Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright studied jiujitsu between the years 1895-98, while working as a chemical engineer for the E.H. Hunter Company in Kobe, Japan. Building on a background that included boxing, wrestling, savate and “the use of the stiletto” as well as, by his own account, considerable street fighting experience in far-flung locales, Barton-Wright was almost uniquely well-positioned to appreciate the Japanese art of unarmed combat, which was then almost completely unknown to the Western world. By the time he returned to England, it’s likely that his practical knowledge of jiujitsu exceeded that of almost literally any other Westerner.
Barton-Wright did not, however, record much of his Kobe jiujitsu experience, other than referring to training with a sensei who “specialised in the kata form of instruction”. For details about that sensei and his school and style, we must refer to the writings of Dr. Herman ten Kate. Ten Kate was a Dutch medical doctor and anthropologist who had met Barton-Wright on a steam ship sailing from Batavia (present-day Jakarta) to Singapore, en route to Japan, where both men became students at the same Kobe jiujitsu dojo.
In 1905 ten Kate wrote an article titled “Jujutsu, de Zachte Kunst” (“Jujutsu, the Yielding Art”) for the Dutch journal De Gids. It’s evident that ten Kate had come across Barton-Wright’s own articles on “The New Art of Self-Defence”, which had been published in Pearson’s Magazine several years previously. It’s also clear that ten Kate mistakenly assumed that Barton-Wright had “mis-appropriated” jiujitsu by re-naming it after himself; this strongly implies that ten Kate was not aware of Barton-Wright’s other writings on Bartitsu, which demonstrated that Bartitsu was a “new art” specifically because it combined jiujitsu with other fighting styles.
Ten Kate’s article was primarily concerned with the history, theory and variety of jiujitsu koryu-ha (traditional styles). It also included several anecdotes and a number of technical analyses drawn from his personal experience. The following translated excerpts from “Jujutsu, the Yielding Art” offer the best available insights into the type of training given to Herman ten Kate and E.W. Barton-Wright at their Kobe jiujitsu dojo, and thus offer some clues as to the early origins of Bartitsu. We have offered some annotations in italics, for clarity and context.
After introducing the theory of victory by yielding to an opponent’s strength, ten Kate states that:
It was by chance, during a conversation with Barton-Wright aboard a steamship between Batavia and Singapore, that, several years ago, I first learned of Jujutsu. His Japanese teacher, the already elderly Terajima Kunichiro, would also initiate me into the secrets of this art; and so, for fifteen months, I was his pupil in Kobe. I also saw jujutsu performed repeatedly in the exercises of police constables in Nagasaki and by others elsewhere in Japan.
From the literature on jujutsu that is known to me, the study of the Japanese neurologist Miura the most comprehensive and most scientific. Therefore, I want to follow him particularly when describing the essence of Jujutsu.
This art is essentially based on the following principles:
1. Attempts to reduce the opponent’s strength by pulling them off-balance;
2. Attempts to divert the attacks of the opponent;
3. One tries to put the opponent in a weaker position, while also maintaining one’s own (stronger) position;
4. One focusses one’s attack upon the opponent’s weakest point;
5. Leverage is primarily used to effect the overthrow of the opponent – “knowledge of balance and leverage” as Barton-Wright calls it;
6. To pin (lock) the fallen adversary, as well as to free oneself from an opponent’s grip, use joint rotations and pressure applied to sensitive areas;
7. When the enemy attempts to attack, strikes to certain highly sensitive areas of the body will cause them to fall unconscious;
8. An enemy thus downed can, however, be revived again, according to certain methods.
In studying such modes of attack and defense, as well as the method of imparting them, one might think that they had been developed by a physician, especially with regards to their anatomical and physiological invention. I believe, however, that there is much less theoretical than empirical scientific knowledge in Jujitsu. At the time in which the art originated, the level of scientific knowledge of the human body was extremely low. Certainly very few practitioners have heard of the median nerve or the gastrocnemius muscle, and yet all know how to put unbearable pressure on those points.
Further, when a Japanese man inflicts a blow upon some points of the chest and makes his foe fall unconscious, he need not know that he repeats the experiments of Meola, Riedinger and others, but still the blood vessels of the lungs are widened, blood flow to the left ventricle is obstructed and general blood pressure lowers. Likewise, (he need not know) that he brings into use, by certain thrusts under the ribs and below the navel, the ‘Klopfversuch’ by Goltz.
This refers to anatomical experiments by Friedrich Goltz (1834-1902) which demonstrated the effects of nerve stimulation.
One can, in general, distinguish four main divisions of jujutsu:
I. Randori, i.e. (free) wrestling, where one throws his opponent to the ground and holds him there. The 1st-6th principles enumerated above are then put into application.
II. Kata, i.e. engaging in a particular (pre-arranged) way.
III. Atemi or Sappo, i.e. the way to strike a blow to weaken or kill if necessary.
IV. Kwata or kwappo, i.e. the way to render a man unconscious.
We can not dwell within each division, because going into detail would fill a volume. As in European swordsmanship, but regardless of weapon, lessons in the various divisions are made according to a certain order; also, all techniques, within randori, kata and atemi, may be combined in various ways. In the school of my teacher Terajima there were over seventy (such methods). This combination between them also happens in “man to man” practice, which are mimic (mirror) combats, and also in actual combat. In addition, the attack and counterattack depend entirely on the circumstances of the moment. Perhaps more than in any other conceivable fight, of any kind, is lightning fast reflex speed a prerequisite to jujutsu.
Part 2 of this article will continue Dr. ten Kate’s analysis of jiujitsu techniques and principles.