“Be fit – be fit! In mind and body be fit!”

Nothing on earth–no Arts, no Gifts, no Graces–
No Fame, no Wealth–outweighs the wont of it.
This is the Law which every law embraces–
Be fit–be fit! In mind and body be fit!

– Rudyard Kipling, “A Preface”, from Land and Sea Tales (1919-23); also used as lyrics in the quick march of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps

Bartitsu also comprises a system of physical culture which is as complete and thorough as the art of self-defence.

– “The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club”, Black and White Budget, December 1900

Introductory Bartitsu at the Gallowglass Academy (Leaf River, IL)

Introductory Bartitsu
(the martial art of Sherlock Holmes)
with “Professor” Allen Reed

$50 until July 1; $75 thereafter and at the door
(Kindly bring a sack lunch)

River Valley Complex, 605 S. Main St., Leaf River IL
Contact GallowglassAcad@aol.com

In 1898, the New Art of Self Defence called Bartitsu was introduced to England by Edward William Barton-Wright. Bartitsu was a combination of savate, jiujitsu, pugilism, and walking stick fighting. Barton-Wright developed Bartitsu to defeat the fearsome street gangs of Edwardian London.

By combining Asian and European fighting styles, Bartitsu may well have been the first Mixed Martial Art. Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes use Bartitsu against Professor Moriarty, his mortal enemy, to throw him from the top of Reichenbach waterfall.

This class will provide a practical beginning in this historical system, as well as how to use it for modern self defense.

REQUIREMENTS: Participants should wear comfortable workout clothes, and should bring a sturdy walking stick, cane or 3/4″-1″ diameter dowel rod about 36″ long. If available, bring a fencing mask or closed-face martial arts headgear and heavily padded gloves (hockey style) or equivalent. Gallowglass Academy requires groin protection for men.

Interview with Will Thomas

Author Will Thomas was the founder of the Bartitsu Forum email list (where all the cool kids hang out) and was among the interview subjects in the recent documentary Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes. Cyrus Barker, one of the protagonists of Will’s “Barker and Llewellyn” series of Victorian mystery novels was partially based on Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright. You can read a new interview with Will here.

Words of wisdom: R.G. Allanson-Winn on self defence training (1905)

Though it is a good plan to be accustomed to the feel of the weapon which is most likely to serve you in time of need, it is nevertheless a grand mistake to get into a way of imagining that you can only use one kind of stick or one kind of sword effectively.

This is one reason why it is so advisable to range wide in fencing matters. I would always say, commence with the foils and work hard, under some good master, for a year or so without touching any other branch. Then go on to broad-sword, and keep to alternate days with foils. Later on take up the single-stick, and then go on to bayonet exercise, quarter-staff, and anything else you please.

This extended range of work will give you a wonderful general capability for adapting yourself at a moment’s notice to any weapon chance may place in your hands: the leg of an old chair, the joint of a fishing rod, or the common or garden spade; any of these may be used with great effect by an accomplished all-round swordsman.

There is one point on which a few words may not be out of place in this connection.

Good men, with their fists, and those who are proficient with the sword or stick, often complain that, in actual conflict with the rough and ready, though ignorant, assailant, they are worsted because the adversary does something diametrically opposed to what a scientific exponent of either art would do in similar circumstances.

It is certainly trying, when you square up to a rough and expect him to hit out with his fists, to receive a violent doubling-up kick in the stomach; and similarly annoying is it, when attacked by a man with a stick, to experience treatment quite different to anything you ever came across in your own particular School-of-Arms.

But after all this is only what you ought to expect. It is absolutely necessary to suit yourself to your environment for the time being, and be ready for anything.

Depend upon it science must tell, and there is always this very consoling reflection to fall back upon: if your opponent misses you, or you are quick enough to avoid his clumsy attack – either of which is extremely likely to happen – it is highly probable that you will be able to make good your own attack, for, as a rule, the unscientific man hits out of distance or wide of the mark, and this is rarely the case with a scientific man.

When walking along a country road it is a good plan to make cuts with your stick at weeds, etc., in the hedges, always using the true edge, i.e. if aiming at a certain part of a bramble or nettle, to cut at it, just as though you were using a sabre. By this sort of practice, which, by the way, is to be deprecated in a young plantation or in a friend’s garden, you may greatly increase the accuracy of your eye.

It is merely an application of the principle which enables a fly-fisher to place his fly directly under such and such over-hanging boughs, or gives the experienced driver such control over his whip that he can flick a midge off the ear of one of his galloping leaders.

Much does not, in all probability, depend upon the success or failure of the piscator’s cast, and very likely the midge might safely be allowed to remain on the leader’s ear; but if you are walking in a lonely suburb or country lane, your life may depend upon the accuracy with which you can deliver one single cut or thrust with your faithful blackthorn.

