Striking from the Front and Double-Handed Guards

La canne vigny.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 23 september 2017

Andres P. Morales of Chile demonstrates strikes and counters from the front and double-handed guards of Vigny stick fighting.

Boxing as Street Defence Cartoons (La Petit Journal, 12 September, 1925)

A gallery of cartoons from “L’Art de se Defendre dans la Rue si l’on est Attaque par les Apaches”, an article written by French bantamweight boxing champion Charles Ledoux.  The gist of M. Ledoux’s argument was that the sport of boxing, if practiced diligently and with serious intent, was adequate for most exigencies of street self-defence.

Left: The defender’s cane knocks the Apache’s navaja knife from his hand, while the defender lays in a right hook. Right: “Stand, if you can, with your back to the wall.”
Left: Never underestimate the value of a solid left to the nose … Right: … nor to the body, though a helping of luck also goes a long way.

Demolition Derby: A Short History of the Weaponised Bowler Hat

Given that we have already outlined the histories of the weaponised umbrella and hat-pin and have tested the historicity and practicality of the razor-blade cap, it seems fitting to now consider the bowler hat-as-weapon in both fact and fiction.

Perhaps surprisingly, the original bowler hat may have been designed with self-defence somewhat in mind. In 1849, London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler received a commission to create a new type of hat for gamekeepers working on the estate of Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester. Previously, Coke’s gamekeepers had worn top hats, which were inclined to get knocked off by low-hanging branches, and so the bowler was designed to fit snugly to the head.

Another consideration, however, was that the gamekeepers needed some protection against unexpected club-blows to the head delivered by stealthy poachers, so the hats were made from hard felt and built to take a knock.

Plug Uglies as represented in Martin Scorcese’s movie Gangs of New York (2002).

The new style quickly became very popular among the working classes and was also adopted by members of the Plug Uglies street gang, who were rumoured to stuff their bowlers with scraps of wool cloth, felt and leather for extra protection in street fights.

By the turn of the 20th century, the bowler had become popular among middle-class men.  Simultaneously, self-defence authorities began to explore the offensive, as well as defensive, possibilities of the bowler hat. Writing in La Vie au Grand Air of December 8, 1906, Jean Joseph Renaud warned his readers to beware of a “classic trick” employed by “Apache” muggers, who would courteously tip their bowlers while asking for a light for their cigars, only to convert the hat-tip into a surprise attack.

By smacking the innocent party in the face with his hat, the Apache received an instant advantage of initiative, which might then be followed up by grasping the stunned victim around both thighs and head-butting him in the stomach, spilling him backwards onto the pavement.

In L’Art de se Defendre dans la Rue, Emile Andre borrowed a trick from the Apaches, advising readers to use their own bowler hats as surprise weapons. He also recommended the bowler as an improvised hand-held shield if confronted by an attacker wielding a knife, dagger, truncheon or cane, a defensive specialty that may well have been inspired by the Spanish Manual del Baratero (1849). Andre also refers to using the hat to “beat” or strike at an opponents’ weapon, so as to disarm them.

In The Cane as a Weapon (1912), Andrew Chase Cunningham echoed Andre’s advice in recommending the hat as an improvised weapon of both offence and defence:

In case of an assailant with a knife, a very valuable guard can be made by holding the hat in the left hand by the brim. It should be firmly grasped at the side, and can be removed from the head in one motion. The hat can then be used to catch a blow from the knife, and before it can be repeated, it should be possible to deal an effective blow or jab with the cane.

In case of an attack with a pistol, a chance may occur to shy the hat into the opponent’s face and thus secure a chance to strike with the cane.

The use of the hat as a guard is, of course, not confined to the knife, but it may be used against any weapon. The only disadvantage is that it prevents passing the cane from hand to hand.

As bowler hats gradually fell out of fashion during the first half of the 20th century, so did sources treating them as weapons. By the late 1950s the idea seemed positively exotic, which may have been why it appealed to Ian Fleming in arming Oddjob, the fearsome Korean henchman featured in the James Bond novel Goldfinger (1959).

