Bartitsu course and lecture via the Idler Academy (London)

Instructor James Garvey (shown second from the left, above, demonstrating Bartitsu on the Sunday Brunch TV show) will be offering both a historical lecture and a six-lesson practical course in Bartitsu via London’s Idler Academy.

You can read an in-depth interview with Mr. Garvey here.

“How To Defend Yourself” (1904)

From the San Francisco Call newspaper, August 1904.

The young lady demonstrating these self defence techniques is believed to be Mademoiselle Marie Gelas.


TIME and time again when some account appears in the papers describing a ruffianly attack upon a woman on the streets you have heard the women folks of your household exclaim: “I know I should faint if that happened to me.” Now, in nine cases out of ten they don’t faint, but put up a struggle, with overwhelming odds of strength against them, that is really to be admired.

The average woman in a desperate situation is more to be depended upon then the average man. Taking this fact for granted, the average woman, with the knowledge of a few defensive tricks, can easily handle the ruffian to be met with on the streets and prevent harm to herself.

At the present time San Francisco enjoys a reputation which it is safe to say no other city can boast of. It is that its women are safe to travel its streets at all hours unmolested, if they will go strictly about their business. It does happen sometimes that a women is accosted and, if she is in hearing distance of any one, no matter how bad the neighborhood, a cry for help will be answered.

This is in striking opposition to New York, the greatest city in the United States, where a woman cannot walk two blocks, after dark, without having some one speak to her. There may be occasions even here when a woman may meet a ruffian who is intent on robbery or under the influence of liquor. It is at such times that her presence of mind must outwit his strength. It is for that purpose that these few simple instructions are given.

First and foremost it must be remembered that to commit the instructions to memory is not all that is necessary. A woman must practice them and keep in practice, for this is the only keynote to a successful application. It will be found after practice that almost unconsciously when any one’s hands are placed on you, suddenly you will at once assume a defensive attitude, which if it is a serious case will give you an advantage, which will make you mistress of the situation. But without practice you will not be able to cope with your assailant.


Take the ruffian who attempts to steal your brooch or grasp you by the throat. Up go your hands and you take a grip of his forearm near the wrist and with a quick turn you bring his arm over your shoulder, making a fulcrum, and with a sudden jerk downward you will break his arm. In practice do this slowly, for it is most powerful and if you are not careful you will make your subject a candidate for the hospital.


In traveling alone on the streets at night it is a splendid idea to carry a parasol or umbrella. Keep it unlatched with the right hand on the slide at the ribs. If you are attacked and the ruffian tries to grasp you, it is very easy to open it in his face. You will find that the sudden opening of it will cause him to try and grab you, umbrella and all, but by shoving it into his face with the right hand extended you will be able to duck past him to one side and out of danger while he is trying to get the parasol or umbrella out of his way.

Another defense in the use of the hat pin when attacked from behind. The mere act of raising the arm will cause the ruffian to press downward instead of grasping you tighter around the throat. But he will not be able to stop you from getting your hat pin; then you can twist around and his face will be at your mercy.

Another good source of protection is to carry a good stout stick pin in your collar. This is easier to find and will allow of quicker action.


There is one way to place a ruffian, especially one who is under the influence of liquor, at your mercy, and that is the well-known trick of pulling the coat down off the shoulders. You then have his arms tied and he is powerless to do you any harm.

A trick which is likely to give one a shudder when it is considered, but yet one which is permissible when one feels that it is to be used in self-defense, is to grasp the face, gouging the thumb deep into the eye. There la no human being that can stand the pain and it will result in throwing the ruffian flat on his back. It will take all the fight out of a man. It is a game not to his liking.

There is another of the same order that will throw a ruffian. It is to grab the back of the neck with the left hand and shove the right in his face so that the fingers come under his nose. An upward pressure against the nose will throw him off his balance in a second and he will go down. There is no stopping; the strongest man in the world cannot stand the pain. It makes him as helpless as a child.

An act which requires a great deal of practice, but is very effective when accomplished, is to grab the wrist when one is being struck and jerk it in the direction of the blow. This, in many cases, will pull the arm out of the socket at the shoulder, but to accomplish it one must be exceedingly quick with arms and feet, for it means that you must sidestep out of range as you grab the wrist.

