“Giving in to get your way”

Above: The Bubenringen (“Knave’s wrestle”) technique from two versions of Hans Talhoffer’s Fechtbuch (“Fighting Book”), 15th century.
Above: the stomach throw illustrated in Nicolaes Petter’s “Clear Instructions on the Excellent Art of Wrestling” (1674)

The “sacrifice throw” in which a wrestler drops to the ground, using his own falling weight to throw his opponent, was almost unknown in Europe during the late 19th century. Although earlier European systems of unarmed combat had employed this principle, the rules of late-Victorian wrestling styles generally asserted that “the man whose back touches the ground first loses”, and so those styles concentrated, by default, on standing throws.

Above: the cross-buttock throw from Walter Armstrong’s “Wrestling” (1890).

In 1917, Sir Arthur Pearson – the publisher of Pearsons’ Magazine – reminisced about his first meeting with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright, which had taken place in 1899:

He stood before me in a most casual attitude and invited me to throw him down. I have always kept myself very fit, and was in those days rather proud of my strength. Without any further ado I essayed the apparently simple task of putting the little man on the floor. What really happened was that in less time than it takes to dictate these words I struck the wall some 15 ft. away with quite enough force to be unpleasant! Mr. Barton-Wright had sunk before my assault and, as its violence upset my balance, had delicately poised me upon the soles of his feet and shot me into space.

Above: E.W. Barton-Wright demonstrates the tomoe-nage (stomach throw).

Thus, Sir Arthur Pearson may well have been the first gentleman in Victorian England to fall victim to a jiujitsu tomoe-nage or “stomach-throw”.  Thereafter, via Barton-Wright’s articles and lectures and the challenge matches of Bartitsu Club champions Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, the art of “giving in to get your way” in hand-to-hand combat was re-introduced to the Western world.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News – Saturday 20 February, 1904

Introduction to Bartitsu & Edwardian Cane Self Defense in Alexandria, VA

Chris Dyer of the Capital Kunst des Fechtens historical martial arts school will be teaching an introductory workshop on Bartitsu and cane self-defense techniques developed by Edward William Barton-Wright in Edwardian England.

The class will be held on 1 June at 8.00 pm at 25 S. Quaker Ln, Alexandria, VA 22314-4524, United States. All equipment will be provided.

This class is open to visitors for $10.

“Fatal Wrestling Bout” (1909)

A sad and sobering reminder of the risks inherent in even friendly wrestling, from the Nottingham Evening Post of 22 February, 1909:


The Westminster’s Coroner’s Coart on Saturday, Mr. J. Troutbeck held an inquest concerning the death of Arthur Charles of 21 Margharetta-terrace, Chelsea. The deceased was practising wrestling at the Fulham Baths on Tuesday last with Frederick Knight, who won the 1st. Olympia Championship as “catch-as-catch-can” at the Stadium last year, when he received injuries to the spine, and died later at St. George’s Hospital.

Evidence was given by Harry Mackenzie, who said he was watching a friendly wrestling bout between Knight and the deceased. They had wrestled for some minutes without a fall, when Charles buttocked Knight.  He was trying to press his shoulder down, but could not succeed. Knight wriggled clear and both men got up. Knight then secured a crutch-hold and threw Charles, whose head seemed to twist round. There was nothing unusual in the way the men were wrestling, and good temper was shown. There was nothing one-sided about the match.

Frederick Bush, a gymnastic and swimming instructor at the Baths, said that Charles came down on the back of his head and shoulders. Instead of his legs shooting out in the usual way they doubled up, and the witness thought that deceased was not prepared for the throw.

Wrestling was carried out under the rules of the Amateur Wrestling Association, and the contests were allowed by the borough Council. Any persons could enter on the payment of a small fee and wrestle. There was nobody appointed to see that the rules were carried out. Witness (said he) would at once prohibit anything of a rough or unusual nature.

Benjamin Arthur Few, friend of the deceased, who witnessed the bout, said the neck and crutch hold which Knight employed was perfectly legitimate. It was not, however, a common hold and throw, as it was most difficult to make. The body would be lifted to a perpendicular position, and the hold would be retained until the shoulders were pressed on the mat. The head and shoulders usually reached the ground simultaneously, but in this instance the bead seemed to touch the mat first.

Percy W. Longhurst, of Wallington, a wrestling expert, expressed the opinion that the hold and throw as explained was perfectly legitimate.  He thought that the deceased had failed to grasp the situation when he was seized.  Had he arched his neck and done other necessary things this would not have happened. Witness thought that the better practice would be for a person always to be present at the practice of wrestling bouts. Witness had refereed perhaps 20 bouts in which Knight had taken part, and his opinion was that he was fair, clean, honest, and skilful wrestler who would not make use of undue strength in order to obtain a fall.

