“The Umbrella: A Dangerous Weapon” (1900)

This article from the Bristol Mercury of May 14, 1900 is typical of many hundreds of newspaper reports illustrating the deadly potential of umbrella thrusts, whether delivered accidentally or deliberately.

In days gone by everyone carried a sword; now everyone carries an umbrella, which recent experience shows to to be almost as dangerous an instrument. During recent years its construction has been so altered that the harmless gamp, with which, at the worst, one could but thrash a man, has been turned into a rapier-like instrument, with  which it is by  no means difficult to run him through, and thus in moments of excitement people find themselves in in the possession of a “skewer,” the potentialities of which of they are hardly aware of.

With the object, no doubt, of giving a slim and dandified appearance, many umbrellas are now made with steel “stick,” and so fine are some of these that the point is very little thicker than the blade of a foil, and is capable of doing quite as much injury if lunged into an antagonist, and this even without the employment of much force, if the proper spot should  happen to be entered.

Last Saturday a charge of manslaughter was tried at the Central Criminal  Court which shows well what may be done with a steel umbrella. As the sequel of a very ordinary quarrel in a public house, the deceased followed the accused into a room and went up to him, when, as was alleged, the latter thrust an umbrella towards his face. The point entered his cheek, he became unconscious, was taken home in a cab, and died four days afterwards.

At the poet-mortem examination, four and a half inches of the umbrella stick, which was of iron, were found embedded in his skull, one inch of its length having entered his brain.  This piece of iron was stated to have become so firmly fixed that the medical men who performed the post-mortem examination had to use a chisel to remove it.

The prisoner was acquitted, the jury apparently accepting the statement made by him to the effect that the deceased rushed upon the point of the umbrella, and that the fatal result was accidental. This, however, all the more emphasises what we say about the dangerous character of the modern umbrella with its rapier-like point. If, in an ordinary fray, without malice or premeditation, it is possible to bury an umbrella point upwards of four inches deep in a man’s head, it is obvious enough that, in the hands of those who are skilled in fence, steel umbrellas must be almost as dangerous as the swords which our great-grandfathers used to whip out on the smallest provocation, much to each other’s detriment.

Striking from the Double-Handed Guard and Front Guard

Striking drills from the Vigny style double-handed guard and front guard, courtesy of the Bartitsu Club of Cologne:

(…) hit him rapidly on both sides of his face, disengaging between each blow as explained; the rapidity of these blows will generally be sufficient to disconcert him. – Captain F.C. Laing, The “Bartitsu” Method of Self Defence (1902)

Vigny Cane Vs. Doble Bastón

La canne vigny vs kali doble bastón.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op vrijdag 24 november 2017

In this experimental sparring match, Chilean Andres Morales (in the fencing mask with the white trim) employs the Vigny cane style opposed to the doble bastón (double stick) sub-system of Filipino stick fighting.

Note Andres’ expert use of measure (fighting distance) maximising his reach advantage, both offensively and via the Guard by Distance tactic:

It is always most desirable to try to entice your adversary to deliver a certain blow, and so place yourself at a great advantage by being prepared to guard it, and to deliver your counter-blow. – E.W. Barton-Wright

… combined with tactical use of ambidextrous attacks from the front, double-handed and rear guards to keep the opponent guessing:

(…) the rapid transference of the walking-stick from one hand to the other was one of the most powerful factors in offence and defence, and one likely to prove most puzzling to the opponent. – Guy’s Hospital Gazette, March 31 1900

Training/Sparring Canes Return to Purpleheart Armory

We’re happy to announce that, after a brief absence, the Bartitsu/Vigny training and sparring canes have returned to the Purpleheart Armory catalogue.

Made of combat-worthy rattan and featuring solid rubber ball handles, these canes effectively simulate the asymmetrical balance and handling characteristics of the fighting canes originally designed by Pierre Vigny and used at the Bartitsu School of Arms circa 1901.

“Girl of Whom Footpads Should Beware” (Daily Mirror, 22 January, 1914)

Unfortunately we have very little context for this 1914 Daily Mirror photo series. The entire text reads:

There been an epidemic of attacks on defenceless women of late, but the man who endeavoured to molest Miss Hetty Beard, an athletic Bedfordshire girl, would get more than he bargained for.

The techniques are quite strongly reminiscent of the Vigny style, but by 1914 Pierre and Marguerite Vigny themselves had been absent from England for several years. Since these photos seem to have been Miss Hetty Beard’s only claim to posterity, we can only speculate as to whether she may have been a Vigny student.

