“Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature”

Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature is the title of Bartitsu Society associate Emelyne Godfrey’s new book, now available for pre-publication orders via the Macmillan website, Amazon and other booksellers.

Ms. Godfrey’s previous antagonistics-related projects have included entries in Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, the two-volume Martial Arts of the World encyclopedia set and the article Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Bartitsu for History Today magazine. She has also lectured on the subjects of crime and self defence in the Victorian era and is among the interviewees for our forthcoming documentary, Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.

According to the publishers:

This book considers crime fighting from the seldom explored viewpoint of the civilian city-goer. While rates of violent crime were generally declining, the period from the ‘garotting’ (strangling) panics of the 1850s to the First World War was characterized by a cultural fascination with physical threat and personal protection. As masculine violence became less tolerated, literary giants such as Anthony Trollope and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began to ask themselves which methods the pedestrian should employ in this new age. From the pistol duel to the Whitechapel Murders, the self-defence scenario provided an avenue through which contrasting visions of masculinity could be explored. Here, not only literary sources but artefacts tell some bizarre stories. Why was the truncheon-like stick known as the ‘life-preserver’ so dangerous, and what exactly was Sherlock Holmes’ mysterious skill, ‘baritsu’?

The contents include:

List of Illustrations
Note on the Text and Abbreviations
Foreign Crimes Hit British Shores
The Ticket-Of-Leave Man
Tooled Up: The Pedestrian’s Armoury
Threats From Below And Above
Lord Chiltern And Mr Kennedy
Phineas Redux
Exotic Enemies
Urban Knights In The London Streets
Foreign Friends

Congratulations to Emy Godfrey and we’re looking forward to her book, which will surely be a fascinating and informative academic excursion through the mean streets of Victorian England.

Bartitsu fashion

ViolentlyBeautiful.com has recently posted a gallery of Bartitsu-inspired subversive fashion photography images. To quote from the blog:

The images contained within this site are artistic photography and all models are over the age of 18 at the time of shooting. Due to the nature of the subject matter of some of the photographs, they are not suitable for younger audiences or those of a sensitive disposition (consider yourself warned!).


Bartitsu is a ‘gentlemen’s martial art’ from the the early part of the 20th century. If you would like more information about it, check out www.bartitsu.org

Thanks for the shout-out, and for surprising us with a novel artistic twist on our own theme.

Self Defence with a Walking Stick (animated)

Pierre Vigny and E.W. Barton-Wright demonstrate a selection of canonical Bartitsu stick fighting sequences from Barton-Wright’s classic Pearson’s Magazine article, “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” (1900).

Animated GIFs courtesy of Facsimile Magazine.

No. 1.—The Guard by Distance—How to Avoid any Risk of being Hit on the Fingers, Arm, or Body by Retiring out of the Hitting Range of your Adversary, but at the same time Keeping Him within the Hitting Range of your Own Stick.

No. 4 — How to Defend Yourself, without Running any Risk of being Hurt, if you are Carrying only a Small Switch in your Hand, and are Threatened by a Man with a very Strong Stick.

No. 8 — One of the Safest Plans of Defence for a Tall Man to Adopt, who has not much Confidence in his own Quickness and Knowledge of Stick-play, when Opposed to a Shorter and more Competent Opponent.

“To conquer by yielding”; Lafcadio Hearn on jiujitsu

An excerpt from Lafcadio Hearn’s “Out of the East: Reveries and Studies in New Japan”, 1895.

Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and strong. So is it with all things. . . . Firmness and strength are the concomitants of death; softness and weakness, the concomitants of life. Hence he who relies on his own strength shall not conquer.


Kazo and Iwao, Hearn's eldest children, at jiujitsu practice.

There is one building in the grounds of the Government College quite different in structure from the other edifices. Except that it is furnished with horizontally sliding glass windows instead of paper ones, it might be called a purely Japanese building. It is long, broad, and of one story; and it contains but a single huge room, of which the elevated floor is thickly cushioned with one hundred mats. It has a Japanese name, too, — Zuihokwan, — signifying The Hall of Our Holy Country; and the Chinese characters which form that name were painted upon the small tablet above its entrance by the hand of a Prince of the Imperial blood. Within there is no furniture; nothing but another tablet and two pictures hanging upon the wall. One of the pictures represents the famous White-Tiger Band of seventeen brave boys who voluntarily sought death for loyalty’s sake in the civil war. The other is a portrait in oil of the aged and much beloved Professor of Chinese, Akizuki of Aidzu, a noted warrior in his youth, when it required much more to make a soldier and a gentleman than it does to-day. And the tablet bears Chinese characters written by the hand of Count Katsu, which signify: Profound knowledge is the best of possessions.

