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“Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London”

During the final decades of the 19th century, a cabal of fencers and historians led by Captain Alfred Hutton and his colleague, the writer Egerton Castle, undertook a systematic study and practical revival of combat with long-outmoded weapons such as the rapier and dagger, sword and buckler and two-handed sword. Their efforts presaged the current revival of historical fencing, a rapidly growing movement that directly parallels the modern renaissance of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu.

The book Ancient Swordplay details the origins, colourful heyday and ultimate decline of this unusual late-Victorian revival movement. Highlights include reports on many historical fencing exhibitions throughout the 1880s and ’90s, Hutton’s and Castle’s work as theatrical fight choreographers (who paid strict attention to historical accuracy) and Hutton’s determined efforts to revolutionise military sabre fencing with an infusion of “ancient swordplay”, especially that of the Elizabethan English master, George Silver.

Of particular interest to Bartitsu enthusiasts, Ancient Swordplay includes a chapter on Captain Hutton’s collaborations with E.W. Barton-Wright. In his book The Sword and the Centuries (1902), Hutton was moved to note that “the fence of the case of rapiers, as of all the other Elizabethan weapons, is much in vogue at the present time at the Bartitsu Club, now the headquarters of ancient swordplay in this country.”

For all their efforts, though, the Hutton/Castle revival did not directly survive their own generation. The final chapters examine the reasons why, coming to a conclusion that may surprise modern readers, and attempt to trace their legacy into the following decades of the 20th century, via actress/swordswoman Esme Beringer and French antagonisticathlete George Dubois.

Including numerous rare illustrations and a foreword by author Neal Stephenson, Ancient Swordplay is available now from the Freelance Academy Press website or For a thorough historical context and commentary, please also see the new article Renaissance Swordplay, Victorian-style on the Freelancer blog.

Armand Cherpillod in 1905

Armand Cherpillod in gi

A promotional postcard featuring Bartitsu Club wrestling and physical culture instructor Armand Cherpillod, shown posing in typical early 20th century jujitsu garb.

According to his 1929 biography, Cherpillod was invited to teach at the Bartitsu Club by his fellow Swiss martial arts instructor, Pierre Vigny, who had traveled to Switzerland at the behest of E.W. Barton-Wright specifically to find a champion wrestler. Upon arriving in London, Cherpillod quickly made his mark in the wrestling circuit and successfully represented the Bartitsu Club in several significant challenge matches. He also cross-trained in jujitsu with fellow instructors Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.

Cherpillod’s most famous student at the Bartitsu Club was Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, an eccentric athlete and aristocrat who later became famous as one of the few male civilians to have survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Following the closure of the Bartitsu Club in 1902, Cherpillod returned to Switzerland where he pioneered the instruction of Japanese martial arts. He also wrote several books on that subject, including one that is the first known manual on jujitsu as self defence for women.

Gandhi on jiu-jitsu (1905)

Some wry commentary on jiujitsu from Mohandas K. Gandhi (Indian Opinion, April 2, 1905):

The eyes of Europeans are slowly being opened. Narmada-shankar, the Gujarati poet, has sung:

The Englishman rules, the country is under his heel.
The native remains subdued;
Look at their bodies, brother,
He is full five cubits tall,
A host in himself, match for five hundred.

The poet here tells us that the main reason for the rise of English is their sturdy physique. The Japanese have shown that not much depends upon the physique of a man. The fact that the Russians, though well set up and tall, have proved powerless before the short and thin Japanese, has put the English officials in a quandary. They gave thought to the matter and discovered that Europe was very much behindhand in physical culture and knowledge of the laws governing the body. The Japanese understand very well how the various joints and bones of the (opponent’s) body can be controlled, and this has made them invincible. Many of our readers must be aware of the effect produced when a particular nerve of the neck or leg is pressed during an exercise. This very science the Japanese have perfected.

A Japanese coach* has, therefore, been employed to train the English army, and thousands have already been taught the art. And
jiu-jitsu is the Japanese name for it. The problem will now be to find something else after all the nations have learnt jiu-jitsu. This process is bound to go on endlessly.

