“Father Frank’s trick”

Text from “The French Scotland Yard: About the Paris Detective and his Work” by Alder Anderson and H. de Noussanne; The London Magazine, Volume 9, 1903.

Has the reader ever heard of “the trick of Father Francis?” Or as it is in its French dress, “le coup du Pere Francois”? Whether he has or not, let him offer up a devout prayer that it may never be practically demonstrated to him on his own person. To the industrious antiquarian must be left the task of discovering exactly who “Father Francis” was; the trick to which he stands sponsor will, nonetheless, remain one of the most effectual methods known to he Paris representative of the London “hooligan”, of disabling a belated bourgeois, who looks as if he might be the temporary custodian of a heavy purse, a well-lined pocket book, a gold watch or any of the hundred and one trifles for which the soul of the hooligan of every country hungers.

Properly executed, the “trick of Father Francis” is not inartistic, and though painful to the victim, seldom proves fatal. Any person whose steps lead him Pariswards may see the interesting youth of the French metropolis who select the dry moat of the fortifications as their playground, practicing this trick and others in sheer wantonness among themselves. All that is required for the purpose is a large silk handkerchief.

A former professor of the art has been good enough to describe for the readers of the London Magazine his modus operandi. It would be a pity to attempt to improve on the naive precision of his style. Here, then, is a faithful transcription, in English, of his lesson.

“Take a strong silk muffler (scarf), which you should wear very loosely round the neck. You should have (at least) one accomplice, who follows you at a distance of about a dozen paces. Select a belated wayfarer of substantial appearance, and walk in the same direction as he is going, and, as nearly as you can, on a level with him without arousing his suspicions. Should the street be well lighted or you have reason to suspect that anyone may be observing you, be particularly careful to appear utterly indifferent, both to the man you are following and to your accomplice.

Sooner or later, you will traverse some dark, deserted thoroughfare. Here you must arrange to be a few steps in advance. You stop in an unconcerned manner, as if to light a cigarette, and your man comes up level, and finally passes you.

You then quickly drop the match, take a firm grip of each end of the muffler and swing it over your own head and over the head of your man, so that it goes under his chin. At the same instant you half turn round, bend slightly forward, and by so doing lift the bourgeois off the ground by the neck. He is half suffocated and has no time to utter the least exclamation. Your accomplice, meanwhile, has run up, and while you keep a firm hold of the muffler, at once explores all the pockets of the choking and helpless victim. If necessary, he can give the bourgeois a blow on the head to keep him quiet. The whole operation is over in a few seconds. It is rarely necessary to kill the victim, who may be just left senseless on the ground where he falls.”

In spite of all their precautions, Father Francis tricksters are occasionally caught red-handed by the guardians of the law. They then, commonly, resort to the “head trick,” which consists in charging at the policeman with lowered head. A blow thus delivered in the pit of the stomach is usually all but fatal. The police are carefully instructed how to parry this form of attack by stepping quickly aside at the last moment, felling the aggressor by a heavy blow on the nape of the neck as he passes. An alternative is for the policeman to stand on one leg and check the rush of the oncoming “ram” with the raised knee of the other leg, giving a heavy blow on the head with the fist at the same time.

Umbrella self defence intro. at the Academie Duello

Learn to fend off ruffians and rapscallions with Vancouver’s most common weather-based accoutrement.

In this 4-hour workshop (Saturday, September 25 – 3:00pm to 7:00pm), participants will learn the art of self-defense with an umbrella or cane. Based on the Bartitsu system developed in turn of the century Victorian England, stick fighting is a practical, easily applied system of self-defense for any gentleman or lady.

This workshop is suitable for participants of any fitness level.
$60 (15% off for members)

You can sign up online here.

Bartitsu documentary referenced in Postimees magazine

The forthcoming documentary Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes has been referenced in a feature article profiling co-producer Ran A. Braun and his wife, Aile Asszonyi, published in the Estonian Postimees Magazine.

In memoriam: E.W. Barton-Wright (8 Nov. 1860 – 13 Sept. 1951)

Today marks the 59th anniversary of the death of Bartitsu founder Edward William Barton-Wright.

Born in Bangalore, India, he was the third of six children of railway engineer William Barton Wright and his wife, Janet. Edward travelled widely as a youth, matriculating in France and Germany and then operating mining concessions in Spain, Egypt and Portugal. After studying jiujitsu in Japan for approximately three years, he returned to London and opened his Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in 1899.

