Sadakazu Uyenishi Saves a Drowning Man (?) in Belfast (1906)

After the Bartitsu Club closed in mid-1902, most of the instructors continued independent careers as instructors and combat sport athletes.  Although Sadakazu Uyenishi was better-known as an instructor than as a challenge wrestler, he did successfully tour the music halls “taking on all comers” under his professional pseudonym, Raku.

In August of 1906, Uyenishi’s engagements brought him to Belfast, Ireland, where he made the news for something other than his martial arts proficiency.  This event was reported in a number of regional papers, including the Belfast Weekly News:


Rescue by a Japanese Wrestler

Raku, the Japanese exponent of Jujitsu wrestling, who has during the week been appearing at the Palace, was walking across the Queen’s Bridge yesterday afternoon, in company with Mr. Harris, the manager of the Palace, when they noticed a man struggling in the water. Without the slightest hesitation the Jap. divested himself of his coat, and running down to the Bangor Jetty dived into the water.

Raku, who is a powerful swimmer, soon reached the drowning man and succeeded in keeping his bead above water until ferryboat came to the rescue. The men were landed at the ferry steps near the Queen’s Bridge, and – the famous wrestler having applied the Japanese method artificial respiration – the man soon recovered and was able to proceed home. It appears that he fell into the water from a boat while endeavouring to recover a lost oar.

In fairness, these events may well have played out exactly as reported.  Uyenishi was, by other reports, a good swimmer and all-round athlete, and either he or Tani had previously been reported as having applied a kuatsu-style resuscitation technique to bring around an unconscious wrestling opponent.

It would be remiss, however, not to note the possibility of “swank”.  Edwardian-era show business was far from immune from staging publicity stunts to generate controversy and ticket sales.  A journalist from the Northern Whig offered a very polite note of surprise, if not overt skepticism, about one aspect of the story:

The ambulance was sent for, but the rescued individual, who had been brought round by the attentions of the gallant Raku, declined to enter it, preferring to go home in a car. His name and address do not seem have been elicited either by the rescuer or the ambulance men. This was rather a pity, because, when a public character like Raku effects a daring public rescue, the public like to know something about the identity of the rescued.

The rescued man’s name and address were then, seemingly, discovered, as subsequently reported by the Belfast News-Letter:


At the Palace

At the second performance at the Palace on Saturday evening, an interesting extra turn was supplied when Raku, the famous Japanese wrestler, was presented with a handsome gold watch in recognition of his gallantry in saving a man from drowning in the Lagan at the Queen’s Bridge 17th inst.

It will remembered that Raku, who was engaged at the Palace last week, was walking over the Queen’s Bridge on the Friday afternoon, when he saw a man in the water. He immediately divested himself of his coat, jumped into the river, and succeeded in keeping the man’s head above water until a ferry boat came to the rescue. The rescued man, whose name is Frank Reynolds, residing in Unity Street, soon recovered, and was little the worse of his immersion.

A number of local gentlemen formed themselves together and subscribed towards the presentation to the plucky Jap. Mr. Harris, the manager of the Palace, in making the presentation, said that he had been asked on behalf of the subscribers to hand over the gold watch in a token appreciation Mr. Raku’s heroic conduct. (Mr. Harris) was sure that he was only expressing the sentiments of the audience when he hoped that the famous wrestler would be long spared to wear it. (Applause.)

Mr. Raku’s manager, in reply, returned thanks, and said Raku desired him say that he had only done what any Britisher or Japanese would have done – namely, gone to the assistance of a man who was in danger of losing his life. (Applause.)

So – in August of 1906, Sadakazu Uyenishi may have heroically saved a man from drowning in the Lagan River, or may have been the key figure in a very elaborate publicity stunt.  Either version makes for a colourful story.

Velo-Boxe (“Bike-Boxing”) Cartoons by Marius Rossillon

The French painter and cartoonist Marius Rossillon (1867-1946), under the pseudonym “O’Galop”, invents a bizarre new hybrid combat sport in this 1895 sketch series, which originally appeared in Le Rire.

