The Bartitsu Club of New York City

Although Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright once announced plans to introduce his “New Art of Self Defence” to the United States, that was never to be. However, some of his articles for London magazines and newspaper reports on his activities were re-published in the USA, possibly inspiring something of the American self defence boom that took place during the first decade of the 20th century.

The modern Bartitsu revival is very much an international effort, with clubs and study groups about evenly spread between Europe and North America. One of the newest groups is the Bartitsu Club of New York City (you can “like” them on Facebook here), recently instrumental in hosting the very successful Antagonistics Weekend event with Bartitsu instructor Mark Donnelly (reviewed here).

Organised by the indefatigable Rachel Klingberg, the New York club meets monthly in Central Park. Lessons may include:

* Intros, warm-up with Victorian/Edwardian calisthetics, pugilism shadow boxing with attention to proper form and structure
* Savate kicks, coup de pied bas
* Vigny cane – footwork and posture, proper form and stances with solo movements, drills
* Safe falling, Ju Jutsu locks and defense against grabs, “How to Put a Troublesome Man Out of the Room”, grabs to wrists, coat lapels, etc.
* Parasol defense, bayonetting with parasol, locking with cane or parasol, drills from “Self Defence with a Parasol” 1901 article
* Basic fencing
* Cool-down and debriefing

“The Georgia Wonder Meets the Great Japanese Wrestler”

Lulu Hurst, also known variously as the “Little Georgia Wonder” and as the “Georgia Magnet”, was a music hall sensation during the mid-late 19th century. Claiming to possess a supernatural power of electrical or magnetic force, but in fact skilfully exploiting subtle principles of physics, anatomy and the ideomotor effect, the apparently frail “Magnet” was often matched against heavyweight strongmen, boxers and wrestlers in carefully controlled “tests” using simple props such as pool cues, wooden chairs and umbrellas. The results were often both spectacular and amusing to the “Magnet’s” many fans.

Later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright was to produce a written expose of the “magnetic act”, including many of the feats first popularised by Lulu Hurst.

There follows an account of one of the “Georgia Magnet’s” New York performances, pitting her skills against the strength of sumo wrestler Sorakichi Matsuda (misspelled as Matsada in the report):

There was the usual overflowing, shouting crowd in the Brooklyn Theater last night, and the cues and canes and chairs, with the fifteen or twenty assorted men who martyred themselves for the cause of science, went waltzing across the floor with the customary mad dance. The usual exciting scenes with wrecked umbrellas, canes and cues took place until the feature of the evening was introduced, the struggle over the chair by the Georgia Wonder and the celebrated Japanese wrestler, Matsada.

The Oriental Orlando struggled and tugged, and did his level best, while Lulu, calm and smiling, dashed the Japanese around the stage amid the shouts and plaudits of an excited house. The audience went wild in their wrought up enthusiasm over this wonderful and exciting scene.

Then Matsada and four helpers clinging to the chair could not force it to the floor, and when the almond-eyed son of the East came back to his box he was heated, tired, panting and exhausted, while his fair antagonist was apparently as cool and fresh as ever.

Put up your dukes! The Art of Manliness pose contest

Our friends over on the popular Art of Manliness blog have announced a new photo contest – details here.

Entrants (from the US only) are invited to submit photos of themselves in poses inspired by the above image of the great bare-knuckle boxing champion, John L. Sullivan. The first-place winner will receive a fantastic prize package including a coffee brown Saddleback leather briefcase, the Art of Manliness book, eBooks, posters, calling cards and more besides.

Better wax up your mustache and get flexing …

Bartitsu seminar at the Academia Duellatoria (Portland, OR)

Guest instructor David McCormick (Bartitsu instructor for the Academie Duello in Vancouver, Canada) will be teaching a special class on Bartitsu on the evening of Thursday, July 28th at the Academia Duellatoria studio in Portland.

Bartitsu was one of the earliest attempts at mixing Eastern and Western martial arts. During the Victorian age in England, the system was billed as the gentleman’s art of self defense and prominently featured the use of the cane or umbrella as a weapon. E.W. Barton-Wright, the system’s creator, recognized that fights have various ranges. The cane, which no gentleman ever went into the streets without, extends one’s reach and lets a fellow defeat an opponent without dirtying his hands. At closer range the hands and feet come into play utilizing savate and pugilism. Closer still, jiujitsu and wrestling are employed.

Cost: $15.00 (all payments going towards offsetting the instructor’s travel expenses)
Time: 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Venue: 4755 SW Oleson Road, Portland, OR
Please bring a cane if you have one.

Contact via this page for all details.

Review: “100 Years of Judo in Great Britain”, Volume 1

This review is specific to Volume 1 of a two-part series of books by the late judoka and historian Richard Bowen (1926-2005), whose extensive private collection of judo/jujitsu books and ephemera now forms the Bowen Collection at Bath University.

The “Reclaiming of its true spirit” subtitle is curious, in that aside from a few scattered editorial comments, the book does not actually address reclaiming judo’s “true spirit”. Rather, Volume 1 of 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain offers a very thorough history of the early 20th century personalities and politics of jujitsu and judo in the UK, with generous asides exploring Japanese martial arts in the USA and elsewhere during the same period.

Bowen was obviously a devoted and very careful scholar, with long-term access to rare archives, diaries etc. in addition to in-depth first-hand knowledge of the subject and many of its principal figures. Specific to Bartitsu, he performed pioneering research into the lives of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright, music hall challenge wrestlers Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi and strongman/jujitsu promoter William “Apollo” Bankier, amongst many other notables. 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain cites and offers extensive quotes from numerous c1900 newspaper articles, etc. that promise to open new doors for contemporary Bartitsu researchers. Also, students of Brazilian jujitsu/MMA history will be interested to read about Mitsuyo “Conde Koma” Maeda’s early experiences as a challenge wrestler in London.

