“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:


Martial Exotica: Kusarigamajutsu in London (1919-23)

Founded by Gunji Koizumi in 1918, the London Budokwai remains the oldest Japanese martial arts club in Europe.  Former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani taught there for many years, shaping the first generation of British judoka.

On May 31, 1919, the Budokwai hosted an exhibition at the Aeolian Hall by the visiting kendo master Sonobe Masatada, which was notable for including not only kendo and jiujitsu displays but also some highly exotic martial arts such as nabebutajutsu (the use of pot-lids as shields and knuckle-dusters), nitojutsu (fencing with a sword in each hand) and kusarigamajutsu (the use of the chain and sickle).  Madame Hino Yoshiko rounded out the display with a demonstration of naginatajutsu (halberd fencing).

A similar Budokwai exhibition in 1923 again featured the kusarigama, curiously described by an Illustrated London News reporter as a “universal homely weapon” .

This excerpt from an Isshin-ryu kusarigamajutsu exhibition offers a sense of what would have been seen at the Budokwai displays about 100 years ago:

Extreme Stick Fighting

Worth bearing in mind when one’s martial practice starts to become too academic; there is gently going through the motions, and then there is Extreme Stick Fighting. These two combatants demonstrate impressive toughness and courage in fighting full-contact and unarmoured, with very few apparent rules, on uneven, natural terrain.

While it can be argued that, for example, a classic Vigny cane would be expected to do more damage than a shorter, evenly-weighted rattan stick, it’s also important to note that adrenaline can allow a fighter to ignore many strikes that might be assumed to be fight-stoppers under less extreme circumstances.  It follows that grappling, including ground-fighting, is a crucial skill.  Endurance, luck, improvisation under pressure and will-power are all important factors in surviving, let alone winning, a combat of this nature.

The Bartitsu Club as Imagined in “Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons” (2015)

In the 2015 graphic novel Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, the Bartitsu School of Arms serves as the gymnasium and headquarters of a secret society of female bodyguards who protect the radical suffragettes from arrest and assault. The graphic novels were commissioned as part of the Foreworld Saga, a multimedia franchise initiated by speculative fiction authors Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo.

While there was a real-life Bodyguard team who defended Emmeline Pankhurst and other notable suffragettes circa 1913/14, they were not, historically, based at the Bartitsu Club, which had closed its doors for the last time in 1902.

That said, as shown in the graphic novels, this fictional Bartitsu Club did draw a great deal of inspiration from history …

The physical layout of the Suffrajitsu universe’s Bartitsu School of Arms is closely based on that of the Forteza Western Martial Arts school in Ravenswood, Chicago (home of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago).  Comparatively little is known about the layout of the real Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue, except that it was a large basement space featuring white tiled walls and support pillars.

The stalwart chap bracing the punching bag in the foreground is Armand Cherpillod, who was (in real history) the Bartitsu Club’s wrestling and physical culture instructor.

The two jiujitsu throws shown in the foreground and medium ground are closely based on techniques shown in Emily WattsFine Art of Jiu-jutsu (1906).  Mrs. Watts was, in fact, a student of Sadakazu Uyenishi, who is shown observing the suffragette Bodyguards’ training in the medium background.

The Amazons shown in the background are practicing the Vigny style of stick fighting and savate, as taught at the real Bartitsu Club by Pierre Vigny.  The Amazon defending herself against her training partner’s savate kick is demonstrating a variation of “How to Defend Yourself with a Stick against the most Dangerous Kick of an Expert Kicker“, as per Barton-Wright’s 1901 article Self-Defence With A Walking Stick.

The elaborate sigil above Uyenishi’s head is the symbol of the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae, a secret order of martial artists who play a major role in the earlier Foreworld stories.

The longsword and other swords barely visible on the wall behind Uyenishi are nods to Captain Alfred Hutton, who taught Elizabethan-era fencing styles at the real Bartitsu Club.

The Amazons emerging from a trapdoor hidden under the mats of the Bartitsu Club is a reference to an anecdote told by Edith Garrud, who taught self-defence to the real suffragette Bodyguard team (and who makes a cameo appearance in the third panel above).

According to Edith, her London dojo was used as a safe-house by suffragettes escaping from the police after window-smashing protests.  It featured a trapdoor in which they would hide their street clothes and any remaining missile weapons, so they would appear to be innocently practicing jiujitsu when the police came knocking at the dojo door.

The technique posters shown in the background of this picture are actually miniaturised images of real Bartitsu techniques from E.W. Barton-Wright’s “Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” article.