But what is the knowledge taught in this huge unfurnished apartment? It is something called jiujutsu. And what is jiujutsu ?

Here I must premise that I know practically nothing of jiujutsu. One must begin to study it in early youth, and must continue the study a very long time in order to learn it even tolerably well. To become an expert requires seven years of constant practice, even presupposing natural aptitudes of an uncommon order. I can give no detailed account of jiujutsu, but merely venture some general remarks about its principle.

Jiujutsu is the old samurai art of fighting without weapons. To the uninitiated it looks like wrestling. Should you happen to enter the Zuihokwan while jiujutsu is being practiced, you would see a crowd of students watching ten or twelve lithe young comrades, barefooted and barelimbed, throwing each other about on the matting. The dead silence might seem to you very strange. No word is spoken, no sign of approbation or of amusement is given, no face even smiles. Absolute impassiveness is rigidly exacted by the rules of the school of jiujutsu. But probably only this impassibility of all, this hush of numbers, would impress you as remarkable.

A professional wrestler would observe more. He would see that those young men are very cautious about putting forth their strength, and that the grips, holds, and flings are both peculiar and risky. In spite of the care exercised, he would judge the whole performance to be dangerous play, and would be tempted, perhaps, to advise the adoption of Western “scientific” rules.

The real thing, however, — not the play, — is much more dangerous than a Western wrestler could guess at sight. The teacher there, slender and light as he seems, could probably disable an ordinary wrestler in two minutes. Jiujutsu is not an art of display at all: it is not a training for that sort of skill exhibited to public audiences; it is an art of self-defense in the most exact sense of the term; it is an art of war. The master of that art is able, in one moment, to put an untrained antagonist completely hors de combat. By some terrible legerdemain he suddenly dislocates a shoulder, unhinges a joint, bursts a tendon, or snaps a bone, — without any apparent effort. He is much more than an athlete: he is an anatomist. And he knows also touches that kill — as by lightning. But this fatal knowledge he is under oath never to communicate except under such conditions as would render its abuse almost impossible. Tradition exacts that it be given only to men of perfect self-command and of unimpeachable moral character.

The fact, however, to which I want to call attention is that the master of jiujutsu never relies upon his own strength. He scarcely uses his own strength in the greatest emergency. Then what does he use ? Simply the strength of his antagonist. The force of the enemy is the only means by which that enemy is overcome. The art of jiujutsu teaches you to rely for victory solely upon the strength of your opponent; and the greater his strength, the worse for him and the better for you. I remember that I was not a little astonished when one of the greatest teachers of jiujutsu (1) told me that he found it extremely difficult to teach a certain very strong pupil, whom I had innocently imagined to be the best in the class. On asking why, I was answered: “Because he relies upon his enormous muscular strength, and uses it.” The very name jiujutsu means to conquer by yielding.

I fear I cannot explain at all; I can only suggest. Every one knows what a “counter” in boxing means. I cannot use it for an exact simile, because the boxer who counters opposes his whole force to the impetus of the other; while a jiujutsu expert does precisely the contrary. Still there remains this resemblance between a counter in boxing and a yielding in jiujutsu, — that the suffering is in both cases due to the uncontrollable forward impetus of the man who receives it. I may venture then to say, loosely, that in jiujutsu there is a sort of counter for every twist, wrench, pull, push, or bend: only, the jiujutsu expert does not oppose such movements at all. No: he yields to them. But he does much more than yield to them. He aids them with a wicked sleight that causes the assailant to put out his own shoulder, to fracture his own arm, or, in a desperate case, even to break his own neck or back.

With even this vaguest of explanations, you will already have been able to perceive that the real wonder of jiujutsu is not in the highest possible skill of its best professor, but in the uniquely Oriental idea which the whole art expresses. What Western brain could have elaborated this strange teaching,— never to oppose force to force, but only to direct and utilize the power of attack; to overthrow the enemy solely by his own strength, — to vanquish him solely by his own effort? Surely none! The Occidental mind appears to work in straight lines; the Oriental, in wonderful curves and circles. Yet how fine a symbolism of Intelligence as a means to foil brute force! Much more than a science of defense is this jiujutsu: it is a philosophical system; it is an economical system; it is an ethical system (indeed, I had forgotten to say that a very large part of jiujutsu training is purely moral); and it is, above all, the expression of a racial genius as yet but faintly perceived by those Powers who dream of further aggrandizement in the East.