* The Japanese coach in question was former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi.

“Ju-ji-tsu” at Aldershot (April, 1905)


This illustration by artist L. Daviel represents a jujitsu exhibition by former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi at the Public Schools Gymnasium, Aldershot.

An alternative caption for the same drawing refers to Uyenishi as coming from “Seiboukan, Japan”, which was presumably a typographical error for Senboku District, Osaka, in that Uyenishi was a native of Osaka.

“The Jiu-Jitsu Suffragette” on “The One Show”: BBC 1 Monday May 12

Bartitsu instructor James Garvey and historian Emelyne Godfrey appear on screen and instructor Tony Wolf served as a consultant for this One Show presentation on the life of Edith Garrud, the pioneering female martial arts instructor who trained members of the suffragette movement. The item was produced by Icon Films.

Edith Garrud is the subject of Tony Wolf’s book for young teenage readers, Edith Garrud: the Suffragette who knew Jujutsu. She also makes a cameo appearance in Wolf’s upcoming graphic novel trilogy about the adventures of the secret society of female bodyguards who protected suffragette leaders circa 1914.

One of the first modern female martial arts icons, presenter Honor Blackman – a real-life judo enthusiast and the author of Honor Blackman’s Book of Self Defence, as seen in the picture above – made good use of her judo prowess in playing Dr. Cathy Gale, John Steed’s partner in The Avengers. She later took on James Bond himself as Pussy Galore in the movie Goldfinger.

“What are ‘canonical’ and ‘neo’ Bartitsu?”

Vigny stickfighting in Bartitsu Club

The explosive success of the Sherlock Holmes movies have embedded an awareness of Victorian-era martial arts into the popular imagination. In the wake of that success, it may be useful to offer some recent history and an explanation of the terms “canonical” and “neo” in the context of the Bartitsu revival.

Back in the very early 2000s, Bartitsu Society conversation turned from purely academic chat to considering how to bring the art back to life.  At that time, although the active participants came from a wide range of martial arts backgrounds, almost all of us had experience in the historical European martial arts (HEMA) movement.

The task of reviving Bartitsu was seen very much in HEMA terms, with several caveats; it was uniquely a cross-training method between certain Japanese, English and French/Swiss antagonistics, and, unlike many HEMA revivalists, we did not have a complete technical catalog to work from.  Thus, we would effectively be reviving an experimental work-in-progress rather than a finite system.

Many of the first generation of Bartitsu revivalists had been active martial artists long enough to have seen the worst of politics in other arts; friendships destroyed and long-running inter-group feuds arising over matters of technical interpretation, etc.  Forewarned is forearmed, and so we decided early on that the Bartitsu Society would remain an informal association of colleagues rather than a bureaucratic “governing body”.  To mitigate the chance of our efforts being sidetracked by tiresome politics, we proposed a two-tiered structure for the nascent Bartitsu revival.

The Bartitsu Canon

The first level or approach would be “canonical”, a term borrowed from Sherlock Holmes scholarship to describe “Bartitsu as we know it was”.  This included the formal self defence set-plays and techniques presented under the Bartitsu banner by Barton-Wright and his colleagues, circa 1899-1901.   Originally, the canon was restricted to Barton-Wright’s article series for Pearson’s Magazine, which had then only recently been publicly broadcast via the Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences website.  As we continued our research, the canon gradually expanded to include:

* B-W’s four articles for Pearson’s Magazine, covering jiujitsu and Vigny stick fighting
* Mary Nugent’s article on the Bartitsu Club for Health and Strength Magazine, which included a couple of jiujitsu techniques
* Captain Laing’s 1902 article on the “Bartitsu Method of Self Defence”, covering Vigny stick fighting
* fragments from other sources including a single unarmed combat technique that appeared only in the American edition of Pearson’s, another that was specifically credited to B-W that appears in Longhurst’s Jiujitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence, B-W’s technical comments in other sources and what can be gleaned from incidental material (illustrations accompanying Bartitsu articles produced during the Club era, etc.)

