“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:

ST. JAMES’S HALL, PICCADILLY.

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

GREAT TOURNAMENT OF FENCING AND ALL- ROUND SELF-DEFENCE, given by

Prof. PIERRE VIGNY.

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.

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