This new book by French cultural historian Dominique Kalifa explores the notion of the criminal underworld in Western popular culture, including the infamous Parisian Apache and London hooligan phenomena that fed – and were fed by – numerous scaremongering media reports at the turn of the 20th century. Those reports, in turn, fuelled the urban self-defence craze that arguably began with E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu and continued largely via English, French and American sources until the outbreak of the First World War.
The “last hurrah” of the venerable English tradition of quarterstaff fighting took place on the gladiatorial stages of the early 18th century, when professional roughhousers such as James Figg “took on all comers” with various weapons for the chance to win prize money. As the sport of boxing overtook weaponed stage-fighting, the quarterstaff largely receded into folklore, aside from sporadic and largely undocumented revivals via rural fairs.
During the mid-late 19th century, however, the confluence of newly-devised protective equipment for sports such as cricket and fencing and the renewed enthusiasm for the tales of Robin Hood laid the basis for a widespread quarterstaff fencing renaissance.
From the 1870s onwards, the old/new sport became particularly popular among soldiers and was frequently a highlight of “assault-at-arms” exhibitions, featuring displays of martial gymnastics and all manner of antagonistics. Two instructional manuals were produced – Thomas McCarthy’s Quarterstaff: A Practical Manual (1883) and a chapter in R.G. Allanson-Winn’s comprehensive Broadsword and Singlestick(1898).
Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright claimed that he had often had to defend himself against attackers armed with quarterstaves – among an alarming variety of other weapons – during his travels abroad. It’s likely that he was referring to his time working in mining settlements in Portugal, where the folk-sport/martial art of jogo do pau was widely practiced during the late 19th century, though the question of why he may have been repeatedly attacked there remains open to speculation. In any case, according to Barton-Wright’s own reports, his favoured tactic of closing in against opponents armed with superior weapons – notably a feature of his presentations of the Vigny method of stick fighting – was inspired by these encounters.
In England, quarterstaff fencing exhibitions persisted well into the 20th century, sometimes incorporating crowd-pleasing “stunt” elements, which had been disparaged by Thomas McCarthy as “made-up affairs, just for show”. Interestingly, a number of late-19th century reports on quarterstaff matches refer to disarmed combatants immediately shifting to boxing – though it’s difficult to say to what extent this may also have been tongue-in-cheek showmanship for the crowd.
This rare snippet of film from a 1925 military display in Portsmouth features a moment from a particularly “showy” bout with staves, reminiscent of professional wrestling:
Hung Kyun’s “Double Ended Staff” (Seung Tau Gwan), China? No – British quarterstaff fighting, Portsmouth, England 1925. This is how kid’s used to play (!). Very #PHK! Read the article here > http://practicalhungkyun.com/2013/02/traveller-monks-staff-hang-je-paang/
The following, newly-discovered pictures represent a fairly late addition to the corpus of English quarterstaff fencing materials. They originally appeared in an Illustrated London News article titled “The Quarterstaff: Then and Now”(1934). The photos were taken at the Royal Air Force Depot in Oxbridge, and feature R.A.F. swordsmen Sergeant Turner and Sergeant Jarrold, “refereed” by Professor Ware. Note that, although Turner and Jarrold are shown here in regular gym kit for purposes of demonstration, during competitive staff play they would have worn protective equipment of the type shown above. The captions are by M. Pollock Smith.
Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright spent three years, between roughly 1895-98, living in Kobe, Japan, where he worked as an antimony smelting specialist for E.H. Hunter and Company. By his own account, Barton-Wright spent much of his free time there practicing jiujitsu at the traditional Shinden-Fudo Ryu (“School of the Immovable Heart”) dojo of sensei Terajima Kunichiro. Thereby, he became one of the very first Westerners to known to have made a practical study of the Japanese martial arts.
However, Barton-Wright also mentioned that he had taken some lessons with the famed Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo. Details of their association are scanty, but Barton-Wright also later stated that, when it came time for him to arrange for some jiujitsu experts to travel to England, he had corresponded with “Professor Kano and other friends in Japan”. This is curious in that, of the three jiujitsuka who originally made that trip, only one – Seizo Yamamoto – had any confirmed prior connection to the Kodokan.
In any case, while Barton-Wright’s experience as a trainee was highly unusual, some other Westerners living at Japan at around the same time did take a more academic interest in the martial arts. The following account of training at the Kodokan was penned by self-described “nomad” and travel writer Gertrude Adams Fisher, and represents a rare and picturesque glimpse into Professor Kano’s famous academy during the very early 20th century.
