In November of 1901 Hutton was interviewed by a reporter from the Daily Telegraph. After a discussion of historical fencing techniques and a typically robust critique of the fencing instruction offered by the British army, Hutton addressed and briefly demonstrated the Vigny method to the bemused journalist.
(…) And in a moment the Captain was holding a walking-stick in such a threatening manner that the interview seemed likely to come to an abrupt end.
“You see,” he went on, smiling, “the thing has far more possibilities than you might imagine. Walking-stick play, as taught by M. Vigny, for instance, is an extremely useful bit of knowledge. Now try and hit me on the head.”
We tried. As soon as the coals had been picked out of our hair, and the lower portion of our waistcoat had been removed from our collar, the captain cheerfully resumed:
“If you are mobbed, you observe, the great thing is never to raise your hand to strike. Always keep it low. Hold your stick at each end, and thrust the first man on the Mark, the second in the throat, clear a circle round you rapidly, and . . . .”
But the audience had fled. It is not a healthy thing to pretend to be a mob when Captain Hutton displays “a little of the art of self-defence,” and it was to a prostrate form upon a sofa that the captain addressed his last remarks.
Interestingly, Hutton’s description of stick defence vs. a group of attackers is almost a verbatim representation of “How to Use a Walking-Stick as a Weapon in a Crowd”, the fourth sequence in part II of Barton-Wright’s 1901 article on stick defence for Pearson’s Magazine. The sequence is included below for comparison.
Suddenly conceived, hurriedly organized, there was every excuse if the Assault-at-Arms in the Gymnasium on the 16th inst. had been a failure. When, therefore, we can describe it as a complete success, there is every reason to congratulate the prime movers in the entertainment on the result of their labours. The programme comprised boxing, gymnastic and fencing competitions, and last, but not least, an exposition of “Bartitsu” under the direction of Mr. Barton-Wright, and a display of Elizabethan sword play by pupils of Captain Hutton.
The preliminary rounds in the boxing competition had been decided on the previous evening, and only the final tie was included in the programme, and the committee very wisely arranged that this event should be fought out at the beginning of the evening somewhat before the advertised time of commencement. Soon after eight o’clock Dr. Pavy took the chair at the judges’ table, and his arrival was the signal for a hearty demonstration by the audience in appreciation of the lively interest which Dr. Pavy takes in everything connected with the hospital.
A persistent rumour had been abroad that Dr. Taylor and Dr. Savage were to give an exhibition of modern foiling, and the arrival of Dr. and Mrs Taylor certainly seemed to lend colour to this view. But rumour lied, and we were not permitted to see what would undoubtedly have been the most popular item of the display.
Of the boxing we can do no more than quote the familiar sporting phrase that “both were likely lads and fought to win.” Perhaps it was significant that at the prize distribution afterwards the winner appeared with both wrists in strapping, while the loser did not appear at all!
The gymnastic display was not good. With one or two notable exceptions the men did not show anything like the form that is expected at these occasions, and the set pieces showed a lack of rehearsal which was no doubt due to the paucity of time at the disposal of the instructor. One item, however, gained rather than lost by this rawness; it was intensely funny to see and hear the surprise and indignation of one of the pair of men who should have “circled” head to foot, when his partner attempted to go round the wrong way.
The fencers gave a much better show, although the hits were rather soft and generally of the “lay on” type. Then M. Vigny and Mr. Collard, two of Mr. Barton-Wright’s instructors, gave an exhibition of “Bartitsu” walking-stick play. Everybody has heard of this new defence and offence, but it was a revelation to the audience to see the splendid development, the dexterity and quickness, and even grace, of the exponents of this really wonderful science.
A striking feature of the training is that in all the exercises the pupil must become ambidextrous; in fact, the rapid transference of the walking-stick from one hand to the other was, to the uninitiated at least, one of the most powerful factors in offence and defence, and one likely to prove most puzzling to the opponent.
