Speculations on Bartitsu (kick)boxing

Update: since the following article was written, the Bartitsu Society has come across this 1901 interview with E.W. Barton-Wright that offers some more information on his conception of “Bartitsu kickboxing”.

E.W. Barton-Wright evidently felt that while both boxing and kicking had their places within Bartitsu, they required substantial modification for use in actual self defence. Unfortunately, he never detailed the nature of his modifications, which leaves this aspect of the Bartitsu curriculum open to speculation based on a set of cryptic hints. This article examines his comments on boxing and kicking and offers some educated guesses about their place in the repertoire.

Barton-Wright was fulsome in his praise of boxing, which was virtually synonymous with the idea of “self defence” in London at the turn of the 20th century. In introducing his radical cross-training concept of Bartitsu, however, he was also careful to point out that even “manly and efficacious” British fisticuffs might not be enough to cope with a determined street attacker who didn’t play by the rules:

If one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field. – Barton-Wright, “Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900

Taken at face value, this comment suggests that the forewarned but unarmed Bartitsu-trained defender would adopt a boxing guard and spar specifically in order to “sucker” their adversary into close quarters. At that point the defender would deploy jiujitsu as a sort of secret weapon. In fact, both of Barton-Wright’s “boxing” scenarios in that article proposed that an unarmed fight might begin with fisticuffs, but would end with jiujitsu:

Again, should it happen that the assailant is a better boxer than oneself, the knowledge of Japanese wrestling will enable one to close and throw him without any risk of getting hurt oneself. – Ibid.

He was less enthusiastic about French kickboxing. While acknowledging that kicking and countering kicks were important aspects of self defence training, he asserted that:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate. This latter … is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it. – Ibid.

Another cryptic comment on the subject of kicking in self defence:

Mr. Barton-Wright does not profess to teach his pupils how to kick each other, but merely to know how to be able to return kicks with interest should one be attacked in this manner. – Ibid.

Later, an article in the Pall Mall Gazette also mentioned that the kicking methods adopted at the Bartitsu Club were “somewhat different from the accepted French method.”

In considering Barton-Wright’s comments on savate, it’s worth recalling the traditional Anglo-French rivalry and the middle-class London cultural bias against kicking in self defence as being “un-English”. Also, at a time of very intense nationalism, B-W’s idea that it was socially “permissible” for English gentlemen to learn these foreign skills was still relatively novel and probably not universally accepted. Perhaps B-W deliberately de-emphasised the kicking content of Bartitsu and distanced it from the French method in his articles and lectures as a gesture towards social respectability. Likewise, he may have been attempting to score points by suggesting that the Bartitsu Club was promoting a “new, improved” (even an Anglicised) version of savate.

Both Barton-Wright himself and Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny were primarily interested in teaching pragmatic self-defence, so it’s likely that neither of them had much time for the balletic, light-contact, high kicking style that was then becoming popular as a bourgeois exercise in Paris. If we take B-W’s comments on kicking literally, then presumably he was simply advocating generic street fighting kicks of no particular national origin.

Several months later, in a lecture for the Japan Society of London, he noted that:

Under Bartitsu is included boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking stick as a means of self-defence. Judo and jujitsu, which (are) secret styles of Japanese wrestling, (I) would call close play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, (one) must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick … judo and jiujitsu are not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but (are) only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters, it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot. – Barton-Wright, “Jiu jitsu and Judo: the Japanese Art of Self Defence from a British Athletic Point of View”, February 1901

And then:

Directly one (sees) a man, one ought to know whether he (is) a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in one’s self. – Ibid

This reads as if Barton-Wright was moving towards a more specifically integrated unarmed combat system, perhaps combining the defensive aspects of boxing and savate (guards, slips, parries etc.) with a limited range of punches and kicks. These would be transitional, counter-offensive actions between the preferred ranges of stick fighting and jiujitsu. Thus, again, the unarmed/disarmed Bartitsu practitioner might assume a boxing guard stance and defend/counter according to orthodox Anglo-French styles, but then segue into jiujitsu to actually bring the fight to a close.

Barton-Wright’s articles on “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” include several defence sequences that feature boxing punches and savate kicks, but in each case, the context is the Bartitsu-trained defender countering punching or kicking attacks with his trusty cane. The Black and White Budget article also featured a photograph of Vigny executing what looks like a waist-high front thrust or crescent kick. The implication is that students at the Bartitsu Club might have practiced the basic offensive techniques of boxing and savate partially in order to simulate the types of attacks they might face in the streets; to “role-play” as boxers and savateurs for training purposes.

