A Bartitsu demonstration was presented recently at the Frazier International History Museum (829 West Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky, USA). Based on a format developed for a similar demonstration by members of the British Royal Armouries interpretation team in 2001, the Frazier demo. was performed by actors playing the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson.
November 8th marks the 148th anniversary of the birth of E.W. Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu. He was born in Bangalore, India in the year 1860, the son of William Barton Wright, locomotive Superintendant of Madras Railways, and Janet Wright.
“So we’d mostly been doing longsword, in my little group,” says Stephenson. Ropes of muscle on his forearms attest to this, as do the pictures online of a Stephenson-designed spring-loaded practice sword that flexes on impact to soften a blow. “But we became interested in cane-fighting, which was taught in London a hundred years ago or so as part of this school of Bartitsu, founded by EW Barton-Wright, a railway engineer who’d picked up ju-jitsu in Japan. And he brought in a Swiss guy called Vigny who’d taken informal methods of walking-stick-fu and codified them into a system called la canne: he taught the part of the curriculum which involved fighting with walking sticks.”
No way, I say.
“Yeah. There’s a whole curriculum over fighting with bicycles. Pictures of an Edwardian lady in a floor-length dress and a huge hat with flowers, riding primly down a country lane, and when a ruffian comes out she uses some trick with the bicycle to flatten him and rides off. It’s great stuff. The bicycles we’re not sure how to approach, but we’ve created a little assembly line to make rattan canes, with a knob on the end. But there’s, you know, how to use a bicycle pump as a weapon. How to defend yourself with a parasol. Crazy.”
Since our early September update, the Bartitsu Society has been in contact with the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie production and has donated copies of both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium to the project. Of course, this does not mean that what appears in the movie fight scenes will be verbatim Bartitsu, but it’s nice to know that the fight team has access to authentic historical sources for use as inspiration.
I like the idea that (Holmes is) as visceral as he is intellectual. It’s true to the origins of the narrative. He was a martial artist. He did something called Bartitsu, which wasn’t necessarily exposed or utilized in other productions. So we’ve made more of a meal out of that. He’s an intellectual action man, which is pretty consistent with his origins.
This footage was recorded at the International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Conference in Michigan, USA, between July 12-15, 2007. It features a series of mostly canonical Bartitsu unarmed combat and cane demonstrations by myself, with Kirk Lawson assisting.
The theme of the seminar was to use a small selection of canonical and some neo-Bartitsu techniques and sequences to explore two major principles:
1) alignment control, or using your own weight and skeletal structure to disrupt the opponent’s balance and 2) initiative control, either by inviting a particular attack or by executing a pre-emptive attack to control the opponent’s options and movement.
Thus, we were primarily using these sequences as academic examples of certain technical and tactical options, rather than as self defence or competition sequences per se.
The defence between 00.56 and 01.00 is a neo-Bartitsu improvisation combining a number of techniques (palm-heels, a trachea grab, low stamping kick etc.) to reinforce the theme of controlling the opponent’s balance and skeletal alignment.
Thanks to Bartitsu Society member Chris Amendola for editing the footage.
Robert Downey, Jr., who is to star in an upcoming Sherlock Holmes feature film being directed by Guy Ritchie, was quoted in Premiere Magazine as saying:
“We’re both martial arts enthusiasts and historically, in the real origin stories of Sherlock Holmes, he’s kind of a bad-ass and a bare-knuckle boxer and studies the rare art of baritsu [fictional martial art created by Doyle for the final Holmes story, 1901’s The Adventure Of The Empty House]. If you look baritsu up, they can’t even really tell you what it is, so it gives us a lot of leeway.”
“Baritsu”, of course, was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s misspelling of Bartitsu. Since Mr. Downey is a Wing Chun kung fu enthusiast and director Ritchie is a brown belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, their cinematic version of Holmes’ martial art may well pack quite a punch …
E.W. Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu, died in 1951 at the age of ninety and was buried in what the late martial arts historian Richard Bowen described as a “pauper’s grave”, an unmarked, communal plot.
In 2007 Bartitsu Society member Phil Giles located Barton-Wright’s final resting place. The site of the grave is in Kingston Cemetery in Surrey, about ten miles from central London.
Proceeds from sales of Bartitsu Society books and other media have been dedicated to erecting a permanent grave marker at the site. A temporary marker is currently in place, as seen here:
The Royal Borough of Kingston has been informed of Barton-Wright’s unique position as a martial arts pioneer and plan to include his gravesite as part of a historical heritage trail which is due to be established in Kingston within the next two years.