“The Apaches”, a Major New TV Series, Now in Pre-Production

Various outlets are reporting on the upcoming production of The Apaches, a major 8-10 episode TV series from Andre and Maria Jacquemettons, the writer/producer team behind Mad Men.

Set in Paris during the Belle Epoque period at the turn of the 20th century, the planned series will be produced in France but shot in English.  It is described as cross between Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.

Although the history of the infamous Parisian street gangs is relatively little-known outside of France today, the early 20th century “Apache chic” craze spread their fashion, dance and slang to a worldwide audience via tabloid journalism and numerous works of lurid fiction.

Comparable to the Scuttlers, Peaky Blinders and Hooligan gangs of England and the Larrikins of Australia and New Zealand, the Apaches were notorious street fighters.  Almost uniquely, however, the French gangsters  also evolved a variety of specialised weapons and mugging techniques that contributed to their media mystique.  Counters to these tricks were featured in numerous French self-defence books and articles during the early 20th century, especially after the introduction of jiujitsu to Paris in 1905.

Suffragette Self-Defence

In this short scene from the 2015 movie Suffragette, newly militant Maude Watts (Carey Mulligan) receives her first lesson in jiujitsu from Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter).

In real history, Edith Garrud served as the self-defence trainer for the secret Bodyguard Society of the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose duties included physically protecting suffragette leaders from arrest and assault.

An Illustrated Catalogue of Captain Laing’s Bartitsu Stickfighting

For convenience, here follows a compilation of all of the drills and self-defence set-plays recorded in Captain F.C. Laing’s 1902 article, “The Bartitsu Method of Self Defence”.  As Laing did not illustrate these sequences – rather, simply describing them in more-or-less detail via prose – the following illustrated sets are presented as interpretations, employing photographs modified from E.W. Barton-Wright’s own “Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” articles for Pearson’s Magazine.

That said, as Laing was a keen student at the Bartitsu Club who learned directly from Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny, his drills and set-plays constitute part of the Bartitsu canon and serve as a very useful supplement to Barton-Wright’s own writing on this subject.  In particular, Laing offers a simple progression of basic drills that were not illustrated in Barton-Wright’s essays.

First Practice #1

First Practice #2

First Practice #3 (with additional notes on the Second Practice, etc.)

Third Practice

“Attacked by a man with a stick in his hand”

“A man without a stick rushes at you with his fist”

Self-Defence for Girls and Women in 1920

English actress Ena Beaumont (1892 – 1986) teaches self-defence in this publicity still for the lost 1920 instructional film “Physical Culture for Ladies”.  A French reviewer facetiously noted that he had been so distracted by the sight of Miss Beaumont in a bathing costume that her jiujitsu lessons had been quite lost on him.

Captain Laing’s “Third Practice” of Bartitsu Stick Fighting

Here follows an interpretation of Captain Laing’s “3rd Practice” as described in his 1902 article on The Bartitsu Method of Self-Defence.


From “rear guard.”–Guard face sideways, then head as already described, retire one pace, right foot leading, draw left foot back to right, making a half-left turn of the body, riposte on opponent’s head and return to “rear guard.”

Pierre Vigny (right) assumes the rear guard against Edward Barton-Wright’s front guard.
Barton-Wright strikes to the right side of Vigny’s face; Vigny guards the strike.
Barton-Wright recovers and strikes to the top of Vigny’s head; Vigny guards the strike.
Vigny retreats one pace with his right foot and slides his left foot back to meet the right, simultaneously making a half-turn to the left with his torso and striking the top of Barton-Wright’s head.
Vigny re-assumes the full rear guard position.

“Entente Cordiale Fencing: the Art of Defence with a Walking Stick” (Pall Mall Gazette – 14 November, 1907)

Pierre Vigny demonstrates a parry against Marguerite Vigny’s double-handed cane thrust.

A hitherto unexpected development of the Entente Cordiale is the increasing interest that being taken by Englishmen and Englishwomen in the French school of fencing established in London. So great, indeed, has this interest now become that it was possible last evening, with the support of the French Embassy on the one hand and many prominent Englishmen on the other, to give at Steinway Hall what was described as a fencing tournament the Entente Cordiale.

Lord Desborough and Lord Howard de Walden figured amongst the patrons of the tournament, which had as its president Lieut.-Col. Huguet, the military at the French Embassy, Mr. Egerton Castle, acting as director, and Major H. Best as Master of the Ceremonies.