“Velo-Boxe” appears to have been a satrical comment on state of the French honour duel during the very late 19th century.  With both the law and social sentiment steering sharply away from the tradition of life-risking duels, aggrieved parties who wanted to settled their differences physically developed some creative alternatives.  However, as the artist points out, honour can only be satisfied physically at a physical cost – the implicit question being, is it worth it?

Rosillon was also, not incidentally, the creator of the “Michelin Man” character, here illustrated delivering the Coup de la Semelle Michelin (“The Kick of the Michelin Tread”) in a 1905 advertising poster:

Pierre and Marguerite Vigny at the Royal Albert Hall (1904)

The speed and visual trickery of Vigny’s signature art of walking stick defence is depicted by the artist as a blur of movement.

In early 1904, former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny set up his own self-defence school in London.  By July of that year he and his wife/associate instructor Marguerite (a.k.a. “Miss Sanderson”) were performing promotional demonstrations in some prestigious venues, including the Royal Albert Hall.

These sketches by Percy F.S. Spence record the Vignys’ exhibitions on the evening of July 2nd, appearing on a bill that included their Bartitsu Club colleague Yukio Tani and the famed “Russian Lion”, wrestling champion Geroge Hackenschmidt.

Originally a fencing champion, Marguerite Vigny later developed her own unique art of self-defence with umbrellas and parasols.

Suffrajitsu Mini-Documentary on BBC Two

Suffragettes do jiu jitsu | Back in Time for School

Did you know that some suffragettes used martial arts to protect themselves while campaigning?! 🥋✊

Geplaatst door BBC Two op Donderdag 3 januari 2019

Instructor Jennifer Garside teaches suffrajitsu-style self-defence in this educational mini-feature for the UK’s BBC Two channel.

For a more in-depth treatment of this subject, check out the free independent documentary No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards:

… and if your appetite for the subject extends to fiction, the 2015 graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons is available via Amazon and ComiXology.  Here’s the video trailer:

“Let’s See Him!” (1901)

Even by September of 1901, with the Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue well-established and Bartitsu itself the subject of much media attention, E.W. Barton-Wright suffered ongoing frustrations in persuading European wrestlers to take on his Japanese champions.  This article from the Morning Post of September 19th records how one would-be challenge match was called off at the last possible moment.

Mr. Barton-Wright’s “Another way of breaking the same fall” was the first thing one heard last night on entering the Tivoli. One might have thought, to look at it, that it was another way of breaking the same bone. An enormous audience had assembled to see a Russian light-weight wrestler try conclusions with one of Mr. Barton-Wright’s Japanese exponents of Bartitsu.

However, no collision between Russia and Japan was forthcoming on this occasion. Mr. Barton-Wright informed the audience that the challenger was in the house, was indeed in the wings, but had thought better his challenge. This led to some interruption: there were clearly two parties in the house. Mr. Barton-Wright proceeded say that had vainly offered the challenger £lOO, not by way of wager but as a gift, if he scored a single throw.

Then, after more interruption, Mr. Dowsett, the manager, came forward and confirmed Mr. Barton-Wright’s statement. £lOO had been deposited with him; he had Mr. Barton- Wright’s bank-note in his pocket.

And so the exhibition ran its usual course. One cannot blame anybody for keeping out the clutches of the Japanese wrestlers, whose art includes much that in England, and probably Russia, is looked on as foul play. But one should think of that before issuing a challenge, and not at the last moment, when others have gone to inconvenience in order to see the promise kept. In any case, the challenger might have responded to the cry, “Let’s see him” by endeavouring to hold the Japanese wrestler down.

It seems that the Japanese are to find no opponents, unless, indeed, a meeting can be arranged (it might be out and home) with the lions at the Hippodrome. Meanwhile, one would much like to know of what material the Japanese wrestlers’ dresses are made. It seems durable.

