An Interpretation of Captain Laing’s “4th Practice” of Bartitsu Stick Fighting

Of all of the exercises described in Captain F.C. Laing’s 1902 essay The Bartitsu Method of Self-Defence, the “4th Practice” is the most difficult to follow. It is presented as a training drill but it has most of the characteristics of a self-defence set-play.  Laing’s instructions are also uncharacteristically ambiguous, so what follows is simply one of several plausible interpretations of this exercise.


To “rear guard.”–With a circular motion of right arm from front to rear hit upwards, point of stick just clearing the ground so as to hit opponent’s ankle; as the stick rises to level of shoulder change it into left hand at the place where it was held in the right hand; hit opponent’s face, then point at his body and return to “on guard,” changing stick back to right hand.

Pierre Vigny (right) assumes a high front guard against E.W. Barton-Wright’s lowered front guard.
Vigny strikes low, catching Barton-Wright across the inside of his right ankle.
Vigny’s swing follows through until his cane is poised near his left shoulder. Vigny now grips his cane with his left hand, swinging the weapon around behind his head …
… executing a backhanded strike across the left side of Barton-Wright’s face …
… followed by a double-handed “bayonet” point thrust to the midsection …
… and finishes by re-assuming the right (front) guard, covering himself against any retaliation from Barton-Wright.

“Suffrajitsu: The Women Who Fought Back”

Congratulations to high school senior Erin Lowe, whose dramatic presentation Suffrajitsu: The Women Who Fought Back won the first prize in the Senior Individual Performance category during a recent National History Day competition held at the University of Maryland.

A KCUR radio interview with Ms. Lowe is available here.

“Baritsu (sic) and Bluff” – a critical article on Bartitsu from 1901

The anonymous author of this article from the Pall Mall Gazette of 27 August, 1901 turns a sharply critical eye to E.W. Barton-Wright’s promotion of Bartitsu.  

Noting for the sake of context that the term “Jap” carried no pejorative meaning in Edwardian English, being more in the nature of a simple abbreviation like “Brit” for British or “Aussie” for Australian.


If Mr. Barton-Wright, when he set out to introduce the Japanese style of self-defence into England, had confined himself within ordinary limits, it highly probable that athletic young Britain might have taken to the pastime —and to Mr. Barton-Wright. But the latter makes the great mistake of not knowing when he has got a good thing.

During the past three or so years he has had a capital run for his money. The Bath Club took him up and tried to make the business fashionable; but, alas Mr. Barton-Wright was too much of a showman for the game to catch on as an ordinary athletic sport. His claims were tremendous and amusing – no man, even Sandow, could stand against his system; but somehow or other Mr. Barton-Wright never seemed in condition to take on people who came forward in reply to his challenges. Probably he was right in so doing.

Now, at all events, he seems have realized that the business makes a very good music-hall turn, which, as some one prophesied many months ago was what it was best suited for. Certainly it is a pretty game on the stage, and might be useful if one was attacked by a very guileless rough of the Hooligan type. These gentlemen do not come up the in the simple way that some eminently scientific gentlemen seem think, when on plunder bent; very often one s first knowledge of them comes in the shape of a “cosh” on the head with a stick or a punch behind the ear with a fist which naturally puts one at a disadvantage from the start.

Still, provided the rough or thief does get hold of you, you may possibly throw him, especially if he keeps to sporting rules and you get off a foul on him! Indeed, this style wrestling seems to us to be made up of “fouls” – “everything in,” in fact, that precludes anyone being allowed to take Mr. Barton-Wright or his two clever men from Japan at their own game—at all events, in public. Fights to a finish, “nothing barred,” are not permitted in this country.

However, as a music-hall turn the thing is fairly attractive; but let us have no more silly talk about “no one, not even the strongest man in the world”, being able stand up to the Japs. We have had quite enough of that during the couple of years and, to use “Tommy Atkins’s” expressive phrase, we are “fed up” with it.


With the advantage of hindsight, some of the writer’s points are valid; it is, for example, likely that Barton-Wright’s efforts would have been more successful if he had sustained his relationship with the prestigious Bath Club.  The detail of why that didn’t happen has, unfortunately, been lost to history.  