After another round in the fencing competition, Captain Hutton brought forward two of the “Bartitsu” Club fencing instructors, Messrs. Collard and Rolt, who gave a display of Elizabethan fencing, using first of all sword and buckler, and then, the more stately rapier and dagger.
The two styles were essentially different in all but attitude. Neither man came “on guard” with the stilted style of modern foil play. Crouching at either end of the ring, they crept towards one another like tigers, and sprang in and out, thrusting and guarding with lightning rapidity. From a spectacular point of view these contests were superb; but it was unpleasantly obvious that “an affair of honour” in Raleigh’s time was not a matter to be entered upon lightly, and certainly not a matter from which either party could hope to escape unscathed.
With these events the programme ended, and after a short speech of thanks from the Chairman to Captain Hutton and Mr. Barton-Wright, and the gentlemen who had judged and given displays that evening, Mr. Cross proposed a vote of thanks to Dr. Pavy for taking the Chair, and for presenting and giving the prizes. With cheers for Dr. Pavy and Captain Hutton, the proceedings terminated.
Final Tie Of the Boxing Competition. — Mr. Pern beat Mr. Palmer. Referee: Mr. Godtschalk (Mirror of Life). Timekeeper: Mr. Griffin.
Gymnastic Display. — Winners Squad B (Messrs. Robinson, Steele-Perkins and Beattie). Judges: Mr. L. A. Dunn and Colour-Sergeant Young.
Fencing (Final Heat). — Mr. Jenson beat Mr. Roper. Referee: Captain Hutton. Judges: Mr. Clay and Mr. Norbury.
“Bartitsu” Display. — Messrs. Vigny and Collard. Judge: Mr. Barton Wright.
Sword Play. — Sword and Buckler, Rapier and Dagger.—Messrs. Collard and Rolt. Judge: Captain Hutton.
Initially, Steed (Patrick Macnee) was featured as a mystery-man foil for Dr. David Keel, played by Ian Hendry. Macnee wanted to develop and distinguish the Steed character, so he began to add signature costume items and props from his own wardrobe, including a bowler hat and an umbrella, quickly transforming John Steed from a trenchcoat-wearing tough guy into a dapper, impeccably mannered superspy.
When a writer’s strike delayed production of The Avengers, Hendry left the series and Macnee was promoted to the starring role.
The idea of using his umbrella as a weapon seems to have been based initially on Patrick Macnee’s personal dislike of guns. Macnee felt that John Steed should outwit enemies whenever possible; however, he also insisted that the character’s suave exterior masked a steely ruthlessness when he was forced into combat. As Steed habitually carried his umbrella, and therefore almost always had it to hand during action scenes, it became his main weapon by default.
Macnee may have been inspired by Lt. Colonel William Ewart Fairbairn’s instructions for using umbrellas as improvised weapons, which were widely published during the Second World War:
Although John Steed’s tightly-furled brolly was shown to conceal a slim sword in the Avengers opening credits, the spy seldom made use of the blade, relying instead on the (presumably reinforced) umbrella itself as a weapon of both offence and defence. During The Avengers’ long run he was regularly shown using his umbrella as a rapier, a bayonet and a club; he also occasionally employed the hooked handle to trip or otherwise impede his enemies.
Once in a while, John Steed was even known to defend himself and KO his nefarious foes with his steel-reinforced bowler, a trick clearly inspired by the steel-rimmed hat wielded by the bodyguard/assassin Oddjob (Harold Sakata) in Goldfinger.
