Creating the Forteza Clubhouse

Click this link to see our spiffing video, info, rewards and more towards creating the Forteza Clubhouse – a steampunk/neo-Victorian lounge complete with library, art gallery and a multi-media learning center (and a secret passage entrance – shhh!)

The Clubhouse project has begun! Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts (the headquarters of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago) is creating the ultimate Bartitsu Club salon, and we’d really appreciate your help. Watch the video, check out the rather cool contributor rewards and, if you are so moved, help out. N.B. that the Indiegogo “share” tools make it very quick and easy to share the project page via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, or to embed or send the page info by email.

We’ll be offering regular updates over the next month and will also be inviting design and decor suggestions …

“Professor Re-Nie’s” school of jiu-jitsu (Paris, 1905)

The pioneer of French jiujitsu was Ernest Regnier, who achieved short-lived fame under the vaguely Japanese nom de guerre of “Professor Re-Nie” when he defeated Georges Dubois in a widely publicised jiujitsu vs. French kickboxing match.

Regnier had been a skilled, but rather down-on-his-luck wrestler in Paris until he was sponsored to learn jiujitsu at the London dojo run by former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and his associate, Taro Miyake. Regnier’s patron was a wealthy French physical culture devotee and entrepreneur named Edmond Desbonnet, who had been impressed by jiujitsu during a visit to the Bartitsu Club several years earlier.

Capitalising on the massive publicity generated by the jiujitsu vs. kickboxing contest, Desbonnet installed an ecole de jiujitsu in his fashionably appointed physical culture studio on the Rue de Ponthieu, just off the Champs Elysee. Jiujitsu proved thereafter to be a profitable, but brief fad amongst the Parisian elite; the colour picture above, taken from the front cover of the December 10, 1905 issue of Le Petit Parisien, shows a demonstration at the school for King Carlos I of Portugal.

These recently discovered photographs offer a good look at the school, including the opulent reception area and the main training hall featuring a large, quilted mat. “Re-Nie’s” classes sometimes featured guest instructors from London, notably Taro Miyake, who would stop by to teach in between wrestling engagements.

The building that housed Desbonnet’s physical culture academy (55 Rue de Ponthieu) is now a Marriott hotel, and the distinctive series of four arched windows shown in these pictures of Regnier’s jiujitsu dojo are still visible from the street outside.

The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 in text, video and images

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture was a three-day conference and training seminar held in Chicago between September 7-9, 2012. The event was hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio.

Day 1

Our band of stalwart adventurers met at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighburhood just before noon, embarking in a small but spirited convoy to La Salle, IL to tour the Hegeler Carus Mansion and its historic gymnasium – normally a two-hour trip. Unfortunately we were delayed by unusually heavy traffic leaving the city, but the Hegeler Carus Mansion staff were kind enough to delay the start of the 2.00 tour to accommodate us. En route, a nascent plan emerged to write a Bartitsu-themed “anthem”, perhaps in the style of a c1900 music hall song. We also met SoA instructor Allen Reed, who lives somewhat near La Salle, at the site.

The mansion tour was fascinating, particularly re. the Hegeler and Carus families’ close connections to events such as the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the spread of Zen Buddhism to the Western world and to the publishing industry via their in-house “Open Court” company. By special permission of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, instructor Tony Wolf was then able to lead an extended, “up close” tour of the famous 1876-vintage gymnasium, which he has been helping to research and re-assemble. Two Bartitsu Club of Chicago members were afterwards inspired to construct their own “teeter ladder” exercise apparatus, which would surely be a unique addition to the Forteza gymuseum; as far as we know, the original teeter ladder in the mansion’s gym is the only surviving example of its type.

Our return to Chicago was significantly delayed by extremely heavy traffic, due in part to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but we were just about able to get everyone fed and at the Lincoln Square Theatre in time for the beginning of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride.

The play is set during the late Victorian era and actually opens with the title character – a no-nonsense, Mary Poppinsish member of the Society of Lady Detectives – making adroit use of jujitsu and then her parasol to fend off various assailants. Further fight scenes showcased everything from smallsword fencing to pugilism in the context of an ostensible Jack the Ripper mystery, but in fact the mysteries to be solved were of a different and more personal nature. All ended happily for the heroines and the audience was left hoping for further adventures with the S.O.L.D.

Day 2

We began the first full training day with a tour of the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio and then a mini-lecture on Bartitsu history. Warm-ups began by simply walking around the space for orientation, then jogging, then jogging backwards, then jogging while throwing an antique leather medicine ball to and fro (nothing like it for breaking the ice).