After the accident, it was stated that the deceased had remarked to a policeman; “don’t blame him (Knight) for the accident.” At the hospital it was discovered that Charles’s spine had been dislocated. Death took place on Thursday morning, and was due to the injuries.

Frederick William Knight, of New Malden, bantam-weight amateur champion of England, said that Charles showed considerable skill. Witness described how he threw the deceased, and said that he had beaten 16 men in open competition by the same methods. The Coroner said it was notorious that wrestling was not dangerous sport, and as far his experience went, he had never known a fatality resulting.

The jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” and exonerated Knight from blame.

Vigny stick fighting in Santiago, Chile

Little sparring with walking stick.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 6 mei 2017

Some more fast, strong sparring in the Vigny/Bartitsu style by members of the Santiago Stickfighters club.

“The Ballad of Tarro Myake” (1905)

The following poetic tribute to the skill of jiujitsuka Taro Miyake was first published in Punch Magazine of June 7, 1905.  Miyake’s name was frequently rendered as “Tarro Myake” by Edwardian journalists.


(After Tennyson’s “Ballad of Oriana.”)

You challenged one and all to fight,
I took your challenge up one night,
They advertised it left and right,
Thousands appeared to see the sight,
My prospects were considered bright,

A model I of manly grace,
Yours seemed a pretty hopeless case,
Awhile we danced around the place,
Then closed and struggled for a space,
And you were down upon your face,

Oh, I would make you give me best,
A thrill of pride inspired my breast,
Then you were sitting on my chest,
Your knee into my gullet pressed,
Was this the way to treat a guest,

You’ve got me by the neck, and oh,
There is no rest for me below,
You’re right upon my wind, you know ;
I’m suffocating fast, and so,
You’ve beaten me; now let me go,

O breaking neck that will not break
O yellow face so calm and sleek,
Thou smilest, but thou dost not speak;
I seem to have waited here a week,
What wantest thou? What sign dost seek,

What magic word your victim frees,
What puts the captive at his ease,
‘Touché,” “Enough,” or “If you please,’
I keep on trying you with these,
Alas! I have no Japanese,

I am not feeling very well,
(They should have stopped it when you fell,
Oh, how is it you cannot tell
I am not feeling very well,
What is the Japanese for “H-l”

The blood is rushing to my head,
Think kindly of me when I’m dead,
What was it that your trainer said –
“Pat twice upon the ground instead!”
There . . there . . now help me into bed,

Somewhere beside the Southern sea,
I walk, I dare not think of thee,
All other necks I leave to thee,
My own’s as stiff as stiff can be,
My collar’s one by twenty-three,

“How I Became a Ju-Jitsu Champion” by Taro Miyake (1905)

This detailed interview with Taro Miyake was published in the Sunday Times of September 3, 1905. Miyake, who rose to fame by defeating former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani in a London challenge match during September, 1904, subsequently joined forces with Tani in opening the Japanese School of Jujutsu in Oxford Street and in producing the “Game of Jujutsu” textbook in 1906.

Though largely a catalogue of Miyake’s various successes and accolades as a martial artist, the article is also notable for naming three of Miyake’s own instructors – Tanabe, Uyemura and Handa.  Miyake’s association with Mataemon Tanabe and with Yataro Handa is significant to Bartitsu studies because both Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi are likewise associated with these sensei, whose unusual newaza (mat-grappling) techniques helped define the eclectic “British jiujitsu” of the very early 20th century.

How would you like to get up at four o’clock on a bitterly cold January morning, and wrestle for two or three hours with no covering but a thin, loose tunic and knee breeches, when the wrestling mats are frozen hard, and the garments you wear are quite stiff with frost? (asked Tarro Myaki of a London journalist).

Yet that is what we ju-jitsu wrestlers do in Japan — at least, those of us who are very keen, and are anxious to harden our bodies and to practise endurance. Very often after such a morning I have been so sore and chafed that the clothes I wore made me smart all over. But I have turned out again next morning, all the same, until my skin got hard enough to withstand the cuts and scrapes of the hard mats.

Although, like all Japanese boys, I was in a way familiar with ju-jitsu — for is it not as much a part of our national schooling as your football, cricket, and other games? — yet it was not till I was eighteen years old that I took it up in so keen and determined a spirit as to lead me eventually to become the champion of my country. This was principally because I had other things to do, and did not have the time to devote to my favorite sport till I reached that age.

When I did begin, however, I made up for lost time. I entered upon my apprenticeship, so to speak, to the art of self defence with the fixed determination to reach the top of the tree, and with this end in view I concentrated all my attention upon learning the tricks of throw and lock which were shown me, and making myself more proficient at them than those who taught me. That I was successful in my endeavors you may guess, when I tell you that at the end of a year and a half I went in for and won my first contest.