Perhaps unavoidably, given that the book was published posthumously, some sections are obviously better polished than others. Frustratingly at times, there are no chapter headings, contents pages nor index, though there are almost 100 pages of carefully annotated end-notes. The proof-reading also leaves quite a lot to be desired. Ultimately, though, these are minor quibbles in comparison with the absolute wealth of knowledge and detail to be found in this book. It is a unique and very valuable contribution to martial arts scholarship.

“Baritsu” in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”

The brand-new first trailer for the upcoming action/comedy/mystery Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows promises plenty of baritsu action!

Baritsu is, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s rendering of Bartitsu, as famously featured in The Adventure of the Empty House and (indirectly) in The Adventure of the Final Problem. It was the means by which Sherlock Holmes threw his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, to his death from the brink of Reichenbach Falls, and has subsequently been incorporated into numerous Holmes-themed pastiche novels, comic books, cartoons and games. Doyle probably copied the term “baritsu” verbatim from a London Times report on a Bartitsu demonstration, which contained the same misspelling.

Although Holmes’ baritsu is not identical to E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu, the new trailer showcases Holmes’ martial arts skills, which were also highlighted in Sherlock Holmes (2009) (you can read our exclusive interview with fight choreographer Richard Ryan here).

Holmes is shown deftly defeating an assassin via crook-handled umbrella as well as executing a variety of boxing punches, elbow strikes, kicks, shuto (knife-hand) strikes and a clean jujitsu throw. Tantalisingly, he appears briefly to be pulling off some kind of protective mask while wearing a padded fencing jacket and wielding a stout cane. And, although it isn’t shown in this preview trailer, we can confidently anticipate a climactic baritsu showdown between Holmes and Moriarty at Reichenbach …

In memoriam: Robert W. Smith (1926-2011)

The evening of July 1st, 2011 saw the passing of pioneering American martial artist, scholar and writer Robert William Smith. A short biography recording his many achievements is available here.

I vividly recall coming across the book Secret Fighting Arts of the World, by “John F. Gilbey”, in the Wellington, New Zealand Public Library. I was about thirteen years old at the time, and that was probably the perfect age to first encounter Secret Fighting Arts; a collection of astounding martial arts tales recording Gilbey’s encounters with masters of the Macedonian Buttock, the Parisian Halitotic Attack and the Ganges Groin Gouge, among many other cryptic arts of self defence.

A few years later, on vacation in Auckland, I was delighted to find a copy of the sequel, Way of a Warrior, in one of those strange ’70s/’80s martial arts supply/head shops that you never see any more. WoaW contained even more amazing stories, including Mama Su’s deadly art of spitting betel nuts and Fotan, a metaphysical Icelandic martial art that draws energy from black holes. I read the entire book in one evening, swimming back and forth across a pool in the yard of a house my family had rented, finally emerging with wrinkled toes and a blown mind.

Decades later, in reviewing the Gilbey books for Amazon.com, I described John F. Gilbey as “the Indiana Jones of exotic martial arts”, a phrase that was subsequently incorporated into the publisher’s book description. By then, I had long since learned that the pseudonymous “Gilbey’s” books were anthologies of tall tales authored by Robert W. Smith and his friends. Their stories were James Bondesque satires of the fantastical claims sometimes made in the martial arts world, albeit leavened with many serious and even profound observations:

Never, never sacrifice the living, shining life of a loving wife and happy children to the supposed requirements of a boxing regimen. Underline this – I have known men who traded happiness for a black belt and been miserable ever after.

Sensing, but not, as a teenager, truly appreciating that wisdom, I literally did underline that. And so each time I re-read Way of a Warrior, as I did many times over the years, admiring Smith’s imagination and wryly stylish, old-school prose, that underlining was a message from my teenage self via the words of “John F. Gilbey”.

In his 1999 memoir Martial Musings, Bob Smith revealed that:

One of my first literary brushes with self defense was when the arch-villain Professor Moriarty got his godownance (opposite of comeuppance, see?) from Sherlock Holmes. It came not from some great throw, punch or kick, but from a secret Japanese system of unbalancing known as Baritsu (sic). Here are Holmes and Moriarty struggling at Reichenbach Falls:

“When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went.”

I later learned that Holmes’ trick was based on a turn-of-the-century art called Bartitsu, which combined English boxing and wrestling with jujutsu. The name was derived from its founder, a man named E.W. Barton-Wright.

In due turn, “John F. Gilbey” received acknowledgment in both volumes One and Two of the Bartitsu Compendium.

Smith’s essays, The Master of Applied Cowardice – a lightly fictionalised account of the method of non-violent self defence devised by William Paul during the turbulence of the Vietnam War era – and Peace, Brothers and Sisters, Peace largely inspired my own system of self defence without violence, which I taught to young people during the early 1990s as a positive antidote to both school bullying and unfair “zero tolerance” policies.

Although I’ll probably always regret that we never met, nor even directly corresponded, Bob Smith was my mentor in matters cryptohoplological and deeper than that, and he will be missed.

Per his wishes, Bob’s body has been donated to the Wake Forest School of Medicine. There will be a Celebration of Life on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm in the Chapel of Givens Estates, 2360 Sweeten Creek Road, Asheville, NC 28803.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to any of the following: Resident Assistance Fund at Givens Estates, 2360 Sweeten Creek Road, Asheville, NC 28803; Care Partners Foundation, John F. Keever, Jr. Solace Center, PO Box 25338, Asheville, NC 28813; or an animal rescue group in your area.

– Tony Wolf