(1) Kano Jigoro. Mr. Kano contributed some years ago to the Transactions of the Asiatic Society a very interesting paper on the history of Jiujutsu.

The remainder of Hearns’ essay considers jiujitsu as a metaphor in ethical, political and other spheres.

“The Mystery of Baritsu” (1958)

In early 1902, and under circumstances that remain a historical mystery, the Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time. Jiujitsu went on to experience a boom lasting even through the First World War, firmly establishing the mystique of the Japanese martial arts in Western pop culture. The popularity of boxing and wrestling continued unabated. Some individuals, notably Pierre Vigny, Percy Longhurst and Jean Joseph Renaud, perpetuated and expanded upon Barton-Wright’s practice of mixing Asian and European “antagonistics”. For almost all intents and purposes, however, Bartitsu itself was forgotten throughout the 20th century.

During this period, Sherlock Holmes aficionados continued to puzzle over Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s reference to “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling”, with which Sherlock Holmes had simultaneously saved his own life and defeated his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, at the brink of Reichenbach Falls. Meanwhile, E.W. Barton-Wright was occasionally referenced in the introductory paragraphs of English judo manuals – as the famous Yukio Tani’s manager. Bartitsu, when it was mentioned at all, was typically described simply as “an English version of jiujitsu”.

And so the situation remained until the mid-1950s research of Ralph Judson, whose work has recently been re-discovered by Andy Stott.

Judson had studied jiujitsu under Japanese instructors for eight years in his capacity as the Commandant of the Manchester Sub-District Physical Training and Close Combat School during the Second World War. A longtime Sherlockian, he had quizzed his Japanese colleagues about Holmes’ “baritsu”, but was consistently told that no such term existed in the Japanese language:

For a long time I tried to discover the origins of the word baritsu, and the precise methods of this form of wrestling. Somebody must have invented it, some time.

After his retirement in 1955, Judson began the task of cataloging his collection of some 6,500 books, which included a number of antique 19th century periodicals. Leafing through the contents of the seventh volume of Pearson’s Magazine, dating to 1899, he was intrigued to find a series of two articles entitled The New Art of Self Defence, by one E.W. Barton-Wright:

In the second installment (Barton-Wright) wrote, “Readers of the March number will remember that I described therein a few of the three hundred methods of attack and counter-attack that comprise the New Art of Self Defence, to which I have given the name of BARTITSU.

(emphasis in original text).

Thrilled to have finally tracked down the origins of Holmes’ mysterious art of “Japanese wrestling”, Judson learned what he could about Barton-Wright, Tani and the Bartitsu Club and offered his ground-breaking research in the form of an article. The Mystery of Baritsu: a Sidelight Upon Sherlock Holmes’s Accomplishments was published in the Christmas 1958 edition of the Baker Street Journal.

Judson’s summary of the Bartitsu story was largely accurate, although, like many prior and subsequent writers, he apparently missed the significance of Bartitsu as an eclectic self defence art, describing it as “a number of selected methods of ju-jutsu, adapted to European needs and costume”. It’s entirely possible that Judson simply didn’t read, or failed to connect Barton-Wright’s second series of Pearson’s articles (on walking stick defence) to his first, and so did not realise that Bartitsu actually encompassed four different methods of “antagonistics”.

Shifting gears into the Sherlockian “Great Game” of pretending that Holmes and Watson had been real people, Judson pointed out that Holmes could not possibly have studied Bartitsu, because the events described in The Adventure of the Empty House took place on May 4th, 1891. Since Bartitsu was not introduced until 1899, he reasoned, Holmes must in fact have referred to jiujitsu, and Watson (writing in 1903) must have simply confused jiujitsu with the then-popular Bartitsu, further confounding future generations of scholars by misspelling the word. (1)

Ralph Judson finished his article by offering an ingenious technical explanation as to how Holmes had defeated Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. Noting that the observation path where they battled is only three feet wide, with a sheer wall of rock to one side and a sheer drop on the other, Judson suggested that:

Just before Professor Moriarty locked his grip, pinning the detective’s arms to his sides, Sherlock Holmes, having inflated to the full extent his chest and his biceps, swiftly deflated himself, and, as he said, “I slipped through his grip”. In one fast and smooth movement, dropping on one knee, he gripped with one hand Moriarty’s heel, which was closer to the abyss, and lifting the heel and with it the foot, diagonally, away from himself, he pushed hard, at the same time, with his other hand, into the groin of the captured leg, applying terrific leverage …

This caused Moriarty to lose completely his balance and gave him no time to clutch at his opponent. When Holmes let go, Moriarty “with a horrible scream, kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands.”

