeian from patrician, to tell the humblest combatant when he has displaced a man of noble rank. The son of the editor of Japan’s best paper sat by the wall with the humblest natives, and was tossed and thrown by an obscure coolie who outdid him in skill.

The manager declared strongly for the principles which guide the wrestler’s code, and for the value of wrestling in mental and moral gain. The code of ethics is exacting, and many a thoroughly bad boy shows a moral reform after a month at the Judo school. No court code is more precise than the ceremony with which these adversaries approach each other. The ballroom manners of Alphonse to Dulcina, as he asks her for a dance, are no more perfect than those of the opponents in this arena. The suppliant crawls on hands and knees, salaams to the floor, and repeats his fixed form of invitation. The recipient also plays the role of quadruped, bumps his head on the floor, and repeats the ceremonious acceptance. Then they stand erect, come to the centre, and war begins. At the finish follow bows and responses, expressions of mutual gratitude and appreciation; and congratulations, compliments, and recognition of special merit are in order.

The men mark their record in the school register, in strange cabalistic signs dashed on by a brush from a block of India ink. The writing is in columns, beginning at the end, we should say, on the last page of the book, and on the right margin. Here is future proof of each man’s bout, with whom he struggled, and with what result. The test is no child’s play, but deadly earnest from start to finish. Muscles strain, cords swell, eyes dilate, as each man pushes for the mastery. Every movement is thought out for its scientific value. The fray is marked by nimbleness and dexterity. Every sweep of the body is made with lightning flash, and the thought which precedes is quicker than lightning. It is a training of the mental powers and a swift study of cause and effect. The work is based on physical laws. Statics, inertia, the law of bodies at rest, of bodies in motion, of momentum, of velocity, of the lever, the fulcrum, of poise, and the maintenance of gravity, are the foundation of the art. Fair play and a scientific basis are the code.

In his limited English the gracious manager explained the system, and I drank the detested tea, an ubiquitous penance, if one is not fond of the beverage. Tomita Tsunejira explained the word “judo,” which is the key-note to the profession, and which, as he sadly announced, has no equivalent in English. “Ju” means soft, pliant, yielding, and “do” means thoroughness. Freely translated, a thorough doing-up of the opponent, in a soft and easy style. The practical object-lesson did not reveal the softness of the process. Men spun through the air, and fell, slap-slam, on all sides. The soft, yielding matting seemed the only pliant feature. After the toss-up and the thump, men lay for a moment stretched in Delsartean relaxation. Then they rebounded with the spring of a rubber ball, and jumped to the foe, like wiry little spiders. If a shoulder were dislocated, a spasm of pain delayed the game till the bone was shoved back in the socket.

Scientific Wrestling

“I will now show scientific moves,” said Mr. Tsunejira, as he cleared the floor, and called for his two crack teachers. The pupils had been ready for practice. They had held many bouts and brief rests, but they readily retired to give place to the experts. Students knew that rare sport was in store, and they were anxious for the exhibition. With a modest laugh and a smile of pleasure, the men advanced for my benefit. One was short and thick-set, the other slight in figure. They slid along, 1-2-3, as if practising a waltz. Then they twisted their knees, and tied up their bodies in a double knot. They rested, they pushed, and a man was thrown. The beginning and the end were apparent, but only a trained eye could detect the scientific move. Some sudden twist, unexpected, at the right second of poise, had sent the victim sprawling. A few moments were filled with dexterous moves, electric tosses, and quick tumbles. Over the head, on to the shoulder, right, left, across the thigh, a man was tossed like a featherweight in mid-air. The admiring school crouched in envious wonder. The proud manager scanned the play, intent, with knotted brow and wide-open eyes, disapproval and pleasure evident, at the various moves. He would have made a noble daimio in older times, this mixture of courtly grace and stern rigidity. The performers did their best stunts, and gave general pleasure; the manager called a halt, and the teachers retired with profuse expressions of courtesy and compliment. The white and purple sashes of the pupils mingled on the floor, as the men renewed their bouts with fresh impulse and inspiration for the art.

Daily, from three to five P. M., and Sunday morning, from nine to eleven, the school is in session, for that work which makes men ready to see, able to do, willing to dare, courageous in attack, modest in victory, brave in defeat, polite and manly always. The principle and the practice of the school are the making of the soldier, and the humblest men in training here become record-breakers of bravery and endurance at the front.

Here the aspiring lads of Tokio may take few lessons or many, as they choose, and here they have the practice which is one essential in the equipment of every policeman, that he may hand over a scientific touch-down to every tough who needs it.

In the outside court men were drawing water from the deep well to fill the buckets for the after-bath, which is the pleasure and the need of these cleanly people in every walk of life.

