Bartitsu Exhibitions in Oxford (February-March 1902)

During the early months of 1902, E.W. Barton-Wright and the Bartitsu Club instructors undertook a series of touring exhibitions to venues including Cambridge University and the Mechanics Institute Hall in Nottingham. The following accounts offer considerable detail on their demonstrations in Oxford.

The following “advance notice” for the Oxford tournament is interesting in that it adds catch-as-catch-can wrestling to the usual list of contributory styles that made up Bartitsu.


Oxford Times – Saturday 15 February, 1902

An exhibition of the new school of self-defence, named by its founder Bartitsu, is to take place in the Town Hall on dates which will found in an advertisement, and the founder of Bartitsu offers £20 in money to any City or ‘Varsity man who can defeat his Japanese champions, or Cherpillod, his catch-as-catch-can champion. This seems all the more remarkable as these Japanese champions, whose names are Uyenishi and Tani, are only 20 and 21 years of age respectively, and do not weigh more than 9 stone. Cherpillod is a middle-weight, and weighs 11st. 6lb.

It may be remembered that the Japanese were engaged at the London Empire to give demonstrations some time ago, when they defeated all comers, no matter how strong or how big. It will be very interesting when they come here to test their prowess against some our Rugby forwards and boating men.

Bartitsu means real self-defence, and is a combination of all that is best in the East and Western hemispheres, and embraces boxing, the savate, the use of walking-stick as a means of self-defence, the secret Japanese art of wrestling with clothes on, in which neither strength nor weight play an important part, and then catch-as-catch-can wrestling, which is the best European form of wrestling.

All the Bartitsu exponents are world champions, and are quite prepared to meet anybody who disputes their claims to championship honours. It is further claimed for the Bartitsu method of defence with a stick that a lady who acquires a fair knowledge of it could give a very good account of herself if ever attacked when cycling or walking, besides its being most graceful and exhilarating exercise, in which the left hand is brought much into play as the right.

The exhibition interesting both in its extraordinary variety and its ingenuity. Four of the heaviest and strongest men in the audience will be invited to come upon the stage and try to strangle one of the troop, a test which, for obvious reasons, cannot be a convincing one.

This next report on the event offers several curiousities and it’s diverting to try to puzzle out the anonymous author’s take on what he saw and heard.  Sadakazu Uyenishi is confusingly described as the “‘catch-as-catch-can’ champion of the world” in the same paragraph in which the author refers to the advantages of jiujitsu, which was Uyenishi’s actual style, over catch-as-catch-can wrestling.  The reporter never mentions jiujitsu by name, so it’s conceivable that Barton-Wright simply referred to it as “Japanese self-defence” and “Japanese wrestling” during his address to the audience.

We are also offered some rather alarming new information on Barton-Wright’s self-defence experience during his extensive international travels prior to settling in England.

The report on the boxer Whittle competing with Tani and Uyenishi is particularly interesting in that it may be the first reference to the jiujitsuka taking on a boxer in a mixed-styles contest.


Oxford Times – Saturday 01 March, 1902

An interesting exhibition of the best forms of wrestling, boxing, and walking-stick play, which have been combined under the name of “Bartitsu” or “Real Self Defence” by Mr. E. W. Barton-Wright, was given in the Town Hall on Tuesday evening. There was a poor attendance, a fact which is to be deplored, as, although the first evening’s programme had to be devoted to wrestling owing to the indisposition of two members of the company’s athletes, those who were present were afforded an excellent exhibition of feats of strength and skill.

A special stage had bean constructed in front of the Town Hall orchestra, covered with matting. Mr. Barton-Wright, in the course of a few introductory remarks, said the first item on the programme which he proposed to place before them that evening would be an exhibition of the secret art of Japanese self-defence, which had never been allowed to be shown in Japan in public, much less in Europe. That was the first time the two men who would exhibit the art had ever performed in public. In Japan, the only people who were allowed to learn the art were Government officials and members of rich families.

That form of wrestling was not to be confounded with the other kind of Japanese wrestling, which was naked wrestling (the writer refers to sumo – Ed.). The secret wrestling was practised by men weighing anything from eight to eleven stone and it did not matter a bit whether a man was strong or heavy: a child who had his head screwed on the right way had a good chance against the strongest man in the world.