The canonical set-plays from Pearson’s provided a “common language” for Bartitsu revivalists, offering a finite corpus of technical and tactical guidelines. They were also our most direct link back to the original art, as presented by its founder and original practitioners, comprising a body of “living history” knowledge. This was a crucial point, and of intrinsic value, from the HEMA perspective.


It was clear, however, that there was more going on at the Bartitsu Club than the set-plays that happened to be recorded on paper.  Barton-Wright and his associates had offered numerous clues and hints as to the full scope of the art via their interviews and demonstrations.  In order to fill in the gaps in the historical record, we also proposed a second, complementary approach, referred to as neo-Bartitsu. As with all HEMA revivals, the object was to recreate the original style as closely as possible, via highly educated guesswork.

Within the context of the Bartitsu revival, “neo” refers to using a body of “old” techniques in a new context; it describes both “Bartitsu as it may have been” and “Bartitsu as it can be today”.  Specifically, neo-Bartitsu refers to the modern practice of the canonical material augmented by the vast body of martial arts, self defence and combat sport lore recorded by Bartitsu Club instructors and their first generation of students, dating into the early 1920s.

In designing, compiling and editing the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium (2008), we deliberately presented a set of interlocking resources for neo-Bartitsu, rather than a prescription of lesson-plans.  It was felt that establishing a single “unified curriculum” would stifle individual initiative and takemusu (martial creativity), homogenising the revival and ultimately leading to the political entanglements we all wanted to avoid. By leaving the curriculum open to experimentation and the revival movement unregulated, we hoped to foster a grassroots consensus of what Bartitsu may have been and could be.

Thus, the material in Volume 2 was very carefully selected from mostly “Bartitsu Club lineage” sources, edited to avoid redundancies and repetitions while offering great scope for individual variations.  It was unified by a set of principles and themes redacted from Barton-Wright’s own writings.

“Krav Maga (etc.) in straw boater hats”

For almost all practical purposes, every modern Bartitsu revivalist trains in a combination of canonical and neo- forms of the art.  “Neo-”, however, is not interpreted as carte-blanche license to promote any given melange of fighting styles under the Bartitsu banner.  Prior to the success of the Sherlock Holmes movies, members of the Society used to joke about that eventuality, on the assumption that the art would never become popular enough for it to actually happen.

The substantial addition of techniques from disparate, historically unrelated sources is sometimes justified by the assumption that Barton-Wright “would have” done the same thing if, for example, Krav Maga, Thai kickboxing or Filipino stick fighting had been available to him. Alternatively, it has been argued that, since Bartitsu was originally an eclectic method, adding considerable new (“neo-”) material from various sources is in the spirit of his original method.

The counter-argument is that the further one moves from the original, canonical and lineage sources, the less sense it makes to refer to the result as “Bartitsu”, neo- or otherwise. By the same token, since numerous effective arts combining stick fighting, kickboxing and grappling already exist, proponents of the “anything goes” school of thought run a strong risk of re-inventing the wheel.

While (neo-)Bartitsu does represent the art as it may have been and as it can be today, that presupposes a truly thorough understanding of what it probably was. The revival is, therefore, deliberately and specifically anachronistic, focussed on the Bartitsu Club of London circa 1901 and on the people who began the cross-training experiment that we have “inherited”, one hundred years later.

Stick men

A tip of the straw boater hat to user mmviolet for her clever melding of classic Bartitsu stick fighting images with the stick figure cypher motif from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men. This design is an entry in a competition to develop a Sherlock Holmes-themed t-shirt.

BBC’s “Sherlock” (finally!) offers a shout-out to “baritsu” …

… if only as the second of thirteen possible life-saving, death-faking scenarios worked out in painstaking detail prior to Sherlock’s confrontation with Moriarty atop the St. Bart’s Hospital roof.

“A system of Japanese wrestling”, indeed …

How the original Sherlock Holmes survived the Reichenbach fall

Fans around the world are eagerly awaiting Episode 1 of the third season of Sherlock, in which the mystery of how the consulting detective faked his own death will be revealed …

After a dramatic rooftop confrontation with his nemesis, Jim Moriarty – during which Moriarty apparently killed himself – Sherlock seemingly plummeted to his destruction in order to save his friends from assassination at the hands of Moriarty’s snipers.