We continued the warm-up with a series of synergy exercises stressing efficient whole-body movement, unbalancing tactics and elbow/hip alignment.

Next up was a set of two circuit training sessions in which small groups rotated between short classes taught by three instructors; Allen Reed teaching collar-and-elbow wrestling and jujitsu throws, Tony Wolf teaching fisticuffs and Mark Donnelly teaching cane techniques. These sessions were followed by some “integration” training, making the point that Bartitsu really comes to life when the various skills/styles are tested against each other and combined together.

After lunch we reconvened for longer, specialized classes with each instructor. Mark taught a session on umbrella/parasol defense via the “bayonet” grip; Forteza Fitness instructor Keith Jennings taught some catch wrestling holds, takedowns and reversals; Allen presented several canonical Bartitsu/jujitsu kata, and drills arising from opponent resistance; Tony taught “combat improvisation” based on various canonical unarmed and armed set-plays.

Then each instructor in turn was invited to contribute to a combat scenario beginning with cane fighting, segueing through boxing and throwing and ending up on the ground.

The last session of the day was devoted to informal “breakaway” groups and included some spirited cane sparring, pugilism drills, scenario-based cane techniques, free submission grappling and even some Bowie knife work. Serious points to those young enthusiasts who, after a very full day of Bartitsu training, still had enough energy to squeeze in a kettlebell session.

At 7.00 pm we met in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House – all dark green velvet, dark polished wood and maroon trimmings – and spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting before retiring gratefully, if not necessarily gracefully, to home and rest.

Day 3

The final day of the School of Arms began with an orientation and quick Bartitsu history lesson for the four new (Sunday only) participants. We started the warm-up with forward and backward jogging and medicine ball tossing, then rotated through whole-group exercises/balance games taught by Mark Donnelly, Allen Reed and Tony Wolf, including iterations of wrist wrestling, stick wrestling, stand-off and finger-fencing.

Next we cycled through two circuit training rounds of small group mini-lessons (roughly 15 minutes each), in which Mark concentrated on cane work, Allen on jujitsu throws and Tony on integrating standing grappling with fisticuffs and low kicking.

After lunch each of the instructors taught a longer, 45 minute class for the whole group. Mark focused on the technical and tactical dynamics of parrying and countering with the cane. Allen taught applications of two canonical jujitsu kata vs multiple opponents and Tony gave a session on spontaneously combining three canonical kata/set-plays (two jujitsu, one cane) in response to opponent resistance.

We then set up for the Antagonisticathlon, which proved to be by far the roughest and wildest rendition of that event yet. The combination of stirring Sherlock Holmes and Steampunk music via the PA system and the presence of an audience fed into a quite extraordinary mixture of hard fighting and surreal Victorianesque humour. It was a sight to see.

After the warm-downs, the School of Arms ended on a high note, with thanks to our hosts at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts for providing the perfect venue for this event, to the instructors and to the brave souls who volunteered as ruffians in the Antagonisticathlon. We then passed out participation certificates and posed for group photos before retiring to O’Shaughnessy’s for drinks and farewells.

Special thanks to the members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago who volunteered to host and chauffeur out-of-towners, the staff at the Hegeler Carus Mansion and to all the participants, some of whom had traveled considerable distances for the event.

Onwards to the Bartitsu School of Arms 2013 …

“Bloodless duelling” reborn!

The eccentric Edwardian combat sport of “bloodless duelling” or “harmless duelling” (as detailed in this article) has been revived by a group of historical fencing enthusiasts in the UK. They have also done a great job crafting facsimiles of the original, c1908 equipment out of spring-loaded paintball guns, etc. …

“The victory of jiujitsu over French boxing” (1905)

From L’Illustration, No. 3271, November 4th, 1905.

The current fashion is undoubtedly towards Japan and, since the unexpected success that this small nation has won in the Far East, for everything Japanese that has the capacity to excite our interest. Thus, in sport, we discussed recently, and with some vivacity, the burning question of jiu-jitsu. Is jiu-jitsu (pronounced “djioudjitss”) a simple bluff, as once claimed by the most competent people? Or is it, on the contrary, the ideal of self-defence, as proclaimed by the few initiates of this new art?

The debate, which until now remained undecided, has finally been resolved. This is, at least, what seems to result of the match in Courbevoie on Thursday, Oct. 23, between Professor Re-Nie, jiu-jitsu instructor at the school in the Rue de Ponthieu, and master Dubois, representing the French antagonistic sports, who had issued a challenge to Re-Nie.

