Report on Bartitsu at the 2011 Western Martial Arts Workshop

Instructor Tony Wolf ran a series of Bartitsu classes at the recent 4-day Western Martial Arts Workshop in Racine, Wisconsin.

The first session on Thursday morning was an introduction to Bartitsu as a cross-training method.

After a precis of Bartitsu’s colourful history, participants practiced strolling around the room as Victorian ladies and gentlemen, sticks and parasols in hand. This segued into a demonstration and discussion of triangular posture and skeletal alignment, re. founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s first principle of maintaining one’s own structure while disrupting the opponent’s equilibrium. This was practiced first in “freestyle”, experimental fashion, then specifically as a sampling of linear c1900 boxing punches, making controlled contact and “pressing through” to slightly push the training partner off balance.

Next up was a simple attack/defence/counter low kicking drill, in which the coup de pied bas kick was evaded and then countered with a low chasse. Then the kicks were integrated back into the punching exercises, so that everyone began to develop a sense of c1900 kickboxing.

The remainder of the three-hour class was spent first learning representative canonical jujitsu and cane sequences, and then “mixing them up” on the assumption that something goes wrong with the pre-set sequence, with the opponent muscling through or otherwise foiling the defender’s “plan”. The challenge was then to work improvisationally to regain the initiative and bring the opponent under control, sometimes within certain restrictions. For example, if the canonical jujitsu sequence was interrupted by the uncooperative opponent, the defender’s challenge might be to flow directly into (kick)boxing strikes to regain the advantage.

The practice of alternating between, for example, jujitsu and stick sequences helped the participants grasp the holistic nature of Bartitsu as a self defence training method, rather than as a series of discrete components. Likewise, the constant emphasis upon re-integrating previously learned material into “new” scenarios generated by the opponent’s unpredictable actions, which took participants to the brink of sparring.

On Saturday Wolf and his co-host, “Professor X”, introduced an Assault at Arms as pre-banquet entertainment. This was a lightly-tongue-in-cheek event running half an hour, including an introduction to the history of the Assault at Arms, a series of exhibition bouts in suitably c1900 antagonistics including foil, military sabre and French canne/baton and also a short display of Bartitsu as self defence for the Edwardian gentleman about town. The Assault at Arms came to a somewhat spectacular conclusion when a rogue Suffragette began haranguing the audience; she then proceeded to Suffrajitsu one of the hapless moderators as he attempted to put her in her proper place.

The final Bartitsu class took place on Sunday afternoon, and was on the theme Belabour him as you see fit: Bartitsu combat improvisation. This was an experimental format of progressively adding new elements to a basic movement drill, so that participants could improvisationally explore a wide variety of unbalancing options. The same ethos was then applied to a selection of the canonical stick fighting sequences, as a method of training in thinking and moving outside the “box” of the formal canonical Bartitsu set-plays.

“Lost Martial Art” documentary available from Amazon

The documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes is now available via You can read an interview about the documentary and its production here and watch the trailer right here:

“Baritzu” in Australia (1906)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous rendering of Bartitsu as “baritsu” is now understood to have been due to a simple mistake. It’s most likely that Doyle, searching for an exotic way to explain how Sherlock Holmes had flung Professor Moriarty from the brink of Reichenbach Falls, had copied the word “baritsu” verbatim from a London Times newspaper review of a Bartitsu exhibition, which had made the same spelling error. At roughly the same time that The Adventure of the Empty House was published, E.W. Barton-Wright’s London Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time, thus prematurely ending Barton-Wright’s innovative martial arts experiments.

It would probably, therefore, have nonplussed both Doyle and Barton-Wright to learn that something called “Baritzu” would be practiced five years later by members of the Australian Armed Services.

Between June and December of 1902, soldiers of B Company (10th Australian Infantry Regiment) including Privates Marshall, Emery, Weeks and Verner, performed a series of “Baritzu” demonstrations alongside displays of Indian club swinging, bayonet fighting and sabre fencing. All of these items (apart from the mysterious Baritzu) were typical of military Assault at Arms exhibitions, in which various soldierly feats and skills were performed as public entertainment, often in aid of charitable causes.

In a preamble to one of their first Baritzu exhibitions, a Mr. W.B. Wilkinson addressed the audience and explained Baritzu by means of an almost verbatim quote from Barton-Wright’s 1899 article, The New Art of Self Defence:

He said that Baritzu, or the new self-defence, was composed of 300 methods of attack and counter-attack. This system had been devised with the purpose of rendering a person absolutely secure against any method of attack. It was not intended to take the place of boxing, fencing, wrestling, or any other recognised forms of attack and defence. It was claimed for it, however, that it comprised all the best points of these methods, and that it would be of inestimable advantage when occasions arose where neither boxing, wrestling, nor any of the known modes of resistance was of avail. The system had been carefully and scientifically planned; its principle might be summed up in a sound knowledge of balance and leverage, as applied to human anatomy.

Applying Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation would seem to be that a member of B Company had come across or saved a copy of Barton-Wright’s article, and that the Company used that as the inspiration for their novel Baritzu demonstrations. If so, then Marshall, Emery, Weeks and Verner must have been among the first Bartitsu revivalists, active only five years after the actual art had, for most practical purposes, ceased to exist. It’s diverting to imagine them poring over Barton-Wright’s articles, much as Bartitsu revivalists do today.

It’s even more diverting to speculate as to how the art came to be known to B Company as Baritzu. Barton-Wright’s first article for Pearson’s Magazine (quoted above by Mr. Wilkinson) had not actually referred to Bartitsu by name; the word was, however, used in the introduction to the second article. Doyle’s “baritsu” had, of course, gained some pop-culture currency by 1906. Perhaps the simplest explanation here is that there was a confusion between Bartitsu – the real, but then all-but-extinct self defence method – and baritsu – the entirely fictional fighting style of Sherlock Holmes – by soldiers who were vaguely aware of the connection but even less particular than Doyle was about spelling.

A very peculiar case of life imitating (martial) art ..

Suffragettes and Jiu-Jitsu (1910)

From the Wanganui Chronicle, 9 August 1910, Page 5.

No longer is the annoying male interjector to disturb the tranquility of the peaceful Suffragette at her meetings (says the London “Standard”). A Women Athletes’ Society, the latest adjunct of the Women’s Freedom League, has been organised by Mrs. Garrud, a ju-jitsu expert, and Miss Kelly, one of the hunger-strikers, who entered a Dundee meeting by way of the fanlights.

Mrs. Garrud is not an inch taller than five feet, but she has already enjoyed the pleasure of throwing a six-foot policeman over her shoulder. “He was a very nice man, and he didn’t mind a bit,” she said. “But there are other men who are not a bit nice, men who are merely silly and a nuisance to others besides themselves. I have already had the pleasure of ejecting one youth from a woman’s franchise meeting, and after we have had our new society in full swing for some months, we hope to have a regular band of jujitsu officers, who will be able to deal with all the male rowdies who dare to bother us. Only to-day I received a letter from the headmistress of a North London girls’ school saying that she desires to enroll all her pupils in our society.”

Bartitsu featured in Holland’s “Volkskrant” newspaper

Dutch journalist Erik Noomen’s well-researched article on the history and revival of Bartitsu has been featured in the Volkskrant, one of Holland’s largest daily newspapers. Touching on Bartitsu’s connection with the Steampunk subculture and the Sherlock Holmes mythos and featuring comments by Dutch Bartitsu instructor John Jozen, Mr. Noomen’s article is an excellent introduction to the subject for Dutch readers.

An English translation of the article is now available here – Sparring with Sherlock.