A report from the Music Hall Gossip newspaper of September 21st offered the tantalising further detail that the would-be challenger had offered to fight Tani or Uyenishi in his own (presumably Russian) style, while the champions employed their jiujitsu.  Alas, it was not to be.

Did E.W. Barton-Wright Actually Teach at the Bartitsu Club?

Edward Barton-Wright prepares for battle.

After some 16 years of intensive research, we now know a good deal about the origins and day-to-day workings of the Bartitsu School of Arms, a.k.a. the Bartitsu Club.  One question that remains, though, is whether Edward Barton-Wright – the originator of Bartitsu and the founder of the Club – actually taught there.

By his own account, Barton-Wright possessed a “lifelong interest in the arts of self defence”.  Even before spending three years studying martial arts in Japan, he had trained in “boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters”, reportedly testing his skills by “engaging toughs (street fighters) until (he) was satisfied in their application.” By all other accounts, including those of seemingly impartial witnesses such as Captain F.C. Laing, Edward Barton-Wright was, indeed, a rugged and skilled fighter.

We also have evidence that Barton-Wright actively encouraged the Bartitsu Club instructors to teach each other their specialties.  In a 1950 interview with London Budokwai founder Gunji Koizumi, Barton-Wright reminisced about trying to teach Yukio Tani to box, though he remarked that Tani “had no aptitude for the sport”.  Similarly, wrestler Armand Cherpillod trained with Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi prior to representing the Bartitsu Club in a much-hyped challenge match against Joe Carroll; Cherpillod later confessed that he believed that the Japanese instructors were withholding some of their more advanced techniques from him.

Captain Alfred Hutton was rather a special case, in that although he was a Bartitsu Club instructor, his fencing classes were very likely not considered to be part of the “Bartitsu curriculum” (such as it was).  Hutton himself was, however, an enthusiastic student of Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting and of Tani and Uyenishi’s jiujitsu.  Hutton commented that while he was too old to practice jiujitsu as “free play” or sparring,  he had nevertheless learned “about 80 kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful.”

Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Barton-Wright collaborated with stick-fighting and savate instructor Pierre Vigny in at least two areas. One outcome was a melding of Vigny’s stick fighting with Barton-Wright’s jiujitsu, as shown in the latter’s articles for Pearson’s Magazine and later referred to by Captain Laing.  The other was the so-called “secret style of boxing”, also occasionally referred to as “Bartitsu (boxing)”, that was alluded to in several of Barton-Wright’s essays and public presentations.  After the Bartitsu Club closed during mid-1902, Vigny continued to teach a very Bartitsu-like blend of antagonistics styles, albeit with a much greater emphasis on fencing than on jiujitsu.

Direct evidence for Barton-Wright himself actually teaching classes is, however, scanty.  English self-defence authority Percy Longhurst referred to learning a particular throw directly from Barton-Wright, while the anonymous author of the 1901 article Defence Against “Hooligans” referred to Barton-Wright keeping “an admonishing eye” over the classes instructed by Tani, Vigny et al.  Allowing for journalistic license, one imagines that the instructors might rather have resented the admonishment.

While Barton-Wright was, in fact, the only Bartitsu Club principal who had active prior experience in all of the key methods taught at the Club, his own experience on a per-discipline basis paled in comparison with that of the specialist instructors.  Pierre Vigny was clearly the best-qualified to instruct students in the fine points of savate and of his own method of walking stick defence, and although Tani and Uyenishi were very young men at the time, they had both started training as children and their practical jiujitsu experience clearly far surpassed Barton-Wright’s.

During an interview for the 2011 documentary Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, martial arts historian Graham Noble observed that:

If you have a club where there are Japanese jiujitsu instructors teaching jiujitsu, people teaching French boxing, people teaching boxing – how do you bring those together?  Well, the problem is that the instructors themselves can’t bring it together.  The jiujitsu teachers can’t engage with the students in boxing, the savate people or the boxe Francaise people can’t engage with the jiujitsu people in terms of jiujitsu, because they don’t have the experience.  So (Barton-Wright) was probably, initially, the only one who understood what his system was!  He was probably the only “master of Bartitsu”!

