“A Ju-jitsu Festival in Kyoto, Japan” (1909)

Sketch artist Tom Brown recorded his impressions of a “ju-jitsu festival” taking place in Kyoto for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of November 13, 1909.  He noted that he admired the wrestling itself and also the  formal courtesies offered by the competitors before and after each contest, which were “almost as elaborate as a fencing match”.

“Coming to Close Quarters”: the Strategy of Unarmed Bartitsu

Above: an unarmed Bartitsu class in Germany.

This article assumes that the object is to train in a neo-Bartitsu that is as close as possible to the original style. Therefore, the approach described here is very closely based on the primary, canonical sources, especially E.W. Barton-Wright’s own comments on this subject from late 1901 and early 1902, at which point his “Bartitsu experiment” was fairly well-established. By that time, most of the Bartitsu Club instructors had been working together on an almost daily basis for at least a year, and in some cases for nearly three years.

The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that unarmed Bartitsu was a new, hybrid method drawing primarily from boxing, kicking and an eclectic blend of jiujitsu styles. At a time when Barton-Wright’s club was literally the only place outside of Japan where students could formally study Japanese unarmed combat, jiujitsu was, reasonably enough, considered to be something of a “secret” art.  In fact, it was frequently referred to as such by Barton-Wright and others during this period.

The formal, kata-based pedagogy of ko-ryu jiujitsu was, however, typically predicated on defences against single, highly committed attacks.  During late 1901, Barton-Wright pointed out that this pedagogy was not necessarily equipped to counter attacks such as the quick, aggressive combinations of a skilled boxer or savateur, nor (perhaps) the unpredictable flurries of strikes that might be made by an untrained street brawler.

As Barton-Wright commented:

In order to ensure, as far as it is possible, immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, one must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which are scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applies to the use of the foot or the stick.

He continued:

Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

The experience of numerous subsequent martial arts and combat sports, notably including modern MMA, has tended to confirm Barton-Wright’s observation in this regard.  Without putting too fine a point on it, the defences of boxing and savate are optimised for attacks made in those styles.

As Barton-Wright noted in the 1901 article Bartitsu: Its Exponent Interviewed, however, orthodox boxing/savate defences – as typically taught to middle-class students in commercial schools, geared entirely towards relatively safe competition – could be modified and improved towards the goal of winning a street fight:

The amateur (boxer) is seldom taught how to hit really hard, which is what you must do in a row. Nor is he protected against the savate, which would certainly be used on him by foreign ruffians, or the cowardly kicks often given by the English Hooligan. A little knowledge of boxing is really rather a disadvantage to (the defender) if his assailant happens to be skilled at it, because (the assailant) will will know exactly how his victim is likely to hit and guard.

He then clarified:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, and which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate.

As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously. So we teach a savate not at all like the French savate, but much more deadly, and which, if properly used, will smash the opponent’s ankle or even his ribs. Even if it be not used, it is very useful in teaching the pupil to keep his feet, which are almost as important in a scrimmage as his head.

Thus, Bartitsu guards represented an aggressive, damaging modification to the standard blocks of boxing and savate.  The opponent’s strikes would be met percussively, the defender chopping into punches with elbow/forearm strikes or offering the sharp wedge of an elbow-forward shield, as well as counter-kicking into attacking shins and ankles, as a precursor to finishing the fight at closer quarters.

By his own account, Barton-Wright clearly considered Japanese unarmed combat to be superior to other forms of wrestling as a means of self-defence.  This consideration implicitly included the various European folk-styles available at the turn of the 20th century.  Thus, whereas an unarmed Bartitsu exponent might square off against an assailant in an orthodox circa 1900 boxing/savate guard stance, and would certainly attempt to damage their attacking limbs with percussive guards, (s)he would be well-prepared to finish the fight with jiujitsu:

If one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field.