Following Oddjob’s spectacular karate demonstration, Bond asks Goldfinger why his bodyguard always wears a bowler hat:

Oddjob turned and walked stolidly back towards them. When he was half way across the floor, and without pausing or taking aim, he reached up to his hat, took it by the rim and flung it sideways with all his force. There was a loud clang. For an instant the rim of the bowler hat stuck an inch deep in the panel Goldfinger had indicated, then it fell and clattered on the floor.

Goldfinger smiled politely at Bond. ‘A light but very strong alloy, Mr Bond. I fear that will have damaged the felt covering, but Oddjob will put on another. He’s surprisingly quick with a needle and thread. As you can imagine, that blow would have smashed a man’s skull or half severed his neck. A homely and a most ingeniously concealed weapon, I’m sure you’ll agree.’

‘Yes, indeed.’ Bond smiled with equal politeness. ‘Useful chap to have around.’

As played by professional wrestler Harold Sakata in the 1964 film adaptation, Oddjob actually wore and wielded a Sandringham hat rather than a bowler, but that minor change didn’t seem to affect his aim:

The enormous popular success of the Goldfinger movie also served to reintroduce the idea of the bowler hat-as-weapon into pop-culture, perhaps most notably as used by the dapper British secret agent John Steed (Patrick MacNee) of The Avengers TV series.  Steed’s primary weapon was always his reinforced umbrella, but he was occasionally seen to use his (presumably also reinforced) bowler hat to execute a surprise disarm or knock-out blow, accompanied by a hollow, metallic “bonk!” sound effect.

The very picture of suave courtesy (but do watch out for that bowler …)

A Memoir of the Production of “Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”

By Tony Wolf

My friend Ran Braun, who is a fight choreographer and also a prominent stage director of operas in Europe, first proposed the idea of a Bartitsu documentary in early 2009.  We developed some concepts via email, but then both became busy with other projects.

In August of that year, Ran organized a three week Bartitsu and stage combat seminar tour for me in Italy.  I arrived at the first venue, which was a brand new sports center in the middle of Rome, and was surprised to meet a professional film crew there along with the students.

Tony Wolf (right) demonstrates a Vigny stick fighting “guard by distance” during the Rome seminar.

An opportunity had suddenly come up, virtually while I was in transit, and Ran had contacted some cultural associations and production companies including the Digital Room, Cletarte and Broken Art.  They offered the basic technical and logistical means to start producing a documentary about Bartitsu, but because it had all happened so quickly, we didn’t have a script nor even a storyboard prepared.

Ran Braun and Rocco M. Franco re-enact a private Bartitsu lesson circa 1900 in this sequence filmed at the Palazzo delle Clarisse in Amantea, Italy.

Without a script, everything was ad hoc; we started shooting sequences that we could organise in our downtime during the seminar tour, brainstorming and improvising shoots at various exotic locations.  As the de facto on-camera host – which was not a role I would have chosen for myself, under normal circumstances – I remember standing on a balcony of the Palazzo delle Clarisse overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, facing the camera and having to begin a monologue with the generic segue “… and so we find ourselves here …”, trusting that there would, eventually, be a script to justify the transition.

A spectacular location shoot in Amantea.

I also recall wandering through the streets of Amantea one warm evening, gazing up at the ancient castles on the hills and trying to figure out how to tie location shoots in this beautiful Italian seaside resort in to our then-scriptless documentary about an obscure Victorian English martial art.  I realised that the best link was actually the Italian concept of rievocazion; the artistic revival of cultural heritage.  That realisation inspired one of the major themes of the documentary.

Simultaneously, I realised that I was going to have to return to Europe in the near future.

A still from an animatic of Yukio Tani (left) throwing an English wrestler.

The next few months were a blur of activity, because at that stage we were hoping to release the documentary in late December to coincide with Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movie.  I returned to the USA for about two weeks, wrote a script, bought video equipment and started organizing second-unit shoots and interviews, re-enactments, image archives, animations, etc.