The exponents of the art before them were Uyenishi, “catch-as-catch-can” champion of the world, and Tani, the “boy champion” of Tokio —in fact, of Japan. These men were respectively 21 and 20 years of age and weighed 9st 6lb and 9st 3lb. (Mr. Barton-Wright) offered £20 to anyone who would throw either of the men. He was an exponent of that style of wrestling himself, and said that it was quite impossible to throw a man, never mind how small he was, unless (one) thoroughly understood the balancing of the body. He advocated that style of wrestling because it was suitable to people of civilised countries, where clothes were worn, and had, therefore, a great advantage over “catch-as-catch-can” which was suitable for people who did not wear clothes (in this case, the writer refers to the wearing of wrestling tights rather than jackets – Ed.). In the latter style, too, strength and weight played very important parts indeed, as well as “science”.

(Mr. Barton-Wright) had had many years of travel as a manager, and he had had some peculiar and dangerous people to deal with at times. He had, in consequence, devoted a great amount of time to self-defence, and as a result founded the school of self-defence known as “Bartitsu,” which embraced everything that was best in the best styles of scientific self-defence, both Eastern and Western. He had frequently been attacked abroad, where they did not believe in our methods of fair play and would injure a man with a bottle, knife, chair, or any weapon which came to hand, and it was very useful to know how to prevent man from using a knife upon one, though he might not stab one very deeply, yet there was danger of bleeding to death in some lonely place before help could be brought.

He had been attacked with picks, crowbars, scythes, spades, and various other weapons, and, as quick as he was in boxing, he was obliged to close with his man, and had he not known anything of wrestling, he would have been overpowered many times. As a means of meeting emergencies of that kind, he recommended (this) form of self-defence.

His two champions then entered upon a bout, hurling one another across the stage in a manner which, if practised upon person who had not mastered the correct way to fall, would result in the breaking of most of his bones. After this, the champion of the world, Uyenishi, exhibited the various falls used. One requires to be something of an acrobat to perform there without being severely hurt, as the “bump” is terrific.

Four men of heavy weight were then invited on the platform, and tried all they knew to strangle Uyenishi by pressing with their whole force upon a pole laid across his throat while he lay on the stage. When he had had enough, with a sudden twist and a spring the Japanese released himself in a truly surprising manner, leaving the four men still bearing the pole.

The next item was a contest between Tani and Odgers, the champion heavy-weight professional Cornish and Devon wrestler. In this, the Japanese had the best of three falls, holding the Cornish champion down with his leg by means of a “lock” with which, Mr. Barton-Wright explained, it was quite easy to break the arm of a defeated opponent.

Mr. Whittle, champion heavy-weight boxer of the ‘Varsity, then mounted the stage, amid loud applause, and had a “bout” with each of the Japanese.  Although for a time he gave the little Japs a considerable amount of trouble, they succeeded in throwing him in the end. Several extraordinary falls were then illustrated by the Japanese, after which commenced a catch-as-catch-can contest, which was protracted for the better part of an hour. The contestants were Cherpillod, the catch-as-catch-can champion the world (who, it is said, has defeated all comers at the St. James’s Hall, and won the International exhibition at Paris against all styles represented), and Zara, the Swiss champion. The struggle between these two was long and determined, and told heavily on both, and eventually the result was declared to be dead-heat.

Mr. Barton-Wright apologised for the absence of two of his men, owing to illness, and the exhibitions of boxing, savate and walking stick defence defence had to postponed till the following evening. The programme, curtailed as it was, however, kept the audience interested until after 10.30.

The Behnke System at the Bartitsu Club (1900-1901)

Mrs. Kate Behnke was a well-known voice teacher and speech therapist who was also, during the brief Bartitsu Club era circa 1900, a neighbour of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright. The Musical Herald and Tonic Sol-fa Reporter of March, 1901 mentioned that Mrs. Behnke had been engaged to teach special breathing exercises at the Club. Barton-Wright had printed a chart demonstrating the improvements in his athletes’ chest expansions, which he credited to the Behnke System.

Above: calisthenic exercises from the Behnke System

The following article from the London Evening News of Mar 7, 1900 reveals some new details about the Club’s equipment and furnishings and also describes another facet of Mrs. Behnke’s work at the Bartitsu Club:

The Mysteries of the Embok Kwai (1900-1902)

… he was initiated into the Order of the Embok Kwai, the sole purpose of which is to teach, perpetuate and protect the secrets of jiu-jitsu.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1st June 1902

Although misfortunes had punctuated E.W. Barton-Wright’s early efforts to establish Bartitsu in London, his lectures and demonstrations had successfully conjured a general curiousity about the Japanese martial arts. By the time his three Japanese “champions” stepped off the steamer in September of the year 1900, the British press and public were eager to witness jiujitsu as performed in earnest and by experts.

After a short series of academic displays, the stage was set for their grand debut at the Alhambra music hall, which was scheduled for the last week of October.  At the eleventh hour, however, misfortune struck again, as the two most senior jiujitsuka – Kaneo Tani and Seizo Yamamoto – abruptly refused to take part.  This decision left their eager would-be audiences disappointed and confused, also causing no small amount of public embarrassment to Barton-Wright and Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater.

Primed by over a year’s worth of Barton-Wright’s hinting about the wizardry of Japanese close-combat, London’s sporting journalists succumbed to a fever of speculation as to why the promised show had not taken place.  Barton-Wright was prevailed upon to explain, and so he did, to the effect that the jiujitsu men belonged to a society whose code of honour forbade the public performance of their art for commercial gain.

Barton-Wright insisted that he had instructed his agent in Japan to explain his expectations to the jiujitsuka before they set sail, but apparently the agent had not done so.  The two senior wrestlers had, therefore, not realised what a London music hall performance would entail until they’d arrived at the Alhambra.

Worse still, they had now decided to leave England altogether.  The only silver lining was that the youngest wrestler – 19 year old Yukio Tani, Kaneo’s kid brother – had confirmed that he’d be happy to remain and to compete on the stage as required.  The promised display, therefore, would have to be delayed again until a suitably skilled and amenable sparring partner could be imported from the Land of the Rising Sun.

This was the “official” story as published in various newspapers.  An anonymous journalist from the London Daily Mail, however, had a slightly more colourful take on the situation.  His report included several unique details, most notably references to a mysterious organisation called the “Embok Kwai”:

So – what was this Embok Kwai?

The phrase is as meaningless in Japanese as it is in English, but to be fair, there was no standard system of spelling Japanese words via European alphabets circa 1900, so writers were left to do as best as they could with phonetics. The context, however, clearly indicates that the journalist believed Embok Kwai to be the name of the honour-bound martial arts society that Barton-Wright had alluded to.

It is known that Professor Jigoro Kano’s martial arts institute, the Kodokan – which may well have had some hand in choosing the Japanese fighters and in arranging their travel to England – disapproved of professionalism in sports.  A large part of Professor Kano’s mission was to refine traditional Japanese martial arts into a respectable, codified method of physical and spiritual education.  Although he would have had no direct experience of London music halls, it’s very unlikely that he would have considered the rowdy, rough-and-tumble Alhambra to be a suitable venue for jiujitsu contests.

There seems to be no record of Barton-Wright referring to Kano’s institute by any name during this period.  Allowing that he may have spoken it in passing, though, it’s possible that the Daily Mail reporter garbled “Kodokan” into “Embok Kwai”; similarly, several papers had rendered Kano’s first name as “Jiyataro” rather than “Jigoro” and mispellings of “Bartitsu” were very common. It’s also conceivable that Barton-Wright or one of the jiujitsuka had used the Japanese word embukai, which means a public demonstration – that word is still used to describe displays of jiujitsu and other martial arts – and that the journalist confused the meanings of two different terms.

A few months after the Daily Mail ran its Embok Kwai article, 20 year old Sadakazu Uyenishi arrived in London from Japan.  Together with Tani, Barton-Wright, savate and canne master Pierre Vigny and wrestler Armand Cherpillod, they put Bartitsu firmly on the cultural map, and thereafter no more was heard in England of Embok Kwai.

In the United States, on the other hand …

During April of 1901, an anonymous short story variously titled “Did He Kiss Her?” and “A Fight Over Catullus” was published in several American newspapers.  The tale concerns the escalating rivalry between two men – the studious Norton and the strenuous Sterling – who first come to blows as university students, over a disagreement about the affections of a young lady and (ostensibly) about the value of the writings of the Roman poet Catullus.

Over the course of the next five decades, Norton and Sterling obsessively train in increasingly diverse and exotic fighting skills in order to get the better of each other via a series of ferocious unarmed combats that take place whenever and wherever they meet.  Incidentally, if this premise sounds familiar, you may well be thinking of Ridley Scott’s 1977 cinematic masterpiece “The Duellists”, which was itself based on Joseph Conrad’s 1908 novel “The Duel: A Military Story”.  It’s tempting to speculate that Conrad may even have been inspired by the fictional rivalry between Norton and Sterling.

At one point we learn that Norton (by then a physician of some reknown as well as a highly trained and seasoned brawler) has ended up in “Yeddo” (Edo, i.e. Tokyo), Japan:

Clearly, the unknown author of “Did He Kiss Her?”/”A Fight Over Catullus” had chanced to read the London Daily Mail article from the previous year and incorporated the Embok Kwai motif into his story verbatim.

About a year later, during March of 1902, the short story received a second round of publications via US newspapers.  Very shortly thereafter, the Embok Kwai saga took another strange turn, this time involving none other than President Theodore Roosevelt:

We may never know how the Embok Kwai became embroidered into John J. O’Brien’s personal myth, though it’s entirely possible that a mischievous journalist or promoter may have simply decided to spice the story.  The best evidence is that O’Brien actually did learn jiujitsu from officers of the Nagasaki police force, but they most definitely weren’t members of the Embok Kwai Society, whose progression from garbled Japanese/English transliteration into outright fiction and then back into reported “truth” serves as an object lesson in misinformation.

In any case, O’Brien’s association with the President gained him some degree of notoriety via the newspapers, ensuring that the legend of the Embok Kwai would be passed down to the present generation.

What we may choose to do with it, only time can tell …

“How the East Entertains Us” (The Tatler, October 16, 1901)

If India has not charmed us histrionically, we have to thank Japan for Sada Yacco and several eastern countries for all sorts of entertaining varieties. The Japanese wrestlers now appearing at the Empire are not only illustrating Japanese arts of self-defence, but exhibit a scheme of self-defence designed by Mr. Barton-Wright, who presents and organised the performance. This defence is said to secure immunity from every form of attack to which the unsuspecting traveller in strange or familiar lands may be subjected.

Armed with the necessary knowledge he may go at his ease through streets where the Hooligan flourishes in the outskirts of London, through Montmartre and La Villette in Paris, through the Delicias of Madrid, and the slums where-from Rome looks out towards the Campagna and Stamboul sees the Golden Horn. Mr. Barton-Wright, himself a traveller in many lands, has picked up what he deemed best of every method of self-defence and worked his collection into a comprehensive system that he explains to members of his own club in Shaftesbury Avenue.

In Japan, whence the wrestlers now appearing at the Empire come, all the police are trained in the arts of self-defence and wrestling so that they can deal in short, sharp, effective manner with disturbers of the peace. I have seen a trained wrestler, who knows all that the West of England can teach him, a man standing six feet and two or three inches in his stockings and muscular as Goliath of Gath, floored by a little Japanese instructor of police who came up to his chest. The big man had no chance.

Mr. Barton Wright’s scheme of defence provides against an attack by a man with a knife, and the only way to get rid of a master of the scheme is to shoot him at long range with a rifle. I don’t think the system protects him against that. For the rest, it is an ingenious and genuine method and comes at a fortunate hour when people want to improve their physique.

“The Lost Art of Self-Defence – Forgotten Methods of Fighting Revived by a Viennese Fencing Club” (1905)

The turn of the 20th century was something of a boom time for academic and popular interest in unusual fighting styles, exemplified by Bartitsu’s eclectic combination of Japanese and European martial arts and also by the trend towards reviving historical fencing methods. Captain Alfred Hutton taught the arts of rapier and dagger, sword and buckler and two-handed sword fencing at the Bartitsu Club, which he was moved to describe as “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

This article from The Tatler of 12 July, 1905 glosses the activities of another “ancient swordplay” group that was active during this period:

The Haudegen Fencing Club at Vienna has made itself notable in the fencing world by its revivals of ancient methods of fencing and sword play generally. It has been engaged since 1892 in examining the rules and methods of ancient modes of fighting and in reenacting contests in ancient garbs with as much realism as possible. At their functions, the fights in many cases take place without masks or other protection which would spoil the effect of the historical character of the display. The very nature of the weapons and costumes used at these displays makes the performance exciting and interesting.