So we have an embryonic art.  The only way that art can develop is if you develop a body of students who can then compete against each other.

Speculatively, therefore, it may be that Barton-Wright’s main role as an instructor was to supervise the preliminary training required of all new members of the Club.  The Bartitsu School of Arms offered an unusual pedagogical system in that beginners had first to complete a course of private lessons before being permitted to join the group classes.  Journalist Mary Nugent noted that “no class-work is allowed to be done until the whole of the exercises are perfectly acquired individually”.

We know little about the nature of these private classes except that they  included a course of physical culture exercises to prepare students for the demands of Bartitsu training.  Given his “jack of all trades” status, Barton-Wright himself would, perhaps, have been the best-qualified instructor to devise and implement such a course, which may have included preparatory exercises drawn from each of the key styles; thereby also freeing the specialist instructors to concentrate on their more advanced sessions.  Thereafter, Barton-Wright might have supervised classes (or simply offered tips) in blending the various specialisms together, as in his collaborations with Vigny.

We await the discovery of further details on the practical role Barton-Wright played in developing his “New Art of Self Defence”.

The Christmas Truce of 1914

In this holiday season marking one century since the end of the First World War, we depart from our usual coverage of Edwardian-era antagonistics to highlight the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce.

Although the Truce has been subject to some mythologising since the 1970s, the facts of the matter are extraordinary in themselves.  Defying strict orders against any type of fraternisation with the enemy, spontaneous cease-fires took place up and down the Western Front during late December of 1914.  Sections of No Man’s Land were briefly transformed into common ground, as handshakes, seasonal greetings and small gifts were exchanged between English, French and German soldiers.  Under mutual respite, carols were sung and the bodies of the fallen were buried.   Evidence strongly suggests that at least one 30-a-side football game was played.

May the unique lesson of the Christmas Truce inspire all fighters to recall the values of dignity, charity, respect and fellowship.

The Christmas Truce

by Carol Ann Duffy (2013)

Christmas Eve in the trenches of France, the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man’s Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel, sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother’s eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

In a copse of trees behind the lines, a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin holding his winter ground –
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
a few lit pipes;
most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
waiting for sleep.
The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.

But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief thrilled the night air,
where glittering rime on unburied sons
treasured their stiff hair.
The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.

On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
no sign of life,
no shadows, shots from snipers, nowt to note or report.
The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.

Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes,
as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone, candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.

Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot, or vaporised
by falling shells, or live to tell, heard for the first time then –
Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …

Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge from man to man;
a gift to the heart from home,
or childhood, some place shared …
When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.

A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
and all joined in,
till the Germans stood, seeing
across the divide,
the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.

All night, along the Western Front, they sang, the enemies –
carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems, in German, English, French;
each battalion choired in its grim trench.

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself
and offer the day like a gift
for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!

A young Berliner, brandishing schnapps,
was the first from his ditch to climb.
A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.

Then it was up and over, every man, to shake the hand
of a foe as a friend,
or slap his back like a brother would;
exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie’s stew,

Tickler’s jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
beer, sauerkraut;
or chase six hares, who jumped
from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
and make of a battleground a football pitch.

I showed him a picture of my wife. Ich zeigte ihm
ein Foto meiner Frau.
Sie sei schön, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.

They buried the dead then, hacked spades into hard earth
again and again, till a score of men
were at rest, identified, blessed.  Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.

And all that marvellous, festive day and night, they came and went,
the officers, the rank and file, their fallen comrades side by side
beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves…

… beneath the shivering, shy stars
and the pinned moon
and the yawn of History;
the high, bright bullets
which each man later only aimed at the sky.

“The Mechanical Prizefighter” (1906)

An ingenious solution to the problem of finding (or simply wearing out) sparring partners is detailed in this short article from the Scientific American of July 7, 1906.

