“Bartitsu in the American Context”

The excellent Kung Fu Tea blog offers this well-researched post towards answering a question posed by Dr. Emelyne Godfrey in reviewing Diane Rouse’s book Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self Defense Movement. Specifically, how was E. W. Barton-Wright’s eclectic art of Bartitsu received in the United States?

Although E.W. Barton-Wright’s seminal Bartitsu articles were published in the US editions of Pearson’s Magazine, further references to Bartitsu in the American media were scattershot and Barton-Wright’s martial art certainly didn’t impact US popular culture to anything like the extent that it did in the UK. Likewise, although Barton-Wright mentioned a plan to tour his system through the United States, that never came to pass. The closest thing to an “American Bartitsu” during the early 20th century was probably the mysterious Latson System of Self Defense, of which there are few records other than a short series of articles written by the ill-fated Dr. Latson himself.

Arturo Bonafont’s 1930 Cane Defence Book Now Translated and Available!

Above; the characteristic “inverted grip” of the Bonafont cane defence style, applied to a disarming strike.

The first decades of the 20th century saw a marked shift in approaches to the use of the walking stick as a weapon of self-defence. Whereas cane manuals had appeared intermittently during the preceding era, they had generally tended to be closely based on sabre fencing and, indeed, to treat the stick as a substitute sabre. Innovators, notably including Bartitsu Club stick fighting instructor Pierre Vigny, observed the flaws in that approach and developed more diverse and sophisticated methods of their own, geared less towards the conditions of gentlemanly stick play in the salle d’armes and more towards the unpredictable, high-stakes circumstances of street fighting.

Vigny’s method was promulgated beyond his personal reach via E.W. Barton-Wright’s famous 1901 article series for Pearson’s Magazine and then by Police Superintendant H.G. Lang’s 1923 book The Walking Stick Method of Self-Defence. During the intervening period, several other authors produced their own works on the subject, including Andrew Chase Cunningham, whose 1912 book The Cane as a Weapon was a uniquely American entry into the canon of early 20th century stick fighting manuals.

Possibly the last, but by no means the least interesting nor valuable, was Nuevos Modos de Defenderse en la Calle con un Baston (New Methods of Street Self Defence with a Cane), which was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the year 1930. Author Arturo Bonafont was clearly an experienced instructor and, like Vigny and Cunningham before him, his idiosyncratic method represented a marked departure from the orthodoxy of sabre-based stick fighting.  Reading between the lines a little, it seems that his intended audience may have been young “swells” on slumming excursions in and around the brothels of the Argentinian capital.

The Bonafont method relies on a simple and flexible strategy based on two primary grips of the cane. One, for use at closer quarters, is the double-handed grip familiar to Bartitsu enthusiasts as the “bayonette”, while the other is a single-handed “inverted” grip; a position almost unique to Bonafont’s system. From these two primary grips, the system encompasses a comprehensive arsenal of jabs with both the steel ball “pommel” and the ferrule as well as slashing strikes delivered to the opponent’s most vulnerable targets.

Original copies of the Bonafont manual are extremely rare and it’s international appeal has been limited by the fact that it was written in Spanish. Now, however, an excellent English translation has been made available by Darrin Cook of the BigStickCombat.com website.

The new translated ebook edition covers the entire system in exacting detail and is available for only US$3.00 from Amazon.com.

The only criticism that might be made is that, while the new edition faithfully preserves the picture/text placement of the original book, that inevitably means that it’s often necessary to flip back and forth between pages to check Bonafont’s instructional photographs against his text.

That very minor quibble aside, Mr. Cook’s translation will, hopefully, help lead to an international revival of the Bonafont cane system comparable to that of the Vigny method, Irish bataireacht and other styles.

In Memoriam: Master-at-Arms John Waller

The international historical European martial arts and stage combat communities mourn the recent passing of John Waller, who was a modern pioneer in both fields.

Possessed of a life-long fascination with arms and armour, Mr. Waller founded the Medieval Society in 1963 and, a few years later, he also became a founding member of the Society of British Fight Directors. His long association with the Royal Armouries Museum likewise began during the late 1960s, when he owned an antiques and archery shop adjacent to the Museum, which was then housed in the Tower of London.

As a stage combat instructor, John Waller was responsible for training generations of young actors via the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Arts Educational School and the Drama Studio.

During the 1970s and ’80s he was involved in the production of a number of educational videos by and for the Royal Armouries, notably including Masters of Defence which was among the first videos to present historical European fighting styles as martial arts in their own right. He also served as the fight director for numerous plays, films, TV series and commercials.

When the Royal Armouries moved from the Tower of London to its new, purpose built facility in Leeds during the early 1990s, Mr. Waller also relocated and went on to become the Museum’s Director of Interpretation, training the fight demonstration team in the performance of numerous historical combat styles. In 2002 the R.A. Museum became the site of the first public Bartitsu demonstrations in a century, based on the then-recently republished “Self-Defence With a Walking Stick” articles by E.W. Barton-Wright.

Above: Royal Armouries Fight Interpreters Keith Ducklin (left) and Rob Temple demonstrate Bartitsu stick fighting.

Mr. Waller was proud to have met the Queen when she visited the Royal Armouries on three occasions. He retired in 2006 but continued to serve as a consultant for the Museum and, in 2009, was featured in the HEMA documentary Reclaiming the Blade.