Another thing that is done under the same circumstance is to sidestep and grasp the wrist with both hands and quickly turn the arm outward. This will also throw him off his balance and more than likely will bring him to the ground. Always remember one thing: never step backward, for you lose your balance and put yourself at a disadvantage. Practice stepping sideways out of danger. By practice you will find which hand is going to be used and you can take the other side.

Another thing to remember is to watch the eyes of your assailant. He has got to look where he is going to grab and you will be able to forecast his move. Just as soon as you down your ruffian get away, using all your powers of speech to summon help.

“The dodges of Bartitzu” (1899)

From the Manchester Evening News, April 1899;


Two or three recent cases have served to draw attention to the dangers of London streets after dark. It is seldom that the victim of violent robbery is able to being his assailants to justice, and as vigilant as they are the police cannot provide a uniformed Sherlock Holmes to walk in the footsteps of every (indecipherable) citizen in the West End. If the said citizen has been dining too enthusiastically, he is far more likely to meet a policeman than to be pounced on by a gang of desperate thieves. Mr. Barton-Wright declares that, by studying his Anglo-Japanese system of self-defence, the least muscular and most timid may dispose of several enemies, but so far the highway robbers have escaped from the dodges of Bartitzu (a feature of the system mentioned); the latter are, moreover, likelier pupils at that school than the man in the street whom they convert into the man in the gutter.

BBC’s “Sherlock” (finally!) offers a shout-out to “baritsu” …

… if only as the second of thirteen possible life-saving, death-faking scenarios worked out in painstaking detail prior to Sherlock’s confrontation with Moriarty atop the St. Bart’s Hospital roof.

“A system of Japanese wrestling”, indeed …

How the original Sherlock Holmes survived the Reichenbach fall

Fans around the world are eagerly awaiting Episode 1 of the third season of Sherlock, in which the mystery of how the consulting detective faked his own death will be revealed …

After a dramatic rooftop confrontation with his nemesis, Jim Moriarty – during which Moriarty apparently killed himself – Sherlock seemingly plummeted to his destruction in order to save his friends from assassination at the hands of Moriarty’s snipers.

Although it’s clear that he did not actually die, the puzzle of how Sherlock faked his suicide has been the subject of intense and wide-ranging speculation. In 1893, though, for readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem, the question was not so much “how?” as “why” Doyle would kill off his most popular character during his confrontation with Moriarty at the brink of the Reichenbach waterfall, as recorded by Dr. Watson:

A few words may suffice to tell the little that remains. An examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other’s arms. Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless, and there, deep down in that dreadful caldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation.

The prosaic reality is that Doyle was simply tired of writing about Sherlock Holmes and wanted to engage with more personally interesting subjects, which he did for the best part of the following decade. However, the public pressure (and financial incentives) to revive the Holmes character continued to mount and in 1903 Doyle capitulated, resurrecting Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House.

As Holmes himself explained to the considerably startled Dr. Watson:

Well, then, about that chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it.”

“You never were in it?”

“No, Watson, I never was in it. My note to you was absolutely genuine. I had little doubt that I had come to the end of my career when I perceived the somewhat sinister figure of the late Professor Moriarty standing upon the narrow pathway which led to safety. I read an inexorable purpose in his gray eyes. I exchanged some remarks with him, therefore, and obtained his courteous permission to write the short note which you afterwards received. I left it with my cigarette-box and my stick, and I walked along the pathway, Moriarty still at my heels. 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. With my face over the brink, I saw him fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounded off, and splashed into the water.

“Baritsu” was Doyle’s idiosyncratic spelling of Bartitsu, the eccentric and eclectic self defence art that had, in fact, been introduced to London in 1899 by Edward Barton-Wright. Many theories have been advanced as to why he misspelled the word; perhaps the most plausible is that he simply copied it verbatim from a London Times report on a Bartitsu exhibition, which included the same misspelling and was sub-headed Japanese Wrestling at the Tivoli (Theatre).

Thus, Conan Doyle’s hero saved his own life, and then faked his own death, via the deus ex machina device of an obscure Anglo-Swiss-Japanese martial art, the details of which were largely forgotten over the course of the 20th century until, almost exactly one hundred years later, curiosity over his “baritsu” reference spurred a revival of Bartitsu