The overall strategy Barton-Wright advocated for unarmed Bartitsu is, therefore:

  • To assume a boxing/savate guard stance if possible, encouraging the opponent to attempt to punch or kick in the “orthodox styles”
  • If the opponent does attempt to punch or kick, counter by striking into the attacking limbs


  • If the opponent attempts to break through the defender’s guard with a grappling attack, allow it
  • In either case, finish the fight with jiujitsu

Walking Stick vs. Two Unarmed Opponents

Chilean stick fighter Andres Morales takes no prisoners in this sparring contest, demonstrating how to defend against two unarmed opponents.

Trabajo de walking stick vs 2 .

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zondag 18 maart 2018

Note Andres’ use of footwork and deceptive, powerful strikes to his opponents’ heads, faces and attacking limbs, employing the cane from both single and double-handed grips.  At close quarters, he follows the advice given by E.W. Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny, relying on “bayonet” thrusts from the double-handed grip to regain distance and initiative.


“Stick Fighting in Trinidad” (Diss Express – 14 March, 1919)

Above: lithograph of Dominican stick fighting painted by Agostino Brunias; engraved print published London (1779).

The following short article is notable for its reference to the Trinidadian stick fighting style of “playing bois”, which is closely cognate to the Grenadian bois stick style that was amalgamated with Pierre Vigny’s art of self defence with a walking stick by H.G. Lang during the early 1920s.  Although Grenadian bois seems to have evolved into a ceremonial dance, similar stick fighting sports can still be found throughout the Caribbean island chain.

Single combat in various forms survives all over the world, and different peoples have different methods of showing their prowess. In the island of Trinidad, for instance, the natives, who speak mixture of French patois and English, call their method “playing bois” (literally stick-fighting).

The stick used is about a yard long and usually made from the “puie” tree, a very hard wood. This is held at each end diagonally in front of the body, and the blow’s are struck releasing one hand and striking with either the left the right. the carnival season bands from the various districts are made and contests take place whenever two bands meet.

The stick-men are extraordinarily clever at parrying blows, and an expert will stop a cricket ball thrown at him.

“The Art of Self Defence” (1909)

The following article by N. Tegan Lewis was originally published in the Women’s Freedom League newspaper of April 22, 1909, following the jiujitsu self-defence displays by Edith Garrud at London’s Caxton Hall (shown above).

We’ve offered a few contextual annotations, which are shown in italics.

A novel feature of the Green, White and Gold Fair, at Caxton Hall, was the jiu-jitsu displays given by women. Apart from the fact that it is splendid physical exercise, jiu-jitsu is the most suitable form of self-defence for women, success depending on the dexterous use of the opponent’s strength. The science has three branches: the throws, which require much practice; the art of self-defence exclusively, by which all attacks by violence may be resisted; and the art, when the opponent has been thrown, of wrestling on the ground and rendering him unconscious by neck locks and other means. Happily, measures so stringent as those taught in this third branch are not often necessary, but in an encounter with a desperate burglar or an escaped lunatic the knowledge would be decidedly useful.

Emily Watts, another pioneering jiujitsu instructor of this era, largely dismissed ne-waza (mat grappling) in her 1906 manual The Fine Art of Jujutsu, on grounds of sensibility rather than practicality.

In the course of the last quarter of a century women in this country have developed physically, as mentally, in an amazing way while men have been—well, let us say—at a standstill. The modern healthy girl, backed by a knowledge of some scientific art of defence, could render a very good account of herself when necessary and men “Anti’s” who are so fond of the physical force “argument” would do well to take heed in time lest the day come, and perhaps it is not far distant, when they will not be allowed to let the matter drop.

“Anti’s” refers to those who were against the movement towards women’s suffrage.  The fallacious “argument of physical force” essentially stated that women should not be given political power on the grounds that such power ultimately resolves into the ability to exert physical force.

We are all familiar with Mr. Punch’s famous advice to those about to marry, but, though Mr. Punch “were like to die of it,” we have not yet heard Mrs. Punch’s opinion on the matter. May we suggest, with all due deference to Mr. Punch, that her advice to the girl would be “learn jiu-jitsu”?