During the filming of The New Avengers sequel series, which was a mid-1970s British/French/Canadian co-production, Parisian savate master Roger Lafondput in an on-set appearance as a self-defence coach. The following video clip, from a 1993 episode of the French variety show Coucou c’est nous!, includes a rather awkward reunion between the elderly Lafond and Macnee, the latter – who clearly did not speak, nor understand much of the French language – seeming not to recognise Mr. Lafond. Still, the clip also features an ad-hoc demonstration of Lafond’s “Panache” style of umbrella self defence, gamely observed by the bemused Patrick Macnee:
Although co-stars had come and gone, Patrick Macnee as John Steed remained a constant presence throughout the massive and long-lived international success of The Avengers and then The New Avengers, establishing the pop-culture trope of the urbane, umbrella-wielding British secret agent. Steed remains a frequent point of reference when people first encounter E.W. Barton-Wright’s “gentlemanly art of self defence”, Bartitsu.
During 1905-6 Renaud (1873-1953) became one of the first French nationals to study Japanese martial arts, training with former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and Tani’s fellow instructor Taro Miyake “for two summers, that is two periods of three months each, each day and sometimes twice a day”.
As did Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright, Renaud sought to devise a comprehensive approach to antagonistics. On the subject of various national methods of self defence, he wrote:
… the professors of each one of these sports will, ridiculously, deny the other methods. English boxers mock French boxing, declaring that apart from the kicks, it is not worth giving the time of day; the articles lauding Jiujitsu pretend that a follower of the Japanese science will be capable of pulverising any colossus, in any circumstances, in but three seconds, etc, etc.
One will not find any trace of similar sentiment in this eclectic volume; I simply endeavour to harmoniously gather the really practical methods of defense, whatever their origin, and especially to combine them.
Thus, Defense dans la Rue offers a notably scientific progression of lessons drawn from boxing, savate, jiujitsu, cane fighting and even shooting …
More recently, however, we’ve located the original source for the illustrations used in that article – a photo-feature called “The Art of Stick Defence” in the August 1, 1903 Illustrated London News – and also a September 6, 1903 article from the Chicago Inter-Ocean, which re-uses much of the Tribune article’s text, but offers a set of “new” photographs for some of the techniques.
Significantly, the one sequence of techniques that appeared in the ILN photo-series but not in either of the American articles is also the only known photographic representation of Vigny using the “short end” of the cane in self defence (shown in close-up, above). The use of the short-end grip “as a dagger” in close quarters was frequently remarked upon by observers of his system in action and was both described and sketched by Captain F.C. Laing in “The Bartitsu Method of Self-Defence” (1903).
This sequence is also the only known representation of Vigny defending against an attack with a heavy-buckled belt; a weapon commonly used by London hooligans and other street gangsters during the early 20th century.
TheIllustrated London Newsphotographs are inserted into the New York Tribune text below, with the alternative photos from the Chicago Inter-Ocean article shown alongside for comparison.
In the crowded city, as well as at the lonely crossroads, a man never knows when he may be called upon to defend himself. However vigilant may be the police, however strong the windows of his house, one is never absolutely secure from thug or burglar. However regular may be his habits, however restrained his desires, still there are emergencies which may keep a citizen out until the “owl” hours or call him into unfrequented by-ways.
Street gangs have never seemed bolder than at the present time, and their attacks upon law-abiding citizens are of frequent occurrence. The majority limit their operations to the tenement house districts, but now and then they appear where least expected. Such was the case in the alleged attack upon David Lamar’s coachman in Long Branch by “Monk” Eastman and some other members of his notorious East Side gang.
When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick. A revolver is likely to harm him more than to help. As soon as a man reaches for his weapon, his adversary has the right to shoot, and the accomplished criminal is almost sure to have his weapon ready first. The stick is the better weapon, because it is quicker. It is in one’s hand already. It is always “loaded.”
In such a crisis the first blow counts. At such a time neither endurance nor strength is as important as quickness. There is only one round, and in most instances there is only one blow. The man who gives it first, and gives it right, is the victor. One does not need to be an experienced boxer or wrestler, for his adversary on such occasions is not likely to observe the Marquis of Queensberry rules nor the laws of the Graeco-Roman school of wrestling. Foul means are fair at such times.
