“To invite an attack”: tactical guards in canonical Bartitsu stick fighting


It is always most desirable to try to entice your adversary to deliver a certain blow, and so place yourself at a great advantage by being prepared to guard it, and to deliver your counter-blow.

– E.W. Barton-Wright, Self-Defence With a Walking Stick (1901)

The Vigny method of stick fighting is notable for its variety of invitations, or guard positions that close off certain lines of attack while deliberately exposing a particular target so as to provoke an opponent’s attack to that target.  Of the twenty-two set-plays detailed in E.W. Barton-Wright’s stick fighting essays, thirteen make use of the tactic of invitation from a wide range of guards.  The remainder all employ variations of feinting and preemptive striking.

This article highlights the various applications of “baiting” within the canonical Bartitsu stick repertoire and underscores the practical utility of fighting tactically and ambidextrously.

The Double-Handed Guard

Double-Handed guard

The unmodified double-handed guard invites an attack to the body, or it may be adjusted to bait the opponent into attacking the defender’s lead hand or head.

The Front (Right) Guard and variations

Front guard vs. alpenstock (2)

By slightly lifting the front guard so that it doesn’t directly threaten the opponent’s face, the defender invites an attack to the midsection.

Front guard variant 1

This lowered version of the front guard, sometimes mistaken for an orthodox fencing-style guard in tierce or quarte, is intended to bait the opponent into attacking the head or face.


This low rear version of the front guard dramatically reduces the visual threat of the cane and invites an attack to the head.

Front guard variant 2

Widening the front guard also invites an attack to the head.

The Rear (Left) Guard and variants

Rear guard invites hand attack

The defender baits an attack to his left hand, setting the opponent up for a “guard by distance” counter-attack to the head.

Rear guard invites head attack

By widening the rear guard and extending his head forward, the defender baits a head attack, preparing the “guard by distance” as a counter-strike to the attacker’s weapon hand.

Rear guard invites left lead

By dramatically lowering the cane while guarding his torso with his left arm, the defender invites the attacker’s left lead punch to the head.

Guards and invitations in action

Notice the wide range of guard positions and tactical invitations in this Bartitsu stickfighting free-play session from the Alte Kampfkunst school.

“Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” combat

The protagonists of the newly released game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Jacob and Evie Frye, display their hand-to-hand combat skills in this promotional video.

Although the kukri knife and wrist dagger are examples of creative license, the twins’ combination of boxing and brawling punches and knees, low kicks, jujitsu-like joint locks and takedowns, and especially their use of the combat cane will all be very familiar to Bartitsu enthusiasts …

“… the latest trick in Jiu-jitsu”: cartoons from Punch Magazine (1905-12)

During the decade following E.W. Barton-Wright’s introduction of jiujitsu to England, the Japanese martial art was thoroughly absorbed into English popular culture – most famously when Sherlock Holmes made use of “baritsu” to defeat the evil Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

Jiujitsu was also the means by which the titular heroine of H.G. Wells’ Ann Veronica defended herself against a male assailant, and it was written in to several of the Judith Lee detective stories. Japanese unarmed combat was poetically fetishised in D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Women in Love and showcased in polemic plays, such as What Every Woman Ought to Know (1911).  Jiujitsu eventually became the subject of novelty postcards, the punchline of jokes, the theme of music hall specialty dances and even futurist paintings.

Jiujitsu and Bartitsu also proved natural targets for the satirists at Punch, or the London Charivari, a hugely popular, weekly humour magazine. This gallery of Punch cartoons demonstrates another way in which jiujitsu penetrated the Edwardian English zeitgeist …

The unfortunate subject of this cartoon explains, via the slang of his time and place, how upset he is to have been rejected by his girlfriend:

Punch cartoon

More jiu jitsu
The Professor (to pupil): “I need hardly impress upon you, Sir, the necessity of carefully watching everything I do!”

A police constable in dire need of an audience:

P.C. Jones
P.C. Jones, having mastered his opponent by the latest trick in Jiu-jitsu, is now wishing the Inspector would turn up to witness his triumph!

Punch cartoon

(Japanese wrestling is now being taught in night schools all over the kingdom.)

Mistress: “May I ask what is the meaning of this disgraceful behaviour?”

New Buttons: “The butler and me, Mum, ‘ad a little difference of opinion, Mum, so I give ‘im a little Joo-Jitsoo, Mum!”

Political jujitsu

“President Roosevelt’s trainer, Mr. O’Brien, is teaching him Jujitsu, the Japanese Method of self-defence. Jujitsu consists of bending the joints of the arms or legs of an adversary in the direction opposite to that intended by nature. A small man who understands the trick can snap the elbow joints of a man twice his size.” – American correspondence.

Fired by this example, Mr. CH_MB_RL_N, we understand, though abstaining from all other exercise, spends two hours daily with his trainer, Mr. D_LL_N, in Jo-jitsu, the Birmingham method. A slim man who understands the trick can dislocate the hyphen of a Pre-Boer twice his circumference.

Mr. B_LF__R has created considerable surprise by practicing his peculiar method of contortionist gymnastics and telescopic dislocation (Balf-itsu) on the Treasury Bench.

The most famous of Punch’s jiujitsu-themed cartoons is certainly Arthur Wallis Mills’ The Arrest, or, The Suffragette that knew Jiu-jitsu, satirising the jiujitsuffragette phenomenon:

Suffragette that knew jiujitsu

… but Mr. Punch also offered a useful training tip for the police constables who had to grapple with suffragette protesters:

One man one suffragette

Fiscal jiu-jitsu

FIRST MOVEMENT – The Friendly Approach

Once you can persuade a man to take your hand, and let you slip your arm under his –


– it is quite easy, by a little adroit leverage, to remove him from the premises.

Suffrajitsu goes (semi-)viral

Money shot


Thanks to the recent BBC News article about the radical suffragettes’ use of the martial arts, which featured Tony Wolf’s Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, popular awareness of the suffragette Amazons has reached an all-time high.  The article and subsequent BBC World Service radio interview with Tony have generated over 14,000 tweets and Facebook posts over the past two days.  Emelyne Godfrey, the author of two books on self-defence during the “long Victorian era”, has also recently been interviewed on this subject for BBC Wales radio.