The project quickly generated a lot of buzz, and many people were very generous with their time and talents. Second-unit location shoots were arranged in the UK and USA, including both martial arts demonstrations and interviews with luminaries such as speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson and mystery writer Will Thomas, both of whom were also Bartitsu enthusiasts.  Ran arranged the musical score with input from his colleagues, and we were also given permission to use instrumental tracks by the famed steampunk band Abney Park.

I then flew back to Europe and traveled with Ran to Meiringen in the Swiss Alps for a shoot at the famous Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes used his “baritsu” against Moriarty. I’d never driven through the Alps before – it’s a shattering, vertiginous landscape, with valleys full of massive boulders that have rolled down off the mountains.

We booked in to a Meiringen hotel late in the evening and were woken the next morning by somone in the vicinity practicing his yodeling – welcome to Switzerland!   We then figured out how to get up to the Reichenbach Falls, which involves riding a terrific Victorian-era cable car a long way up one of the mountains. The falls are actually a series of cascades, with the biggest one – where Holmes grappled with Moriarty – perhaps half-way up the heavily-forested slopes.

We arrived at the cable car station, which offered a nice view, but it was at that point that we discovered that a local hydroelectric power company was channelling water from the river that feeds the falls. Apparently they regularly do this at at certain times of the year, including, unfortunately, when we were there. So, yes, it was a large waterfall, but it was pretty far from the roaring, boiling chasm that Dr. Watson had so vividly described.

We had a long hike up, over and around the waterfall until we arrived at the “baritsu spot”, where Holmes and Moriarty (notionally) fought to the death.  It’s at the end of a narrow path cut into the cliff face on the opposite side from the cable car station. Apparently the path used to extend almost within touching distance of the actual waterfall, but landslides have changed the topography over the past hundred-odd years. We shot our intro sequence there, then made our way back down the mountain into Meiringen township.

The town makes the most of its Sherlock Holmes connection – they have a great little Holmes museum and a fine bronze statue of the Great Detective. We spent the rest of the day doing pickup shots of Holmes-related Meiringen sights and scenic shots of the mountains.

The next day I flew to London to film further location shoots and interviews. The exterior shots in London were all “guerilla style”, of course, which was a great test of nerve and ingenuity. I visited the Holmes Museum in Baker Street, where an elderly actor playing Doctor Watson regaled me with an impressive in-character summary of the Final Problem plot. I wish we could have used part of that speech in the documentary.

Guerilla film-making: Tony Wolf addresses the camera in London.

We managed some quick “talking head” presentations in front of #67 Shaftesbury Avenue, where the original Bartitsu Club had been headquartered. The building now houses the Shaftesbury Best Western Hotel, but it’s much the same as it was back in Barton-Wright’s day, having been narrowly missed by a German bomb during the Second World War. Additional shoots took place at locations including the exterior of the Surbiton flat where Barton-Wright had spent his final years, and – soberingly – at Surrey’s Kingston Cemetery, where Barton-Wright was interred in an un-marked “pauper’s grave”.  Sadly, because it is impossible to pinpoint exactly where an individual is buried in one of these communal plots, local ordinances do not allow memorial markers to be placed there, so instead I laid a small bouquet of white flowers at the base of a nearby tree.

Then I took a train to the Northern English village of Haltwhistle, near the Scottish border, to record some additional interviews and, during a free afternoon, navigate through a wandering herd of cattle en route to walking along a section of Hadrian’s Wall.

After I returned to the US, however, it quickly became obvious that, even given the terrific run of enthusiasm and luck that carried us through that initial production period, there was simply no way we could produce the entire documentary before Christmas.  We were, however, able to develop a successful trailer for the project:

Early and mid-2010 were marked by a series of false starts and technical problems.  These issues are typical of most media projects, but they were compounded by the fact that we were producing an independent multi-media documentary, staffed entirely by volunteers spread between several countries. There would be intense bursts of activity – including filming a re-enactment of a circa 1914 suffragette jiujitsu training session – followed by long delays as DVD packages of raw footage went missing in transit, personnel left the project, etc.