In the city of London the crime of the highwayman and burglar has increased to such an extent that many schools have sprung up in the great English metropolis where one may learn the art of stick defence. The schools have proved popular, and many of the professional fencing and boxing masters have included courses in which the pupil is taught to handle the stick.
The instruction is simple, and contrasts in a striking degree with the complicated science of fencing. Neither is it anything like the old art of handling the singlestick, where two men armed with sticks parry with each other for an opening to administer a blow. Stick defence differs from all these manly exercises in this essential — it is not a pastime between sportsmen; it is a quick and safe method of knocking out a thug.
Many a busy New Yorker, however, would never learn the art of stick defence, even though he believed it would someday save his life, if he had to go to a gymnasium or a fencing school to learn it.
“I simply haven’t the time,” such a man would say.
For the same reason he has long wished to be a boxer, and secretly envied the splendid muscles of the athletes he sees at the beach when he goes down there for a Sunday swim. Neither does he know anything about wrestling, nor many another manly sport which would not only befriend him in an hour of need, but, best of all, build up his physique and enable him to work harder and longer, and yet feel far less weary when he leaves his office at night.
Stick defence, however, can be learned at home more easily, perhaps, than any other art of self-defence, and after a few general rules are mastered the beginner may learn how to apply them in many effective ways. He must, first of all, have a roommate or some other good friend who is willing to play the “thug” and to be ‘”knocked out” some half hundred times. In imagination the “thug’s” arms will be broken, his wrists and ankles dislocated and his neck twisted.
The thug who is of Anglo-Saxon origin generally makes his assault with his fists. If he doesn’t, he pulls a pistol. His most common fist attack is to strike his purposed victim in the face with his left hand, and to hold back his right ready for a blow in the stomach. Nine times out of ten such a ruffian overwhelms his man, and even an experienced boxer may fail to thwart such an assault, but the man with a stick, should he handle himself right, ought not only to withstand his enemy, but also break his arm.
As soon as the stick man sees what his assailant is up to, he clutches his enemy’s left hand with his own, and with his right, holding his stick and guarding his stomach at the same time, he cracks the thug’s arm on the crazy bone, at the elbow. At the same time he strikes he twists the arm inward, so as to make the pain of the blow still more acute. If the stick man wants to strike hard enough he can break a thug’s arm in this way.
Should one find it impossible to use this device in withstanding a left-handed attack, there is another way which proves almost as efficient. As the thug rushes for his man, the stick man grasps his cane at the small end with his left hand, and with his right he clutches it near the handle. His hands are near enough together, however, so that his right elbow is at an angle of 90 degrees, and with this protruding elbow he wards off the swing of the thug’s left arm. At the same time he thrusts the handle of his cane under the chin of his foe and topples him over on his back. In case of a right-handed attack, the man with a stick meets it in the same fashion, but with opposite hands.
Unless the sight of a pistol’s muzzle unnerves him, the man with a cane is able to dispose of the thug who pulls a gun easier than if he used only his fists. If the pistol puller is left handed, an upward blow of the cane is best, for it knocks the weapon high into the air, and does not swerve the barrel sidewise, so that the bullet is likely to reach the heart of its intended victim.
But in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the gun is in the right hand, and the stick man need only drop to his knees and, at the same time, strike his would-be murderer a sharp side-wise crack on the knuckles to disarm him.
As the Anglo-Saxon uses his fists, so the Italian and Spaniard have recourse to the knife. Unless such a thug is left-handed, he strikes with his right hand, and he is met by the stick man in much the same way as a left-handed fist blow is averted, by the thrust of the cane’s handle under the chin. The stick man, however, holds his arms differently. He now bends his left elbow to avert the stab and shield his vitals.
As a general thing, the thrust of a cane under the chin partially strangles a thug and so disconcerts him that he drops the blade from his hand. Should the ruffian use his left hand, the man with a stick grasps his weapon with his right hand around its small end and his left about its centre, and with his right elbow shielding his breast he gives the strangling thrust into his enemy’s neck.
