Bartitsu School of Arms: Chicago, 2012

The 2012 Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture will take place in Chicago, IL, USA between September 8-9.

Participants are invited to join a field trip and guided tour of the Hegeler Carus mansion and historic gymnasium in LaSalle, IL on the afternoon of Friday, September 7.  Saturday the 8th will include a full day of Bartitsu cross-training instruction followed by dinner, discussions and socialising, and Sunday the 9th will include a further day of training with fellow enthusiasts, finishing with a fun and challenging antagonisticathlon combat obstacle course event.

Please see the 2012 Bartitsu School of Arms web page for all details, registration, etc.


“Steampunk Sherlock Holmes” on Kickstarter

Just as Holmes' knee crashed hideously into his opponent's solar plexus, a scythe-shaped blade shrieked across the room towards me, narrowly missing my face as I jumped backwards and levelled my cannon at the menace ...

Steampunk Holmes is an upcoming interactive novel jointly inspired by the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne.

The project is now seeking backers to bring it to fruition, via a Steampunk Holmes KickStarter campaign.

“Old School Fitness Becomes New Trend”: Bartitsu and historical fencing featured in the Chicago Tribune

“Walking into the Forteza Fitness club in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood is like strolling into a cultural time machine,” begins John Owens’ new article and video feature for the Chicago Tribune. The video highlights the antagonisticathlon event that served as a “graduation” for the Bartitsu Club of Chicago’s introductory 6-week course as well as historical fencing action from members of the Chicago Swordplay Guild and demonstrations of some physical culture exercises.

The formidable W.H. Grenfell; 1st Baron Desborough and President of the Bartitsu Club

A short video demonstrating the athletic, historical and cultural significance of William Henry Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough, who is soon to be commemorated with a Sporting Legacy exhibition staged at his former home, Taplow Court, in Buckinghamshire, England.

The 6’5″ sportsman, aristocrat and parliamentarian was a larger than life figure in more ways than one.  The grounds of Taplow Court had yielded one of the most important Anglo-Saxon archaeological finds of the late 19th century, and the mansion itself was the salon of the clique of prominent politicians and intellectuals known at “The Souls“.

Among Grenfell’s many achievements as an Olympic athlete, adventurer and patron of numerous causes, he had been named as the President of the Bartitsu Club in Soho.  In fact, he provided one of the earliest references to that Club in an interview for the London Daily Mail during June of 1899:

“The idea,” said Mr. Grenfell, to a “Daily Mail” representative, “is to establish an athletic class for people of good standing, and it seemed to us best to establish it in the form of a club, so as to be able to exclude undesirable persons. So members will be able to come themselves, and to send their children and the ladies of their family for instruction with every assurance that they will be running no risk of objectionable associations.”

“Is Bartitsu, then, a sport for women and children?”

”Oh, we are not going to confine ourselves to Japanese wrestling. Athletic exercises of many kinds and physical culture will be taught, but with this difference, that physical culture will be taught in a new form, which will make it interesting.”

“And this new art of self-defence?”

”Bartitsu; that will be taught as part of the general scheme of physical culture. And you know it is very desirable to teach people how to protect themselves against violence.”

It is highly likely that Grenfell, along with his colleague Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, first became aware of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence” when Barton-Wright performed an exhibition at the famous Bath Club.  Grenfell was, at that time, the President of the latter Club as well – in fact, he held presidencies in numerous social and sporting institutions.  His enthusiastic patronage must have been a great boon to Barton-Wright, who always intended the Bartitsu Club to appeal to a wealthy clientele.  In the highly class-conscious London of 1900, the backing of a man like Grenfell was a prerequisite to respectability; however, it was not enough to sustain such a novel venture as the Bartitsu Club, which closed in early 1902.

William Grenfell was also instrumental in staging the 1908 London Olympiad, serving as the President of the Olympic Association and guiding the nascent Games through both triumph and tragedy.

The great tragedy of Grenfell’s private life, though, was that all three of his sons died young; Julian and Gerald were killed mere months apart in the chaos of the First World War, and Ivo died in a car accident in 1926.  Thus, when William himself died in 1945, the Barony of Desborough became extinct.

Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon: Bartitsu Club member and Titanic survivor

Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (22 July 1862 – 20 April 1931) was a prominent Scottish landowner and athlete who is today best known as a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the North Atlantic Sea on April 15, 1912.

A keen fencer, Duff Gordon was also a member of the Bath Club, a London Club that featured an indoor swimming pool (a great novelty in the late 1800s) and counted many athletes among its members. He may well have witnessed Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s demonstration there in 1899.

Fencing and Bartitsu at the Bath Club, 1899

Duff Gordon’s colleague William Grenfell, the first Baron Desborough, was at that time the president of the Bath Club and likewise went on to become associated with Bartitsu, accepting the presidency of the Bartitsu Club.

In Bartitsu Club instructor Armand Cherpillod’s memoir La vie d’un champion: Cours de culture physique et de jiu-jitsu (1933), Cherpillod recalled a compliment paid to him by Duff Gordon, who had been one of his students. Cherpillod had successfully represented the Bartitsu Club in a challenge contest against the wrestler Joe Carroll. Duff Gordon, remarking on the public reaction to the Swiss Cherpillod defeating the English champion, was reported to have said “you did not only beat Carroll, but you punished England.”

Both Duff Gordon and Grenfell were members of the organising committee of the 1908 London Olympic Games.

Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (right) poses with W. Bean and Captain MacDonnell,  holding duelling pistols and protective masks.

In 1912, Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, the famous fashion designer Lucy Christiana, Lady Duff Gordon, became embroiled in a massive scandal surrounding the circumstances of their surviving the wreck of the Titanic. It was popularly alleged that the wealthy Duff Gordon had bribed members of the crew of their lifeboat not to return to help people left swimming for their lives as the ship sank.  He was fully cleared of these charges after an exhaustive inquiry, which accepted that, among many other details, Duff Gordon had not bribed the crewmen but rather gave each of them some money out of gratitude and to compensate them for their lost wages and jobs. Sadly, however, the unjust stigma of the scandal ruined his reputation and he spent much of the rest of his life shunning the public eye.

A recently discovered cache of letters by Cosmo and Lucy Duff Gordon offers a poignant perspective on one of the great tragedies of the early 20th century.

Bartitsu and 19th century “antagonistics” at CombatCon 2012

Bartitsu, classical fencing, bare-knuckle pugilism and Irish stick fighting will be among the many classes at this year’s CombatCon event in Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference will also include a wide range of panel discussions, sparring tournaments and demonstrations; see the CombatCon website for all details.

Eugen Sandow on “Boxing vs. Ju-jitsu” (Daily News, 1907)


Despite E. W. Barton-Wright’s advocacy of a rational melding of various “antagonistics” for purposes of self defence (a theme that was later championed by some others),  the years 1906/7 saw a “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy play out in the pages of British sporting magazines.  The controversy is detailed in the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium.

The substance of that debate included both the questions of “who would win” in a contest between a boxer and a jujitsuka, and also which of the two styles was a better method of self defence training. Barton-Wright might have replied that it did not have to be a question of either/or.

The following short article attributed to the famous strongman and entrepreneur Eugen Sandow is a typical contribution to the debate, mingling nationalistic sentiment with fighting savvy.  As did several other contributors, Sandow hints at having knowledge of “trials” pitting the two styles against each other, which evidently took place in private; a true “jujitsu vs. boxing” match would have been considered “brawling in a public place” under Edwardian English law.

With the remarks of Sir Ralph Littler at the Middlesex Sessions this week on the lapse in public favor of the “noble art” I am in cordial sympathy. The art of boxing as an accomplishment amongst the men of this country is undoubtedly upon the wane.  I am very sorry to see this, for the resort to fisticuffs as a method of self-defence or offence when circumstances call for such measures is a sound, healthy, and, all things considered, most satisfactory one. I ascribe this decline in popular favor to the growing habit of “looking on” is preference to “taking part,” which nowadays seems to pervade all branches of athletics. Attendances at boxing events were never larger than to-day, but I suppose also there never was a time when, proportionately, fewer men were able to use the “mittens.”

Perhaps the worst phase of the subject is that the average Briton has during the last two or three years been losing his respect for the national pastime owing to the popularity of the Japanese ju-jitsu, which receives a veneration that it certainly does not merit when compared with boxing.   A good knowledge of boxing is a more practical attainment than the admittedly clever Japanese method.  Because small exponents of ju-jitsu have overcome great exponents of wrestling, it has assumed a distorted magnitude in the eyes of the man in the street.  In such trials as I have knowledge of between ju-jitsu and boxing the latter has had a distinct ad vantage.  The more this is known the setter.

I think it is very important that the British form of self-defence should be encouraged for many reasons.  Boxing is good for men because it teaches the lesson of giving and taking minor hurts generously.  Experience in the sport gives a man a feeling of self-reliance and power amongst his fellows that leads to a magnanimous self-restraint in attacking a weaker opponent. Even amongst the worst class of men, a set-to with the fists must surely be preferable to the stealthy stab with a knife or blow from the back with a loaded belt or sandbag.

Captain Alfred Hutton writes about his friends at the London Bartitsu Club

Captain Alfred Hutton was among the instructors who taught various branches of “antagonistics” at E.W. Barton-Wright’s School of Arms in London circa 1900.  One of England’s most prominent and respected swordsmen, Hutton was also the president of the Amateur Fencing Association and a pioneering practitioner of revived Elizabethan era fencing with weapons such as the rapier and dagger.

Although Hutton’s specialties do not appear to have been formally included as aspects of Bartitsu, it’s evident that there a good deal of cross-training took place at the Bartitsu Club; for a complete account, see Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London.

In an article for The Press newspaper (8 February 1904, Page 10), Captain Hutton reminisced about some colourful characters and incidents from his long experience of fencing.  He also offered the following remarks upon his Bartitsu Club colleagues and their methods of antagonistics:

Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.

These anecdotes clearly demonstrate that Hutton took a keen practical interest in the classes offered by his fellow Bartitsu Club “professors”. He occasionally demonstrated the Vigny method of self defence with a walking stick during interviews, and he offered a somewhat more detailed account of the Vigny system in his book The Sword and the Centuries.  It was also in that book that he described the Bartitsu Club as being “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

As it turned out, Hutton did find use for some of the 80 “kata” he learned from Tani and Uyenishi, beginning when he penned a short monograph on Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys. A few years later, Hutton demonstrated a number of jujitsu “tricks” for a panel of doctors working in one of London’s psychiatric hospitals.  This was almost certainly the first time Asian martial arts had been applied towards the problem of humane self defence and restraint in a therapeutic environment.