“Observations on Practical Self-Defence”

The anonymous author of this short article from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 5 January, 1924, lands squarely on the side of pragmatism as a guiding tactic of self-defence.

As a matter of pure curiosity one likes to know the various methods of self-defence employed by various individuals. Many years ago, in the West Indies, I met a peculiarly “hard case”; a man, covered with scars, who had followed all the more reprehensible avocations, and one or two reputable ones as well; not a big man, not an especially strong man, but wiry and small-eyed and broken-toothed and leering, the sort of man one would not like to meet unexpectedly in a dark place. He talked well. His reminiscences were mostly quite dreadful, but in telling them he curiously lacked braggadocio.

“Boxing?” he said. “No; what’s the good of that? I’ll tell you what I can do, though. I can throw a bottle.”

And as there were commonly a good many weapons of that nature within his easy reach I felt that, although interesting, he was a man to keep close behind.

A stout walking stick is a useful weapon if you thrust with it, and a ship’s engineer has before now used a spanner in the same way, but in default of arms, lethal or otherwise, a knowledge of ju-jitsu is undoubtedly the most useful accomplishment. But whereas boxing can occasionally be useful in practice (though over rated), and is a first-rate sport, ju-jitsu at its best can never be a true sport in the European sense, for it entails breaking bones and the infliction of all sorts of more or less serious injuries.

In the robuster age of the prize ring, perhaps, judging from romances, fists were more generally used in anger than they are to-day but I cannot believe that the ruffian of 1823 with a heavy boot would withhold that boot (to say nothing of the loaded stick which he probably kept in his sleeve) when chance or rascality set him in personal conflict with a real fighting man. Indeed, too much altogether has been made of the noble art as a means of self-defence.

Inside the Kodokan in 1913

A rare, early 1900s glimpse inside Dr. Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan judo dojo in Tokyo, from the Illustrated London News of March 8, 1913.

The caption reads:

JAPANESE WRESTLING IN WHICH THE “UNDER DOG” MAY BE THE WINNER: JUDO PRACTICE IN THE KODO-KWAN AT TOKYO. “[ln] judo, more familiarly Jujutsu, incorrectly jiujitsu . . . you are at liberty to try to defeat your opponent by falling voluntarily upon your back. . . . Often . . . the man on top is in such pain as to forced to surrender.”

The costume presupposes men in a real quarrel being in ordinary dress.

Bartitsu to Feature on Japanese TV

The Japanese TBS edutainment show Sekai Kurabete Mitara (“See the World in Comparison”) will be featuring a short documentary on Bartitsu on August 20, 2018.  The theme of the show is to explore various current events and customs from throughout the world, with an emphasis on cultural diversity.

This will be the first Japanese-language broadcast on the art of Bartitsu and we’ll post the segment on this site if it becomes publicly available.

Solo Training with the Vigny Cane

Andres Morales of Chile demonstrates various techniques with the Vigny cane, working mostly from the Right (or Front) guard stance:

Probando mi primer Walking Stick, la canne Vigny, Santiago Stickfighting.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op Maandag 16 juli 2018

Bartitsu to Feature on “Celebrity Antiques Road Trip”

Members of the The Manley Academy of Historical Swordsmanship (Surrey, England) pose with host Natasha Raskin-Sharp and comedian Paul Chowdhry after a Bartitsu exhibition to be featured in an upcoming episode of Celebrity Antiques Road Trip.  In this popular BBC2 series, an antiques expert and a celebrity team up to locate valuable antiques to be sold at auction, for the benefit of the Children in Need charity.

“Self Defence with Sherlock Holmes” at the Royal Armouries Museum (Leeds, UK)

A recent Bartitsu display at the Royal Armouries Museum.

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, UK will be offering hands-on Bartitsu classes for children as part of an upcoming series of workshops in various historical martial arts.  The classes will run daily at 11am, 1pm & 3pm between August 13-17.

See this link for further details.

In Memoriam: William Hobbs (1939-2018)

The late William Hobbs (left) directing Sir Albert Finney.

By Tony Wolf

I’m sad to report the passing of William Hobbs, who was among the most influential and respected fight directors of the 20th century. He died on July 10th, at the age of 79 years.

Bill Hobbs was a true pioneer of the “modern style” of performance combat.  While many of his predecessors in film, TV and stage combat had also been expert fencers, Hobbs broke the mold in crafting fights that were at least as integral to character and story as any other aspect of production design.

