Defence Against “Hooligans”: Bartitsu Methods in London (1901)

An article by “S.L.B.” from “The Sketch”, April 10, 1901:

Last year, a very interesting exhibition of self defence was given at St. James’s Hall, and was the subject of prolonged discussion by many of the people present. Mr. Edward Barton-Wright, who gave the demonstration, was honoured with an invitation to repeat it before the Prince of Wales, but he met with a bicycle accident and the exhibition became impossible. It may be that the style of self-defence introduced to public notice would have failed to attract attention by reason of its novelty alone, but Mr. Barton-Wright had not mastered it without the firm intent to give it a fair chance before the public. He proceeded to found a Club at 67b, Shaftesbury Avenue, where physical culture may be studied under Professors of all nationalities, some of the best of the world’s athletes and sportsmen being engaged as instructors. To-day the work is in full swing, stimulated by the uprising of the “hooligan”.

In his early days, Mr. Barton-Wright was an engineer, and his duties took him into strange lands and among ill-disposed people. He had to go slowly, and to learn that the knowledge of boxing under the Queensberry rules, his sole accomplishment then among the arts of self-defence, is of little or no use against men who attack their opponents with feet as well as hands, from below the belt as well as above it, from the back as well as face-to-face, and with bludgeons, life-preservers, knives and other persuasive weapons. The straightforward stroke that, catching the ruffian upon the “point” or “mark”, disables him from further attempts, is of little or no good when it cannot be delivered, and in every city he visited the young engineer found more and more to learn.

Soon he was seized with the bright idea of combining the self-defence of all nations into a system that, when properly acquired, should enable a man to defy anything but firearms or a sudden stab in the dark.

The chief point to bear in mind was that an adequate system of defence must be able to meet any form of attack; the man who endeavours to disable you by kicking you in the stomach is entitled to as much respect and consideration as he who strives to garrote you, or to try the relative resisting powers of a loaded stick and your skull.

The Bartitsu Club, through its Professors, over whom Mr. Barton-Wright keeps an admonishing eye, guarantees you against all danger. In one corner is M. Vigny, the World’s Champion with the single-stick: the Champion who is the acknowledged master of savate trains his pupils in another. He could kill you and twenty like
you if he so desired in the interval between breakfast and lunch – but, as a matter of fact, he never does. He leads you gently on with gloves and single-stick, through the mazes of the arts, until, at last, with your trained eye and supple muscles, no unskilled brute force can put you out, literally or metaphorically.

In another part of the Club are more Champions, this time from far Japan, where self-defence is taken far more seriously than here. The Champion Wrestler of Osaka, or one of the shining lights among the trainers for the Tokio police, dressed in the picturesque garb of his corner of the Far East, will teach you once more of how little you know of the muscles that keep you perpendicular, and of the startling effects of sudden leverage properly applied. The Japanese Champions are terribly strong and powerful; at a private rehearsal of their work, given some two months ago on the Alhambra stage, I saw a little Jap. who is about five feet nothing in height and eight stone in weight, do just what he liked with a strong North of England wrestler more than six feet high, broad, muscular and confident. The little one ended by putting his opponent gently on his back, and the big one looked as if he did not know how it was done.

There is no form of grip that the Japanese jujitsu work does not meet and foil, and in Japan a policeman learns the jujitsu wrestling as part of his equipment for active service. One of the Club trainers was professionally engaged to teach the police in Japan before he came to England to serve under Mr. Barton-Wright.

When you have mastered the various branches of the work done at the Club, which includes a system of physical drill taught by another Champion, this time from Switzerland, the world is before you, even though a “Hooligan” be behind you. You are not only safe from attack, you can do just what you like with the attacking party. He is as helpless in your well-trained hands as a railway-engine in the hands of its driver. The “Hooligan” does not understand the principles on which he works; you do, and, if it pleases you to make his machinery ineffective for further assaults upon unoffending citizens, you can do so in a way that cannot be believed until it is seen. No part of South London need have terrors for you; Menilmontant, La Vilette and the shadier side of the Bois are as safe for you in Paris as the Place de l’Opera. I find myself wishing that the Bartitsu Club had been in Shaftesbury Avenue as recently as some five or six years ago, when shortly after midnight the slums of Soho would send forth ruffians at whose approach wise men sought the light.

The work of the Club makes a strong appeal to Englishmen, because they are naturally of an adventurous disposition and have a great aversion to the use of any but natural weapons of defence in the brawls that they are bound to encounter now and again. There is a keen pleasure in being able to turn the tables on a man who tries to assault us suddenly and by means that he relies upon to give him an unfair advantage. I am well assured that a few of Mr. Barton-Wright’s pupils sent into a district infested by “Hooligans” would do more to bring about law and order than a dozen casual arrests followed by committal with hard labour, with or without the “cat”. And there is an element of sport in the Bartitsu method that should appeal to any “Hooligan” with a sense of humour.

