About the Bartitsu Society

Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu
Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu

Origins: 1898-1902

In March of 1899, readers of an article appearing in London’s Pearson’s Magazine were intrigued to learn that a “New Art of Self Defence” had been introduced to their city. The author of the article and founder of the New Art was Edward William Barton-Wright, whose life and contributions to the martial arts are the subjects of this website.

As detailed in the series of articles Barton-Wright authored between 1899 and 1902, his New Art – which he referred to as Bartitsu – was largely drawn from various ko-ryu (“old school”) forms of jiujitsu. Over the next several years he also incorporated tactics and combat techniques from British boxing, kicking, and a stick fighting style that had been developed by a Swiss Maitre d’Armes, Pierre Vigny. As such, Bartitsu – the word was a portmanteau of “Barton-Wright” and “jiujitsu”, defined by Barton-Wright himself as “self-defence in all its forms” – became the first combat system to combine Asian and European martial arts.

Bartitsu was taught at the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in Soho and promoted through a series of articles, interviews, exhibitions and well-publicised challenge matches, the latter pitting Barton-Wright’s Japanese and Swiss champions against exponents of various other combat sports. These challenges anticipated the mixed martial arts craze of the 1990s by nearly one hundred years; Edward William Barton-Wright was a man well and truly ahead of his time.

However, after a brief heyday at the turn of the 20th century, the Bartitsu Club closed down under mysterious circumstances and Barton-Wright’s art was all but forgotten for the next hundred years, apart from a cryptic but significant reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1902 short story, The Adventure of the Empty House.  

Reichenbach baritsu

In that story, which marked the return of the Great Detective from a long hiatus in which he had been assumed to be dead, it was revealed that Holmes had, in fact, saved his own life through his knowledge of what Doyle referred to as “baritsu”.  While Barton-Wright’s martial art faded into obscurity, particularly following the cultural chaos of the First World War, the immense popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories ensured that “baritsu” would continue to intrigue generations of fans and scholars throughout the 20th century.

 

Revival: 2002-present day

In 2001 the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences (EJMAS) website began to re-publish many of Barton-Wright’s magazine articles, which had been uncovered in the British Library Archives by the late martial arts historian Richard Bowen. Almost immediately, the Self Defence with a Walking Stick articles attracted a minor cult following and the illustrations were reproduced, often with humorous captions or other alterations, on a number of other websites.

In 2002, one century after the original Bartitsu Club had closed down, author and Bartitsu enthusiast Will Thomas set up an email list to communicate with others of like mind. This correspondence developed into an international association of colleagues known as the Bartitsu Society, which was formed to research E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

Although initially focussed on academic and historical documentation, the charter of the Bartitsu Society quickly grew to encompass reviving the art at the practical level.

The first task was to gather as much primary source information as possible about Barton-Wright and his martial art, and towards this goal, members of the Society scoured institutions such as the British Library as well as old bookstores and newspaper archives. Eventually, the Society had enough information to be able to confidently define “Canonical Bartitsu”; the collection of self defence sequences, kata and techniques that were specifically presented as Bartitsu by Barton-Wright and his associates between 1899 and 1902. Canonical Bartitsu is maintained as a mark of respect for Barton-Wright’s vision, as a matter of historical/cultural preservation and also as a form of common technical and tactical “language” amongst contemporary enthusiasts.

Having established the Bartitsu canon, the Society then turned its attention to the idea of neo-Bartitsu. This was suggested as a way for Bartitsu enthusiasts to continue the martial arts cross-training experiments that Barton-Wright had begun.

Neo-Bartitsu was also conceived as a way to extend the art through reference to the corpus of boxing, wrestling, jiujitsu, savate and stick-fighting methods recorded in the books produced by Barton-Wright’s colleagues and their students between 1903 and the early 1920s. In this sense, by creatively combining both the canon and the “lineage” material, neo-Bartitsu can be described as “Bartitsu as it might have been” or as “Bartitsu as it can be today.”

By 2004, members of the Society had begun offering practical workshops in both canonical and neo-Bartitsu techniques.

In August of 2005 the Society published a book, the Bartitsu Compendium, which details the complete history of the art as well as a technical curriculum for canonical Bartitsu. Proceeds from the sales of the book were dedicated to creating an appropriate memorial for E.W. Barton-Wright and to furthering the study of Bartitsu as a recreational martial art.

Three years later, in August 2008 the Society published the second volume of the Compendium, providing further resources for continuing Barton-Wright’s work. Containing excerpts from multiple self defence manuals of the era, as well as newspaper records and other archival material, this volume supports the development of Neo-Bartitsu approaches.

2008 also saw the establishment of Bartitsu.org as the Internet’s premiere website for all matters Bartitsuvian, and since then this site has averaged around 100,000 hits per year.

The release of the feature films Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), both of which emphasised Holmes’ “action hero” side, spawned a massive increase of popular interest in Bartitsu, resulting in numerous mainstream and new media presentations and the establishment of many new Bartitsu clubs and training groups throughout the world.

Marylebone displayThe Bartitsu Society has also contributed funding and expertise towards memorials for E.W. Barton-Wright, including an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a permanent wall display in the Sherlock Holmes Collection at London’s Marylebone Library (both in 2012) and a prominent role in the 2013 BBC television documentary Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting: The Rise of the Martial Arts in Great Britain.

The Bartitsu Society was heavily involved in the production of the 2011 feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, as well as three international “School of Arms” events (2011-13) and numerous short-term training seminars and ongoing courses.  Our consultancy, historic image archives and other resources have been used in TV and radio documentaries, situation comedies, video games, novels, graphic novels and role-playing games.

