“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.

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