The sparring equipment worn by Barton-Wright and his niece and student Persephone is based on protective clothing actually worn by combat athletes during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, including cricket pads for the knees and shins, padded fencing gloves, sabre fencing masks and padded vests.

Barton-Wright (left) is assuming the classic “rear guard” of Vigny stick fighting, while Persephone counters with the “double-handed guard”.

This picture of the Bartitsu Club’s elaborate electrotherapy clinic, which is adjacent to the combat gymnasium, is closely based on photographs of Barton-Wright’s real clinic.  After the Bartitsu Club closed, Barton-Wright persisted in the therapeutic field for the remainder of his career, specialising in various forms of heat, light, electrical and vibrational therapies to alleviate the pain of arthritis and rheumatism.

“Jiu Jitsu For Mental Nurses” (1911)

A historical curiosity from the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 4 January, 1911, detailing the self-defence training of psychiatric nurses via the game of “Indian wrestling” and some basic jiujitsu techniques. 

Interestingly, Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton is believed to have been the first person in the Western world to teach Japanese martial arts as self-defence in a therapeutic environment, passing on some of the “tricks” he had learned from his young colleagues Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi to London doctors.

Also of note is this article, which describes an informal system of “American jiujitsu” devised by psychiatric hospital workers that is said to have pre-dated the introduction of Japanese jiujitsu to the United States.

While the use of “therapeutic holds” and self-defence is still an important aspect of training for workers in psychiatric care, the modern approach completely eschews the type of painful and potentially dangerous holds described in this article, in favour of a system of non-violent, leverage-based team takedown and control techniques.  The modern system is also deeply aware of the danger of positional asphyxia, strictly avoiding any holds that may inadvertently restrict a patient’s ability to breathe.


An American correspondent for the Nursing Mirror says-—I recently had the opportunity of witnessing the usefulness of jiu-jitsu as an aid to the nurses in a private sanatorium. It is included as part of course in hydrotherapy, and falls naturally into place with the study of physical movements and massage.

The nurses, for this purpose, are dressed in strong bathing costumes. They are first taught the holds and throws of Indian wrestling. This gives suppleness, and the application of their strength is new to the girls, many of whom have never since childhood put forth any severe muscular effort demanding agility. Indian wrestling is performed by two opponents holding each other by the corresponding hand and placing the corresponding foot close up to that of the adversary. The loser is the one who first moves either foot from its place or touches the ground with any other part of the body, the hand not excepted. Every muscle in the body is exercised in this way, and great improvement in the ability handle one’s self is quickly attained.

After this preparation, the holds of jiu-jitsu proper taught, and it is with these that the nurses protect from or control the patient. The chief of holds is the “straight arm”, which consists of a hyper-extension of the elbow over the fulcrum provided by either the nurse’s shoulder or forearm, the power being represented by the nurse’s other hand pulling the patient’s wrist. It is impossible withdraw from this position of mechanical disadvantage and any attempt to do so causes intense pain in the elbow, and if this is ignored, the leverage is sufficient to fracture the arm.

Another useful hold is the hammer-lock, consisting of the elevation of the arm behind the back under the shoulder, combined with an internal rotation at the wrist. The mechanical disadvantage and pain of this grip gives easy and perfect control over an obstinate or dangerous patient, and with this hold a frail woman can easily control a strong man.

Another hold is the hyperflexion of the phalanges of the fifth finger. This depends upon its painfulness, but it is a very convenient way of leading patients without attracting attention.

These are the main elements, but the nurse may sometimes find herself in difficulties when unexpectedly attacked, and jiu-jitsu teaches an appropriate way to meet every dangerous position when she is attacked. If she attacked by a patient swinging a dub, stick, or chair, there is an infallible defence, which can injure neither herself nor the patient. It is merely the football tackle – diving under the descending weapon and knocking the patient down by his legs. I venture to say that no woman, and very few men, would spontaneously attempt this until trained.

In a general melee against an active man it may not possible to obtain any of these holds, but the head and neck always offer themselves to the well-known chancery hold. Of course, very few women would even think of such a procedure unless trained, but its usefulness in a desperate situation is beyond question.

The paramount value in acquiring this skill is that the nurse can be sent for long walks with almost any kind of patients without any feeling of danger on the part of those who are responsible for her safety. The importance of this freedom to the patient is quite evident in these days of treatment by work in the open air, and has the additional merit of showing patients that their attendants have no fear of them.