This first success set the final spark to my enthusiasm, and two or three subsequent defeats in minor matches, such as every beginner must suffer, fanned it into a flame. My improvement during the nine months which followed was so rapid that about that time I obtained my first position
as instructor.

Until I was twenty-one, and apart from my duties as instructor, I studied ju-jitsu under one of our most famous teachers, Tanabe, and, although I was still very young, he entrusted me with all the secrets of his school, for in Japan, there are distinctive “schools” of ju-jitsu, just as you have distinctive ‘schools’ of art. Each school has some special little tricks and secrets of its own, which are only fully disclosed to its pupils when they reach a certain proficiency, or years of discretion.

Above: Taro Miyake and Takisaburo Tobari demonstrate a series of formal waza (techniques) for the Pathe film camera in Paris (1912).

When I was twenty-one, I was appointed instructor to the police at Kioto, and during the time I was there I still went on learning, studying at that time in the great Uyemura School. Here, again, I proved my self so proficient that I learnt their secrets before I moved on to Osaka to teach the police there. At Osaka I worked under another great teacher, Handa, and in this way I mastered the secrets of three distinct schools of ju-jitsu.

During, and subsequent to this time I went in for numerous contests, and I am probably more proud at being able to tell you that I have never been beaten in any important match than your English gentlemen are of winning the Derby.

It was in Osaka, last May, that I went through the most trying contests I have ever taken part in, and achieved the greatest success of my career by beating all who opposed me. For this an unusual honor was paid me in the shape of a gold medal, which was presented to me by the Crown Prince of Japan. I have also received a sword of honor from Prince Komatsu, the President of the Butokukai — our national society for the encouragement of ju-jitsu, fencing, and other sports.

What I am specially proud of, however, is that at the age of twenty-two I was admitted to the fifth degree in ju-jitsu. This is rarely attained before the age of thirty five, and then is conferred more as an honorable recognition of a closing career than as the reward of real proficiency.

Now I suppose you will want to know something about my training. Well, that is soon told. My only training has been hard work. We Japanese athletes pay no attention to diet, but just eat and drink and smoke like everyone else. But those of us who are specially keen go through trials of endurance which the others will not face.

What sort of condition I am in you may judge from the fact that from ten o’clock in the morning, when I commence giving lessons in the Japanese school of Ju-jitsu, which Yukio Tani and I have founded in London at 305 Oxford-street, till eleven o’clock in the evening, when I finish my last bout on the stage, I am practically wrestling all day!

All my efforts now are centred upon trying to make ju-jitsu champions out of other people, but, although you Englishmen are eminently suited to become experts, it is difficult to get you to take it seriously. You take it up as an amusement and an exercise, but you do not persevere and stick to it till you become expert. Englishwomen, I think, are far quicker to learn it than the men. I have more than one lady pupil who is very expert, indeed, and I should be sorry for anyone who attacked them now.

I find hard work agrees with me, and I have an excellent appetite. I conform to your ways now that I am in England — which is a country I like very much indeed — by eating English food at English times. That is to say, I have breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner, all of them at regular times except the last, which is what you call a ‘movable’ feast’ with me. I have it whenever I am hungry.

There is one thing which everyone over here seems very much surprised at. I have never had a cold bath in my life. We don’t go in for cold baths in Japan. If we bathe in the open air it is in the Summer time, when the sea or the river is quite warm. I have several warm baths a day— whenever I have finished practice. If I took a cold bath I should catch cold at once, and
get out of trim.

Bartitsu exhibition at Shorncliffe Army Camp (1902)

During early 1902, the instructors of the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture hit the road for a series of touring martial arts exhibitions in Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham. This recently-discovered report from the Sporting Life of 15 February, 1902 confirms a fourth venue – the gymnasium of the historic Shorncliffe Army Camp near Cheriton, Kent.

“Bartitsu at the Tivoli Theatre” (1901)

From the Morning Post of 23 August, 1901:

Yesterday afternoon Mr. Barton-Wright gave a private exhibition of Bartitsu, his system of self-defence, which, though mainly founded on Japanese methods, is not exclusively confined to them. The inventor, who opened the proceedings with short explanatory speech, claims that his system combines all that is best in East or West. It is based on strictly anatomical and mechanical principles, and enables five stone of knowledge to throw twenty stone of ignorance out of the window with less apparent exertion than normally attends the pulling up of a blind.

The legs play an even more prominent part than the arms and several English principles are set at defiance. Our styles of wrestling are too conventional, too detached from life. A man who is down on three points, so far from being defeated, occupies a strong defensive and offensive position. Really, the fun has just began. Our “Don’t kick man when he is down,” should, in fact, be revised, and should read, “Keep clear of man when he is down, or he may kick you.”