Foil, sword, sabre, and walking-stick, all in turn were used, M. Niox, the president Le Contre de Quatre, meeting Mr. Louis Hole, winner of the second prize at the amateur championship of England; Mr. A. Corble, of the Magrini School Arms, finding a skilled opponent in Mr. Evans James, amateur champion at sabre; and Mme. Vigny, who has challenged the lady fencers of the world, having a brilliant bout with foils wifh Professor Cronier, of the Sword Club.

It was all very neat and clever, and not the least appreciated part of the programme was a remarkable demonstration, given by Professor Vigny, of the art of defending oneself with a walking-stick. Taking a cane by the ferrule end, he used it in such a way that a band of ruffians would have found it difficult break through his guard, and in a match with Mr. Roger Nowell, who has won a reputation in this particular department of self-defence as the cleverest amateur In England, he dealt several forcible blows, which would have placed any man not fully guarded immediately hors de combat. Mme. Vigny also took part in the demonstration, and proved herself little less clever than her accomplished husband.

The success of the tournament was so pronounced, and gave such an enjovable evening to representatives of two nations that it is likely shortly to be repeated.

Un breve documental en español sobre Bartitsu

Bartitsu el arte marcial del Detective Sherlock Holmes Creado por Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, interpretado por Robert Downey Jr en el 2009, experto en el arte marcial Bartitsu. El actor, Robert Downey Jr, practico Wing Chun, pero el personaje Sherlock Holmes es experto en Bartitsu. Arte Marcial de origen europeo y practicado por la clase alta es reconocido por ser el sistema de defensa personal utilizado por Sherlock Holmes en sus enfrentamientos de la época.

* Incorporating video demonstrations from the Academie Duello and the Bartitsu Club of New York City.

Captain Laing’s “1st Practice” of Bartitsu Stick Fighting (#3), with Additional Notes

Here is the third basic drill from Captain F.C. Laing’s 1902 article The “Bartitsu” Method of Self-Defence, illustrated with photographs adapted from E.W. Barton-Wright’s Self-Defence with a Walking Stick (1901). Follow these links to see the first and second drills of Laing’s “1st Practice” series.

Pierre Vigny (right) adopts a low variation of the front guard vs. Edward Barton-Wright’s front guard.
Vigny executes a backhand strike to the right side of Barton-Wright’s face, referred to by Laing as “hit face (sideways)”; Barton-Wright parries.
Barton-Wright prepares his own backhand strike to the right side of Vigny’s face …
… and Vigny parries …
… before riposting with a strike to the top of Barton-Wright’s head.
Additional Notes on the “1st Practice”

Captain Laing remarked that one should continue the “1st Practice” drill “on through all the hits as described already”. In the context of his article, those additional sequences would include:

* Strike to the left side of the body, parry partner’s return strike to the same area, riposte with strike to the top of the head.

* Strike to the “flank” (right side of the body), parry partner’s return strike to the same area, riposet with strike to the top of the head.

* Strike to outside (left side) of lead leg, evade partner’s return strike to the same area by either 1) drawing the lead foot back to the rear foot, 2) passing the lead foot back about 12 inches behind the rear foot (i.e., switching from the front guard to the rear guard) or 3) simply retreating both feet about 12 inches, then riposting with strike to the top of the head.

* Strike to inside (right side) of lead leg, evade partner’s return strike to the same area by either 1) drawing the lead foot back to the rear foot, 2) passing the lead foot back about 12 inches behind the rear foot (i.e., switching from the front guard to the rear guard) or 3) simply retreating both feet about 12 inches, then riposting with strike to the top of the head.

Note on the “2nd Practice”

Laing’s “2nd Practice” drill is identical to the “1st Practice” series except that it requires the practitioners to maintain a greater measure (fighting distance), so that every attack is made on a lunge and every defence is made on a recovery.

Johannes Josefsson: Iceland’s Colourful “King of Wrestling”

Above: a poster for Johannes Josefsson’s vaudeville act, displaying characteristic panache.

Due in no small part to the publicity surrounding Bartitsu circa 1899-1902, the first decade of the 20th century saw some substantial popular interest in “exotic” fighting styles.  Japanese jiujitsuka had quickly proved their art’s value in mixed-styles contests; French savateurs competed with English boxers and the revival of various Elizabethan styles of fencing continued to flourish.