The German also has his way of holding up a pedestrian. In the gymnasium or army he has been trained in the use of the broadsword, or even as a peasant boy he has had “schlagen” matches with his playmates. So when a Teuton who has settled in the New World descends to deeds of violence he generally uses a stick. His fate, however, at the hands of the master of stick defence is likely to be as instantaneous as that of the Anglo-Saxon or the Italian.
In meeting this kind of an enemy, an umbrella or a cane with a hooked handle is the best weapon. The stick man catches the cane of his foe, hooks his assailant around the neck and jerks his head forward. At the same time he raises his knee so that the face of the thug strikes against it with great force. This treatment makes a man see so many stars that he invariably drops his cane, and thus surrenders himself to the mercy of his victor.
Some thugs have a way of coming up on their victims from behind and disconcerting them with a kick. The stick man who knows the tactics of thugs is prepared for this kind of assault. As soon as he suspects what is to occur he wheels on his heel and hooks the thug by the foot with the handle of his cane or umbrella. This is sure to send the ruffian over backward on to his back. Another way is to dodge the kick, and crack the upraised leg with a stick over the knee. Such a blow will break a man’s leg if it be administered hard enough.
Tactics which might supplement those of the stick men have been introduced into the United States Navy. They are trick catches which are, for the most part, based on the Japanese system of wrestling. A sailor renders an assailant powerless simply by twisting his muscles the wrong way. It is called the leverage system, for the reason that it tends to pry a victim’s joints apart by using the bones as levers one against another. Should a New Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time.
In 1907 this unusual ring design – equipped with nets reminiscent of the safety equipment used in circus acts – was tested as a way to reduce the danger of boxers and savateurs being further injured in falls following knock-out blows.
“Bartitsu.” We have not had time to visit the National Library or T.C.D. in order to look up the derivation of this uncanny word, but we are assured that it is the world-old method of self-defence rediscovered — the science by which the Celtic heroes achieved their marvellous feats – and that Mr. Barton-Wright is its latter-day exponent. It is very simple, according to him, and should take in this country of paradoxes, for it is the art of conquering an adversary by yielding, and not resisting. He illustrated it on Monday evening the Bath Club, London, and we extract the following details from a graphic description in the “World.”
Mr. Wright, we are told, is small and supple, with hands as small and delicate as a woman’s, but he is as active as a wild cat. After making his bow to the spectators he summoned a friendly corpus vile out of the audience on which to make the necessary experiments. The Vile Body was a large muscular man who looked as if he could take Mr. Wright up in one hand and put him on the top of book-case; and yet under those small white hands with the sensitive tapering fingers the big man was absolutely helpless. All his weight told against himself; the strength he put out was his undoing.
The Vile Body was invited take Mr. Wright by the lapels of his coat and push him away. Mr. Wright resisted for instant, just to get his adversary to put out his whole strength, then suddenly yielded and fell upon his back. This brought the other over, only to find Mr. Wright’s foot in the pit his stomach, which sent him flying over the head of his small opponent.
In the same way Mr. Wright illustrated “how put man out of the room.” If you try push the man out, he will push back at you; also, if you pull him towards you, he will instinctively pull away. Therefore, Mr. Wright pulls his adversary gently, the other pulls away, and before he knows anything more Mr. Wright has him by the wrist and the upper arm in such a lock that if he tries to use the other arm, the held one would be broken: and, as Mr. Wright quaintly adds, “he presently leaves the room!”
Endless are these grips, which are all based anatomical knowledge, and which no amount muscular power will enable a man to resist. But “Bartitsu” does not simply mean attack. It also includes that difficult part of defence which enables you to turn your passing defeat to advantage to yourself, and to dismay for your triumphing opponent.