Barton-Wright’s reference to “more numerous guards”, performed in a “slightly different style” to orthodox boxing, may be significant. It seems highly likely that he and Vigny would have discounted those techniques that relied upon either fighter wearing boxing gloves. If so, they may have been inspired by the older, pre-Queensberry Rules versions of pugilism and savate, which were designed for bare-knuckle fighting and did include a diverse range of guards. Also, Bartitsu defences against unarmed striking attacks were not restricted by the rules of boxing; the counter-attack might be a kick, a punch, a jiujitsu atemi strike, a throw and/or a submission technique.

While the most dangerous stick and jiujitsu techniques could not be fully applied in safe training, via recreational (kick)boxing the Bartitsu practitioner could still attain the sense of timing, distance, contact and unpredictability that can only be honed by unrehearsed sparring.

Due to the speculative nature of canonical Bartitsu (kick)boxing, Bartitsu revivalists tend to take an eclectic approach to their kicking and punching curricula, drawing from various late 19th and early 20th century sources.

“The Secret Lock: A Splendid Yarn of Jiu-Jitsu” (1911)

GoogleBooks has made available this thrilling 12-page tale for red-blooded boys of all ages by Percy Longhurst (author of Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence). It was originally published in the August 1911 edition of Boys’ Life Magazine.

For full enjoyment of the story, please note that the term Jap was not used pejoratively during the Victorian or Edwardian periods, being rather in the nature of a simple abbreviation (q.v. “Brit” for British, “Aussie” for Australian, etc.) The modern pejorative use dates to the Second World War.

From the archives …

Royal Armouries fight interpreters Rob Temple (as Dr. John Watson, left) and Keith Ducklin (as Sherlock Holmes, right) strike Bartitsu cane fighting poses during their 2001 presentation “Bartitsu, the martial art of Sherlock Holmes”. Inspired by the online publication of E.W. Barton-Wright’s articles at the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences Journal of Manly Arts, this was the first known public demonstration of Bartitsu since 1902.

“Always prepared” – the Boy Scouts and self defence

Although Bartitsu slightly pre-dates Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting movement, both were original and novel products of their founders’ Edwardian ideals. Scouting quickly captured the international imagination and went on to become the most successful youth movement in the world, whereas Bartitsu had only a brief moment in the sun and was then all but forgotten throughout the 20th century.

One of E.W. Barton-Wright’s most historically significant achievements was his introduction of Japanese unarmed combat to the Western world. Whereas jiujitsu had occasionally been glossed in popular magazines and academic journals prior to 1898, it was Barton-Wright’s articles for Pearson’s Magazine, his public demonstrations and classes via the Bartitsu Club that began the pre-WW1 jiujitsu boom.

Circa 1906, as Baden-Powell was formulating the concepts and practices of his nascent youth movement, he was impressed by former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi‘s jiujitsu exhibition at Windsor Castle. Along with campfire lighting and first aid, jiujitsu was among the skills demonstrated during the final day of Baden-Powell’s initial, experimental Scout camp on Brownsea Island during August of 1907.

Shortly thereafter, the first set of Boy Scout merit badges were produced, intended to reward practical skill in any of a number of areas including one for “Master-at-Arms”. To qualify for this badge, a Scout was required to participate in one, two or three of the following sports – fencing with the foil, singlestick or quarterstaff, boxing, wrestling and jiujitsu.

Curiously, the Master-at-Arms badge appeared in the US Boy Scouts Association handbook in 1910, but was dropped the following year.

In 1912 Baden-Powell, who had recently returned to England after a world tour visiting Scouts in many different countries, offered these observations on the martial arts training he had witnessed in Japan:

I went and saw a lot of them at their daily practice of fencing with bamboo sticks and practicing jiu-jitsu to make themselves strong and active and good-tempered. I say good-tempered because it is very much like boxing; you have to take a good many hard knocks and take them smiling. If a fellow lost his temper at it, everybody would laugh at him and think him a fool. In jiu-jitsu they learn how to exercise and how to develop their muscles, how to catch hold of an enemy in many different ways so as to overpower him, how to throw him and, what is very important, how to fall easily if they get thrown themselves. I expect the Scouts of Japan, if they visit England later on, will be able to show us a thing or two in this line.

The Scottish physical education specialist W. Bruce Sutherland was, along with William and Edith Garrud, Percy Longhurst and W.H. Collingridge, among the second generation of European jiujitsu instructors. By circa 1915, as well as teaching classes for the Special Constables and the 17th Royal Scots Battalion, Sutherland advocated jiujitsu training for the Boy’s Brigade, the Cadet Corps, Junior Officers’ Training Corps and the 12th Company City of Edinburgh Boy Scouts:

Thus, Sutherland was probably among the first, if not literally the first instructors to teach jiujitsu to the Scouts. His contemporaries William Garrud and Percy Longhurst wrote simplified technical articles explaining jiujitsu “tricks” for young readers, and former Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton produced a monograph entitled Examples of Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys.