Master Dubois, who was once a sculptor not without talent, is also both a dangerous swordsman, a formidable boxer and a weightlifter of the first order: he is, in a word, the archetype of the athlete. His height is 1.68 m., weight 175 pounds. He was born in 1865.

Re-Nie, who is thirty-six years old, measures 1.65 m. and weighs 163 pounds. He learned jiu-jitsu in London under the Japanese masters Miyake and Kanaya. Although robust, he is significantly less vigorous than his opponent.

It was agreed that their combat, in which every action was allowed, should stop when one of the antagonists acknowledged defeat. It was quickly ended with the victory of jiu-jitsuan. Here is the summary report:

At the command “Come on!”, the two adversaries moved rapidly towards each other, stopping at a distance of about 2 meters apart and pausing for three or four seconds.

Dubois feinted a low kick with his right leg, which Re-Nie dodged. Dubois then executed a side kick with the same leg, but at the same time, with extraordinary agility, Re-Nie performed a cat-like leap towards Dubois and grabbed him round the waist. Dubois tried a hip check: Re-Nie, moving to the right of his opponent, placed his right hand on the abdomen of the latter, simultaneously compressing the lumbar muscles with the left hand and swinging a knee to Dubois’ right thigh.

Dubois reeled and fell back onto his shoulders; nevertheless Re-Nie stayed in contact, taking a grip that allowed him to seize Dubois’ right wrist. Re-Nie immediately dropped onto his back, to the left of Dubois, passing his left leg across Dubois’ throat; Re-Nie was now gripping Dubois’ forearm with both hands, Dubois’ arm passing between his two legs. A strong pressure exerted upon the wrist of Dubois threatened to dislocate his arm at the elbow, which was now cantilevered. Dubois resisted for a second, then cried for mercy.

The fight had lasted just 26 seconds, including 6 seconds for the engagement itself.

Things happened exactly as they would have in an unpremeditated encounter. The two adversaries were wearing street clothes with ordinary shoes; Georges Dubois had even kept on his hat and gloves. The ground, covered with gravel, was only slightly less hard than tarmac or asphalt would have been. Finally, the game was played outdoors, on the terrace of the new factory facilities at Védrine.

The result was perfectly clear. The representative of the French method did not exist before the representative of jiu-jitsu.

Well, we think that no event of this kind could be allowed without protest from the adherents of French and English boxing. To hear them talk afterwards, master Dubois was not qualified to represent the sport of self-defence. We will not try to discuss this view; we will simply say that jiu-jitsu, which is already officially practiced by the students of West Point (the U.S. Saint-Cyr), the policemen of New York and London, etc., will, on the initiative of Mr. Lépine, be taught from next week to the inspectors of the Sûreté and officers of the research brigade. The extremely rapid defeat of a very strong, fit athlete by a man whose physical means were visibly less than his own demonstrated to the Prefect of Police that this jiu-jitsu is an interesting means of self-defense.

The term sport de voyou (“hooligan sport”) has been bandied about regarding both the encounter at Courbevoie and jiu-jitsu in general. This term, already excessive in the mouths of those who condemn boxing as being too brutal, is somewhat laughable when it is pronounced by the supporters of English or French boxing. Is it believed to be much more elegant to crush an opponent’s nose with a punch than to force submission by a clever arm-twist, you ask? Nothing is less certain. We would willingly share the same opinion as the two senior officers of artillery, who published in Berger-Levrault a translation of the book by Mr. Irving Hancock on jiu-jitsu and who consider the sport, as an art, extremely interesting.

Does this mean that we should ignore our old French boxing or even the classic wrestling so dear to our people in the South? By no means. If jiu-jitsu seems decidedly superior from the self-defence perspective, boxing and wrestling are nonetheless excellent for the development of athletic skill, strength and courage. Jiu-jitsu itself can not completely neglect boxing and must, in fact, know the capacity of the power of the boxer, whose tactic is to maintain a greater distance.

Let us add that jiu-jitsu is not, as it is generally believed (on the basis of erroneous information) to be incomplete, a mere collection of combat tricks. This method is actually a very original and comprehensive means of physical culture that begins with the education of children and continues into adolescence and manhood, without losing sight of the physical education of women. It was largely the teachings of jiu-jitsu that gave Japanese troops their wonderful endurance and admirable sobriety, and it can be said, without being accused of exaggeration, that jiu-jitsu has had its share in the triumph, so disturbing to Europeans, of the Far Eastern race.