For his great and practical philanthropy, Professor Kano has earned the world-wide fame and the national love which he has won. His is patriotic mission work of the highest type, without money and without price, a free gift to the humblest and the highest, for the betterment of mankind, for the making of manly men, who, in time of peace or in time of war, are the strength and bulwark of the nation.

“Raku, the Japanese Wrestler” (1907)

Above: Sadakazu “Raku” Uyenishi

Sadakazu Uyenishi was the last of four Japanese jujitsu instructors to be employed at the Bartitsu Club.  During 1901, Uyenishi frequently partnered Yukio Tani in Club demonstrations, alternated with Tani in challenge contests and taught self-defence at the Shaftesbury Avenue school of arms.

After the Club’s closure in mid-1902, Uyenishi and Tani largely went their separate ways; Tani especially pursuing a professional challenge wrestling career but also teaching for a few years at the Japanese School of Jujitsu, while Uyenishi opened the Golden Square School of Jujitsu.  Although he was clearly more committed to teaching, Uyenishi did quite often compete in challenge contests, as described in this article from the Folkstone Express of July 24, 1907.

Note that Uyenishi was commonly known by his nickname “Raku”, possibly because Edwardian English speakers had difficulty pronouncing his given names.


Jujitsu, the latest thing in the art of wrestling, seems to have taken a strong hold upon not only the sporting public. but the non-sporting portion also. This was evident at the Victoria Pier on Monday evening, where a crowded audience flocked to the Pavilion ostensibly for the purpose of seeing the wrestling performance of Raku, a very clever and skilful exponent of jujitsu.

Raku created a most favourable impression. Of slight build, his weight being about 9st., and of average height, attired in evening dress and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, the famous Japanese wrestler looked more like a student than anything else. He appeared to be anything but an athlete, until he practiced a few of his wrestling tricks upon his assistant, who posed for the moment as a hooligan. Then the audience were at once convinced of the great wrestling skill of Raku and the usefulness of jujitsu in a sudden and violent attack upon the person.

Having “thrown” his opponent, Raku gave a demonstration of the various “locks,” by which he finally conquers his antagonists. The neck “lock” is a very effective means of overcoming an adversary, and when Raku applied it to his assistant the latter “tapped” vigorously to be released. A “tap” on the floor or the body with the hands is the Japanese acknowledgment of defeat.

Raku offers to give £50 to any wrestler whom he fails to defeat in fifteen minutes, and the management have given a 2-guinea silver challenge cup in connection with a competition held nightly. The final takes place on Friday night, when Raku will wrestle with three men, and the one making the best attempt will receive the cup. If they beat Raku he will, of, course, hand them the £50.

On Monday evening three wrestlers tried conclusions with Raku, and all three had to acknowledge defeat. Mr. Charles Turnham was one, and was disposed of in three minutes. Lance-Corporal Gray, of the East Yorks, was the next competitor, and being slim and agile, he was something of a match for Raku. The bout lasted four and a half minutes. and was full of exciting incidents. The last competitor was Mr. T. Miles, who was stated to turn the scales at l6st.—almost twice the weight of Raku. This proved a strenuous encounter, and Miles was often ” top-dog.” It lasted longer than any of the others, but the result was the same.

It should be stated that in his demonstrations of self-defence, Raku showed how ladies might defend themselves from an attack in the streets.

“Japanese ‘Bartitsu'” (1901)

The author of this short critical article, first published in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph of 28 August 1901, jumps to several mistaken conclusions about Bartitsu, jiujitsu and Japanese wrestling as a general subject, which are addressed below in italics.


We are hearing so much just now of Mr. Barton-Wright’s introduction into England of what he calls in bastard Japanese “bartitsu,” or the ideal art self-defence, that it is not impertinent to inquire, says the “Daily Chronicle,” why we have never heard of it before.


The answer is that, despite Edward Barton-Wright’s persistant efforts in explaining that “Bartitsu” was the name of his own, new art of self-defence, combining Japanese wrestling with the Vigny cane system and with European boxing, etc., spectators and reviewers frequently missed the fact that Bartitsu included jiujitsu, instead assuming that Bartitsu was the name of the Japanese style.


Mr. Wright says that the Japanese hold this secret art of theirs in such reverence that it has never yet been allowed to shown publicly their own land, much less abroad, and we are bound to believe him even though this  semi-sacred cult is first revealed to the British public by its native exponents upon a music hall stage.


Barton-Wright himself had exhibited jiujitsu publicly on several occasions prior to the first London music hall displays.  Otherwise, he was correct in stating that it had never before been formally exhibited in Europe, apart from a one-off lecture and demonstration by the Japanese banker/jiujitsu enthusiast Tetsuro Shidachi at the inaugural meeting of the Japan London Society.  