Although it’s clear that he did not actually die, the puzzle of how Sherlock faked his suicide has been the subject of intense and wide-ranging speculation. In 1893, though, for readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem, the question was not so much “how?” as “why” Doyle would kill off his most popular character during his confrontation with Moriarty at the brink of the Reichenbach waterfall, as recorded by Dr. Watson:

A few words may suffice to tell the little that remains. An examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other’s arms. Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless, and there, deep down in that dreadful caldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation.

The prosaic reality is that Doyle was simply tired of writing about Sherlock Holmes and wanted to engage with more personally interesting subjects, which he did for the best part of the following decade. However, the public pressure (and financial incentives) to revive the Holmes character continued to mount and in 1903 Doyle capitulated, resurrecting Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House.

As Holmes himself explained to the considerably startled Dr. Watson:

Well, then, about that chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it.”

“You never were in it?”

“No, Watson, I never was in it. My note to you was absolutely genuine. I had little doubt that I had come to the end of my career when I perceived the somewhat sinister figure of the late Professor Moriarty standing upon the narrow pathway which led to safety. I read an inexorable purpose in his gray eyes. I exchanged some remarks with him, therefore, and obtained his courteous permission to write the short note which you afterwards received. I left it with my cigarette-box and my stick, and I walked along the pathway, Moriarty still at my heels. When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds, and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went. With my face over the brink, I saw him fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounded off, and splashed into the water.

“Baritsu” was Doyle’s idiosyncratic spelling of Bartitsu, the eccentric and eclectic self defence art that had, in fact, been introduced to London in 1899 by Edward Barton-Wright. Many theories have been advanced as to why he misspelled the word; perhaps the most plausible is that he simply copied it verbatim from a London Times report on a Bartitsu exhibition, which included the same misspelling and was sub-headed Japanese Wrestling at the Tivoli (Theatre).

Thus, Conan Doyle’s hero saved his own life, and then faked his own death, via the deus ex machina device of an obscure Anglo-Swiss-Japanese martial art, the details of which were largely forgotten over the course of the 20th century until, almost exactly one hundred years later, curiosity over his “baritsu” reference spurred a revival of Bartitsu

“How I taught Holmes baritsu …”

The following essay is a translation, by the author of the Hmm Yes Perfect blog, of a memoir by Russian fight choreographer Nikolay Vaschilin. Mr. Vaschilin staged the climactic Holmes/Moriarty battle for The Deadly Combat (1980), an episode of the Russian telemovie series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, starring Vasily Livanov as Holmes.

We have taken the liberty of lightly editing the translation towards colloquial English and clarifying a few points raised in the memoir as they relate to Bartitsu. We have attempted to preserve as much of the colour and detail of the original translation as possible.

Mr. Vaschilin begins:

In the early spring of 1979 I met Igor Maslennikov in the Lenfilm studio café. While we were drinking coffee, Maslennikov asked me to join his conversation with the art director Mark Kaplan about the new Sherlock Holmes TV movie.

I had met Igor Fyodorovich in 1964 on an advanced directing course; he was studying and I just wanted to be there. Later I was in his movie Tomorrow, on the third of April …, in which I played Fantomas. And later I staged the fight scene between two knights in Yaroslanva – Queen of France, which gave me the opportunity to study Livanov’s movement quite well.

We started with a cognitive question – what is baritsu? As the master of sports of the USSR in sambo and judo, I should have known this in Maslennikov’s opinion. I confessed that I didn’t know anything about baritsu; the only Conan Doyle book I’d read was The Hound of the Baskervilles. But I suggested that the ending of the word could have Japanese roots. Judo and jiu jitsu were well known in Russia. Yura Wexler joined us and said that I was right and that he would find the story where he has read about these Japanese roots. The story was called The Empty House. But we couldn’t worry about this since at the end of the XIX century Japanese martial arts were extremely popular in Europe. My requests at the Public Library ended up with nothing.