Theatrical Bartitsu at the Burt Reynolds Institute

Cynthia Morrison, fight director and stage combat instructor, has brought yet another unique skill to enhance acting resumes. Actors recently studied the art of Bartitsu with her at the Burt Reynolds Institute in Jupiter, Florida.

“Bartitsu is an eclectic martial art and self-defence method originally developed in England during the years 1898–1902. In 1901 it was immortalised by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. Although dormant throughout most of the 20th Century, Bartitsu has been experiencing a revival since 2002”

Victorian / Edwardian times found the Bartitsu club located at 67b Shaftesbury Avenue, in London’s Soho district, England. But it has now made its way to the Tropics.

The elements of Bartitsu include JiuJitsu, Stick and Cane fighting, Boxing and Savate (French kick boxing) and self defense with an umbrella. Students reported the class as interesting, very educational but most of all, fun!

“An Englishman’s discretion …”

Jujutsu can not escape the mania of would-be inventions and discoveries. In the formation of the various schools of defence, undoubtedly there has been much eclectic work done. Several methods of attack and defense are borrowed from various schools and then combined into one. It is probable that some schools distinguish themselves mainly by name.

(Footnote) – Barton-Wright did this, although not by Japanese, but by an Englishman’s discretion; the Shinden Fudo school (style), at which I, as well as he learned in Kobe with Terajima, he called “Bartitsu” in the United Kingdom.

The school, whose basics I learned under Terajima Kunichiro, is called Shinden Fudo Ryu, which freely translates as, “Divine School of the Unshakable Heart”.

My teacher was first taught in the art of Ju Jutsu by Yata Onseisai, in Shimagawara in Miyako (Kyoto), now almost 50 years ago. I already pointed out that Bartitsu is nothing else than Shinden Fudo Ryu.

These passages are quoted from the article “Jujutsu, de Zachte Kunst”, originally published in issue # 69 of a Dutch journal, “De Gids”, in the year 1905. The author, Herman ten Kate (1858-1931) had met E.W. Barton-Wright on a steamship between Batavia and Singapore, and both men trained at the same Shinden Fudo Ryu dojo in Kobe circa 1896. Incidentally, this was apparently not the same SFR that is today associated with the Bujinkan lineage.

Ten Kate subsequently read Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence” articles, which had been published in Pearson’s Magazine in March and April of 1899. In the introduction to his second article, Barton-Wright had written:

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 my New Art of Self-Defence, to which I have given the name – “Bartitsu.”

It’s evident from Ten Kate’s article that he had taken some umbrage at this, apparently concluding that Barton-Wright was an opportunist who had simply appropriated Shinden Fudo Ryu jiujitsu and then had the gall to re-name it after himself.

This strongly suggests that Ten Kate had not seen any of the subsequent articles written by and about Barton-Wright in the English media. Those articles clearly demonstrate that Bartitsu was, in fact, intended as an eclectic combination of several different martial arts and combat sports, including jiujitsu as well as other methods:

Bartitsu has been devised with a view to impart to peacefully disposed men the science of defending themselves against ruffians or bullies, and comprises not only boxing but also the use of the stick, feet, and a very tricky and clever style of Japanese wrestling, in which weight and strength play only a very minor part.

(“The Bartitsu Club”, article in “Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900)

When he spoke of Bar-titsu, he therefore meant real self-defence in every form, and not in one particular branch. Under “Bar-titsu” he comprised 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 in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers. Ju-do and Ju-jitsu, which were secret styles of Japanese wrestling, he would call close-play as applied to self-defence.

(“Ju-jitsu and Ju-do” – lecture by B-W for the Japan Society of London, published in “Transactions of the Japan Society,” 1902, v. 5, pp. 261-264.)

In the hundred-odd years since Ten Kate wrote his article for De Gids, the same false conclusion has been reached by a number of jiujitsu-oriented researchers. For example, Ralph Judson’s 1958 article The Mystery of Baritsu likewise missed the significance of Bartitsu as an eclectic, cross-cultural martial art, describing it simply as “a number of selected methods of ju-jutsu, adapted to European needs and costume”.

Simultaneously, throughout the early and mid-20th century, Barton-Wright was marginalised in the introductions to books on judo, which typically credited him with having introduced Japanese martial arts to England and with having been Yukio Tani’s manager, but failed to acknowledge Bartitsu as having been more than a re-branded jiujitsu. The same misapprehension occasionally appears in current Internet forum discussions about Barton-Wright and Bartitsu.