During post-production my father, Michael, and wife, Kathrynne – who were both professional actors and voiceover specialists – were prevailed upon to record in-character narration for the documentary, all taken verbatim from speeches and articles written during the heyday of the Bartitsu Club.  Kat provided the voice of Mary Nugent, the Edwardian-era journalist whose article “Barton-Wright and His Japanese Wrestlers” offered shrewd insight into E.W. Barton-Wright’s character.  My father performed the voices of Barton-Wright, Dr. John Watson, an anonymous c1900 newspaper reporter and Captain Alfred Hutton, giving each of them different accents and delivery styles – a significant feat of vocal gymnastics!

We regained our momentum in September. In Rome, our colleagues and co-producers at Broken Art, Paolo Paparella and Angelica Pedatella, collaborated with editor Emanuele Pisasale during post-production, and there was a very great deal of communication back and forth between Italy and the USA. Meanwhile, I had arranged an art contest that produced some lovely cover art for the DVD, and a publishing deal with the Freelance Academy Press, while continuing to gather seminar footage from the US and Italy to represent the Bartitsu revival.

Co-producer/director Ran Braun checks camera angles while filming a Bartitsu stick fighting demonstration in Italy.

The documentary DVD finally launched in March of 2011. It gathered some great reviews, which were very gratifying to those of us who had been working so long and hard behind the scenes. With permission of the producers, Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes has subsequently been publicly screened at a number of libraries, Western martial arts conferences and similar events. It is available on DVD from the Freelance Academy Press.

How To Make A Kingsman-Style Gunbrella (Sort Of)

In honour of (and to help promote) the upcoming release of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Hacksmith YouTube channel has been challenged to create a Kingsman-style weaponised umbrella:

In the pedantic interests of accuracy, the “good quality umbrella” that serves as a zipline grapple and destructive melee weapon early in the video is clearly an Unbreakable Umbrella, featuring a solid, high-strength shaft and reinforced fittings. Unbreakable Umbrellas are specifically designed for self-defence. The brolly that is then shown being modified into a gunbrella, on the other hand, is of the standard, hollow-shafted variety.

The results are undeniably impressive, but the world still awaits a combat umbrella that can both shoot metal slugs and smash through a microwave oven.

“A Jiu-Jitsu Battle Royale in Paris”: Tani vs. Higashi (1905)

Above: Katsukuma Higashi (left) and Yukio Tani.

The following two accounts offer a fairly complete record of the controversial 29 November, 1905 jiujitsu match between former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and Tsutsumi Hōzan-ryū stylist Katsukuma Higashi. Taking place in Paris shortly after the famous jiujitsu vs. savate contest between “Re-Nie” (Ernest Regnier) and Georges Dubois, the Tani/Higashi match ended in a near-riot, leading to talk of French authorities banning similar contests in the future.

Daily Telegraph & Courier (London) – 2nd December 1905

Sporting Life – 6th December 1905

“How Sir Hiram Maxim Met the Hooligan” (St James’s Gazette, 24 June 1902)

In which the estimable inventor Hiram Maxim, best-remembered today for devising the world’s first portable machine gun, tells of how he fended off a London hooligan with his fists and trusty umbrella.

Sir Hiram S. Maxim, who says he has had three encounters with hooligans, writes to say that when walking from Southfields Station to attend a garden party at Wimbledon on Saturday afternoon last, he was struck several times with a ball flung by boys. Lady Maxim took the ball, and Sir Hiram later returned it to the boys.

“I thought no more of the matter” (says Sir Hiram) “until I saw a large and powerful man come running after us. He approached me, exclaiming something about “boys and cad,” which I didn’t exactly understand, and at once made a rush at me, aiming a very heavy blow at my face.

Fortunately I had, in my younger days, been a good boxer, and I warded off his blow, at the same time giving him a sharp blow across the face with a strong and closely-folded umbrella that I happened to have in my right hand.

He made several more rushes, each time only to receive a stinging blow in the face. Although I had successfully warded off all his mad rushes, and he had not succeeded in touching me, still I was soon very short of breath, and thought of what the doctor had said.