It’s about thinking through the character, not through spectacle.  A fight has got to grow out of the situation of the play. Perhaps my advantage is that having been an actor, I’m trying only to do the move I feel is right for the character. You are not doing pyrotechnics for the sake of being pyrotechnic.

  • William Hobbs, quoted in The New York Times (1995)

His fighters were, for the most part, portrayed as fallible human beings. They frequently found themselves scrambling to recover from mistakes, became exhausted or enraged, slipped in the mud, sometimes succeeding (or just surviving) almost in spite of themselves.

All of this was in profound and refreshing contrast to the more purely heroic action scenes of Hobbs’ predecessors in the field, which too often eschewed messy realism and psychological substance for the swashbuckling cliches of textbook “movie fencing”.  Bill Hobbs’ fight choreography always sought to surprise his audience, and took the less-obvious path.

As a co-founder of the Society of British Fight Directors, Hobbs was also a pioneer in the practical research of historical martial arts.  In this, along with his fellow founders Arthur Wise and John Waller, he anticipated the modern HEMA revival movement by several decades.

From the mid-1960s through to the mid-2000s, Bill Hobbs’ acclaimed fight choreography was featured in dozens of major theatrical, film and television productions.  Germane to Bartitsu.org, he staged the dapper John Steed’s umbrella combat scenes for The Avengers (1998):

Career highlights, in terms of acclaim among his peers, include his work on Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1977),  Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love (1998). 

Perhaps his most famous fight, however, was the honour duel between Rob Roy and Archie Cunningham in Michael Caton-Jones’ Rob Roy (1995).

Younger audiences will recognise Bill Hobbs’ signature creativity and commitment to detail in the “water dance” fighting style of Syrio Forel, as featured in season one of the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones. Actor Miltos Yerolemou worked extensively with Hobbs to develop his character’s unique method of swordplay.

On a more personal note, I believe that it was a 1980s TV news item about William Hobbs’ work that first inspired me to take up fight direction as a career.  In fact, his 1967 book Stage Combat: The Action to the Word (with a foreword by Sir Laurence Olivier!) was among the very few resources available to me when I set out on that path.  Because there was literally no-one in my home country of New Zealand who could teach me how to become a fight director/stage combat instructor, Bill Hobbs effectively became my mentor via the written word.

When I travelled to London to attend the first ever international stage combat workshops in 1995, I carried my copy of Hobbs’ book with me. A customs agent asked what I’d be doing in England, and I explained a bit about the conference, at which he smiled broadly and asked “Will you be working with Bill Hobbs? I used to flat with him in the ’60s! Welcome to England, sir!”

The conference itself took place at London’s Roehampton Institute.  It was an amazing workshop of creative combat, with a colourful, eclectic roster of instructors and participants.  I remember that Bill seemed quite nervous as he spoke to us, and I only afterwards learned that he’d been worried that his audience of mostly young, up-and-coming fight directors would think him “old hat”.  Far from it; and I think he was a little overwhelmed by the adulation that he did, in fact, inspire in us.

After his lecture, Bill was gracious enough to sign my dog-eared copy of his book.   Many years later, I was honoured when he agreed to review and write a foreword for my own anthology of historical stage combat essays and anecdotes, A Terrific Combat!!!  Theatrical Duels, Brawls and Battles: 1800-1920 (2009).

Bravo, Maestro, and thank you; now rest in peace.

“A Secret Style of Boxing” (The Sportsman, 12 December 1904)

There’s a good deal to unpack in this advertisement for an assault-at-arms display organised by former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny, including one particularly intriguing item:


ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14 at 8 p-m. Under Distinguished Patronage.



With the participation of the societies The Tierce and Quarte Club, the Self-Defence Club, Le Centre de Quarte of London, the Japanese School of Jujitsu.

Fencing Foils, Duelling Swords, Sabres; English Boxing; French Boxing (La Savate); a Secret Style of Boxing, with numerous tricks and counters; Japanese Wrestling; Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling; Walking Stick, how anyone can defend himself in a crowd.

Foils: Mrs Roger Watts, of Fred MacPherson’s Academy, v. Madame Pierre Vigny (Miss Sanderson); Demonstration of Japanese self-defence Mr S. K. Eida and Mrs Roger Watts (first English Lady to demonstrate this wonderful system).

Reserved Seats, 16s. 6d.; Unreserved, 5s.