I can almost hear people say, “Oh, this is all rubbish; I’m not going to be attacked; life would not be worth living if one had to be always ‘on guard’ in this way.” Well, considering that this world, from the time we are born to the time we die, is made up of uncertainties, and that we are never really secure from attack at any moment of our lives, it does seem worth while to devote a little attention to the pursuit of a science, which is not only healthful and most fascinating, but which may, in a second of time, enable you to turn a defeat into a victory, and save yourself from being mauled and possibly killed in a fight which was none of your own making. Added to all this, science gives a consciousness of power and ability to assist the weak and defenceless, which ought to be most welcome to the mind of any man. Though always anxious to avoid anything like “a row,” there are times when it may be necessary to interfere for the sake of humanity, and how much more easy is it to make that interference dignified and effective if you take your stand with a certainty that you can, if pushed to extreme measures, make matters very warm indeed for the aggressor? The consciousness of power gives you your real authority, and with it you are far more likely to be calm and to gain your point than you would be without the knowledge. Backed up by science, you can both talk and act in a way which is likely to lead to a peaceful solution of a difficulty, whereas, if the science is absent, you dare not, from very uncertainty, use those very words which you know ought to be used on the occasion.

There are necessarily a good many difficulties to be faced in becoming at all proficient in the art of self-defence, but the advantages to be gained are doubtless very great.

An expert swordsman, and by this I mean one who is really au fait with any weapon you may put into his hand,who is also a good boxer and wrestler, is a very nasty customer for any one or even two footpads to make up to.

The worst of it is that it takes so long to become really good in any branch of athletics. When you know all, or nearly all, that is to be learned, you get a bit stiff and past work! But this, after all, need not trouble one much, since it applies to all relations of life. As a wise man once said, with a touch of sorrow and regret in his tone, “By the time you have learned how to live, you die.”

“The Sword-Lance: a Suggestion” (1903)

Captain F.C. Laing was a soldier serving in India with the 12th Bengal Infantry (Kelat-I-Ghilzai Regiment), who in 1902 had spent an intensive several months training at E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club in London. Returning to active duty, Laing later produced an interesting account of his Bartitsu experiences which was published in the Journal of the United Service Institution of India and which is reproduced in volume II of the Bartitsu Compendium.

Appended to that article was this proposal and design for a curious weapon that Laing called the “sword-lance”. Although it is unclear as to whether the sword-lance was ever actually manufactured or employed in battle, Laing’s proposal indicates that he shared the adventurous, experimental temperament common to a number of Bartitsu Club members …


By Captain F. C. Laing, 12th Bengal Infantry.

In the October number of this Journal, “Tulwar” briefly discussed the question of the most suitable hand-to-hand weapons for use in the Native Cavalry. May I venture to offer a suggestion which might possibly, when perfected, produce a weapon combining the advantages of both lance and sword, making the former a sort of elongated sheath for the latter.

The accompanying rough hand sketch may assist the reader to follow my idea more clearly.

The lance I propose is made, as at present, of bamboo, carrying the usual steel head; at the butt end it is hollowed so as to form a scabbard for a straight sword, the handle of the sword forming the lance-butt, the button being made long enough to fit into the stirrup when the lance is being carried.

The sword blade, about 3 ft. 3 in. long, is prevented from falling out by means of a steel spring similar to that of the sword bayonet.

In order to decrease the weight the lance head and sword guard might be made lighter; in any case the weight would probably not exceed that of the lance now in use by more than a few ounces.

The advantages claimed for this form of weapon are :—

1. One combined weapon instead of two.

2. Decrease of weight on the horse.

3. Each man carries a weapon which he can use in the manner most suitable to the requirements of the moment.

4. The construction in no way affects the strength or utility of either weapon.

5. Convenience of carrying.

In conclusion I should add, that if the jointed lance is adopted, it would be most suitable to the combined sword-lance as it can be carried as shown in the sketch.

The disadvantage of the weapon may consist in the sword being straight and not curved; there are adherents of both forms and some may consider a straight thrusting sword more serviceable than the curved.

Bartitsu class/demo. at the 1900 Chautauqua (Rockford, Illinois)

Instructor Allen Reed (left), in character as a circa 1900 “Professor of Antagonistics”, teaching Bartitsu stick fighting at the 1900 America Chautauqua event at the Midway Village Museum, Rockford, Illinois.

Spectators were invited to take part in Allen’s demonstrations, which took the form of classes in basic pugilism, self defence with a walking stick and jiujitsu escort holds. The classes ideally suited the theme of the Chautauqua, which also featured re-enactments of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, ragtime music and demonstrations of turn-of-the-century sports and crafts. This was possibly the first Bartitsu demonstration in living memory in which penny farthing bicycles were to be seen cruising past in the background.

Battersea Bartitsu (London, UK)

Announcing a new Bartitsu study group based in Battersea, S.W. London. Training is free and interested parties should contact the organisers for details.

Week A (alternate weeks from 19.06.11): “Canonical Bartitsu”

  • Stretching and work with Indian Clubs
  • Canonical Bartitsu – the jiujitsu-based sequences published in Pearson’s Magazine
  • Supplementary jiujitsu techniques from Wm. Garrud’s Complete Jiujitsuan
  • Defense dans la Rue
  • Pugilism (fisticuffs)
  • Sparring
  • Week B (alternate weeks from 26.06.11): Vigny Canne plus Grappling

  • Stretching and work with Indian Clubs
  • Vigny Canne
  • “Closing manoeuvres”, originally published as sequences e.g. “How to Overcome the Advantage of an Assailant who Attacks You with a Stout Stick when You are carrying only a Light cane.” Basically, how to get in close without being hit and apply locks, throws, etc.
  • Grappling, working from Banned From Boxing! by Kirk Lawson.
  • All participants will need to start with is some form of hand protection for padwork like hand wraps and/or light boxer’s bagwork gloves or MMA gloves. Spare canes are available for participants to use.