“New” historical Bartitsu technique discovered

The Bartitsu Society conceptually divides practical Bartitsu into two related areas. Canonical Bartitsu is the art as we know it was; the specific self defence techniques detailed by E.W. Barton-Wright and his colleagues between 1899 and 1902. Neo, or modern Bartitsu is both “Bartitsu was it may have been” and “Bartitsu as it can be today”; it describes our modern attempts to continue the mixed martial arts experiment begun by Barton-Wright in 1899.

Most of what we know of canonical Bartitsu is drawn from a series of four articles by E.W. Barton-Wright, originally published in the London-based Pearson’s Magazine. “The New Art of Self Defence” was published in two parts during March and April of 1899, and “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” appeared in January and February of 1901. After being re-discovered in the British Library archives by the late judo historian Richard Bowen, these articles were first broadcast via the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences website in the year 2000.

Pearson’s was a popular journal and was also published in an American edition. Recently-discovered copies of the US issues for March and June of 1899, which included slightly modified re-prints of Barton-Wright’s first two articles, have revealed the following “new” information on Bartitsu.

Note.—Mr. E. Barton-Wright, the author of this article and of its companion to be published next month, is shortly to visit this country in order to introduce a system of self-defence which would seem to render anyone acquainted with it practically impregnable against all forms of attack, however dangerous and unexpected they may be.

In fact, as far as we know, Barton-Wright did not introduce Bartitsu to the United States, though it is diverting to imagine what might have happened if he had.

The following image is a “header” used for the March article, significant in that it offers a portrait-style photograph of Barton-Wright himself. This is only the second such photograph ever discovered by the Bartitsu Society.

The June article header offers a handsome Art Nouveau effect:

Most intriguing, though, is that the June article from the US edition includes a previously unknown addition to the canon of classical Bartitsu techniques. We can only speculate as to why this technique was not included in the original, and now widely-known, articles from the British edition. Perhaps it was omitted for reasons of space, or perhaps the photographs supplied to were of inadequate quality; it is the only technique in the June article not to have been illustrated.

No. 1.—One of many Means of Defence when a Man Strikes at You Low or Below the Belt.

Should an assailant strike at your wind or heart with his right fist, step backward with your right foot, and in doing so place your right hand over your heart, with the palm outward, and grasp his wrist by placing your left hand over his wrist (the placing of the right hand over the heart is only a precautionary measure in case you miss catching his wrist when he leads off at your body).

As soon as you feel you have hold of his wrist, pull it towards you with a slight outward motion leftways, take a step forward with your right foot, placing it behind his right leg, and seize him by the throat, pressing your thumb into his tonsil or just under the back of the ear, which is extremely painful.

Then with a sharp leftward pull with the left hand, and a thrust or a push leftward with the right hand (keeping your right calf or the side of your knee tightly behind his right knee), you throw him on his back; retain your hold on his throat and ear, and dropping upon the right knee you pull his arm towards you so that his elbow is just across your thigh. With the slightest pressure you could break his arm. At the same time you extend your right arm vigorously and press your thumb well into the cavity under the ear, which will cause great pain, preventing him from getting up.

Alert readers will note that, contrary to what is suggested by the title, this technique does not in fact deal with a defence against a low, below the belt attack, but rather with countering a punch to the torso. The simplest explanation may be that the US Pearson’s editor became confused and incorrectly matched one heading with another technical description; if so, then there may have been at least one more canonical technique (the defence against a “low strike”), in Barton-Wright’s original submission.

The game is afoot to track down the April, 1899 edition of Pearson’s Magazine (US edition), which might include more “new” Bartitsu material.

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