“A sphere of deadliness” – more action from Hammett’s “Nightmare Town”

Our second and final excerpt from Dashiell Hammett’s 1924 pulp classic, “Nightmare Town”, featuring hard-bitten adventurer Steve Threefall and his trademark weapon – an ebony fighting cane.

Men filled the doorway. An invisible gun roared and a piece of the ceiling flaked down. Steve spun his stick and charged the door. The light from the lamp behind him glittered and glowed on the whirling wood. The stick whipped backward and forward, from left to right, from right to left. It writhed like a live thing — seemed to fold upon its grasped middle as if spring-hinged with steel. Flashing half-circles merged into a sphere of deadliness. The rhythm of incessant thudding against flesh and clicking on bone became a tune that sang through the grunts of fighting men, the groans and oaths of stricken men. Steve and the girl went through the door.

Between moving arms and legs and bodies the cream of the Vauxhall showed. Men stood upon the automobile, using its height for vantage in the fight. Steve threw himself forward, swinging his stick against shin and thigh, toppling men from the machine. With his left hand he swept the girl around to his side. His body shook and rocked under the weight of blows from men who were packed too closely for any effectiveness except the smothering power of sheer weight.

His stick was suddenly gone from him. One instant he held and spun it; the next, he was holding up a clenched fist that was empty — the ebony had vanished as if in a puff of smoke. He swung the girl up over the car door, hammered her down into the car — jammed her down upon the legs of a man who stood there — heard a bone break, and saw the man go down. Hands gripped him everywhere; hands pounded him. He cried aloud with joy when he saw the girl, huddled on the floor of the car, working with ridiculously small hands at the car’s mechanism.

The machine began to move. Holding with his hands, he lashed both feet out behind. Got them back on the step. Struck over the girl’s head with a hand that had neither thought nor time to make a fist — struck stiff-fingered into a broad red face.

The car moved. One of the girl’s hands came up to grasp the wheel, holding the car straight along a street she could not see. A man fell on her. Steve pulled him off — tore pieces from him — tore hair and flesh. The car swerved, scraped a building; scraped one side clear of men. The hands that held Steve fell away from him, taking most of his clothing with them. He picked a man off the back of the seat, and pushed him down into the street that was flowing past them. Then he fell into the car beside the girl.

Pistols exploded behind them. From a house a little ahead a bitter-voiced rifle emptied itself at them, sieving a mudguard. Then the desert — white and smooth as a gigantic hospital bed — was around them. Whatever pursuit there had been was left far behind.

Presently the girl slowed down, stopped.

“Are you all right?” Steve asked.

“Yes; but you’re — ”

“All in one piece,” he assured her. “Let me take the wheel.”

“No! No!” she protested. “You’re bleeding. You’re — ”

“No! No!” he mocked her. “We’d better keep going until we hit something. We’re not far enough from Izzard yet to call ourselves safe.”

He was afraid that if she tried to patch him up he would fall apart in her hands. He felt like that.

She started the car, and they went on. A great sleepiness came to him. What a fight! What a fight!

Upcoming Bartitsu seminars with Mark P. Donnelly

Bartitsu instructor Mark Donnelly will be teaching an intensive seminar for the Bartitsu Club of New York City on Sunday, March 11, 2012. See this page for all details.

Professor Donnelly will also be teaching a series of workshops at the Steampunk World’s Fair in Piscataway, New Jersey between May 18th and 20th.

Bartitsu at CombatCon 2012

Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf (left) will be teaching an introductory class among the many attractions of CombatCon 2012 at the Tuscany Suites hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (July 6-8).

A confluence of Western martial arts with pop-culture entertainment genres (horror, pirates, science fiction, steampunk etc.), CombatCon offers a very wide assortment of hands-on classes, demonstrations, panel discussions and vendor’s booths. 19th century antagonistics were well-represented at last years’ convention, which also included a large “museum” room devoted to steampunk artifacts … who knows what else CombatCon 2012 has in store?

Bartitsu seminar with Tony Wolf at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts (Chicago)

A short “video impression” of the June 22nd Bartitsu seminar at the new (and still under development) Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Ravenswood, Chicago.