“Ju-Jitsu Corps”: A Novel Venture Which Has The Official Sanction (1914)

This little-known initiative was widely publicised during December of 1914 and January of 1915:

A new corps has just been formed with the unusual title of the “Ju-Jitsu Corps.” It is directly connected with the approved regulations of the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps, and will teach the art of self-defence without weapons. All can join except those exempted from war service. A distinctive uniform, with badge, will worn, and lessons will be given by Sabri-Mahir, late Ju-Jitsu champion and instructor to the Paris police. No charges will be made, and there will be no interference with members’ daily occupation. Perfect freedom of action is allowed as regards voluntary active’ service at the front. No pay will granted, and no entrance fee or subscription is required, unless given voluntarily. The corps has been formed primarily for defence of home and country, and active members must pass the doctor. The new venture has the approval War Office, Admiralty, and Scotland Yard, and its headquarters will be at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. All inquiries should be addressed to the secretary, 509, Salisbury House, London Wall, E.C.

Sabri Mahir was, in fact, a Turkish painter and middleweight boxer who was then resident in England, but I’ve found nothing in any English nor French media supporting the claim that he was a jujitsu champion who had trained the Parisian police.

The formation of the new Corps, with its emphasis on learning “self-defence without weapons”, prompted an anonymous columnist for The Sphere to recall when:

(…) once I met a very famous Japanese exponent of ju-jitsu in the early days of the cult of this remarkable art; a giant for strength and a tiger for nimbleness. He showed me a dagger hidden in his clothes. On my asking him why he carried it, he replied that he did not consider London a safe place to be unarmed in.

It may be noteworthy that former Bartitsu Club president William Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough was also the president of the Volunteer Training Corps, to which the proposed Jujitsu Corps was to be affiliated. For all of this, however, there seem to be no newspaper records of any activity by the Jujitsu Corps, so it’s possible that the idea died upon the vine.

N.B. that the Scottish jujitsu instructor W. Bruce Sutherland actually did teach unarmed combat to trainee soldiers during the Great War, and that his contemporary William Garrud performed demonstrations of the art for volunteers of the London Special Constabulary.

The Redoubtable Toupie Lowther

Bartitsu has received an unusual shout-out in the new biography Toupie Lowther: Her Life, by English author Val Brown.

Born to a wealthy, aristocratic family in 1874, May Lowther – known almost universally as “Toupie” – grew into a multi-talented woman of means, adept at opera singing, motoring and (especially) both tennis and fencing. In the latter capacity she once playfully challenged Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton to a match after Hutton had made a polite but, to her ear, condescending remark about female fencers.

Toupie’s other athletic enthusiasms included weightlifting, jiujitsu and possibly boxing, and Val Brown speculates that she may also have studied Bartitsu, given that the Bartitsu Club admitted female students. Although history isn’t clear on that point, Brown does note Toupie’s portrayal as a Bartitsu practitioner in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, in which she serves as Emmeline Pankhurst’s chauffeuse and getaway driver and as the second-in-command of the clandestine “Amazons” bodyguard team. She is also featured as a significant supporting character in the spin-off novella The Isle of Dogs and as the protagonist of the short story The Pale Blue Ribbon.

In real life, Toupie Lowther was decorated for her service in France during the First World War, which included organising and operating an ambulance team under extremely dangerous conditions.

Post-War, Toupie was also a friend of writer Radclyffe Hall and her partner, sculptor Una Troubridge, until after the publication of Hall’s controversial novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928. Toupie believed that the novel’s female protagonist, the cross-dressing former WW1 ambulance driver Stephen Gordon, was based to a large extent on herself, and this seems to have caused a rift in the friendship.

An interesting woman who led a highly unusual life for her time, Toupie Lowther well deserves the wider recognition that this very readable book will undoubtedly bring her.

Toupie Lowther: Her Life is available in paperback from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

“The Champion Lady Fencer”: Marguerite and Pierre Vigny Demonstrate Walking Stick Defence (1908)

This newly-discovered image of Marguerite and Pierre Vigny shows the former demonstrating a double-handed thrust to the throat. Note that Pierre Vigny, left, is holding what appears to be a typical Vigny-style self-defence cane of his own design.

The original caption from the Weekly Irish Times of January 18, 1908 reads:

THE CHAMPION LADY FENCER – Miss Saunders*, the champion lady fencer, has issued a challenge to fence with any lady for £200 a side. In our photograph Miss Saunders, assisted by Mons. Vigny, is giving a demonstration of her system of walking-stick fencing, illustrating how people can protect themselves with a stick if they know how to fence.

* Note that Marguerite Vigny went by the professional name “Miss Sanderson”; “Miss Saunders” appears to have been a misspelling.

Referred to as the “bayonet” thrust by Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright, this attack seems to have been a favourite of Marguerite Vigny’s, as shown below:

During the 1970s revival of walking stick and umbrella self-defence, Los Angeles-based instructor Jill Maina taught the same technique as a means of warding off an attacker: