Charles Charlemont’s students demonstrate savate and la canne (1928)

This newly-released sound film from the Fox Movietone Archive shows training drills and bouting by students of Professor Charles Charlemont.

At the turn of the 20th century, Charlemont had been involved in two controversies that have some bearing on Bartitsu history. The first instance dated to October 10th of 1899, when Charlemont had represented la boxe Francaise against English pugilist Jerry Driscoll in a savate vs. boxing contest in Paris. Professor Charlemont won that fight under extremely dubious conditions; his father Joseph had been one of the judges, the referee and timekeeper were widely judged to have been woefully incompetent and Charlemont’s TKO victory was generally held to have been due to an accidental but illegal groin kick.

Co-inciding with E.W. Barton-Wright’s early promotions of Bartitsu in London and occurring shortly after Professor D’armoric’s ill-received savate demonstrations at the Alhambra music hall, the infamy of the Charlemont-Driscoll fight is highly likely to have influenced Barton-Wright’s various disparaging comments regarding “kicking as the French do it”.

In late 1901, Charlemont became involved in a vehement public spat with Barton-Wright over the promotion of Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny as the “world’s champion” of savate and stick fighting. In a series of tit-for-tat letters published via French and English sporting journals, Charlemont asserted the Vigny held no real claim to those titles, while Barton-Wright vigorously defended the latter and ended up challenging Charlemont to a prize-fight on Vigny’s behalf.

Charlemont refused the challenge to fight, pointing out that he was a professor of savate and not a pugilist – a reference to his cherished status as an amateur, which would have been lost had he consented to fighting for stakes. Barton-Wright then threatened to send Vigny to Paris to “publicly horse-whip” Charlemont – an extraordinarily vehement remark for public correspondence in 1901. Perhaps fortunately, nothing came of the challenge nor the threatened horse-whipping; both Charlemont and Vigny enjoyed long careers in their chosen professions, but there was clearly no great love lost between them.

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