“Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: the Rise of the Martial Arts in Great Britain” (2013)

Re-posted here for the benefit of newer enthusiasts who may not be aware of it, the first 12 minutes of this 2013 BBC documentary offer one of the most comprehensive mainstream media treatments of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “new art of self-defence” and of the suffragette jiujitsu phenomenon.

The documentary features interviews with historian Dr. Emelyne Godfrey and Bartitsu/suffrajitsu researcher Tony Wolf, as well as “antagonistics” demonstrations by instructors James Marwood and George Stokoe.

The Annotated “Bartitsu: Its Exponent Interviewed” (1901)

The following interview with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette of 5 September 1901, during the height of the Bartitsu Club era.  It was found and republished by the Bartitsu Society in October of 2011 and subsequently inspired several new insights into the tactics of Bartitsu as a practical martial art.

This post re-examines the interview in light of more recent discoveries, with added notes (in italics) for context and clarity.

Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu


One of our contributors lately called on Mr. Barton-Wright in his well-appointed gymnasium in Shaftesbury Avenue, when the following conversation took place:

What is the word Bartitsu? – It is a compound word, made up of parts of my own name, and of the Japanese Ju-jitsu, which means fighting to the last.

What do you claim for your system? – It teaches a man to defend himself effectively without firearms or any other weapons than a stick or umbrella, against the attack of another, perhaps much stronger or heavier than himself.

How does it differ from the usual fencing or boxing? – The fencing and boxing generally taught in schools-of-arms is too academic. Although it trains the eye to a certain extent, it is of little use except as a game played with persons who will observe the rules. Most of the hits in (single)stick or sabre play are taken up by the hilt, which a man is not very likely to take out with him on his walks.

This was a frequent theme of Barton-Wright’s (and, implicitly, of Pierre Vigny’s), and refers to the exclusion, within Vigny’s stick fighting system, of parries in the orthodox fencing-based guards of tierce and quarte.  The Vigny system was virtually unique for its time in defaulting to high or “hanging” guards, in which the defender’s stick-wielding hand is always positioned above the point of impact between the two weapons.

Barton-Wright’s pointed comment about recreational fencing and boxing being “too academic” was significant especially with regards to the ongoing “practicality vs. artistry” arguments in French martial arts circles.

The head, too, which is a part which an assailant who means business would naturally go for, is so well protected that the learner gets careless of exposing it.

And the boxing? – The same objection. The amateur is seldom taught how to hit really hard, which is what you must do in a row.

Pierre Vigny also addressed this point, in some detail, in a rare October 1900 letter published in the French journal La Constitutionelle.   In contrast to the extravagantly polite, academic style that was then being successfully promoted by Vigny’s rivals Charles and Joseph Charlemont,  the style of kickboxing taught by Vigny at the Bartitsu Club was closer to the continuous, full-contact model of English and American boxing.

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 know exactly how his victim is likely to hit and guard.

Barton-Wright here alludes to the so-called “secret style of boxing” which appears to have been a collaboration between himself and Vigny; more to follow on that subject.

And you can teach any one to protect himself against all this? – Certainly. The walking-stick play we will show you directly. 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.

Aside from hitting harder than would normally be tolerated in recreational boxing, “Bartitsu (kick)boxing” – with its emphasis on actual unarmed combat, rather than sport and exercise – notably included, as Barton-Wright discussed elsewhere, guards “done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well”.  This interview clarifies that these guards served the specific tactical purpose of damaging the opponent’s attacking limbs en route to the unarmed defender entering to close quarters.

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.

Anything else? – My own experience is that the biggest man in a fight generally tries to close. By the grips or clutches I can teach, the biggest man can be seized and made powerless in a few seconds.

Barton-Wright evidently considered jiujitsu to be something of a “secret weapon” – an entirely valid point of view at this time, because his Bartitsu School of Arms was literally the only place outside of Japan where English students could learn the “art of yielding”.  Jiujitsu was presented as the “endgame” in all of the various tactical unarmed combat scenarios proposed by Barton-Wright during this period.