The Bartitsu Club era was a relatively prosperous and happy time for Barton-Wright, but it was short-lived. By 1902, for reasons that are still unknown to us, the Club had ceased operating as a martial arts school. The instructors that Barton-Wright had gathered dispersed, and he himself spent the rest of his career working as a physical therapist.

Barton-Wright’s life was punctuated by genuine innovations and bold plans, but plagued by financial and legal problems. A bankruptcy suit brought by a disgruntled former employee in 1910 seems to have dealt his professional life a crippling blow. From 1938 onwards, his therapeutic clinic was in his own home, a small flat in the London suburb of Surbiton.

Despite having quite literally pioneered the teaching of the Japanese martial arts in the West, E.W. Barton-Wright died in obscurity and in virtual poverty; a forgotten eccentric. To the very last, though, he remained proud of his art of Bartitsu. In a 1950 interview with Gunji Koizumi, the founder of the London Budokwai judo club, Barton-Wright recalled:

I have always been interested in the arts of self-defence. And I learned various methods, including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate, the use of the stiletto under recognised masters, and by engaging regular ‘roughs’ I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application. Then when I went to Japan, during my three years’ sojourn there, I studied Ju-jutsu under a local teacher in Kobe who specialised in the Kata form of instruction. I then met Prof. J. Kano, who gave me some lessons. On my return to England I founded an institution at which one could learn under specialised instructors all forms of sports and combative arts. For Ju-jutsu teachers, I asked my friends in Japan and Prof. Kano to select and to send … I then worked out a system of self-defence by combining the best of all the arts I learned and called it Bartitsu.

It was not until the 1990s that scholars began to realise E. W. Barton-Wright’s historical significance in the martial arts, not least being his radical innovation of Bartitsu as a method of cross-training between Asian and European fighting styles. The influence of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and the massive popularity of Mixed Martial Arts clearly vindicate Barton-Wright’s vision. Sadly, he was simply eighty years ahead of his time.

Barton-Wright was interred at Kingston Cemetery in Surbiton. For those who may wish to pay their respects, the relevant details are:

Section E (Consecrated), Grave no. 3012A

Note that, due to his having died in poverty, he was buried in a communal grave. A local ordinance forbids the placing of individual grave markers (gravestones) on these sites, because it is impossible to determine exactly where an individual is buried. Flowers may be left at the base of a tree growing from the grave.

ISMAC Bartitsu 2010

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent in any particular position, as the system embraces every possible eventuality, and your defence and counter attack must be entirely based upon the tactics of your opponent. – E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899

Barton-Wright’s precept of adaptability was the central theme of the Bartitsu intensive held at the 2010 International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention between September 3-6. The Bartitsu course comprised three two-hour long classes, commencing at 9.00 each morning of the event, and was taught by Tony Wolf.

Day 1 began with a precis of Bartitsu history and then moved into biomechanics exercises, concentrating on the image of the standing human body as an isosceles triangle and exploring the limits of triangular stability. Participants started with solo movements and then experimented with various pushing and pulling techniques to de-stabilise their partners, following Barton-Wright’s first and second principles; “to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant” and “to surprise him before he has a chance to use his strength”.

These exercises were then extended into a basic boxing sequence (parry left lead off, counter with left and straight right combination) in which slow “pressing” contact was made, then adding in a low chopping kick to either the lead or rear ankle/shin. To this sequence was then added the third principle of “straining joints” via leverage against the head and neck, elbows etc., with the choice of joint lock or de-stabilising hold depending on the partner’s physical position following the punches and the kick.

Day 2 commenced with a recap of the (kick)boxing work and then segued into a selection of the canonical Bartitsu stickfighting sequences. Again, the emphasis was on freely applying Barton-Wright’s “three principles” in response to the opponent’s spontaneous defensive and/or counter-offensive actions, as a “bridge” between set-plays and free sparring.

Day 3 also began with a brief (kick)boxing based review, followed by a close examination of two of the canonical jiujitsu paired kata from the tactical and dynamic points of view. The classical set-plays were then “twisted” on the assumption that the opponent muscled through or otherwise interrupted the set sequence of events, the defender’s challenge being to ride with the interruption and spontaneously apply the imbalancing, surprise and joint-locking principles to regain the initiative. There was a digression at one point into a specific newaza (ground grappling) submission lock as an example of maintaining control should the thrown opponent pull the defender down with them.