Throughout, our mission has remained the same; to serve as an apolitical, informal association of colleagues, fostering the preservation and extension of the unique martial arts experiment begun by E.W. Barton-Wright in 1898.

23 thoughts on “About the Bartitsu Society”

  1. We don’t know much about the boxing that Barton-Wright included in Bartitsu. He said that he had modified boxing to better suit it for self defence, so we assume that he was teaching Queensberry rules (which was the established style circa 1900) but with modifications that might have resembled London Prize Ring pugilism.

  2. Very impressive and informative site, good luck with reintroducing Bartitsu I am sure people would be very interested in learning it. It is a shame that it didnt stay as popular as want it once seemed as it may have been on par with jujutsu or other forms of eastern martial arts in the UK and alike

  3. You never know James just look at how popular wrestling has become of late, granted due to the mixed martial arts scene. Let us know how you doing, at present I teach jujutsu and always looking for something new and challenging.

  4. hey,

    i live in sydney and i doubt that there is a group over here that is close, i am only 16 as well so it would be even harder to find a group that would take me, my mum suggested i read a bibliography on Barton-Wright last year and then we saw the style in Sherlock Holmes. i am very interested in this form of self defense and i was wondering if, at the least, there was some sort of text that explained this style in more detail because i am very keen to learn it.
    cheers

  5. Hi Jonny,

    as far as I know, the closest thing to a Bartitsu club anywhere near Sydney is Craig Gemeiner’s Gold Coast academy – http://gemeineracademy.wordpress.com/ . Craig doesn’t teach Bartitsu per se, but he is an expert instructor of la defense dans la rue, which is an eclectic self defence system that was popular in France at the turn of the 20th century.

    If you’re particularly interested in reading about Bartitsu, I strongly suggest reading both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium – you’ll easily find them via Google search.

    You should also join the discussions on the Bartitsu Forum – http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/Bartitsu_Forum/ .

    Cheers,

    Tony

  6. First off let me say how happy I am to have found this sight. I am a life long martial arts practitioner/teacher and the history and philosophy is as important to me as the physical aspects. I have been familiar with Bartitsu for years as through my numerous books and research turned up lots of information on William Baton-Wright. I never would have guessed that an actual society would be started to bring the art back. I live in the United States in NJ. I would love to be involved however possible in this endeavor. William Barton-Wright was the first man to introduce MMA to the world a full century before Bruce Lee.

    Mike
    mp75ftw@yahoo.com

  7. At 1st June 2010 created Ukrainian group of studying BARTITSU in the limits of Federation of assistance to development of Martial arts “A world way” in Odessa (Ukraine). Also generated the technical committee of group for preparation of instructors in this kind of Martial arts, and developed the program of development BARTITSU in Ukraine. For enthusiasts Bartitsu mitinis@mail.ru

  8. Hi, this is Oliver, editorial journalist of German knife magazine (www.messermagazin.de), GEAR magazine and Schwert & Klinge. Schwert & Klinge is a special issue, dealing only with swords, ancient weapons and authentic fighting techniques. For upcoming issue I’d like to do a report on Bartitsu. Perhaps someone of Bartitsu Society might contact me. Thanks and best regards from Bavaria, Germany
    Oliver

  9. It is superb that this British art has been reborn thanks to all the members and ethusiasts from the Bartitsu Society and their collective hard work. Lets hope it continues to grow and be appreciated in the 21st Century. Well done everyone.

  10. Dear Sirs,
    Very nice and informative site, not only for a Sherlock Holmes aficionado, but a martial arts fan, too. Thanks for your work. I found it very useful. And regret not being able to join the SHSL and your demonstration last year.
    Best regards from (once) Scandalous Bohemia
    aleSH

  11. Dear Bartitsu Society,
    I am glad to have found this Martial Arts website haphazardly and would like to know if it is practiced today and where one can learn the techniques. I shall be grateful if you send me information on the pristine founder and whether it is a registered organization granting representation to those interested to learn it and promote the “rediscovered martial art Bartitsu” in one’s country- in my case Iran.
    I have a number of published articles in EJMAS (2004-2006) on Kendo which I have opened clubs in Tehran and a number of other provinces in my country since 2000. I have registered the kendo organization in my country with sports and youth ministry. I have visited many European countries including France, Belgium, the Netherlands plus South Korea and India and invited masters from the US, Bulgaria, etc. to visit Iran and teach kendo. I have translated the book Kendo Arts of Japanese Swordsmanship by Sasamori into Farsi.

    kindest regards

    Hossein Karamyar

  12. Hello Hossein,

    the Bartitsu Society is an informal organisation. We encourage experienced martial artists who are interested in helping to revive the art to set up their own clubs and training courses. There is a list of clubs here – http://www.bartitsu.org/index.php/about/bartitsu-today/ – and a guide to self-training here – http://www.bartitsu.org/index.php/about/bartitsu-today/modern-bartitsu-clubs-and-training/ .

    I strongly suggest that you should join the Bartitsu Forum email list as a way to communicate with other enthusiasts – http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/Bartitsu_Forum/ .

    Regards,

    Tony Wolf

  13. Hi.
    I am a life long Martial artist. Mainly Judo,and Jiu juts..Great site.i came up on it while looking up Percy Longhurst..I am a collecter of Judo books,and have his first edition of,Jiu Jitsu,and other methods of self defence.Published 1906.plus 3 others..Will now make regular visits to this site.
    Thank you and Kind Regards.Maurie.

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