If you sow this knowledge broadcast it might be bad for the police.– Yes; but it cannot be picked up without a regular course of instruction, or merely by seeing the tricks. Moreover, this is a club with a committee of gentlemen, among whom are Lord Alwyne Compton, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, and others, and no-one is taught here unless we are satisfied that he is not likely to make bad use of his knowledge.

Previous commentaries upon Bartitsu from outside observers, including some journalists, had questioned whether the art had any real application other than by “chuckers-out” (Edwardian slang for nightclub bouncers).  The Pall Mall Gazette interviewer was not the first to worry about what might happen if “hooligans” were to learn the art, though still other commentators imagined scenarios in which Bartitsu Club members might patrol “hooligan infested” areas of London to exercise their proficiency.

This skepticism over motivations raises the important point that Bartitsu was an extreme novelty in its time and place; a method of recreational antagonistics that was nevertheless practiced primarily to prepare the student for self-defence, with sporting and exercise benefits being of secondary concern.  Vetting by the Bartitsu Club’s “committee of gentlemen” was, thus,  a necessary step towards establishing social respectability. 

It must have taken you some time to work out all this? – Yes, but it was in great measure a matter of necessity. As a mining engineer in all parts of the world, I have often had to deal with very unscrupulous fighters, and, being a light man, I had to protect myself with something else than my fists.

In March of 1902, a report on a Bartitsu Club exhibition at Oxford University included the following anecdote about Barton-Wright’s perilous travels abroad; “He had frequently been attacked abroad, where they did not believe in our methods of fair play and would injure a man with a bottle, knife, chair, or any weapon which came to hand, and it was very useful to know how to prevent a man from using a knife upon one, though he might not stab one very deeply, yet there was danger of bleeding to death in some lonely place before help could be brought.

He had been attacked with picks, crowbars, scythes, spades, and various other weapons, and, as quick as he was in boxing, he was obliged to close with his man, and had he not known anything of wrestling, he would have been overpowered many times. As a means of meeting emergencies of that kind, he recommended (this) form of self-defence.”

The tactic of closing in to grappling range against opponents armed with more powerful weapons might well have influenced Barton-Wright’s collaborations with Pierre Vigny vis-a-vis Bartitsu stick fighting.  

Mr. Barton-Wright then gave our contributor a demonstration of his method. His fencing-master, M. Pierre Vigny, stripped to the waist and without any other weapon than an ordinary walking-stick, will allow you to attack him with singlestick, sabre, knife or any other short weapon without your being able to touch him, he taking all blows on what fencers call the forte of his stick. He will at the same time reply on your head, and knuckles; while, if he is given a stick with the ordinary crook handle, he will catch you by the arm, leg or back of the neck, inflicting in nearly every case a nasty fall.

He has also a guard in boxing on which you will hurt your own arm without getting within his distance, while he can kick you on the chin, in the wind, or on the ankle. As to the usual brutal kick of the London rough, his guard for it (not difficult to learn) will cause the rough to break his own leg, and the harder he kicks the worse it will be for him.

Again, emphasis is given to the destructive blocks of the “secret style of boxing” practiced at the Bartitsu Club.

Mr. Barton-Wright himself shows you wrestling tricks, by which, by merely taking hold of a man’s hand, you have him at your mercy, and can throw him on the ground or lead him about as you wish, the principle being, apparently, that you set your muscles and joints against your opponent’s in such a way that the more he struggles, the more he hurts himself.

This is one of the comparatively few concrete references to Edward Barton-Wright actually teaching at the Bartitsu Club.

A couple decidedly bad to beat.

Canne Vigny and Defense dans la Rue Seminar in Australia

Instructor and pioneering Vigny cane revivalist Craig Gemeiner will be offering a seminar in Vigny cane fighting and defense dans la rue (early 20th century French street self-defence) on Sunday, 24 February 2019. The seminar will take place at Toowoomba East State School and is being hosted by the Historical School of Defence – Toowoomba.

