The Sting of the Green Hornet

Having previously shone a spotlight on John SteedAdam Adamant and Harry Hart, it’s fitting that our periodic documentation of the use of umbrella and cane weapons by fictional heroes should now focus on Britt Reid – better known to generations of pop-culture aficionados as the Green Hornet.

The Hornet was created in 1936 for a WXYZ radio serial produced by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker.  As such, the character narrowly pre-dated the costumed superhero tradition generally (though arguably) conceded to have begun with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, which was published in April of 1938.  From the successful radio series, the Hornet flew straight into a movie serial, pulp novels, comic books and, most famously, a 1966-7 TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee.

In common with many of his predecessors, Britt Reid was a wealthy businessman who assumed a masked persona to foil wrongdoers who considered themselves to be above the law.   As far as the police, the general public or the criminal underworld were aware, however, the Green Hornet was, himself, a mob boss; Reid believed that the best way to dismantle crime was from within.  He and his partner/bodyguard Kato employed a range of ingenious weapons and gadgets, most famously including the Black Beauty – a “rolling arsenal” in the guise of a tricked out sedan – and the “hornet sting”, an extendable sonic ray gun that could destroy locks or even blow doors off their hinges.  The “sting” also occasionally doubled as a cane weapon in hand-to-hand combat.

The fight scenes in the Green Hornet TV series are typical of their vintage, apart from the unique and indelible presence of Bruce Lee, whose gung fu skills were first showcased for a mainstream audience as Kato.  The Hornet’s own fighting style was the standard ’60s Hollywood concoction of cowboy haymakers and general roughhousing, except for when he happened to have the hornet sting in his hands at the moment the action kicked off.  Under those circumstances, the masked hero tended (sensibly enough) to hold the weapon in an extended “bayonet grip”, using the shaft to parry or block incoming punches and retaliating with bar strikes; he also very occasionally used single-handed strikes to disarm enemies at close quarters.

Here’s a quick compilation of excerpts from the Green Hornet series mostly showcasing the hornet sting as a close-combat weapon:

The tone of The Green Hornet series was much darker and more realistic than that of the contemporaneous Batman show, which was produced by the same company.  It did not, however, achieve Batman’s pop-culture resonance and lasted only one season.  The characters of the Green Hornet and Kato have lived on via sporadic comic book revivals and in the 2011 action-comedy feature film starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou.

“Let’s See Him!” (1901)

Even by September of 1901, with the Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue well-established and Bartitsu itself the subject of much media attention, E.W. Barton-Wright suffered ongoing frustrations in persuading European wrestlers to take on his Japanese champions.  This article from the Morning Post of September 19th records how one would-be challenge match was called off at the last possible moment.

Mr. Barton-Wright’s “Another way of breaking the same fall” was the first thing one heard last night on entering the Tivoli. One might have thought, to look at it, that it was another way of breaking the same bone. An enormous audience had assembled to see a Russian light-weight wrestler try conclusions with one of Mr. Barton-Wright’s Japanese exponents of Bartitsu.

However, no collision between Russia and Japan was forthcoming on this occasion. Mr. Barton-Wright informed the audience that the challenger was in the house, was indeed in the wings, but had thought better his challenge. This led to some interruption: there were clearly two parties in the house. Mr. Barton-Wright proceeded say that had vainly offered the challenger £lOO, not by way of wager but as a gift, if he scored a single throw.

Then, after more interruption, Mr. Dowsett, the manager, came forward and confirmed Mr. Barton-Wright’s statement. £lOO had been deposited with him; he had Mr. Barton- Wright’s bank-note in his pocket.

And so the exhibition ran its usual course. One cannot blame anybody for keeping out the clutches of the Japanese wrestlers, whose art includes much that in England, and probably Russia, is looked on as foul play. But one should think of that before issuing a challenge, and not at the last moment, when others have gone to inconvenience in order to see the promise kept. In any case, the challenger might have responded to the cry, “Let’s see him” by endeavouring to hold the Japanese wrestler down.

It seems that the Japanese are to find no opponents, unless, indeed, a meeting can be arranged (it might be out and home) with the lions at the Hippodrome. Meanwhile, one would much like to know of what material the Japanese wrestlers’ dresses are made. It seems durable.

A report from the Music Hall Gossip newspaper of September 21st offered the tantalising further detail that the would-be challenger had offered to fight Tani or Uyenishi in his own (presumably Russian) style, while the champions employed their jiujitsu.  Alas, it was not to be.