The energy which the Haudegen Club shows is not surprising, as the Germanic peoples have always been closely identified with the art of swordplay. Particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries fencing was in very high esteem, being practiced by two famous companies known as the Marxbruder and the Federfechter. The latter company is supposed to have gained its name from a weapon, but this is incorrect as no weapon known as the “feather” has been identified. Both the companies enjoyed special privileges. The members largely fought with the two-handed sword and the “dussak,” a very curious wooden weapon, the shape of which seems to indicate that it was a forerunner of the modern sword. Fortunately the most minute and careful instructions have been left behind by the users of this wooden weapon so that it has not been difficult to reconstruct its use.

“Why not invent an English art of Ju-jitsu?” (1905)

The following anonymous letter to the editor was originally published in the St. James’s Gazette of March 9th, 1905.

Sir, —Jujitsu seems to be the fashionable graven image of the moment before which the whole athletic world is bowing down. English wrestling is abasing itself before this foreign god nightly at the Lyceum Theatre, where the best of our English wrestlers are being used for dusting scenery and wiping the floor.

Is it, or is it not, a fact, that all the holds and tricks which the Ju-jitsu experts beat our wrestlers, and compel them to hammer the floor in agonised token of defeat, should properly be called “fouls”? English wrestling knows nothing of these tricks; but it is not hard to imagine that English wrestlers could invent a few that would have the same effect on Japanese wrestlers as Ju-jitsu has on English experts.

The Jap gets a twist on the Englishman’s arm of a sort that gives intense pain, and would result in a fracture if the victim did not at once give in. Why not invent an English art of Ju-jitsu which might include such holds as, say, seizing the opponent’s ear in the teeth, or thrusting the fist in his mouth and retaining it there; sitting firmly on the face, or pressing tightly on the wind-pipe with the knee? A little imagination will supply no end of victory-compelling holds.

I don’t know, but a sort of patriotic pride makes me wonder how the Ju-jitsu experts would shine in a wrestling contest according to English rules— all “fouls,” English or foreign, barred.

“Ju-ji-tsu Champion: Interesting Display and Interview with Professor Uyenishi” (1905)

From the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 15 April, 1905:

The local Companies of Engineers are to congratulated on affording the Hastings public their first experience the wonderful Japanese style of wrestling, Ju-ji-tsu. It was at the smoking concert held by them at the Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday that Prof. Uyenishi, the world’s champion, and instructor the Army Headquarters’ Gymnastic Staff, Aldershot, gave a most interesting exposition of the art. There was, naturally, a large attendance, including the Mayor (Councillor Eaton), who presided. Captain Holman (commanding officer), Mrs. Holman, Councillor Bones, Major F. G. Langham, Captain E. H. Langham, Lieut. Davenport Jones, Mr. Culhane, Mr. Allford, Mr. Deck, etc.

The Professor is small, but thickly set. For wrestling purposes he dresses in a sort of coat, open in front, reaching the thighs and enclosed in a leathern belt. His legs and feet are bare. At the start he gave an interesting display of the various throws and locks, with the aid of one his pupils. The locks were little technical, though the energy with which the victim banged the floor each time to show he had enough showed they were genuine. The great thing is to break your man’s arm if does not cry “Cave.”

The throws were simpler. The pupil trod on Uyenishi’s foot and threw him over his shoulder. Then, putting his foot in the Professor’s stomach, he fell backwards, and hurled him oyer his head. Then he kicked the man’s right knee and overbalanced him that way. Again, after an attack round Uyenishi’s waist, that gentleman issued a confused mass of arms and legs over his pupil’s shoulder. Every time Uyenishi fell down beautifully, with a nice sound plump.