The professor of stage movement, Ivan Edmundovich Koh, and the professor of the department of physical education institute of martial arts Konstantin Trofimovich Bulochko only regretted that the the excellent French boxer and fencer Ernesto Lustallo, who would have probably given us the right answer, was not available to help. Nobody knew about baritsu.

Another big problem for the filming team was the final scene, in which Professor Moriarty loses and falls into the abyss. Innokenty Smoktunovsky was supposed to play Moriarty, so we were talking only about his stunt double. But before discussing him, I mentioned to Maslennikov Konstantin Raikin’s similar fall off the cliff in Nikita Mikhalkov’s movie At Home Amongst Strangers, A Stranger Amongst Friends. Despite my participation in the movie, we agreed that repeating the same trick wouldn’t be interesting, especially in that a criminal like Moriarty would know a few dodgy methods of killing. At this awkward pause we decided to leave everything until we had seen the location for ourselves.

After a few days we found ourselves in a heated debate on the plane flying to Abkhazia. We reached the falls, which were still dormant following the winter freeze. For all of this time I was thinking about staging this fight with English boxing techniques. The prototype was Lord Byron’s cruel and realistic boxing scene from the 1972 English movie Lady Caroline Lamb.

Maslennikov liked the idea and said that he wanted the audience to watch this fight with some irony. Not humor, like in Charlie Chaplin’s movies, but the irony of people who understand the futility of the fight. As Rabindranath Tagore wrote:

A battle thundered here yesterday

the sand got wet with blood.

And who won in the end -

it’s a morning breeze.

My personal experience of fighting with evil, trained into me by my sambo teacher Alexander Massarsky, has concluded that the evil should destroy itself in the end, by stumbling upon an obstacle. The obstacle should just appear in the right time. Planning and testing the fight scene, with Holmes and Watson represented by Maslennikov and Kaplan, it became clear that this fight on the edge of the abyss should end with the opponents totally collapsing from exhaustion. Also, I couldn’t get the figure of Colonel Moran out of my head, he who finishes the murderer of Professor Moriarty – Holmes.

That’s how I got the idea of the final phase of the fight and the death of the enemies. In my opinion, they should finish the fight by grappling with each other on the ground and inexorably roll to the edge of the abyss. Here, her Majesty Fate would take the side of Holmes and allow him to cling to the rocks; Moriarty, thinking himself in luck, has the top position during this grapple. At least they will drown together. But Holmes’ clothes inexorably tear and Moriarty falls into the abyss alone, leaving lucky Holmes on the ledge. Now he has only to trick the tiger hunter by appearing to die after Moran shoots at him.

The finale was accepted very well. This is the most important thing in every business; all’s well that ends well. Now that it was clear how the fight would end, I could consider the rest of it. First of all – how long would the fight last? Secondly – at what pace? And thirdly – by what methods that would reveal the character of the opponents?

The plan of the fight

Now I had to examine their characters and their natural movement styles, devise their attack and defence techniques, and then teach these skills to the actors until they could perform them automatically. Really, I had to put them into a dance that would reveal their characters, intrigue the audience and come to the finale, causing the audience to cry out in happiness for their hero. My honorable helpers Igor Maslennikov and Mark Kaplan couldn’t help me in that on the edge of the abyss, so we came back to Leningrad. I took back with me only the exact idea of the quality of the area; lots of slippery stones and the shape of its safe zones.

Maslennikov and Kaplan performing the fight, April of 1979

When I came back to Leningrad, I chose in my studio several stuntmen from the Theatre Institute, where I was honored to work as a docent, and we started the rehearsals. The fight was divided into two parts by tempo and rate. In the first phase the attacks were quick and resolute, full of the desire of a fast and absolute win. Moriarty attacks first, suddenly and insidiously, and is surprised when he can’t quickly achieve his goal and win the fight. It unnerves him. Holmes is like a wall, from which evil shots ricochet; he defends himself without fighting back. In the second part of the fight, which is broken by the hotel scene in which Watson realises that Moriarty has tricked him, the enemies are quite exhausted. Their clothes are ripped off, they viciously fight for a better position towards the abyss, which inevitably waits for them.