Although certainly not a “secret art”, jiujitsu was rarely exhibited in Japan during the 1890s and very early 1900s.  This was due less to any “semi-sacred cult” status and more to the fact that it was widely regarded as being an obsolete relic of the Edo Period (1603-1868) until Dr. Jigoro Kano’s development and promotion of Kodokan judo, which was still a work in progress during Barton-Wright’s time in Japan.


Tbe system is undoubtedly effective, just as effective indeed as that of the “hooligan,” who, disregarding all recognised rules of offence and defence, hits his opponent where and when he can.


Similar observations about Japanese unarmed combat being comprised of “absolute fouls“, etc., were frequently made by English observers during this period, sometimes as the basis for objections against mixed jiujitsu vs. wrestling contests.  Most observers, however, respected Barton-Wright’s point that his music hall exhibitions were intended to illustrate the effect of jiujitsu as an art of self-defence.


The amazing part of it is that, though wrestling has been a sport in Japan for more years than can well be counted, the art of “bartitsu” has never been imported into it.  Mr. Wright explained this by saying, first, that the art was a secret one.  It was only known among the highest classes; secondly, that for its effective performance grip on some the clothes was necessary,  whereas, of course, Japanese wrestlers when they appear the ring are almost nude. These, no doubt, are excellent reasons, but one cannot help thinking that if “bartitsu” is all pretends to be, then even a naked body would offer some holds to an experienced exponent.

The Japanese wrestler, moreover, belongs to a distinct class, and what he does not know about wrestling in an orthodox or even unorthodox way can scarcely worth the knowing.


Here the journalist alludes to sumo wrestling, but overreaches by failing to recognise the fundamental difference between sport and self-defence.  Sumo wrestlers did, in fact, employ all manner of jiujitsu-like throws that were advantageous within the rules of their sport, which automatically discounted all throws in which the thrower fell to the ground before his opponent – an action that would count as a loss on behalf of the first man down.  Similarly, numerous jiujitsu techniques such as extended jointlocks, most atemi-waza (striking techniques) and all newaza (mat grappling techniques) were either illegal in, or irrelevant to sumo wrestling, due to safety concerns and to the stylised conventions of winning a sumo contest.

Bartitsu Instructor James Marwood Interviewed in “American Express Essentials”

Click here to read journalist Jessica Keller’s recent interview with Bartitsu instructor James Marwood for American Express Essentials Magazine:

Q – What are a Bartitsu practitioner’s most trusty weapons or resources?

A – Intelligence, thoughtfulness and politeness. Being a good person, with good manners and an open approach to people will take you a lot further in life than anything else. If that fails, then you have the tools to deal with most problems, but ideally you’ll never need them outside of the training hall.

Antique Bartitsu Items Now Available on eBay

Although all of the circa 1900 Bartitsu articles are now in the public domain and many are available online and/or in the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium, some enthusiasts enjoy owning antique original copies. As of the time of this publication, original copies of the following items are available via eBay:

How to Pose as a Strong Man (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899): Barton-Wright’s first ever article for Pearson’s Magazine, explaining some of the clever leverage tricks commonly presented as evidence of “superhuman strength” by vaudeville and music hall performers such as the so-called “Georgia Magnet”.

The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club (Anonymous, 1900): a journalist for the Black and White Budget Magazine reports on the Bartitsu School of Arms, including an interview with Barton-Wright, photographs of Pierre Vigny and others in action and also photos of some of Barton-Wright’s peculiar therapeutic gadgets.

 The New Art of Self Defence, part 1 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899): The first of Barton-Wright’s four self-defence articles for Pearson’s Magazine, including numerous photographs and technical descriptions.  This article holds the distinction of being the first detailed, illustrated essay on Japanese martial arts to appear in the English language.

The New Art of Self Defence, part 2 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899): the second part of Barton-Wright’s jiujitsu series, in which he first refers to “Bartitsu” by name.

Self Defence with a Walking Stick, part 1 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1901):  The first essay in Barton-Wright’s explication of the Vigny stick fighting method, featuring numerous photos and detailed technical breakdowns.

Self Defence with a Walking Stick, part 2 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1901): Part 2 covers further Vigny stick fighting scenarios, including defences against angry mobs and individuals wielding alpenstocks (spiked hiking staves).

The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence (H.G. Lang, 1926):  Herbert Gordon Lang was a Police Superintendant who learned the Vigny method of stick fighting from former Bartitsu Club member Percy Rolt.  This book details Lang’s own developments of the Vigny system, also incorporating some techniques from West Indian stick fighting.

Self-Protection on a Cycle (Marcus Tindal, 1901): although often mistakenly assumed to be part of the Bartitsu repertoire, Marcus Tindal’s eccentric bicycle self-defence article did appear contemporaneously with Barton-Wright’s walking stick defence essays, and was likewise published in Pearson’s Magazine.