La canne Vigny :

The “walking stick method of self -defence”

Pierre Vigny was one of the most innovative masters of la canne. Born in 1869, he began his training at a young age venturing from one academy to another, learning new European martial arts techniques and testing his skills against anyone who would pick up a sword, stick or pair of boxing gloves. By 1889 Vigny had perfected his own method of la canne, the system could be described as a mixture of several European self -defence methods. Vigny’s stick fighting method focused on personal protection and not the academic nor sporting applications as commonly taught during the era. La canne Vigny is well documented and today practitioners are privileged to be able to tap into a system that’s time tested, versatile and still very workable on the street.

Defense dans la Rue:

As a system of personal combat Defense dans la Rue (DDLR), meaning ‘defence in the street’ was heavily influenced by the social conditions of the late 1800s. Urban violence fuelled by Parisian street gangs called the Apaches, along with the advent of Belle Epoque period mixed martial arts competition was the catalyst for its creation. Renowned as a simple but highly efficient system of self -defence, techniques included Savate open hand strikes, low line Savate kicking (Leclerc method) English boxing, grappling and weapon base skills. Since its early development Défense dans la Rue has gone on to acquire a unique style and tactical application. Defense dans la Rue is well documented and today practitioners are privileged to be able to tap into a system that’s time tested, versatile and still very workable on the street.

Please click here for class breakdowns and all other details.

“British Pickpockets and Their French Brethren” (1897)

This article from the Dublin Evening Herald of 22 December, 1897 reveals a number of the ingenious mugging and pickpocketing tricks developed by French street criminals.  A few years after this piece was written, the term “Apaches” would widely be applied to the criminal gangs of Paris, whose distinctive “gangster chic” would then inspire an international craze.

It is a current opinion in France that the national pickpockets are not at the top of their profession, says a Daily Mail writer.

This honor is reserved, in France, for the light fingered gentry of the English race. The British pickpocket is always referred to in the columns of French newspapers as an acknowledged master of this craft, as a workman of the most subtle skill and refreshing audacity. Compared with him, the native product is admitted a little sorrowfully to be a bungling tyro, whose methods are clumsy and whose daring is dubious. To be robbed by so awkward a practitioner is disgraceful as well as disagreeable, while to be eased of your purse by the former is an insult to your patriotism, in addition to an injury to your pocket.

Curiously enough, Charles Dickens is responsible to some extent for this belief in the superiority of the British pickpocket. His immortal description of the training of the thief has been popularized in France, where people are convinced that Fagin has many able successors to teach the art of picking pockets on the most improved principles.

A few years ago, a long and circumstantial account appeared in a Parisian paper of a professional training school for thieves, which the writer professed to have visited in London. The article, of course, was a pure invention; but there is no doubt that the majority of those who read it accepted it as a gospel truth, and it is an amusing fact that its author received several letters offering him money if you would forward the address of the school. Evidently the French pickpocket is not above learning, so that there is hope for him yet. It may be added the word “pickpocket” has come into general use in France, where it has almost entirely replaced the French term, “voleur a la tire”.

Probably it is slandering the native practitioner to say that all the pockets artistically picked in Paris are rifled of their contents by experts from this side of the Channel. Still, it is a fact that the Parisian thief shows a predilection for strokes of business that demand no particular talent. He is always on the lookout, for instance, for an opportunity of robbing persons who have been drinking, not wisely but too well. In one variety of this operation he is called, in French slang, the “guardian angel .” His role is to get into conversation with the toper, who is induced to accept his escort and his arm. Under these conditions, to strip the befuddled percentage of his belongings is child’s play.