I roughly measured the time it would take and, picking a number of suitable techniques, we started draft rehearsals. At the same time I contacted my old friends, the climbers Volodya and Yura, who worked with me in Sibiriade by Andrei Konchalovsky. I gave them the task of working out the technique of belaying the actors and stuntmen in the scene where Moriarty falls off the cliff. In the production studio workshop a Moriarty mannequin was designed, with swivels in the arm and leg joints, of approximately human weight. This mannequin, dropped by the climbers from the falls, would perfectly imitate the body of the falling Moriarty. It was pointless for a stuntman to do that trick.

Igor Maslennikov and the cameraman Tolya Lapshov were visiting the rehearsals. Yura Wexler, who filmed the first episodes, had a heart attack and couldn’t be present. At the rehearsals Igor Fyodorovich met Vitya Evgrafov, who played a monk in his movie Yaroslavna – Queen of France and whom Maslennikov didn’t really like. Sasha Pokramovich was standing in for Livanov; he was a stuntman and a student of Vladimir Petrov’s acting courses. The characters portrayed by them in the fight were getting Maslennikov more and more after every single rehearsal. When Livanov appeared in the Theatre Institute for practice, he and Evgrafov looked and moved very effectively together. Maslennikov cast Evgrafov as a stuntman at first, and then later as Moriarty himself.

As the result of practicing and searching we had the full plan of the fight by September. I have to say all these street fights have a lot in common. The opponents should look for a perfect moment and suddenly shorten the distance between each other. This is not easy to do since one of them will try to keep the distance safe. This is the longest and the hardest part of the fight. If an opponent shortens the distance, he loses a lot of strength for attacks, but he might face an effective defense and counterattack and the situation will be lost. And with this the whole fight will be lost too.

At a longer distance the opponents use ineffective attacks which stumble upon a defense or miss the target. Then, after coming close to each other, the opponents use grips, throws and strangulations. They enfold and tumble each other on the ground, trying to seize a good position on the top and strike a final blow. At the end of the rehearsals it was decided not to use boxing techniques since they required a prepared space and quick change of distance. The slippery stones at the “Reichenbach Falls” location didn’t allow the opponents to jump about.

Lightning-fast clutches for a deadly grip, a fight for a good position towards the abyss, getting free from the grips by hitting the pressure points and head punches – this is the arsenal of the two irreconcilable enemies, who represent two different schools. The attacking and aggressive school of the criminal world, and the school of Eastern wisdom and the resourcefulness of an intellectual, which really suits the hieroglyph of Conan Doyle’s “baritsu”.

In October the whole filming team of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson arrived in Picunda. We settled down in a guest house by the sea. Almost not disturbing the shooting of other scenes with Vasily Livanov, we rehearsed every day. In the morning – one hour training for physical conditioning, running on sand and swimming in the sea. And of course, the mandatory triple-test of the fight at a slow, comfortable pace. The five year old son of Vasily Borisovich Livanov, Borya, was very interested in these rehearsals and tried to do some of the tricks himself. In the evening, after the shooting, we had one hour’s training on individual attacks, and at the end – the whole fight with maximum speed and stress. After that, when the sun was going down, relaxing swimming in the warm sea. Water sharpens stones, and time teaches and heals.

After a month of these exercises the actors started to ask for new and more complicated attacks. These innovations I forbade at a certain stage, which caused their discontent and irritation. The restless and narcissistic Vitya Evgrafov was especially unhappy. My target was to work out in them the automatism and speed of performing the attacks like they were professional fighters. The method of shooting this scene, its importance that was set by the director didn’t allow using professional athletes as stuntmen. The stuntmen only showed the actors how to do tricks and insured their safety.

The director, Gregory Prusovsky, arranged a bus to transport ourselves, the designers and the makeup team and we were driving to the “Reichenbach Falls” for practice, though not as often as I wanted. I was shooting the most interesting phases of the fight at different angles, so I could show them to the director and cameraman afterwards. When I felt that the actors were running out of patience, I finished the rehearsals.