Tickets can obtained from Prof. Pierre Vigny, 2. Hinde-street, Manchester-square; Cafe Royale, Regent-street; and St. James’s Hall, Piccadilly.

The “Self Defence Club” was Vigny’s own school, which promoted a “combined” approach to self-defence training very much in the fashion of the Bartitsu Club, albeit with a greater emphasis on fencing than on jujutsu.   Unfortunately, comparatively little is known about Vigny’s system in its own right.

Of the demonstrators listed, it’s notable that we can now identify Madame Vigny/Miss Sanderson as Marguerite Vigny, Pierre’s wife and a frequent competitive foil fencer as well as the founder of her own system of women’s self-defence employing umbrellas and parasols.  S.K. (Surakichi) Eida was an instructor at the Japanese School of Jujitsu and went on to achieve some fame as a “jujitsu waltz” performer on the music hall stage.  Likewise, Mrs. Watts would eventually move from Japanese unarmed combat to devise her own, intricate system of physical culture inspired by ancient Greek athletics.

The reference to a “secret style of boxing, with numerous tricks and counters” is a bit of a puzzle, especially in that it seems to be contextually distinct from both English boxing and French savate.  The actual phraseology is very close to, and may well have been directly inspired by a line from a 1902 St. James’s Gazette article reviewing a Bartitsu display at the famous Bath Club, which included “(…) a secret style of wrestling, with innumerable tricks and counters.”

Perhaps the likeliest explanation is that the “secret style” was a development of the method referred to by E.W. Barton-Wright in an article from the Black and White Budget magazine, several years earlier:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, 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.

Vigny and Barton-Wright had been working together since June of 1899 and it’s clear that one of the fruits of their collaboration was a distinct modification of (kick)boxing.  This “secret style” was never explicitly detailed by either man, but Barton-Wright’s comments suggest that it involved an aggressive, street-oriented variation of “standard” boxing defences, in which the defender aimed to damage the attacker’s striking limbs:

As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in (orthodox boxing) schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously.

The other likely point of distinction was that Vigny and Barton-Wright both advocated for a more realistic, hard-hitting ethos that was then the accepted norm in French savate circles.  At this time, the majority of professional instructors in France were promoting a rather academic and courteous, light-contact version of savate, which was practiced at least as much as a form of “combat calisthenics” as a serious self-defence method.

In the context of Bartitsu per se, the innovation of  aggressive and damaging guard techniques was a prelude to finishing the fight as may be necessary at close quarters, via jujutsu.  Although the Japanese art was de-emphasised in Vigny’s school, some elements definitely were present, as described by journalist J. St. A Jewell in his 1904 article on Vigny’s school for Health and Strength Magazine:

Part was boxing, part wrestling, part Jujitsu, and part La Savate; but each move blended into the next like a piece of joiner’s dovetailing. One led and landed short, and that proved his undoing, for the next instant he was bent double, rendered helpless, and his arm was by way of being twisted out of socket. That was boxing and Jujitsu. Then the pupil rushed, driving hard with his left, but Vigny ducked aside, pivoted on his left leg and kicked on the mark with his right, in a full body swing, following up the move with back-heeling his man. That was La Savate and wrestling.

The Historical Movement Archive

Modern HEMA pioneer Brad Waller is planning a new initiative to create a permanent, international reference archive of historical movement systems via motion capture technology.  These systems will include both dance and martial arts styles that were originally recorded on paper and have been reconstructed and revived by more recent generations.

In this video manifesto, Mr. Waller explains the background and ethos of the Historical Movement Archive project.  Most of his references are to 15th and 16th century martial arts, but much of what he says can equally apply to late 19th century styles such as Bartitsu:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,I would like to share with you a concept movie that I have put together on the Historical Movement Archive. It shows where I am coming from and why I feel that this project is an important one. I will need all the guidance and help that I can get moving this project forward. I would be grateful if you get a little popcorn, sit down and take ten minutes to view the movie. Enjoy my friends!

Geplaatst door Historical Movement Archive op Donderdag 14 juni 2018

You can learn more about this worthy project and get involved via the Historical Movement Archive Facebook page.

Vigny Stick Sparring

La Canne Vigny Santiago Stickfighting

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op Donderdag 12 juli 2018

More exemplary Vigny stick fighting between Andres Morales (wearing black) and a sparring partner in this new video from the Santiago Stickfighters.