A still simpler method of operating is that resorted to by the “poivrier”. This class of rogue lies in wait for the drunkard who is rash enough to go to sleep on one of the public seats that are common in the larger Parisian thoroughfares. As a rule the poivrier is able to explore the pockets of his victim without danger, but it happens occasionally that his wrist is seized in a tight grip, and he is invited to step around to the nearest police station, the pretended sleeper being a detective engaged in what is technically known as “fishing.”

A more elaborate mode of picking pockets is the “vol a l’esbrouffe. ” In this case at least two confederates are necessary. A street is chosen in which there is a fair amount of traffic. A likely victim having been marked down among the passersby, one of the thieves runs up against him, as if by accident, and, instead of apologizing for his awkwardness, lets fly a volley of abuse. A man who has been nearly upset and then insulted in this way gives the aggressor a bit of his mind, and in his excitement, and amid the gathering crowd, he is very likely not to notice that the second thief has eased him of his purse, his pocketbook, or his watch.

When his mere dexterity is at a loss, the Parisian thief often has recourse to violence. In a general way he is careful not to endanger the life of his victim. With this view he has perfected various modes of attack, which enable him to have his prey at his mercy for a few moments.

The “coup de la bascule”is a favorite expedient for robbers working alone, or “philosophers” as they are significantly termed in French thieves’ slang. Suppose a footpad sees somebody coming towards him in a lonely street. When a yard or two from the victim he makes a dart at him and with his left hand clutches him by the throat. Taken by surprise, the victim instinctively throws his head back. At this instant his assailant forces one of his legs from the ground by encircling it with his own legs, as in wrestling. The man who is assaulted is half tripped up, and naturally throws out his arms and effort to regain his balance.

His position, in fact, is very much that of the person attached to the swing board, or bascule, of the guillotine; hence the name of the coup. While the victim is in this helpless state, the thief with the right hand snatches his valuables and then, giving his man a final push or blow with his knee in the pit of the stomach, sends him rolling into the gutter, after which he himself takes to his heels. To be successful, especially if the victim be strong, this coup has to be carried out with the utmost rapidity and precision, far more quickly, indeed, then can be described.

The “coup de la petite chaise” is a sort of a variant of that just given, its object being also to make the victim lose his equilibrium for the few moments needed to allow of the robbery being effected. In this instance the assault is made from behind. The victim is seized by the collar, and the footpad then thrusts his knee into the small of his back, thus offering him what is ironically called a “little seat.” The prey once”spreadeagled” in this manner, the thief gets at his pockets over his shoulder. But the nature of the operation and the aptness with which it is named will be best understood by a glance at the illustration:

Both the coups just described and one or two others similar to them are risky. The chances are all against the victim at the outset, but once he is out of the hands of his assailant, there is nothing to prevent him from screaming for help, or even from turning the tables on his aggressor. A very superior invention from the point of view of the footpad, and a much more dangerous one from that of the victim, is the “coup du pere François .”

In this case two “operators” are necessary. One of them, provided with a stout and long scarf, closes up with the victim from behind, throws the scarf around his neck, turns around sharply, and with a jerk hoists the man he has lassooed upon his back. The confederate then “runs the rule” over the victim, who cannot scream because he is half throttled, and who very probably is in a swoon, the result of strangulation, before the proceedings are terminated.

Ingenious, however, as the contrivance is, it has its drawbacks. The process of strangulation may go to far and be fatal to the victim. Without the least intention of making so ugly a mistake the thieves find themselves murderers, and run the risk of “sneezing into the sack”, which is their picturesque way of saying “being guillotined.”

Such, then, are a few of the methods of the typical Parisian rogue, and those who know the British product will readily admit that for sheer brutality, if not dexterity, his French brother surpasses him easily.