During the Edwardian period, the Punch and Judy puppet show preserved Mr. Punch’s ferocious violence against virtually all the other characters, including his wife Judy.

Such a precaution would be, let us hope in the majority of cases, merely a matter of form. At the same time it is idle to ignore the fact that there are men, in all classes of society, who habitually ill-treat their wives. At present the usual advice given to the ill-used wife, when circumstances render it practically impossible for her to leave her husband, is “do not lower yourself by retaliation, at all costs uphold your womanly dignity.” Setting aside the utter impossibility of being dignified under such circumstances this advice is, theoretically, perfectly sound. Practically jiu-jitsu is likely to prove far more effective for it is universally acknowledged that your bully is usually a coward.

The theme of jiujitsu as self-defence against an abusive husband provided the basis of the polemic playlet What Every Woman Ought to Know (1911), which included a spectacular fight scene staged by Edith Garrud.

It has long been the custom to consider women more timid than men, but one has only to scan the newspapers day by day to realize that in cases of great emergency—such as the Messina earthquake—women are every whit as brave as men; and hardly a week goes by but some woman goes to the assistance of the police in a street brawl while a crowd of men—citizens stand idly by, indifferent or amused, oblivious of any responsibility. Moreover, in the days when entrance to the army was an easy affair, many women fought side by side with the men and many instances are on record of women taking part in sea fights. There was Hannah Snell, who enlisted as a marine and saw active service, and Mary Ann Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, who was wounded in the action of the Glorious First of June, both of whom received pensions from a grateful Government. Anne Bonney and Mary Read, after serving in the Navy, turned pirates—to their own profit, doubtless, if not to that of the State.

Public opinion has hitherto been the greatest enemy to the physical development of women; the pioneer women cyclists were covered with scorn, the girls who first declared their preference for hockey over croquet were looked at askance as hoydens. Happily the world soon gets accustomed to new ideas, and to-day the girl who cycles and the girl who plays hockey are taken very much as a matter of course—just as will be the girl of to-morrow who practises jiu-jitsu. In a few years time let us hope that the woman who is not versed in the art of self-defence will be regarded, and rightly regarded, as an anomaly.

Edith Garrud’s demonstrations did, in fact, spark a wide interest in women’s jiujitsu, including a fad for “jiujitsu parties”.  Mrs. Garrud also established an exclusive “Suffragettes Self-Defence Club” and, several years thereafter, became the jiujitsu instructor for the secret Bodyguard Society of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Antagnonistics V in NYC

Antagonistics V – Tactical Principles of Victorian Self-Defense

with Professor Mark P. Donnelly

Saturday, April 21, 2018,  1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

440 Lafayette Street, Room 3D

New York, NY 10003

Mark P. Donnelly (Professor of Arms), an internationally-recognized expert on historical combat, will teach this five-hour “gentlemanly antagonistics” workshop.

– Explore the tactical principles of Bartitsu, and how they are still relevant today.

– Learn to use a walking stick, parasol, and other Victorian accessories to maintain “preservation of person and property when beset upon by ne’er-do-wells of nefarious intent.”

– For the first time ever, we’ll be exploring the history and use of the swordstick or sword-cane as commonly carried in Victorian and Edwardian Europe.

This workshop is a rare opportunity to study martial arts, combative theory, and obscure history in a safe, controlled, welcoming and civilized atmosphere with some of the top practitioners in the world. Open to gentlemen and ladies over 18. All experience levels welcome and all equipment provided.

Visit www.nycsteampunk.com to register. Places are limited.

The Bamboo Pole Trick

This photo published in the Italian journal La Stampa Sportiva (November, 1903) shows former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi wheeling out an old favourite.  The “bamboo pole trick” had been a feature of some of the earliest exhibitions of jiujitsu in London, and a prone variation on the same principle was even mentioned in the memoir of Dutch anthropologist Herman ten Kate, who had trained in the same Shinden Fudo Ryu dojo in Kobe as had Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright.