Once we arrived after a heavy rainstorm and were stunned; the falls were like Niagara. The rock ledge that the actors were supposed to hang on to was so slippery that it was impossible to stand on. The costumes were getting completely soaked after a minute. The makeup was getting wet, too, and was running down their cheeks. But it was magnificent. It created an atmosphere that you couldn’t simulate in any way, not even by Stanislavsky or Nemirovich-Danchenko. I insisted that we should film then and there.

According to the shooting schedule, this was the day of scouting the area and taking master shots. But Igor Fyodorovich didn’t want to waste his time and shot some scenes with the opponents preparing for the fight. Holmes was writing a note to Watson, stretching his shoulders and arms for the refined striking of vital points in the baritsu style. Then they shot Moriarty throwing his hat over the precipice, giving Holmes and the audience a clue as to how deep the abyss was.

Suddenly, Maslennikov decided to show Moriarty’s despicable character by Holmes foreseeing, like a fortune teller, that Moriarty has a knife. The idea was striking in its simplicity; let Moriarty come at Holmes with that knife and Holmes will counter with baritsu. Knife fighting?! Without any rehearsals?! But here I had to rise up. It’s sad to imagine how that improvisation would have ended! We decided that Moriarty would keep the knife for some time and then generously throw it away into the abyss. Like an honest person! But the quick fall of the knife couldn’t be captured by the cameraman.

The next morning, the 29th of October, the team drove to our hotel and Vitya Sergeev and I went to get Livanov from his room. Vasily Borisovich was lying in bed suffering from high temperature. Snot was flowing from his nose as if from a waterfall. Maslennikov came in and decided to cancel the shooting. I went down on my knees, pleading. It worked. I understood that this opportunity would not soon return. As it always was in the movie business, we would make the best of random fate.

So we drove to the deadly fight. To the fight with the rain, with the roaring water, with the makeup and the costumes getting wet, with water splashing into the camera, upon the slippery rocks. The driver was cursing me while driving on wet, serpentine roads. Maslennikov was waiting. In the end it’s never too late to cancel the shoot. Nobody was really saving the government’s money.

The rain was drizzling. The team was in the bus. We started to rehearse in athletic clothes. The phase with Evgrafov losing balance and then coming out with an attack position was worrying me the most. At this stressful moment Vitya said that he refused to do it and he didn’t like it and so-on. In general it meant that he was the boss and I was the fool. I hissed a threat. Vasya supported me and we broke him. After one hour the sky became clear. The climbers started their vertical journey with the Moriarty mannequin.

Action! Camera! Go! We are filming the scene there Moriarty throws away his knife. Then he throws away the hat. Now Moriarty’s first deadly attack, seizing Holmes by the throat. It’s bad. Sluggish. Inexpressive. No impetuosity and power. It lacked the most important thing, the suddenness of a professor of the criminal world. Five tries into the dustbin. I tell him that he’s not Moriarty, but Little Red Riding Hood. The red hat is worn on his head, with the “Adidas” emblem on it. Works infallibly. Evgrafov now strikes like a panther, almost knocking Livanov down. Livanov frees himself by striking into the subclavian area. It’s a pure symbol. But it’s a good symbol that easily reads on the screen.

Another attack, a struggle with a block, then Moriarty butts Holmes’ face with his head. That was a criminal’s “greeting”; a typical trick of criminals the whole world over, but especially of English boxers. Lapshov shoots the scene very closely. The actors’ faces are seen perfectly, and the hint that they are standing on the edge of the abyss is created by the waterfall in the background. Again the throat grab, and again Holmes gains his freedom by twisting Moriarty’s arms away.

Here comes the shot of Moriarty losing balance on the edge of the abyss. But he survives and is ready to fight on. Here Evgrafov takes revenge on me and spontaneously assumes a stance reminiscent of the karate style. A boxing stance would have been a better choice. Moriarty and the East are two incompatible things. Moriarty’s stance should’ve hidden his intentions and allowed for a sudden, unexpected attack, as was shown in the first shot. Or did he and Holmes go to the same baritsu school?

The right position

Now, this stance is made up, it’s grotesque and leaves the attack without any suddenness. Plus it looks like karate, which hadn’t reached Europe at the time.