At about this time in faraway New Zealand, a home-grown alternative to the Scouts’ sister movement, known as the Peace Scouts, was also training youngsters in jiujitsu along with camping. The N.Z. Peace Scouts, who eventually amalgamated with the Girl Guides, was perhaps the first national organisation to promote martial arts training for girls.

In 1923 H.G. Lang, a British police Superintendant stationed in India, produced a book entitled The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence. Lang’s stick fighting method was closely based on that of Pierre Vigny, who had been the chief instructor at the Bartitsu Club. Lang’s method was endorsed by several leaders of the Scouting movement in India and he included exercises specifically for the “Training of Organised Bodies”, such as Scout troupes. He even went so far as to suggest that the Scout’s traditional staff might be profitably replaced with a walking stick of the length advocated in his system.

Two years later the British Scouting Association produced a manual for the master-at-arms badge, setting out simplified instructions for singlestick, quarterstaff and foil fencing and well as boxing, wrestling and jiujitsu. Kirk Lawson has recently made available a facsimile copy of the 1925 manual, based on an original found by Robert Reinberger.

In many cases it seems that the stated requirements for achieving the Master-at-Arms badge did not quite keep up with the practical options available to most Scouts. Certainly, Scouting manuals continued to refer to singlestick and quarterstaff fencing long after those sports had largely faded from popularity, although anecdotal evidence suggests that some older Scoutmasters continued to teach them even into the 1970s.

Master-at-Arms badges (or equivalents) are still available in some national Scouting associations, but the requirements have changed according to local and national policies and social trends. The Health and Safety Guide of the present Boy Scouts of America organisation, for example, states that

“Boxing, karate, and related martial arts—except judo, aikido, and Tai Chi—are not authorized activities.

… presumably due to liability concerns. The Master-at-Arms badge was never re-instated within the American Scouting movement.

The present incarnation of the Master-at-Arms badge of the (British) Scout Association recognises only fencing, shooting and archery. However, the Baden-Powell (or Traditional) Scouts still maintain the Master-at-Arms badge in close to its original form, requiring candidates to:

1. Demonstrate proficiency in 1 of the following: Single stick, Quarterstaff, Fencing, Boxing, Judo, Wrestling, Archery or any recognised martial art.

2. In all the ‘contest’ events, Scout must have taken part in an encounter under proper ring conditions and be able to demonstrate the correct methods of attack and defence.

3. Give evidence of being in training for the scheduled item for a period of not less than 3 months.

“The sting of a hornet”; Edwardian hat-pin self defence

The popular trend towards enormous, flamboyant hats reached its zenith during the Edwardian era. Circa 1901, fashionable ladies’ headwear featured elaborate assemblies of taffeta, silk bows, coloured ostrich feathers, flowers and even artificial fruit.

The mainstay of the Edwardian hat was the artfully concealed hatpin, and as the hats themselves grew ever larger, so too did the pins. Some antique examples are thirteen inches long and resemble nothing so much as unbated, miniature fencing foils.

A wealth of evidence from the period demonstrates that hatpins were popularly regarded as secret weapons, and indeed as “every woman’s weapon” against the depredations of hooligans and ill-mannered brutes. Laws against hatpins of “excessive length”, or the wearing of hatpins without protective stoppers, were proposed in Hamburg, Berlin and New York among other cities. At least ostensibly, these laws were intended not so much to ban the use of hatpins in self-defence as to mitigate the incidence of accidental hatpin related injuries inflicted upon blameless fellow passengers in crowded tram-cars.

Certainly, though, the hatpin was the weapon of choice for Edwardian novelists and playwrights who had to extricate their heroines from tight spots.

From Harold MacGrath’s novel “Parrot & Co”, 1914:

Craig stepped in front of them, smiling as he raised his helmet. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”

Elsa, looking coldly beyond him, attempted to pass.

“Surely you remember me?”

“I remember an insolent cad,” replied Elsa, her eyes beginning to burn dangerously. “Will you stand aside?”

He threw a swift glance about. He saw with satisfaction that none but natives was in evidence.

Elsa’s glance roved, too, with a little chill of despair. In stories Warrington would have appeared about this time and soundly trounced this impudent scoundrel. She realized that she must settle this affair alone. She was not a soldier’s daughter for nothing.

“Stand aside!”

“Hoity-toity!” he laughed. He had been drinking liberally and was a shade reckless. “Why not be a good fellow? Over here nobody minds. I know a neat little restaurant. Bring the old lady along,” with a genial nod toward the quaking Martha.