Above; Yukio Tani pulls off the “bamboo pole trick” at a Bartitsu Club event during March of 1899.

As a test/demonstration, the “bamboo pole trick” legitimately does show off the performer’s ability to withstand pain and discomfort and to manage the direction of pressure against their throat.  Subtle shifts of position change the angle of pressure from “straight into the trachea” to “downward against the collar-bones”, which, though still uncomfortable and somewhat risky, is a less actively dangerous than trying to resist a pole shoved directly into the sensitive throat area.

That said, it’s really more of a carnival sideshow stunt than an exhibition of martial arts skill, and that point was not lost on some early observers of the trick in London.  According to a report published in the Sporting Times of October 20, 1900:

Then the talking began, for a gentleman of ripe years, alluded to affectionately by most of the audience as “Charley,” was not quite satisfied with the pushing experiment of arm against throat, and had something to say as to leverage and the Georgia Magnet. Whether he wanted make a match between the little American lady and the big Jap, we in the stalls could not quite catch; but when the discussion was at its height, Mr. Barton Wright appeared from behind the scenes with a message from the big Jap*. He (the big Jap) would stand against the wall, and let the doubting gentleman push with the pole as hard as be could against his throat, if afterwards the doubler would wrestle a fall with him.

It’s a little ironic that “Charley” should have cited the Georgia Magnet in his objection to the bamboo pole trick, given that E.W. Barton-Wright himself had published an expose of Georgia Magnet-style leverage tricks presented as feats of “supernatural” strength.


  • The big man cited here was probably Seizo Yamamoto, who was among the original party of three jiujitsuka imported by Barton-Wright to exhibit and teach their art to curious Londoners.  Yamamoto, along with Yukio Tani’s older brother Kaneo, only remained in London for a few months before returning to Japan.

Bartitsu/Vigny Stick Sparring

Andres Morales of Chile (in the black shirt/shorts combo) and a sparring partner demonstrate the quick, deceptive Vigny canne style, as incorporated into Bartitsu circa 1900. 

La canne vigny

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 10 maart 2018

As described by a journalist from The Sporting Life newspaper in July of 1899:

(Vigny) first proceeded to demonstrate the use of the stick by showing the different attacks and guards, displaying wonderful wrist work, in which great strengths and suppleness were combined. He grasps a stout Malacca cane about six inches from the end, and does all the movements with the wrist only, and not with the fingers. He passes his stick from right hand to left and vice versa without the slightest trouble, using right-hand and left-hand alternately with equal dexterity.

Shooting Fight Scenes for “No Man Shall Protect Us”, the Suffrajitsu Documentary

A London “bobby” (stuntman Cody Evans, left) takes on a member of the WSPU Bodyguard Society (stuntwoman Gabrielle Perrea, right).

The past week of production on No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards has included black-screen studio action scenes performed by a very talented pair of stuntpeople.  Rather than shooting long, elaborate fights, the aim was to create about twenty short, diverse sequences that will be edited together to illustrate key moments of the suffragette Bodyguards’ story.

Both the Bodyguards and the London police were streetwise, experienced tusslers, but – jiujutsu lessons notwithstanding – few of them were experts in a formal fighting style.  Therefore, the challenge was to keep the action within the bounds of plausibility, while still ensuring that each “fight” told its own story.  That meant that the fights had to look scrappy and relatively realistic, with the Bodyguard and the constable occasionally staggering off-balance in the heat of the action or succeeding as much through luck as through skill.

Likewise, unusually for fight scenes, the characters were not necessarily trying to hurt each other.  The suffragette’s objective was more often simply to get past or escape from the constable, whereas the constable was attempting to block or arrest the suffragette.

When clubs and truncheons were drawn, though, most bets were off …

The production has now also filmed a number of prop inserts, including demonstrations of the circa 1909 boardgame Suffragetto, to help illustrate the complex tactics of suffragette vs. police street skirmishes:

No Man Shall Protect Us is now entering the final stages of production. Once the documentary is edited, it will be made freely available as an educational resource via Vimeo.