Next a bit of relaxation, hot tea and nasal drops for Livanov, and, of course, he puts a cigarette into his mouth. The costume designer Nelechka Lev, with whom we had been friends since Yaroslavna – Queen of France, drops her knitting and runs towards us with her assistants. They check out the makeup and the costumes. I have donned Holmes’ costume, preparing to fight instead of Vasily Borisovich, who is still unwell.

While the actors are resting, we film the fall of the Moriarty mannequin. Lapshov was forced by Maslennikov and Sergeev to use two cameras for this shoot; a crazy luxury for those times. The camera should have its own cameraman. Where do we get the second cameraman? Tolya Lapshov trusts his assistants. One camera films almost from the front and another one from the side. The administrator Jora Mautkin went with the climbers with a flare-gun. It was impossible to shout cues over the thundering of the water, even if we had a walkie-talkie, which we didn’t have anyway.

Action! Camera! And instead of “Go!” – the flare-gun fires. The mannequin plummets, hits the rocks, bounces off and flips around. Just like Moriarty himself in Conan Doyle’s story. Now we had only to pray that the film stock of this, our only take, wouldn’t turn out to be defective. But we will learn, only two weeks later back at Lenfilm, that this was, indeed, the case. In its place will be inserted a scene in the hotel with the bamboozled Watson.

We start to film the fight again. Moriarty grabs Holmes from behind and pushes him towards the edge of the abyss. Holmes throws Moriarty away and he effectively flies off, sliding on the gravel. Moriarty, with manic persistence, attacks Holmes again and presses him against the cliff face. Holmes stops the attack with his leg. Moriarty seizes Holmes’s throat again, and this time Holmes gains his freedom by twisting Moriarty’s arm behind his back. In terms of the Eastern martial arts, this would be aikido. But the techniques came to aikido from the early Chinese kempo.

We moved on to the shooting of the fall from the rocky ledge. With God’s help we filmed the combatant’s struggle near the narrow ledge of the abyss. The stones were slippery. The safety belaying was difficult there. The stress was growing. I guessed that the actors were scared. I got into the belaying harness and hung in the abyss myself. The height was about ten meters. The climbers Volodya and Yura hung on the ropes and showed how to “fall”. With nerves and persuasions, we started to film. The actors were lying on the edge of the cliff, hugging each other like brothers.

The belay ropes were worn under their costumes and allowed free acting, but that freedom also gave a sense that the ropes were not there at all. To allow oneself to fall into the abyss with that sensation was a hard job indeed. The stinging spray of the falls struck the actors’ faces and backs. The noise was impossible. You couldn’t hear a single word. All communication was done by gestures. Everybody forgot about the makeup, it was all washed away. The actors started to get chills from the cold. Can we do this? We can. Let the film stock of this, our only take, not be defective! But we would not know that for sure until it was developed, two weeks later…

Action! Camera! Go! Livanov gets into position first. Evgrafov lies on top of him. Slowly, with great fear, the actors start to slip over the ledge and slide into the abyss. The belay ropes tightened until they were both hanging in space. Livanov grabbed the sharp rocks and Moriarty started to slip down. Holmes’ shirt ripped and Moriarty fell, disappearing from the shot. The ropes held both actors above the abyss. Cut! Print!

Postscript: 2011

A quarter of a century has now passed. Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, Elizabeth II, has awarded Vasily Borisovich Livanov with an Order of the British Empire for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

The famous fencing-master Sergey Mishenev, who revived Bartitsu in Russia, has told me that at the end of the XIX century Bartitsu was very popular in England. This new martial art, created by Edward Barton-Wright at the very end of the XIX century was popular for a short time, and then the Bartitsu Academy closed in 1902. But just one year later, Barton-Wright’s creation stepped into eternity …

Sergey told me that his colleague, one of the world’s leaders of modern Bartitsu, Tony Wolf, has watched our Sherlock Holmes movie and gave an excellent review of the fight scene that reflects the unique style of baritsu.

Sergey Mishenev and Nikolay Vashchilin

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