At this time he was standing some 12 feet away, and then gathering himself together, he made one more desperate lunge. This time I brought my umbrella to the charge as soldier does his gun, and summoning all my remaining strength I gave him a powerful thrust in the pit of his stomach. The umbrella, which had stood the racket up to this point, collapsed, the staff being broken in three pieces and the frame smashed, but it knocked the wind out of the ruffian, and I left him doubled and trying to get his breath.

In looking over the wreck of the umbrella I find that the tip of it is gone, and Lady Maxim suggests that the man may have carried it off, and that there is still a possibility of my being arrested for manslaughter!”

Sir Hiram says he has been told that, as a good citizen, he ought to report to the police, but Lady Maxim says the man has received quite punishment enough.

“What ought I to do?”

The Gentlemanly Art of 19th Century Cane Fighting in … 1990s Russia!?

The 1990 Russian sociopolitical satire Bakenbardy (“Side-whiskers”) is distinguished as the only feature film in which walking stick fighting serves as a crucial plot device.  It’s also a pertinent warning as to how youthful enthusiasm can be perverted by authoritarian impulses into something dark and ugly.

The story revolves around two fire-eyed young men who are seeking to save their country’s soul by returning it to the mores of the early 19th century.  Inspired by the figure of Russian intellectual and duellist Alexander Pushkin, they affect sideburns, wide-brimmed felt hats and capes and habitually carry ball-handled canes, with which both are expert combatants. Pushkin, incidentally, was known to carry an iron walking cane to strengthen his right arm.

Trying to help the citizens of a town beset by a decadent cult of bohemian artists, one of the neo-Pushkinites gets into an alley-fight with members of the rough-house “Tusks” gang:

Realising that the Tusks’ youth and aggression might be harnessed to their own ends, the neo-Pushkinites then further impress the gang with their panache and fighting prowess. Staging a takeover, they gradually transform the Tusks into a disciplined “Pushkin Club”, well-trained in Russian Romantic poetry and in the art of walking-cane combat:

… with which they violently rout the bohemians in a disturbing “Night of the Long Canes”:

Power corrupts and, now viewing anyone who does not love Pushkin as a depraved enemy of their New Order, the fanatical Pushkin Gang turns against the citizens of the town their founders were originally trying to save:

The resulting riot leads to their own downfall and humiliation at the hands of the state, after which, inevitably, a new stickfighting gang rises to take their place.

Produced at a time when many Russians were concerned about the rise of militantly ideological youth groups, the darkly satiric morality play of Bakenbardy is painfully relevant today.

Bartitsu Seminar at Autumnfecht (Maryland, USA)

Instructor Chris Dyer will be teaching a Bartitsu seminar at the Autumnfecht HEMA event in Columbia, Maryland on November 4, 2017.

Class description:

Explore the gentleman’s art of self-defense! Bartitsu is a practical style of self-defense with an emphasis on scientific principles to overcome an attacker. The growing threat of street gangs in Victorian and Edwardian London was the catalyst behind the creation of Bartitsu. Named after its creator, Edward William Barton-Wright, Bartitsu incorporates bare-knuckled boxing, French kicking, Japanese jujitsu, and stick fighting to suppress attacks from single ruffians and gangs alike. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle named Bartitsu as Sherlock Holmes’ means of defeating his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Students will learn a number of choreographed techniques showcasing a variety of Bartitsu methods.

No experience or equipment required. Period dress is not required, but encouraged.

Please click here for further information and registration.

Umbrella vs. Knife in a Hamburg Back-alley (Swing Kids, 1993)

In this short fight scene from the movie Swing Kids, Peter Müller (Christian Bale) takes on a knife-wielding member of the Hitlerjugend, applying some deft umbrella techniques that will be recognisable to Bartitsu aficionados.

In real history, the laissez-faire Swingjugend – who much preferred American jazz and English fashions to the crushing conformity of Nazism – frequently did engage in street fights with the Hitler Youth.