Writing shortly before the commencement of Barton-Wright’s public challenge campaign, at a time when most previous displays had been more-or-less academic in nature, the author’s skepticism is understandable.  That said, he clearly underestimated the practical efficacy of jiujitsu, even against very strong men.  Although Eugen Sandow was later, in fact, challenged by Yukio Tani, the strongman refused to take on any jiujitsu wrestlers, probably because he had only a modest wrestling background and would very likely have lost the match.

“The Apaches”, a Major New TV Series, Now in Pre-Production

Various outlets are reporting on the upcoming production of The Apaches, a major 8-10 episode TV series from Andre and Maria Jacquemettons, the writer/producer team behind Mad Men.

Set in Paris during the Belle Epoque period at the turn of the 20th century, the planned series will be produced in France but shot in English.  It is described as cross between Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.

Although the history of the infamous Parisian street gangs is relatively little-known outside of France today, the early 20th century “Apache chic” craze spread their fashion, dance and slang to a worldwide audience via tabloid journalism and numerous works of lurid fiction.

Comparable to the Scuttlers, Peaky Blinders and Hooligan gangs of England and the Larrikins of Australia and New Zealand, the Apaches were notorious street fighters.  Almost uniquely, however, the French gangsters  also evolved a variety of specialised weapons and mugging techniques that contributed to their media mystique.  Counters to these tricks were featured in numerous French self-defence books and articles during the early 20th century, especially after the introduction of jiujitsu to Paris in 1905.

Suffragette Self-Defence

In this short scene from the 2015 movie Suffragette, newly militant Maude Watts (Carey Mulligan) receives her first lesson in jiujitsu from Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter).

In real history, Edith Garrud served as the self-defence trainer for the secret Bodyguard Society of the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose duties included physically protecting suffragette leaders from arrest and assault.

An Illustrated Catalogue of Captain Laing’s Bartitsu Stickfighting

For convenience, here follows a compilation of all of the drills and self-defence set-plays recorded in Captain F.C. Laing’s 1902 article, “The Bartitsu Method of Self Defence”.  As Laing did not illustrate these sequences – rather, simply describing them in more-or-less detail via prose – the following illustrated sets are presented as interpretations, employing photographs modified from E.W. Barton-Wright’s own “Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” articles for Pearson’s Magazine.

That said, as Laing was a keen student at the Bartitsu Club who learned directly from Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny, his drills and set-plays constitute part of the Bartitsu canon and serve as a very useful supplement to Barton-Wright’s own writing on this subject.  In particular, Laing offers a simple progression of basic drills that were not illustrated in Barton-Wright’s essays.

First Practice #1

First Practice #2

First Practice #3 (with additional notes on the Second Practice, etc.)

Third Practice

An interpretation of the Fourth Practice

“Attacked by a man with a stick in his hand”

“A man without a stick rushes at you with his fist”

Self-Defence for Girls and Women in 1920

English actress Ena Beaumont (1892 – 1986) teaches self-defence in this publicity still for the lost 1920 instructional film “Physical Culture for Ladies”.  A French reviewer facetiously noted that he had been so distracted by the sight of Miss Beaumont in a bathing costume that her jiujitsu lessons had been quite lost on him.

Captain Laing’s “Third Practice” of Bartitsu Stick Fighting

Here follows an interpretation of Captain Laing’s “3rd Practice” as described in his 1902 article on The Bartitsu Method of Self-Defence.


From “rear guard.”–Guard face sideways, then head as already described, retire one pace, right foot leading, draw left foot back to right, making a half-left turn of the body, riposte on opponent’s head and return to “rear guard.”

Pierre Vigny (right) assumes the rear guard against Edward Barton-Wright’s front guard.
Barton-Wright strikes to the right side of Vigny’s face; Vigny guards the strike.
Barton-Wright recovers and strikes to the top of Vigny’s head; Vigny guards the strike.
Vigny retreats one pace with his right foot and slides his left foot back to meet the right, simultaneously making a half-turn to the left with his torso and striking the top of Barton-Wright’s head.
Vigny re-assumes the full rear guard position.