For more details on these and other mugging tricks applied in the mean streets of the French capital, see “Footpads of Paris: How French Thugs Ply Their Thieving Trade”

Finally, this video demonstrates a number of pickpocketing tricks still in use today, along with common-sense defences against them:

“A Novel Ju Jitsu Demonstration” (1904)

This article from the Sporting Life of 21 December, 1904 includes a possibly-unique report of former Bartitsu Club instructors Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi working together again during the years following the Club’s dissolution.  It also represents one of the very first public exhibitions of Japanese unarmed combat by women, presaging both the craze for “jujitsu parties” and the more serious association of jujitsu with the women’s suffrage movement.

The British public are no strangers to ju-jitsu, but it is something of a novelty to see it demonstrated by two daughters of Albion.

Tani’s performances have familiarised many with the commoner manoeuvres, such the fatal arm-lock and the outside-right click, beloved of Jonathan Whitehead, the renowned wrestler of a past generation, but to the Cockney mind ju-jitsu still savours largely of mystery and magic.

In a sense, it does partake of the latter character, and at a demonstration by members of the School of Jujitsu at the Caxton Hall, it was defined as the defence of oneself by sleight of body; the utilisation of your opponent’s strength by taking ingenious advantage of the human anatomy.  To accomplish this, the master of ceremonies emphasised the need of studying the art of yielding, as opposed to resisting. Probably this is why wrestlers living outside of Japan have generally shown but limited aptitude for ju-jitsu, the act of yielding being in conflict with their natural instincts.

Those well-known exponents Tani and Uyenishi, were to the fore in illustrating the countless holds, locks, chips, and counters, and a contest between two cheery little compatriots ot theirs in Messrs. Eida and Kanaya raised the audience a high pitch of excitement when “Time!” applied its unwelcome veto.

In the course of the programme two English ladies, Mrs. Watts and Miss Roberts, exhibited some of the tricks of the art. They ware only billed to display of the more elementary points, but they certainly lacked nothing in facility of execution. Mrs. Watts also gave a demonstration with Mr. Eida, whom she appeared to match in proficiency as well as in composure, and – allowing that it was merely an exhibition – this lady showed that she had been an apt pupil.

Another performer was Mr. Miyake, who is much heavier than the other Japanese exponents, though he shares their characteristic agility.

Indeed the whole demonstration, which it is difficult to adequately describe on paper, exemplified in an unmistakable manner that, apart from other advantages, ju-jitsu is invaluable for the cultivation of suppleness. The various turns were of highly attractive order, and testified the sublety which underlies the art. At the same time, the yielding theory is apparently open to qualification. On numerous occasions the exponents undoubtedly practised this principle, but on several others they obviously resisted. This, of course, is only logical, as a policy of “passive resistance” carried to the end must spell subjugation — at any rate, on the mat.

The value of the system is strongly shown in the physiques of its votaries, and the fact of its being a regular part of the Japanese soldier’s training has probably contributed more the success of the Island Empire in Far East campaign than appears on the surface, for it develops the mental well as the physical qualities.

A number of ladies were deeply interested spectators of the proceedings, as were many of the performers’ fellow countrymen.

Yukio Tani at the Royal Albert Hall (1904)

Tani executes a rear scissor choke submission hold.

This sketch series by Percy F.S. Spence records moments from former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani’s matches at the Royal Albert Hall on July 2, 1904.  The sketches were originally published in the Illustrated London News two days after the event.

The main event that night featured a “best two out of three” heavyweight Graeco-Roman wrestling championship match between George “The Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt and Tom Jenkins, which was won by Hackenschmidt.

Tani won all three of his matches within fifteen minutes.

The “Sinbad” reference may be an allusion to the similarity between Tani’s acrobatic throws and the “knockabout” style of slapstick comedy seen in Edwardian-era pantomimes.
A possibly unique depiction of Tani doing a full handstand.

Bartitsu Seminar in Yorkshire

Members of the Tree of Shields historical fencing club (Yorkshire, UK) pose after a recent Bartitsu seminar with instructor Kevin Allmond of the Haworth Industrial Bartitsu Club.