Then out came P.C. Craske in somewhat similar garb, his 6ft. 2in. towering over the Professor’s 5ft. 3in. In the bout Craske was wary and tried to keep Uyenishi at a distance, while his opponent stood lackadaisically looking at him till saw an opening, and then acted sharply. After a failure or two he did the stomach trick, but Craske cleverly got up again without Uyenishi effecting his lock, somewhat to the latter’s surprise. The next time, however, was fatal, for about two minutes from the start Uyeniehi got him down the same way again and had him helpless round the neck and arms.

The second bout was a little shorter. Uyenishi gave Craske a fall which would have been final in the catch-as-catch-can, but the policeman got up again, and after Craske had seemed to push himself over, Uyenishi put his leg over his chest, pulled his arm out—and Craske kicked. Afterwards the Jap remarked on the Hastinger’s quickness for a big man.

To show his wriggling powers Uyenishi then lay down, on his back, with four men, two on each side, pressing pole down across his neck. Uyenishi lay still for a few moments, kicked his legs up, twisted over, and wriggled out in a second.

The last item in this most interesting performance was a bout with his pupil to show what Ju-ji-tsu is like between two men who know the code.


After the exceedingly interesting display of Ju-ji-tsu at the Engineers’ smoker at the Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday,  an Observer representative found his way to the back of the stage to have chat with Prof. Uyenishi of Osaka, Japan, the world’s champion in his own particular style. He was busy dressing to catch the 9.30 train to town, and was surrounded by small crowd of people, but by snatches the Press man managed to get what he wanted.

Prof. Uyenishi, like all the Japanese, is only a small man. He stands 5ft., 2ins., and weighs 9st. 7 1bs., yet has defeated all opponents, and challenges all comers, and has thrown out a special challenge to the Russian Hackenschmidt to defeat him ten times in an hour. The Catch-as-catch-can-man, unfortunately, cannot take it on.

No one could mistake the Professor for anything but a Japanese. Of course, he dresses European-wise, but with his coal black, close cropped hair, dark skin, thick moustache, and black eyes peering through spectacles, is a physical type of his race. He is also a type of the race in his courtesy if what one hears of the excellence of Eastern manners is correct. He speaks English, not perfectly, but well, with an interesting clipped-off pronunciation. In the intervals of exhibiting different styles of “holds” on everyone near him, the Professor told our representative that he had been in England 3 1/2 years, first on the stage.

Then he was seized with an ambition to have his system introduced to the Army and Navy, so he left the stage and devoted his time to teaching. In this respect he had a great success on Monday evening, for while was performing at Sandhurst, a man came up, and wrestled, not with him, but with a pupil, who had had only five months’ training. After had been defeated several times the man said he was Sergeant Dacombe, the strongest man in the two Forces, and had been specially sent to see what Ju-ji-tsu could do against superior strength.

The Professor is instructor the Gymnastic Staff at the Headquarters Gymnasium, Aldershot. Professor Uyenishi expressed admiration for our English styles of wrestling, but said they had no self-defence, which was the great thing in his method. They had styles like ours in Japan. Ju-ji-tsu, as everyone knows, based on thorough knowledge of anatomy, and of the weak spots in the human body.

“My system,” Uyenishi said, “never hardens muscles,” and to give a physical demonstration he bared his arm. There was a sort of bag hanging down from the triceps. Our representative felt it; it was soft as a half-inflated football bladder. One’s fingers appeared to go through and touch the other side, until he hardened it, and then it was like iron. The other muscles were just the same, and when stiffened became as hard as nails. We have never felt any muscle half as soft, and not many as hard. This produces pliability and quickness of action. “My system,” said the wrestler, “is never to put out the strength until the very moment of action,” and this was evident on the stage, when he walked about as lazily as possible till the very moment when he had the man over.

Professor Uyenishi said he has had many fights on the stage at the Tivoli and Empire, including some with the Russian champion, who appeared previous to Hackenschmidt and with Cherpillod, the Swiss champion, for whom he has great respect. Hardly had he said this when he finished dressing, and out came a cigarette case and a cigarette. Surprise was expressed, but the Professor said he smokes, and does not think it bad for his wrestling.

Then, with a handshake all round, and he shakes like a true born Briton, Professor Uyenishi and his pupil went off in hurry to catch the train. Our representative came away fired with desire to try on Sandow some of the tricks he had seen performed. There is a possibility of a Ju-ji-tsu class being started in Hastings.