Bartitsu and historical fencing

“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 …”
– Captain Alfred Hutton, “The Sword and the Centuries” (1902)

Alfred Hutton was at the centre of the late-Victorian revival of “ancient swordplay”, or historical fencing styles including the use of the raper and dagger, sword and handbuckler and two-handed sword. Beginning in the 1880s he had tutored a small but enthusiastic group of students, most initially in their young teens, via a boys’ club attached to the School of Arms of the London Rifle Brigade.

Hutton and his colleague, the novelist Egerton Castle, organised a number of historical fencing exhibitions during the 1890s. By 1900 Hutton’s cadre of Elizabethan swordsmen had performed throughout the city of London and had even been invited to demonstrate their skills at a grand “Festival of Historical Swordplay” in Belgium.

Shortly after E.W. Barton-Wright returned to London from Japan and started promoting his new Bartitsu method, he joined Hutton on the lecture/demonstration circuit. Mixed Bartitsu and historical fencing exhibitions were held, most notably at the exclusive Bath Club and at a fund-raising event for Guy’s Hospital.

Hutton joined a number of notables, including politicians and minor nobility, in supporting Barton-Wright’s desire to establish a permanent training academy. When B-W opened his Bartitsu Club in Soho, Hutton began holding historical fencing classes there as well. His students included some prominent London actors, who studied historical fencing for use in stage combat, as well as young men from the L.R.B. School of Arms. Hutton also served on the Club’s Committee, which approved or declined applications from would-be Bartitsu Club members.

Given Barton-Wright’s emphasis on Bartitsu as practical self defence, it’s unlikely that historical fencing per se was considered to be a formal part of the Bartitsu curriculum. It is evident, however, that informal cross-training did take place; Hutton offered a glowing review of Pierre Vigny’s method of self defence with a walking stick, and even demonstrated that method during a 1902 newspaper interview. It’s also likely that he took some jiujitsu lessons at the Club, either with Barton-Wright or with instructors Yukio Tani or Sadakazu Uyenishi. Hutton produced a monograph on jiujitsu techniques for schoolboys and later offered a jiujitsu-based class in humane control and restraint techniques for doctors working in London psychiatric hospitals.

Sadly, the untimely closure of the Bartitsu Club seems to have brought an end to the collaborations between Barton-Wright and Hutton. But during the year 1901, when the Club was a hive of activity, one might have signed up for classes in recreational rapier or longsword fencing alongside jiujitsu, boxing, wrestling and walking stick defence. It must have been quite the scene.

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