Instructor Tony Wolf led a group of about thirty eager participants through a combination of canonical and neo-Bartitsu drills, concentrating on blending fisticuffs, jujitsu and walking stick defense according to E.W. Barton-Wright’s precept of adaptability:

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent into any particular position, as this system embraces every possible eventuality and your defence and counter-attack must be based entirely upon the actions of your opponent.

Also visible in the clip above are some items from the Forteza “gymuseum”, including original late-19th century posters, antique cast-iron dumbbells, wooden Indian clubs and an 1880s rowing machine.

The new Bartitsu Club of Chicago will be holding its first six-week term at Forteza, beginning January 31st.

Announcing the Bartitsu Club of Chicago

Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago offers regular, progressive training in the “lost martial art of Sherlock Holmes”.

History

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing and stick fighting into the “New Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu.  Promoted via exhibitions, magazine articles and challenge contests, Barton-Wright’s New Art was offered as a means by which ladies and gentlemen could beat street hooligans and ruffians at their own game.

Thus, the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London became the headquarters of a radical experiment in martial arts and fitness cross-training. It was also a place to see and be seen; famous actors and actresses, soldiers, athletes and aristocrats eagerly enrolled to learn the secrets of Bartitsu.

In early 1902, for reasons that remain a historical mystery, the London Bartitsu Club closed down.  Barton-Wright’s art was almost forgotten thereafter, except for a single, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, wherein it was revealed as the method by which Sherlock Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fatal battle at Reichenbach Falls.

Our premise and approach

Bartitsu was abandoned as a work-in-progress one hundred and ten years ago, but what if Barton-Wright’s School of Arms had continued to thrive?  In collaboration with other Bartitsu clubs and study groups throughout the world, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago is proud to pick up where he left off, reviving and continuing the experiment into the new millennium.

E.W. Barton-Wright recorded the basics of his “New Art” via lectures, interviews and detailed articles, which form the nucleus of “canonical Bartitsu”.  These methods are practiced as a form of living history preservation and also as a common technical and tactical “language” among modern practitioners.

“Neo-Bartitsu” complements and augments the canon towards an evolving, creative revival as a system of recreational martial arts cross-training with a 19th century “twist”.

Our venue

Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts (4437 North Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640) is the ideal venue for reviving Bartitsu.  Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Our classes

Bartitsu classes at Forteza run from 6.30-8.00 pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The price for the six-week introductory course (two classes per week) is $125.00.

A typical class includes calisthenic warm-ups, specialized movement drills, study of the canonical sequences and neo-Bartitsu “combat improvisation” training.  Participants should wear comfortable exercise clothing and bring a change of shoes for the class.

Contact info@fortezafitness.com to book your place in the first ongoing Bartitsu course in Chicago.

Our instructor

New Zealand citizen and Chicago resident Tony Wolf is one of the founders of the international Bartitsu Society.  A highly experienced martial arts instructor, he has taught Bartitsu intensives in England, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Canada and throughout the USA.  Tony also edited the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005 and 2008) and co-produced/directed the feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes (2010).

Last of the Jujitsuffragettes (June 19th, 1965)

Edith Garrud, former trainer of the English Suffragette movement’s Bodyguard Society, demonstrates a jujitsu wrist-lock on journalist Godfrey Winn during an interview for Woman Magazine. The interview took place on the occasion of her 94th birthday.

Yukio Tani by George Cooke (1904)

Former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani, as caricatured by the artist George Cooke.  Cooke compiled hundreds of renderings of Edwardian-era music hall stars during his affiliation with the Grand Theater of Varieties in Hanley, Worcestershire.  His original albums are now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection in London.

“A whirling black arm of the night”: an excerpt from Dashiell Hammett’s “Nightmare Town” (1924)

Thanks to Chris Amberger (The Secret History of the Sword) for unearthing the adventures of Steve Threefall, the adventurer-hero of Dashiell Hammett’s 1924 novelette “Nightmare Town”, whose fighting cane …

“… was thick and made of ebony, but heavy even for that wood, with a balanced weight that hinted at loaded ferrule and knob. Except for a space the breadth of a man’s hand in its middle, the stick was roughened, cut, and notched with the marks of hard use — marks that much careful polishing had failed to remove or conceal. The unscarred handsbreadth was of a softer black than the rest — as soft a black as the knob — as if it had known much contact with a human palm.”

As Threefall and his associate Roy Kamp take the night air after a poker game …

“Strolling thus, a dark doorway suddenly vomited men upon them.