But, for all these efforts, Moriarty could not regain his balance, and over he went – while his opponent was still crouching on the narrow path.

This is the complete picture of this unforgettable conflict – and “Baritsu” is no longer a mystery.

Ironically, though, Judson’s Mystery of Baritsu article was, itself, largely forgotten over time …

(1) A more recent theory is that the art known as baritsu was in fact founded by Holmes himself, based on his documented study of Japanese wrestling, fencing, boxing and stick fighting, and that he later gave permission to his top student, E.W. Barton-Wright, to go public with a modified version of the art.

By far the most detailed version of these events, though, is discussed here.

An Edwardian jiujitsu exposition

(From Womanhood Magazine, 1904)

A VERY INTERESTED GATHERING assembled at Caxton Hall, Westminster, on December 20, at the invitation of Mr. Granger, Agent General for Australia, to witness a demonstration of the Japanese School of Ju Jitsu. Mr. Granger’s talented son, whom his friends were pleased to see happily restored after a dangerous illness, explained the various points in the system, which, he said, was recognised as long ago as the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century there was a Chinese priest who was a very great expert. Gradually the system was adopted by the Japanese Government, and is now regularly taught in the schools.

Ju Jitsu may in truth be termed the “gentle art of self-defence,” and its basis is to act upon a knowledge of the most tender spots in the human body, so that a person skilled in the art, though apparently weak, can protect himself or herself against the biggest bully that exists. In Ju Jitsu no strength must be put forth into the defence, and it is for this reason that ladies learn it more quickly than men, because men want to put strength into it, whereas women use finesse. The principle is to defeat the opponent by utilising his strength and playing upon his most vulnerable point. In Japanese school and university training the system has much the same position as established games have in England. The Japanese woman is educated in it, and it enters into the training of soldier, sailor, and policeman.

A most interesting part of the demonstration was that in which two English ladies, Mrs. Watts and Miss Roberts, took part. Mrs. Watts gave a demonstration of throws with Mr. Eida, and she and Miss Roberts also gave a demonstration of practice. The points illustrated by Mr. Miyake and Mr. Tani were various ways of falling without inconvenience, illustrations of the balance of the human body, and how to throw one’s antagonist; also what is called “the locks”— as for example, the arm lock, in which the arm of the person who attacks, however strong he be, must be broken either at the elbow or shoulder; the leg lock, where excruciating pain can be caused by pressure at a point at the bottom of the calf, or the foot may be injured; and the neck lock, in which a person becomes unconscious owing to pressure on the arteries. Mr. Granger incidentally remarked that the Japanese have no less than three ways to rapidly restore consciousness which are unknown to European medical men, but these are not made known.

Among others who took part in the demonstration were Mr. Kanaya and Mr. Uyenishi. As Mr. Granger humorously remarked, Ju Jitsu is a triumph of knowledge and skill against mere brute strength, and any lady who knows the game is more than a match for any husband who does not.

Edwardian walking stick defence seminar (Edinburgh)

Edinburgh: on the 16th of October, beginning at midday and ending at 5pm, there will be a workshop in Walking Stick Defence given by Phil Crawley. The venue will be the Kirk o’Field church hall.

Although based on the Vigny/Lang system(s), the seminar will include aspects of the Andre, Renaud and Cunningham methods for comparison. The workshop will look at using the walking stick at three different ranges – long, medium and close – in order to defend with a number of different, and often surprising, techniques, and how the stick may be combined with other contemporary arts and objects in order to provide an all-round self-defence against ruffians.

Participants will require a fencing mask, stout gloves and a fencing jacket or gambeson. Forearm protection is advised.

Sticks, and other specialist equipment, will be provided.

Cost will be the small sum of £12 for the day.

Neo-Bartitsu event in Pfarrkirchen

On October 9th and 10th the Pfarrkirchen branch of the Ochs historical fencing association hosted a “challenge tournament” followed by a neo-Bartitsu seminar.

Opening the neo-Bartitsu session, Andy Damms gave a lesson on English pugilism, covering history, basic punches with an emphasis on straight punching and the falling step, followed by simple defenses and then the throws typical of bare-knuckle pugilism.

After the lunch break the seminar continued with savate low line kicks and their respective evasive motions, then basic wrist locks and defence in special situations. The latter included the defender being punched while leaning against a wall, the defender being on the ground while the opponent is standing and drills for facing multiple opponents, taught by Alex Kiermeyer.