Vigny Cane Vs. Multiple Opponents

Chilean instructor Andres Morales experiments with the Vigny style against not one, not two, but three stick-wielding opponents in this new video:

Una prueba 1 vs 3 por 20 segundos, utilizando walking stick.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op Vrijdag 14 december 2018

The experimental sparring match is reminiscent of this multiple-attacker sequence from E.W. Barton-Wright’s Self-Defence with a Walking Stick (1901):

… particularly Barton-Wright’s advice to “swing your stick right and left across people’s heads and faces until they disperse”. Incidentally, Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton once demonstrated an almost identical stick defence sequence during an interview with a London Daily Telegraph reporter.

Did E.W. Barton-Wright Actually Teach at the Bartitsu Club?

Edward Barton-Wright prepares for battle.

After some 16 years of intensive research, we now know a good deal about the origins and day-to-day workings of the Bartitsu School of Arms, a.k.a. the Bartitsu Club.  One question that remains, though, is whether Edward Barton-Wright – the originator of Bartitsu and the founder of the Club – actually taught there.

By his own account, Barton-Wright possessed a “lifelong interest in the arts of self defence”.  Even before spending three years studying martial arts in Japan, he had trained in “boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters”, reportedly testing his skills by “engaging toughs (street fighters) until (he) was satisfied in their application.” By all other accounts, including those of seemingly impartial witnesses such as Captain F.C. Laing, Edward Barton-Wright was, indeed, a rugged and skilled fighter.

We also have evidence that Barton-Wright actively encouraged the Bartitsu Club instructors to teach each other their specialties.  In a 1950 interview with London Budokwai founder Gunji Koizumi, Barton-Wright reminisced about trying to teach Yukio Tani to box, though he remarked that Tani “had no aptitude for the sport”.  Similarly, wrestler Armand Cherpillod trained with Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi prior to representing the Bartitsu Club in a much-hyped challenge match against Joe Carroll; Cherpillod later confessed that he believed that the Japanese instructors were withholding some of their more advanced techniques from him.

Captain Alfred Hutton was rather a special case, in that although he was a Bartitsu Club instructor, his fencing classes were very likely not considered to be part of the “Bartitsu curriculum” (such as it was).  Hutton himself was, however, an enthusiastic student of Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting and of Tani and Uyenishi’s jiujitsu.  Hutton commented that while he was too old to practice jiujitsu as “free play” or sparring,  he had nevertheless learned “about 80 kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful.”

Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Barton-Wright collaborated with stick-fighting and savate instructor Pierre Vigny in at least two areas. One outcome was a melding of Vigny’s stick fighting with Barton-Wright’s jiujitsu, as shown in the latter’s articles for Pearson’s Magazine and later referred to by Captain Laing.  The other was the so-called “secret style of boxing”, also occasionally referred to as “Bartitsu (boxing)”, that was alluded to in several of Barton-Wright’s essays and public presentations.  After the Bartitsu Club closed during mid-1902, Vigny continued to teach a very Bartitsu-like blend of antagonistics styles, albeit with a much greater emphasis on fencing than on jiujitsu.

Direct evidence for Barton-Wright himself actually teaching classes is, however, scanty.  English self-defence authority Percy Longhurst referred to learning a particular throw directly from Barton-Wright, while the anonymous author of the 1901 article Defence Against “Hooligans” referred to Barton-Wright keeping “an admonishing eye” over the classes instructed by Tani, Vigny et al.  Allowing for journalistic license, one imagines that the instructors might rather have resented the admonishment.

The anonymous author of an interview with Barton-Wright that appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette of 5 September 1901 also described Barton-Wright teaching jiujitsu at the Club, although it isn’t entirely clear whether this was a matter of regular practice or whether a special case was made for the reporter.

While Barton-Wright was, in fact, the only Bartitsu Club principal who had active prior experience in all of the key methods taught at the Club, his own experience on a per-discipline basis paled in comparison with that of the specialist instructors.  Pierre Vigny was clearly the best-qualified to instruct students in the fine points of savate and of his own method of walking stick defence, and although Tani and Uyenishi were very young men at the time, they had both started training as children and their practical jiujitsu experience clearly far surpassed Barton-Wright’s.