Steve rocked back against a building front from a blow on his head, arms were round him, the burning edge of a knife blade ran down his left arm. He chopped his black stick up into a body, freeing himself from encircling grip. He used the moment’s respite this gave him to change his grasp on the stick; so that he held it now horizontal, his right hand grasping its middle, its lower half flat against his forearm, its upper half extending to the left.

He put his left side against the wall, and the black stick became a whirling black arm of the night. The knob darted down at a man’s head. The man threw an arm to fend the blow. Spinning back on its axis, the stick reversed — the ferruled end darted up under warding arm, hit jawbone with a click, and no sooner struck than slid forward, jabbing deep into throat. The owner of that jaw and throat turned his broad, thick-featured face to the sky, went backward out of the fight, and was lost to sight beneath the curbing.

Lower half of stick against forearm once again, Steve whirled in time to take the impact of a blackjack-swinging arm upon it. The stick spun sidewise with thud of knob on temple — spun back with loaded ferrule that missed opposite temple only because the first blow had brought its target down on knees. Steve saw suddenly that Kamp had gone down. He spun his stick and battered a passage to the thin man, kicked a head that bent over the prone, thin form, straddled it; and the ebony stick whirled swifter in his hand — spun as quarterstaves once spun in Sherwood Forest. Spun to the clicking tune of wood on bone, on metal weapons; to the duller rhythm of wood on flesh. Spun never in full circles, but always in short arcs — one end’s recovery from a blow adding velocity to the other’s stroke. Where an instant ago knob had swished from left to right, now weighted ferrule struck from right to left — struck under upthrown arms, over lowthrown arms — put into space a forty-inch sphere, whose radii were whirling black flails.

Behind his stick that had become a living part of him, Steve Threefall knew happiness — that rare happiness which only the expert ever finds — the joy in doing a thing that he can do supremely well. Blows he took — blows that shook him, staggered him — but he scarcely noticed them.  His whole consciousness was in his right arm and the stick it spun. A revolver, tossed from a smashed hand, exploded ten feet over his head, a knife tinkled like a bell on the brick sidewalk, a man screamed as a stricken horse screams.

As abruptly as it had started, the fight stopped. Feet thudded away, forms vanished into the more complete darkness of a side street; and Steve was standing alone — alone except for the man stretched out between his feet and the other man who lay still in the gutter.”

Stay tuned for more exciting excerpts from “Nightmare Town” …

Bartitsu lecture at the Catalyst Club (Brighton, UK)

Lecturer Jacob Funnell presents a well-received talk on the rise and fall of the Bartitsu Club for an audience at the Catalyst Club, a monthly public forum in Brighton, UK that “pays tribute to the old traditions of French Salon, debating societies and Gentleman’s Clubs.”

More from Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts

The new Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture & Martial Arts center in Chicago’s Ravenswood area is a unique 5000 sq. ft., c.1900 facility, with classes  in historical swordplay, 19th century antagonistics and ‘old school’ fitness training.

Beginning in late January 2012, Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture & Martial Arts will offer:

* a fitness studio combining functional fitness training with modern nutritional counseling

* 19th century “physical culture” – workouts using calisthenics, Indian clubs, medicine balls, therapeutic gymnastics, body-weight exercises and games designed to create natural strength and grace with athletic performance

* the Midwest’s only full-time school for the study of traditional Western martial arts including historical swordplay – the art of the longsword, rapier, arming sword, as well as Bartitsu – the martial art made famous by  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character, Sherlock Holmes

* classes with Chicagoland’s only licensed instructor in Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) self-defense – a nationally renowned system of hand, stick and knife defense designed for modern people with limited training time

* a “Gymuseum” of antique exercise equipment and 19th century prints portraying combat sport athletes in training

* an international center for education on the rich, sophisticated martial traditions of Western Civilization

* an innovative, eclectic series of workshops, lectures and unique social events.

New to historical swordfighting? Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture & Martial Arts will offer the Chicago Swordplay Guild’s ever-popular introductory classes in the medieval longsword and the Renaissance rapier! The C.S.G. will also continue to provide Introductory Classes at the Chicago Park District-Pulaski Park location as part of the CPD Arts Partners Program.

The website is coming soon; in the meantime you can contact the organizers for updates on classes, seminars and special events!