The two best Japanese light-weights were in attendance, and gave a startling exhibition of their art. Not all was quite novel. Mr. Kawakami has familiarised us with some of the throws, and there were other grips and similar devices which it part of constable’s business to master. But there was an abundance of novelty.

First, the combatants, wearing bicycling skirts and barefooted, gave an exposition the various kinds of catches. It did not seem to matter where the one caught hold of the other, he was invariably thrown off and down with violence to the resonant floor. Did grasp his adversary by the hair? The adversary, with a toss of the head, jerked him over his shoulder as if he had been raindrop.

Next came the throws, not the whole three hundred of them, but just a few samples. They included some very quiet and effective means of settling your man, which might be useful to girls anxious to rid themselves of an ill-waltzing partner. Others were much more terrific and wholly unsuitable to the ball-room.

Then came some mere feats of strength. Previous invitations to test the genuineness of the display had been disregarded, but the audience had now conquered its first feeling of shyness, and there was no trouble making up a small party to stand on the exponent’s chest and otherwise prevent him from rising from the ground. He rose all the same. Then a portly gentleman vainly tried to keep him down by sitting on his head. Anon another heavy-weight pressed a long pole against his neck, much as Mr. Punch endeavours to shore up his dead, only harder. In five seconds the heavy-weight was in full retreat.

And many other strange spectacles were seen, which may not be so much as enumerated. It will readily be surmised that, in so resourceful a system, one is not accounted beaten till one gives in, the sign of surrender being smack on any part of his victor’s anatomy that happens to be handy. The display will on Monday take its place in the regular bill, of which it is certain to prove extremely popular item.

A “new art of self defence” in Ballarat, Australia (1902-09)

Aside from the curious demonstrations of “baritzu” by Australian soldiers circa 1906, E.W. Barton-Wright’s martial art may have inspired at least one other Aussie enthusiast during the early 20th century – although the latter took pains to deny any influence.

Above: calisthenics at the Ballarat Amateur Athletic Club (1904)

Starting in May of 1902, members of the then-newly formed Ballarat Amateur Athletic Club began to perform exhibitions of a “new art of self defence” that was claimed to have been devised by the Club president, Mr. John Trekardo.  During a packed and diverse athletic display that included gladiatorial tableaux and interludes of song alongside the more standard boxing, fencing and wrestling bouts, Mr. Trekardo and his assistant took the stage to demonstrate:

First, “A new way to cope with a footpad” and, second, “A new art of self-defence.” In the first it was demonstrated how easily the staid citizen, who is accosted by a garrotter or rough on his way home, might by the exercise of a little ingenuity and physical force capsize his would-be assailant before the latter could attack him, while in the second part an entirely new method of stopping the rush of an assailant in the street was cleverly demonstrated.

Mr. Trekardo performed several similar displays throughout the remainder of 1902, always to extravagant praise if the newspaper reviews are to be believed.  During a demonstration in August, the Trekardo system was introduced by his student Captain Olden, who claimed that:

(…) the system had been invented by Mr. Trekardo before the introduction of the Barton-Wright system in London.

Records indicate similar self-defence exhibitions in connection with the Ballarat Amateur Athletic Club’s annual displays between 1903-09.  There do not, however, appear to be any records of Trekardo actually teaching the “new art”.

The last records of exhibitions of Trekardo’s system are from 1909, during which his associate, a Mr. Lazarus, remarked that:

Mr Trekardo had instituted the teaching of grips in 1899, long before the jiu-jitsu of the Japanese was spoken about here.

It’s probably true that jiujitsu per se was not known in Australia during 1899; in fact, that word appears in Aussie newsprint for the first time in February of 1904.  Granting that it’s possible that Trekardo invented his own system independently, it does, however, seem highly likely that it was inspired by, if not actually copied from, Barton-Wright’s first series of articles for Pearson’s Magazine.  Those articles were published in England during March and April of 1899 and were widely available in Australia during that year.

A takedown from Barton-Wright’s second article for Pearson’s.

Notably, Barton-Wright’s articles did not refer to jiujitsu by name, but clearly do describe and illustrate Japanese unarmed combat – under the title “The New Art of Self Defence”.

It should be noted that, during this period, it was quite common for “colonial” entertainers and athletes to jump on the bandwagon of novel, popular trends originating in Europe and the United States.  Vaudeville acts and so-on were regularly undertaken by performers who had no actual connection to the “real thing” but whose experience allowed them to pull off a more-or-less convincing imitation.

By 1909, of course, jiujitsu had become internationally famous, and Australians were even able to witness the art performed by an expert in earnest.  The jiujitsuka Ryugoro Shima (1885-1958) had arrived in the Land Downunder during 1905, and four years later he was well-established on the wrestling challenge circuit.  Possibly Mr. Trekardo took that opportunity to retire his own system;  in any case, he went on to some success in local politics, serving as the mayor of Ballarat between 1937-38.