Barton-Wright’s Later Years

The last recorded major Bartitsu exhibition in London (during December of 1901) took place at St. James’s Hall during December of 1901.  The event started late and was then marred by unseemly public arguments about the arrangements made for refereeing a wrestling match as part of the display.  Subsequently, during early and mid-1902, Barton-Wright and his instructors toured a series of exhibition events to venues including the Oxford Town Hall, Cambridge University and the Mechanics Institute Hall in Nottingham.

At some point during mid-1902, the Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time, under circumstances that remain somewhat mysterious. Subsequent speculation by jiujitsu instructor William Garrud held that the enrollment fee and tuition fees had been too high; it is also likely that Barton-Wright had simply over-estimated the number of wealthy Londoners who shared his passion for exotic self defence systems.

According to Barton-Wright’s own report, recorded forty-eight years later when he was interviewed by Gunji Koizumi, B-W also had a falling-out with his “star” champion and instructor, Yukio Tani. Tani had been “troublesome” and had not been keeping appointments. When Barton-Wright proposed to dock his wages, Tani threatened him and the argument developed into a physical fight, which Barton-Wright claimed to have won.  It is not known whether this parting of the ways was directly connected to the end of the brief Bartitsu Club era.

Armand Cherpillod returned to Switzerland, where he continued to work as a professional wrestler. He also became instrumental in introducing Jiujitsu, which he had learned from his fellow Bartitsu Club instructors, to Germany and other countries on the European continent. Tani, Uyenishi and Vigny all remained in London and established their own self defence schools, with the Japanese instructors focussing on jiujitsu while Vigny continued the tradition of eclecticism.

Tani made the best of it, by joining forces with an experienced show business promoter named William Bankier, a colourful character who had been a successful variety hall strongman under the name “Apollo, the Scottish Hercules.” Bankier’s shrewd management further established Tani as a star performer, a great novelty in the popular field of professional wrestling, and the fame of his jiujitsu continued to spread throughout England and then all of Europe.

Unfortunately for Barton-Wright, the new-found popularity of jiujitsu and then judo completely eclipsed that of Bartitsu, and in the self defence craze that followed between 1905 and 1914, he found himself on the sidelines of the movement that he had started. Although Barton-Wright continued with his work as a physical therapist, establishing a succession of clinics around London, he never again achieved the public prominence of his heyday between 1898 and 1902.

Barton-Wright had no formal medical training and, as the manager of a therapeutic institute, he was often viewed with suspicion by the medical establishment. His business was the subject of several lawsuits and bankruptcy proceedings during the first decades of the 20th century. With the advantage of a hundred years of hindsight, we can say that the therapies that he was promoting were of varying quality. Some, like the Ultra-Violet Ray Lamp and the Thermo-Penetration Machine, were among the early ancestors of modern cosmetic and medical apparatus (the sun bed and diathermy machine, respectively). Other devices were of questionable value and some of them may actually have been quite harmful.

In any case, Barton-Wright persisted in this field for the rest of his career, eventually coming to specialise in the use of various heat and vibration treatments to alleviate the pain of rheumatism. By the time Gunji Koizumi tracked him down for an interview, in 1950, Barton-Wright was a spry elder of ninety years, full of old war stories and evidently still proud of his art of Bartitsu. Later that year, he was presented to the audience at a large Budokwai gathering in London; but sadly he was never really to receive the accolades owing to him as the true pioneer of the Japanese martial arts in the English-speaking world.

Edward William Barton-Wright died in 1951 and, according to the late martial art historian Richard Bowen, was buried in “a pauper’s grave, because there was no money for a proper grave.”

[Originally written by Tony Wolf 15/02/07]

7 thoughts on “Barton-Wright’s Later Years”

  1. hi, what were the specific causes of bartitsu’s failure and the closing of the bartitsu club?
    i need the information for a project but i cant find it anywhere.
    thanks in advance

  2. That’s one of the great Bartitsu mysteries. Other than Percy Longhurst’s suggestion that the enrollment and tuition fees had been excessive, my best guess is that Barton-Wright simply over-estimated the number of wealthy Londoners who shared his passion for exotic self defence systems. Also, his own professional interests had evidently shifted into electrotherapy, so perhaps he just let the Bartitsu Club die quietly.

    He did keep renting the 67b Shaftesbury Avenue space for some time after the Club apparently ceased to exist, running his electrotherapy clinic there and sub-letting for a while to a fencing instructor.

  3. A great man, a true pioneer. As a martial artist myself,(shodan Wado ryu) I think that he should be remembered as the pioneer of mma and a man a head of his time. God rest.

  4. Has anyone been able to locate Barton-Wright’s actual grave in Kingtson? I assume that’s Kingston Upon Thames. I like to research it – I live in Kingston, so anyone keen to team up and come to Kingston to have a fun weekend search at the Kingston cemetery on a sunny Saturday please be in-touch with me 🙂 . Email me at “KundayaDo at Gmail dot com ” or find me on my post at Bartitsu study group on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Battersea-Bartitsu-Study-Group/247252935288854

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