Icelander Johannes Josefsson (1883 – 1968) was an enthusiastic proponent of the glima (“flash”) style of belt-wrestling, which he had learned while working as a stable-boy in the town of Modruvellir. During a stay in Norway Josefsson became involved in youth-work, and he co-founded the Icelandic Youth Association in 1907.

The Icelandic Glima Troupe at the 1908 Olympic Games in London; to the far left, Johannes Josephsson wearing a Viking costume.

In July of 1908 he arrived in London, intending to represent Iceland in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Olympic Games, where he would also demonstrate glima as an exhibition sport. On the opening day, political tensions arising from Iceland’s move towards independence from Denmark almost led to a physical confrontation between Josefsson’s small team of wrestlers and the Danish Olympic team.  The Danish athletes attempted to block the Icelanders from entering the stadium, but fortunately, Olympics organiser (and former Bartitsu Club president) Sir William Desborough intervened and allowed the Icelanders to march in the opening parade.

Competing under the Danish flag, Josefsson was injured during the Graeco-Roman contest and was unable to manage better than 4th place.  While several newspapers offered brief reports on his glima display, as an  exhibition sport it was overshadowed by the official Olympic events.  His experience at the Games did, however, seed an interest in the confluence of showmanship and athletics which would define his career for the next two decades.

During 1908, Josefsson also wrote the first English-language book on glima wrestling. This was an excellent training manual, well-illustrated with numerous photographs.

Between 1909-19 he toured throughout Europe and the USA, taking on all manner of opponents who wanted to try their luck at Icelandic belt-wrestling. He had several famous (possibly “worked”) bouts against Japanese jiujitsu practitioners in the USA and supplemented his wrestling income by performing vaudeville acts, in which he fended off “savage Indians”, dagger-wielding street gangsters and miscellaneous exotic enemies.

While these exhibitions certainly featured elements of the glima style, photographs and reviews of Josefsson’s act strongly suggest that he also exerted some artistic licence in developing spectacular fight choreography that would “sell” to vaudeville audiences.  Josefsson also traveled with the Barnum and Bailey circus for a few years; part of that act involved wrestling with a bear.

Above: a poster for Josefsson’s self-defence performance, featuring belt-wrestling as well as counters to attacks by a dagger-man and a boxer.

In 1927 Johannes Josefsson finally retired from wrestling/showbiz and returned to Iceland, having amassed a substantial fortune of $120,000 US dollars. He invested this in the construction of a luxury hotel in Reykjavik, which he managed successfully until his retirement in 1960.

Charles Charlemont’s students demonstrate savate and la canne (1928)

This newly-released sound film from the Fox Movietone Archive shows training drills and bouting by students of Professor Charles Charlemont.

At the turn of the 20th century, Charlemont had been involved in two controversies that have some bearing on Bartitsu history. The first instance dated to October 10th of 1899, when Charlemont had represented la boxe Francaise against English pugilist Jerry Driscoll in a savate vs. boxing contest in Paris. Professor Charlemont won that fight under extremely dubious conditions; his father Joseph had been one of the judges, the referee and timekeeper were widely judged to have been woefully incompetent and Charlemont’s TKO victory was generally held to have been due to an accidental but illegal groin kick.

Co-inciding with E.W. Barton-Wright’s early promotions of Bartitsu in London and occurring shortly after Professor D’armoric’s ill-received savate demonstrations at the Alhambra music hall, the infamy of the Charlemont-Driscoll fight is highly likely to have influenced Barton-Wright’s various disparaging comments regarding “kicking as the French do it”.

In late 1901, Charlemont became involved in a vehement public spat with Barton-Wright over the promotion of Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny as the “world’s champion” of savate and stick fighting. In a series of tit-for-tat letters published via French and English sporting journals, Charlemont asserted the Vigny held no real claim to those titles, while Barton-Wright vigorously defended the latter and ended up challenging Charlemont to a prize-fight on Vigny’s behalf.

Charlemont refused the challenge to fight, pointing out that he was a professor of savate and not a pugilist – a reference to his cherished status as an amateur, which would have been lost had he consented to fighting for stakes. Barton-Wright then threatened to send Vigny to Paris to “publicly horse-whip” Charlemont – an extraordinarily vehement remark for public correspondence in 1901. Perhaps fortunately, nothing came of the challenge nor the threatened horse-whipping; both Charlemont and Vigny enjoyed long careers in their chosen professions, but there was clearly no great love lost between them.