Our condolences to Mr. Waller’s friends and family at this difficult time.

“Self-Protection on a Cycle” Re-Animated

Here’s an edited recap of the main lessons from Marcus Tindal’s article “Self-Protection on a Cycle”, as brought to life at the 2017 Dreynevent Western martial arts conference. The full presentation is available here.

Tindal’s article was published by Pearson’s Magazine at about the same time as E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu articles, leading to the common mistaken assumption that bicycle self-defence was part of Bartitsu per se. It does, however, come under the heading of fun adjunct studies and is occasionally revived, as previously seen at the ISMAC event in Michigan.

Sergeant George Wheeldon’s Police Self-Defence (circa 1905)

The City of London police history blog Plodd in the Square Mile offers this short but informative article on Sergeant George Wheeldon, who essentially pioneered the systematic practice of unarmed self-defence within the English police force.

Sergeant Wheeldon had been in the audience during some of E.W. Barton-Wright’s first Bartitsu displays, including the original Tivoli Theatre displays by Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.  He was also a prominent correspondent in the great “Jujitsu vs. Boxing and Wrestling” debates that raged via letters to the editors of various sporting journals during 1905-7. In a letter to Health and Strength Magazine, Wheeldon evinced some skepticism about jiujitsu, more in terms of its actual novelty than its evident practicality:

Regarding a number of these holds, I can safely assert that I knew a great many of them long before Ju-ju-tsu came to this country, having studied anatomy for many years, and always having a hankering for tricks of self defence. I learnt a good many through the above study.

He went on to note that the jiujitsu “scissor hold” (dojime) was not unique to Japanese unarmed combat, having been illustrated in a book on catch-as-catch-can wrestling dating to the 1820s, and referred to another hold or takedown which was widely known among English poachers.

Although he may have been overstating his case a little for effect, and possibly out of nationalistic sentiment, Sergeant Wheeldon’s own course in self-defence was itself an eclectic blend of Japanese and English grappling techniques.  It probably represents the first attempt to systematise a method of unarmed self-defence and restraint training for a professional police force.

Jujitsu at Glen Parva Barracks (1905)

Although he had been brought to London to partner Yukio Tani in teaching and demonstrating Japanese unarmed combat via the Bartitsu Club, Sadakazu “Raku” Uyenishi went his own way after the club closed during early 1902. While Tani went on to great success as a music hall wrestler, Uyenishi established the the successful Golden Square School of Jujitsu. As described in this article from the Leicester Daily Post of December 9th, 1905, Uyenishi also gave a number of exhibitions for the armed services.

Noting as usual that the term “Jap” did not carry any negative connotation in Edwardian English, being directly equivalent to the abbreviation “Brit” for British.

Professor Uyenishi, of London, and Mr. Nelson, a promising pupil, gave fine display of the Japanese national art at Glen Parva barracks on Thursday evening. The first portion consisted of throws and self-defence tricks, with some of the wonderful locks which are used in the above. The trips by ankle and knee were given with marvelous dexterity, but undoubtedly the most wonderful tricks of this kind were achieved with the cross hock and cross thigh, when the defeated wrestler found himself performing a neat “cartwheel.”

The Professor also gave a fine exhibition of self-defence tricks, showing how a small man, or woman, may easily defeat a burly opponent, although taken at a serious disadvantage by being attacked from behind. Then followed a lesson for the pupil, who, despite his frantic endeavours to keep his feet, soon found that he had had enough.

The final part of the display was between the Professor and Sergt. Jones, of the gymnastic staff of the depot, who came to the front on the Professor’s call for a volunteer The sergeant made a determined effort to keep feet and, if possible, throw the clever little Jap, but ultimately had to give the signal of defeat, after a good struggle. This concluded the performance, no other candidate coming forward to try conclusions with the professor, who, needless to say, had delighted the audience.

An Update Re. “No Man Shall Protect Us”, the Suffrajitsu Documentary

Above: Edith Garrud (played by actress Lynne Baker) is featured in screenshot of the current No Man Shall Protect Us edit.

Editing proceeds apace on No Man Shall Protect Us, the upcoming documentary on the secret society of martial arts-trained female bodyguards who protected the leaders of the radical women’s suffrage movement just prior to the First World War.

The project was successfully crowdfunded during October 2017 and will feature extensive use of archival media and re-enactments.  Although reference will be made to E.W. Barton-Wright and Sadakazu Uyenishi of the Bartitsu Club, the martial arts focus is on Edith Garrud, the pioneering women’s self-defence instructor who trained members of the suffragette Bodyguard in jiujitsu.

Once editing is complete, No Man Shall Protect Us will be made freely available online.

The “Bartitsu Lab” in Warwickshire, UK

New Bartitsu classes are beginning via the “Bartitsu Lab” in the Warwickshire town of Alcester:

What’s ‘The Bartitsu Lab’?

TBL is a ‘test and learn’ approach to Bartitsu. We cover the key skills required with a scientific method. In this way, we ensure that content is always relevant, practical and reliable.

It means we explore different arts, bring in guest instructors, and test what we think we know. Bartitsu is a ‘process’ through which we can apply any art.

For us, the art must always evolve to meet the challenges of its day. TBL allows us to do just that with Bartitsu.

For all details, see the Bartitsu page at www.artofmoore.co.uk​.