It was not until the post-Jeet Kune Do 1990s, when Richard Bowen and then Graham Noble began to look deeper into the history, that the full significance of Bartitsu as an “Edwardian MMA” began to emerge. By devising a form of martial arts cross-training between Asian and European fighting styles, Barton-Wright had actually anticipated, by about seven decades, what is arguably the single defining characteristic of the modern international martial arts movement.

Credit where it is due …

The Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame

Located in the town of Belfast, New York, the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame is situated in the training barns in which William Muldoon trained the great John L. Sullivan for his epic 75-round World Title fight against Jake Kilrain in 1889.

This remarkable site has been restored as a museum and Hall of Fame commemorating the sports of wrestling and bare-knuckle pugilism. According to ESPN.com:

What remains are the painstakingly restored barns (…) that house the gloves, medicine balls, plaques, rings, weights and other paraphernalia that define the world of boxing. Many of the pieces were used by Sullivan as he trained for the championship fight.

Rooms include a lounge — what Sullivan called his “room of repose,” complete with ornate woodwork in the ceiling — in which the fighter cooled down from exercising and which still contains Muldoon’s chair and some of his books. The barn also contains an upstairs space used by Muldoon and Sullivan for wrestling (…) Visitors are welcomed by a life-sized white marble statue of Sullivan in the front yard.

Some videos showing the process of reconstructing the training barns into a museum:

Congratulations to the organisers for rescuing and restoring this priceless piece of combat sports history.

Wrestling Wizard Of Iceland Defies All Highwaymen

From the New York Tribune, April 4, 1920:

Johannes Josefsson, Who Fights With His Feet in Ringling’s Circus, Craves Meeting With Bandits

A certain degree of timidity is excusable in almost any person, owing to the increase of thuggery and crime in this city. But there is one man in town who not only refuses to quake when in dark and dangerous byways, but who actually craves the excitement that might go with a brush with a hold-up man.

Johannes Josefsson, the Icelandic wrestling wizard, is the intrepid one, and he has thrilled or will thrill you as one of the star attractions with the combined Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden.

Josefsson thinks with his feet, and can reduce a robust athlete to a frayed-out wreck in the twinkling of an eye by mauling him with his heel and toe. He is so confident of his skill with his feet that he would meet Georges Carpentier and Jack Dempsey in the same ring and would guarantee to toss them both off without drawing a long breath.

However, neither Jack nor Georges being a “feet fighter,” this ambition of Johannes’s life will have to go unsatisfied.

To get back to the Icelander’s indifference to the lurking highwayman or his gang. One has only to see the blond giant of the North in action to realize how much out of luck a fool outlaw would be to tackle him. The glima, the native word for this form of wrestling expert would simply “pile up” his adversary with one or two dexterous kicks and then dance an old fashioned breakdown on the hapless thug’s neck.

Josefsson explained his art yesterday in his dressing room just before his exhibition.

“There is not a man in the world who can subdue a clever glima exponent,” he said, “unless he does it with glima. It is simply the art of using one’s feet and legs instead of one hands. I finish five men at every performance, and, let me tell you, their attack on me is not staged the same way every day. They are continually trying new “stunts” to get me, but it never takes more than two minutes to stop them all.”

“Have you ever met a boxer?” the Icelander was asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “I have fought many. Roche, of France, a heavyweight, was unable to stay more than eighty five seconds with me, and a Belgian heavyweight, whose name I have forgotten, was still easier.”

Josefsson is a catch-as-catch-can wrestler of no mean ability himself,
and he claims a victory over one of the Zbyszko brothers at Lodz, Poland. This bout lasted forty-seven minutes and was ended by Josefsson getting a toe-hold on his opponent. But perhaps the most notable victory In his record was scored by Josefsson in a “grudge bout” with Ota Gawa, a jiu-jitsu expert, in this city in April, 1913.

Josefsson is thirty-eight years old and is the undefeated glima champion of Iceland.

Vigny/Lang stick fighting in Israel

Thanks to Israeli martial artist and martial arts historian Noah Gross for this rare footage of veteran Kapap instructor Yehezkel Avneri demonstrating basic stick fighting techniques.

As explained in this article, during the 1940s the Kapap walking stick method was developed from Indian Police Superintendant H.G. Lang’s 1923 book, The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence.

Lang’s method, in turn, was substantially based on the system devised by Pierre Vigny and taught both at the Bartitsu Club and in Vigny’s own academy circa 1900-1914.