During an interview for the 2011 documentary Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, martial arts historian Graham Noble observed that:

If you have a club where there are Japanese jiujitsu instructors teaching jiujitsu, people teaching French boxing, people teaching boxing – how do you bring those together?  Well, the problem is that the instructors themselves can’t bring it together.  The jiujitsu teachers can’t engage with the students in boxing, the savate people or the boxe Francaise people can’t engage with the jiujitsu people in terms of jiujitsu, because they don’t have the experience.  So (Barton-Wright) was probably, initially, the only one who understood what his system was!  He was probably the only “master of Bartitsu”!

So we have an embryonic art.  The only way that art can develop is if you develop a body of students who can then compete against each other.

Speculatively, therefore, it may be that Barton-Wright’s main role as an instructor was to supervise the preliminary training required of all new members of the Club.  The Bartitsu School of Arms offered an unusual pedagogical system in that beginners had first to complete a course of private lessons before being permitted to join the group classes.  Journalist Mary Nugent noted that “no class-work is allowed to be done until the whole of the exercises are perfectly acquired individually”.

We know little about the nature of these private classes except that they  included a course of physical culture exercises to prepare students for the demands of Bartitsu training.  Given his “jack of all trades” status, Barton-Wright himself would, perhaps, have been the best-qualified instructor to devise and implement such a course, which may have included preparatory exercises drawn from each of the key styles; thereby also freeing the specialist instructors to concentrate on their more advanced sessions.  Thereafter, Barton-Wright might have supervised classes (or simply offered tips) in blending the various specialisms together, as in his collaborations with Vigny.

We await the discovery of further details on the practical role Barton-Wright played in developing his “New Art of Self Defence”.

The Christmas Truce of 1914

In this holiday season marking one century since the end of the First World War, we depart from our usual coverage of Edwardian-era antagonistics to highlight the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce.

Although the Truce has been subject to some mythologising since the 1970s, the facts of the matter are extraordinary in themselves.  Defying strict orders against any type of fraternisation with the enemy, spontaneous cease-fires took place up and down the Western Front during late December of 1914.  Sections of No Man’s Land were briefly transformed into common ground, as handshakes, seasonal greetings and small gifts were exchanged between English, French and German soldiers.  Under mutual respite, carols were sung and the bodies of the fallen were buried.   Evidence strongly suggests that at least one 30-a-side football game was played.

May the unique lesson of the Christmas Truce inspire all fighters to recall the values of dignity, charity, respect and fellowship.

The Christmas Truce

by Carol Ann Duffy (2013)

Christmas Eve in the trenches of France, the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man’s Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel, sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother’s eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

In a copse of trees behind the lines, a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin holding his winter ground –
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
a few lit pipes;
most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
waiting for sleep.
The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.

But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief thrilled the night air,
where glittering rime on unburied sons
treasured their stiff hair.
The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.

On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
no sign of life,
no shadows, shots from snipers, nowt to note or report.
The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.

Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes,
as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone, candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.

Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot, or vaporised
by falling shells, or live to tell, heard for the first time then –
Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …

Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge from man to man;
a gift to the heart from home,
or childhood, some place shared …
When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.

A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
and all joined in,
till the Germans stood, seeing
across the divide,
the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.

All night, along the Western Front, they sang, the enemies –
carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems, in German, English, French;
each battalion choired in its grim trench.

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself
and offer the day like a gift
for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!

A young Berliner, brandishing schnapps,
was the first from his ditch to climb.
A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.

Then it was up and over, every man, to shake the hand
of a foe as a friend,
or slap his back like a brother would;
exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie’s stew,

Tickler’s jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
beer, sauerkraut;
or chase six hares, who jumped
from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
and make of a battleground a football pitch.

I showed him a picture of my wife. Ich zeigte ihm
ein Foto meiner Frau.
Sie sei schön, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.

They buried the dead then, hacked spades into hard earth
again and again, till a score of men
were at rest, identified, blessed.  Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.

And all that marvellous, festive day and night, they came and went,
the officers, the rank and file, their fallen comrades side by side
beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves…

… beneath the shivering, shy stars
and the pinned moon
and the yawn of History;
the high, bright bullets
which each man later only aimed at the sky.

“Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” DVD Now Available in English!

An English-language version of the instructional DVD Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick is now available via this link and will become available to the US market via the Freelance Academy Press.  The DVD was produced by and features Bartitsu instructor Alex Kiermayer assisted by Christoph Reinberger.

The new English-language version is also expected to become accessible as a paid streaming video series via Vimeo in the near future.

We will be offering a review of the entire lesson series soon!  In the meantime, here are two excerpts in the original German language:

“The Mechanical Prizefighter” (1906)

An ingenious solution to the problem of finding (or simply wearing out) sparring partners is detailed in this short article from the Scientific American of July 7, 1906.