To accommodate the needs of the professional boxer, as well as to instruct the novie in the “noble art of self-defense”, Mr. Charles Lindsey, of New Britain, Conn., has invented an automatic sparring machine.  

This machine is really a formidable fighter, and has already gained quite an enviable reputation in the many encounters it has had with local talent. Not only does it deliver straight leads and counters, but it varies these with an occasional uppercut, and its blows are rained with a speed and power that are the envy of the professional boxer.

The machine does not “telegraph,” that is, it does not give a warning of a coming blow by a preliminary backward jerk, which is so common to all but the best of boxers.  Nor can the opponent escape these blows by side-stepping, because the automaton will follow him from one side to the other. At each side of the opponent is a trapdoor, connected with the base of the machine in such a way that when he steps on one or other of these doors, the machine will swing around toward him.

The arms of the mechanical boxer are fitted with spring plungers, which are connected with crank handles turned by machinery. Separate crankshafts are used for the right and left arms, and they carry pulleys between which an idle pulley is mounted. These pulleys are connected with the main driving pulley by a belt which is shifted from side to side, bringing first one and then the other of the boxing arms into action. The belt-shifter is operated by an irregular cam at the bottom of the machine, and this gives no inkling as to which fist is about to strike.

Aside from this, the body of the boxer is arranged to swing backward or forward under the control of an irregular cam, so that the blows will land in different places on the opponent; for instance, a backward swing of the body will deliver an uppercut. The machine is driven by an electric motor, and can be made to rain blows as rapidly as the best boxer can receive them, or it may be operated slowly for the instruction of the novice. As the machine is fitted with spring arms and gloves, an agile opponent can ward off the blows and thus protect himself.

By 1939 a simplified version of the mechanical pugilist, employing trigger-activated pneumatic pistons, was being touted by its inventor, Frederick Westendorf:

C.F. also the various contrivances of boxing armour produced by eager pugilist/inventors around the turn of the 20th century.

“Jiu-Jitsu with the Umbrella” (1909)

A concise sketch illustration of some of the umbrella self-defence techniques taught by Marguerite Vigny, the wife of Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny. Madame Vigny – who also went by the name “Miss Sanderson” – devised her own method of self-protection, based upon her husband’s but specialising in the use of parasols and umbrellas rather than walking sticks, the latter being more typically carried by men than by women.

Madame Vigny’s method favoured thrusting attacks with the steel ferrule – referred to by Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright as “bayonet thrusts” – and hooking attacks with the crook handle, the latter backed up by the judicious use of the feet and knees.

Umbrella defence had previously enjoyed a brief media vogue during 1904, when several articles about Mademoiselle Marie Gelas appeared in American newspapers. Further articles on the Gelas method, especially highlighting umbrella techniques, were published in 1908/09, coinciding with reports on Madame Vigny’s system.

A sketch based on one of Marie Gelas’ demonstrations.

The notion of women’s self-defence via bumbershoot was then largely forgotten until circa 1970, when Los Angeles radio producer and fencing enthusiast Jill Maina devised her own take on the art.

“The Art of Self-Defence by Jiu-Jitsu Methods” (1918)

A full-page, colour ad for a 1918 film starring the notorious Captain Leopold McLaglen, whose martial arts misadventures are detailed in this article (note that his name was frequently spelled “McLaglan” in publicity releases, etc.)

Going by the rifle/bayonet theme, the now-lost film probably featured a demonstration of his bayonet fighting system, which he taught to numerous national militaries during the First World War.  Giving credit where it’s due, it’s possible that the McLaglen method, which included an emphasis on jiujitsu-like close-combat techniques, may have been better-suited to the grim realities of trench warfare than the more orthodox, “charge and stab” systems taught in most boot camps of the period.

A certificate awarded by Leo McLaglen to a jiujitsu trainee (1922).

The “Secret Science of Warra” may, conceivably, have been a garbled version of yawara – a term which generally refers to short fist-load stick weapons, but which was also sometimes used synonymously with jiujitsu.  Exactly what Leopold McLaglen may have meant by it is anyone’s guess.