Shields! Bartitsu night was a pain in the neck… Geddit.Tom

Geplaatst door Tree of Shields op Maandag 31 juli 2017

Above: Kevin Allmond demonstrates a neo-Bartitsu umbrella takedown.

Sadakazu Uyenishi Saves a Drowning Man (?) in Belfast (1906)

After the Bartitsu Club closed in mid-1902, most of the instructors continued independent careers as instructors and combat sport athletes.  Although Sadakazu Uyenishi was better-known as an instructor than as a challenge wrestler, he did successfully tour the music halls “taking on all comers” under his professional pseudonym, Raku.

In August of 1906, Uyenishi’s engagements brought him to Belfast, Ireland, where he made the news for something other than his martial arts proficiency.  This event was reported in a number of regional papers, including the Belfast Weekly News:


Rescue by a Japanese Wrestler

Raku, the Japanese exponent of Jujitsu wrestling, who has during the week been appearing at the Palace, was walking across the Queen’s Bridge yesterday afternoon, in company with Mr. Harris, the manager of the Palace, when they noticed a man struggling in the water. Without the slightest hesitation the Jap. divested himself of his coat, and running down to the Bangor Jetty dived into the water.

Raku, who is a powerful swimmer, soon reached the drowning man and succeeded in keeping his bead above water until ferryboat came to the rescue. The men were landed at the ferry steps near the Queen’s Bridge, and – the famous wrestler having applied the Japanese method artificial respiration – the man soon recovered and was able to proceed home. It appears that he fell into the water from a boat while endeavouring to recover a lost oar.

In fairness, these events may well have played out exactly as reported.  Uyenishi was, by other reports, a good swimmer and all-round athlete, and either he or Tani had previously been reported as having applied a kuatsu-style resuscitation technique to bring around an unconscious wrestling opponent.

It would be remiss, however, not to note the possibility of “swank”.  Edwardian-era show business was far from immune from staging publicity stunts to generate controversy and ticket sales.  A journalist from the Northern Whig offered a very polite note of surprise, if not overt skepticism, about one aspect of the story:

The ambulance was sent for, but the rescued individual, who had been brought round by the attentions of the gallant Raku, declined to enter it, preferring to go home in a car. His name and address do not seem have been elicited either by the rescuer or the ambulance men. This was rather a pity, because, when a public character like Raku effects a daring public rescue, the public like to know something about the identity of the rescued.

The rescued man’s name and address were then, seemingly, discovered, as subsequently reported by the Belfast News-Letter:


At the Palace

At the second performance at the Palace on Saturday evening, an interesting extra turn was supplied when Raku, the famous Japanese wrestler, was presented with a handsome gold watch in recognition of his gallantry in saving a man from drowning in the Lagan at the Queen’s Bridge 17th inst.

It will remembered that Raku, who was engaged at the Palace last week, was walking over the Queen’s Bridge on the Friday afternoon, when he saw a man in the water. He immediately divested himself of his coat, jumped into the river, and succeeded in keeping the man’s head above water until a ferry boat came to the rescue. The rescued man, whose name is Frank Reynolds, residing in Unity Street, soon recovered, and was little the worse of his immersion.

A number of local gentlemen formed themselves together and subscribed towards the presentation to the plucky Jap. Mr. Harris, the manager of the Palace, in making the presentation, said that he had been asked on behalf of the subscribers to hand over the gold watch in a token appreciation Mr. Raku’s heroic conduct. (Mr. Harris) was sure that he was only expressing the sentiments of the audience when he hoped that the famous wrestler would be long spared to wear it. (Applause.)

Mr. Raku’s manager, in reply, returned thanks, and said Raku desired him say that he had only done what any Britisher or Japanese would have done – namely, gone to the assistance of a man who was in danger of losing his life. (Applause.)

So – in August of 1906, Sadakazu Uyenishi may have heroically saved a man from drowning in the Lagan River, or may have been the key figure in a very elaborate publicity stunt.  Either version makes for a colourful story.