Resolutely Elsa’s hand went up to her helmet, and with a flourish drew out one of the long steel pins.

“Oh, Elsa!” warned Martha.

“Be still! This fellow needs a lesson. Once more, Mr. Craig, will you stand aside? ”

Had he been sober he would have seen the real danger in the young woman’s eyes.

“Cruel!” he said. ” At least, one kiss,” putting out his arms.

Elsa, merciless in her fury, plunged the pin into his wrist. It stung like a hornet; and with a gasp of pain, Craig leaped back out of range, sobered.

“Why, you she-cat!”

“I warned you,” she replied, her voice steady but low. “The second stab will be serious. Stand aside.”

He stepped into the gutter, biting his lips and straining his uninjured hand over the hurting throb in his wrist. The hat-pin as a weapon of defense he had hitherto accepted as reporters’ yarns. He was now thoroughly convinced of the truth. He had had wide experience with women. His advantage had always been in the fact that the general run of them will submit to insult rather than create a scene. This dark-eyed Judith was distinctly an exception to the rule. Gad! She might have missed his wrist and jabbed him in the throat. He swore, and walked off down the street.

Elsa set a pace which Martha, with her wabbling knees, found difficult to maintain.

“You might have killed him!” she cried breathlessly.

“You can’t kill that kind of a snake with a hat-pin; you have to stamp on its head. But I rather believe it will be some time before Mr. Craig will again make the mistake of insulting a woman because she appears to be defenseless.” Elsa’s chin was in the air. The choking sensation in her throat began to subside. “The deadly hat-pin; can’t you see the story in the newspapers? Well, I for one am not afraid to use it.”

Perhaps less frequently than in popular fiction, but still present in newspaper articles and medical journals of the time, we find reports of women wounding male attackers via well-placed jabs with their hatpins. For example, according to a story in the New York Times of January 10, 1898, a Miss Sadie Williams assisted a Chicago tram-car conductor named Symington in fending off two determined would-be robbers by stabbing them both repeatedly in the arms and legs with her hatpin, causing the aggressors so much grief that they jumped off the moving tram to escape the onslaught.

Hatpins were also apparently among the covert weapons used by Suffragettes in their struggles against the London bobbies, augmenting their judicious use of Indian clubs and jiujitsu.

Unfortunately there is a paucity of technical instruction on the hatpin as a weapon. The picture emerges, though, of a two-phase counter-strategy against over-confident ruffians who seized their intended victims by the shoulders or arms. First, the defender would feign shock and indignation, her hand flying up apparently to steady her enormous hat, but in reality to pluck out a hatpin. Then, in one movement, she would jab the weapon forcefully into the offending hand or wrist; Mr. MacGrath was not the only writer to compare the resulting pain to “the sting of a hornet”. This might well suffice to discourage any further offence. If not, the consensus on following-up was to stab the assailant in the face or, if more conveniently accessible, “the place where it hurts the most”.

Hatpin tactics are illustrated in these photographs excerpted from a 1904 self defence article that was featured in the San Francisco Sunday Call newspaper:


“When attacked from behind, she grasps a hatpin. Turning quickly, she is able to strike a fatal blow in the face.”

… and described in the risque music hall ballad, “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin”:

My Granny was a very shrewd old lady,
The smartest woman that I ever met.
She used to say, “Now listen to me, Sadie,
There’s one thing that you never must forget.”

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
The law won’t let you carry more than that.
For if you go walking out without your hat pin,

You may lose your head as well as lose your hat.”

My Granny said men never could be trusted.
No matter how refined they might appear.
She said that many maidens’ hearts got busted
Because men never had but one idea.

I’ve heard that Grandpa really was a mess,
So Grandma knew whereof she spoke, I guess.

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
Not even to some very classy joints.
For when a fellow sees you’ve got a hat pin
He’s very much more apt to get the point.

My Mama, too, set quite a bad example.
She never heeded Grandmama’s advice.
She found that if you give a man a sample,
The sample somehow never does suffice.

In fact, it’s rumored I might not have been
If Mum had not gone out without her pin.

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
It’s about the best protection you have got.
For if you go walking out without your hat pin,

You may come home without your you-know-what!

Finger Weapons of the Parisian Apaches

(From the June 1911 issue of “Popular Mechanics” magazine)

All the weapons used by the Apaches in Paris are unique, but none are more ingenious than these curious rings and the device known as the “thorn punch”. The latter, held as shown in the illustration and delivered with a hard, straight blow, would drop a man as if hit by a sledge. The rings, however, are more subtle, as they appear to be nothing more than ordinary finger adornments with the exaggerated settings or heads often worn by fad extremists, but hidden within the hand is an extension. This rests against the palm when the fist is doubled and adds much force to the blow.