The art of falling has been truly reduced to a science by Mr. Wright. How to fall when thrown clear over your adversary’s head, so as to “pick him while passing over his head in the air and bring him down”, he being underneath and you on the top of his surprised person when you both reach the ground: how to bring down, while falling, the man who has tripped you, and thus provide yourself with something soft to fall upon; all are made simple.
The Vile Body submitted to be demonstrated upon with admirable equanimity and humour. Mr. Wright threw him; twisted his arm inside out; pitched him over his head; sat on his chest; showed us, in a most alluring way, how charmingly easy it is strangle man with the lapel and collar of his own coat, and tripped his legs from under him with a one-two parry of the right foot. His whole demonstration proves that, in Mr. Barton-Wright’s hands, man is open to muscular conviction, and that intelligence can always get the better of brute force. A knowledge of this art would be invaluable our police; but is it a sine qua non that they should active as wild cats?
In the game of Bartitsu, or Japanese self-defence, the other person tempts you to engage him, and then by apt manipulation deftly twists and twirls you to your mother earth. As you advance upon your opponent he gathers you warmly to his bosom, and, only his foot in your chest, induces you to somersault over his head, and doubt his friendship. Should you stoop to a prostrate man, he throttles or “shoulder locks” you on the instant; while “make but a rush against Othello’s breast,” and he retires, but only to kneel on one knee as he catherine-wheels you with the other.
One of the two Japanese wrestlers brought by Mr. Barton-Wright to exhibit “Bartitsu” at the Empire Theatre also lies on his back, while a man stands on his chest and four others press heavily upon a broomstick laid across his upturned throat. From this position he cleverly escapes by overturning the man from his chest, and slipping his head sideways under the stick in the confusion as he rises impassively to his feet.
The interest in Bartitsu centres in the hope that it may not be too difficult for the average person to acquire for his use in self-defence, so that the battle shall not be always to the strong, and that the Hooligan may fall in haste to arise at leisure but this, unfortunately, seems doubtful. In our issue of March 18th, 1899, we gave some illustrations of the “chips” used by Messrs. Uyenishi and Tani during their performance.
The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 1: History and the Canonical Syllabus (2005) and The Bartitsu Compendium Volume II: Antagonistics (2008)
Compiled by members of the Bartitsu Society, volumes 1 and 2 of the Bartitsu Compendium are availablein print from Lulu.com.
Volume I collates most of the canonical Bartitsu material and features over two hundred and seventy pages of original essays, rare vintage reprints and never-before-seen translations, illustrated with hundreds of fascinating photographs and sketches.
Volume II provides resources towards continuing Barton-Wright’s martial arts experiments. It combines extensive excerpts from fifteen classic Edwardian-era self defence manuals, including well over four hundred illustrations, plus a collection of long-forgotten newspaper and magazine articles on Bartitsu exhibitions and contests; new, original articles on Bartitsu history and training; a complete course of Edwardian-era “physical culture” exercises; personality profiles, essays and more besides.
Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes documentary (2011)
At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing, and stick fighting into the “Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. After Barton-Wright’s School of Arms mysteriously closed in 1902, Bartitsu was almost forgotten save for a famous, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House.
In this fascinating 54-minute documentary shot in Switzerland, Italy, the UK and the USA, host Tony Wolf reveals the history, rediscovery and revival of Barton-Wright’s pioneering mixed martial art.
London, 1914: The leaders of the radical women’s rights movement are fugitives from the law. Their last line of defense is the secret society of “Amazons”: women trained in the martial art of bartitsu and sworn to defend their leaders from arrest and assault.
After a series of daring escapes and battles with the police, the stakes rise dramatically when the Amazons are forced into a deadly game of cat and mouse against an aristocratic, utopian cult…
The Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy is available as e-books from Amazon and comiXology – we strongly recommend comiXology’s Guided View system for a fluid, intuitive online reading experience – as well as in print form as part of the Blood and Honor anthology.