To accommodate the needs of the professional boxer, as well as to instruct the novie in the “noble art of self-defense”, Mr. Charles Lindsey, of New Britain, Conn., has invented an automatic sparring machine.  

This machine is really a formidable fighter, and has already gained quite an enviable reputation in the many encounters it has had with local talent. Not only does it deliver straight leads and counters, but it varies these with an occasional uppercut, and its blows are rained with a speed and power that are the envy of the professional boxer.

The machine does not “telegraph,” that is, it does not give a warning of a coming blow by a preliminary backward jerk, which is so common to all but the best of boxers.  Nor can the opponent escape these blows by side-stepping, because the automaton will follow him from one side to the other. At each side of the opponent is a trapdoor, connected with the base of the machine in such a way that when he steps on one or other of these doors, the machine will swing around toward him.

The arms of the mechanical boxer are fitted with spring plungers, which are connected with crank handles turned by machinery. Separate crankshafts are used for the right and left arms, and they carry pulleys between which an idle pulley is mounted. These pulleys are connected with the main driving pulley by a belt which is shifted from side to side, bringing first one and then the other of the boxing arms into action. The belt-shifter is operated by an irregular cam at the bottom of the machine, and this gives no inkling as to which fist is about to strike.

Aside from this, the body of the boxer is arranged to swing backward or forward under the control of an irregular cam, so that the blows will land in different places on the opponent; for instance, a backward swing of the body will deliver an uppercut. The machine is driven by an electric motor, and can be made to rain blows as rapidly as the best boxer can receive them, or it may be operated slowly for the instruction of the novice. As the machine is fitted with spring arms and gloves, an agile opponent can ward off the blows and thus protect himself.

By 1939 a simplified version of the mechanical pugilist, employing trigger-activated pneumatic pistons, was being touted by its inventor, Frederick Westendorf:

C.F. also the various contrivances of boxing armour produced by eager pugilist/inventors around the turn of the 20th century.

“Jiu-Jitsu with the Umbrella” (1909)

A concise sketch illustration of some of the umbrella self-defence techniques taught by Marguerite Vigny, the wife of Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny. Madame Vigny – who also went by the name “Miss Sanderson” – devised her own method of self-protection, based upon her husband’s but specialising in the use of parasols and umbrellas rather than walking sticks, the latter being more typically carried by men than by women.

Madame Vigny’s method favoured thrusting attacks with the steel ferrule – referred to by Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright as “bayonet thrusts” – and hooking attacks with the crook handle, the latter backed up by the judicious use of the feet and knees.

Umbrella defence had previously enjoyed a brief media vogue during 1904, when several articles about Mademoiselle Marie Gelas appeared in American newspapers. Further articles on the Gelas method, especially highlighting umbrella techniques, were published in 1908/09, coinciding with reports on Madame Vigny’s system.

A sketch based on one of Marie Gelas’ demonstrations.

The notion of women’s self-defence via bumbershoot was then largely forgotten until circa 1970, when Los Angeles radio producer and fencing enthusiast Jill Maina devised her own take on the art.

“The Art of Self-Defence by Jiu-Jitsu Methods” (1918)

A full-page, colour ad for a 1918 film starring the notorious Captain Leopold McLaglen, whose martial arts misadventures are detailed in this article (note that his name was frequently spelled “McLaglan” in publicity releases, etc.)

Going by the rifle/bayonet theme, the now-lost film probably featured a demonstration of his bayonet fighting system, which he taught to numerous national militaries during the First World War.  Giving credit where it’s due, it’s possible that the McLaglen method, which included an emphasis on jiujitsu-like close-combat techniques, may have been better-suited to the grim realities of trench warfare than the more orthodox, “charge and stab” systems taught in most boot camps of the period.

A certificate awarded by Leo McLaglen to a jiujitsu trainee (1922).

The “Secret Science of Warra” may, conceivably, have been a garbled version of yawara – a term which generally refers to short fist-load stick weapons, but which was also sometimes used synonymously with jiujitsu.  Exactly what Leopold McLaglen may have meant by it is anyone’s guess.

Another Video of Pugilistic Sparring

Here’s another take on “classic pugilism” sparring, this time by participants at the 2018 HEMAC event in Dijon, France.  In contrast to the recently-posted video of a generic mid-late 19th century style, the specific style here is inspired by that of Daniel Mendoza, a famous champion of the late 1700s who is sometimes referred to as “the father of scientific boxing”.