A contrasting institution, of equal fame in the land, is the Judo school of Professor Kano, its founder, who is a unique factor in the country. As Kano was journeying in China, Tomita Tsunejira carried on the school and received the guests. Red tape and a special permit secured the entry, and repaid all effort. A score of men jumped to their feet, as my riksha rolled into the court. Spectators are always drawn to the school, and there were idlers, and coolies in blue. The lobby seemed a dressing-room, where scores of suits were pigeon-holed, and where clogs awaited their owners. The urbane manager smiled sweetly and bowed low to my card of introduction, and, in stockinged feet, I curled up like a Turk on the platform, while a score of sturdy men tumbled and bumped and rolled and spun, landing on the classic floor which, for a quarter of a century, had trained athletes and developed wrestlers renowned throughout Japan. The unfurnished room was the cradle of physical skill, the spot where many, by scientific training rather than by weight or power, have learned how to handle men.
Professor Kano, known as the “Father of modern wrestling,” is a philanthropist, loved by his people. His skill and his devotion have given to the Japanese their reputation as the best tumblers and the most daring acrobats in the world. Neither he nor his manager nor his teachers receive a penny for their work. Love and enthusiasm inspire the workers. Professor Kano has no desire to be wealthy. He is content to draw a salary as professor in the Higher Normal School. There is no sordid motive in his private enterprise, and no school could be more public. “Whosoever will, may come,” without entrance or tuition fee. Money is an unknown element in his school, and its platform is truly democratic. The true sporting spirit for fair play and equal rights prevails. Nobleman, rikman, and coolie are on an equality, and skill in throwing is the only badge of merit. Five thousand pupils have tried their strength on this wrestling field, and they number in their lists a secretary to the British legation. Small boys and mature men are proud to practise here. All wear the same costume, of heavy white, with loose, open jacket and very short trunks. Men of noble families wear a purple sash, while the sash of the ordinary citizen is white, and this is the only mark to distinguish plebeian from patrician, to tell the humblest combatant when he has displaced a man of noble rank. The son of the editor of Japan’s best paper sat by the wall with the humblest natives, and was tossed and thrown by an obscure coolie who outdid him in skill.
The manager declared strongly for the principles which guide the wrestler’s code, and for the value of wrestling in mental and moral gain. The code of ethics is exacting, and many a thoroughly bad boy shows a moral reform after a month at the Judo school. No court code is more precise than the ceremony with which these adversaries approach each other. The ballroom manners of Alphonse to Dulcina, as he asks her for a dance, are no more perfect than those of the opponents in this arena. The suppliant crawls on hands and knees, salaams to the floor, and repeats his fixed form of invitation. The recipient also plays the role of quadruped, bumps his head on the floor, and repeats the ceremonious acceptance. Then they stand erect, come to the centre, and war begins. At the finish follow bows and responses, expressions of mutual gratitude and appreciation; and congratulations, compliments, and recognition of special merit are in order.
The men mark their record in the school register, in strange cabalistic signs dashed on by a brush from a block of India ink. The writing is in columns, beginning at the end, we should say, on the last page of the book, and on the right margin. Here is future proof of each man’s bout, with whom he struggled, and with what result. The test is no child’s play, but deadly earnest from start to finish. Muscles strain, cords swell, eyes dilate, as each man pushes for the mastery. Every movement is thought out for its scientific value. The fray is marked by nimbleness and dexterity. Every sweep of the body is made with lightning flash, and the thought which precedes is quicker than lightning. It is a training of the mental powers and a swift study of cause and effect. The work is based on physical laws. Statics, inertia, the law of bodies at rest, of bodies in motion, of momentum, of velocity, of the lever, the fulcrum, of poise, and the maintenance of gravity, are the foundation of the art. Fair play and a scientific basis are the code.
In his limited English the gracious manager explained the system, and I drank the detested tea, an ubiquitous penance, if one is not fond of the beverage. Tomita Tsunejira explained the word “judo,” which is the key-note to the profession, and which, as he sadly announced, has no equivalent in English. “Ju” means soft, pliant, yielding, and “do” means thoroughness. Freely translated, a thorough doing-up of the opponent, in a soft and easy style. The practical object-lesson did not reveal the softness of the process. Men spun through the air, and fell, slap-slam, on all sides. The soft, yielding matting seemed the only pliant feature. After the toss-up and the thump, men lay for a moment stretched in Delsartean relaxation. Then they rebounded with the spring of a rubber ball, and jumped to the foe, like wiry little spiders. If a shoulder were dislocated, a spasm of pain delayed the game till the bone was shoved back in the socket.
“I will now show scientific moves,” said Mr. Tsunejira, as he cleared the floor, and called for his two crack teachers. The pupils had been ready for practice. They had held many bouts and brief rests, but they readily retired to give place to the experts. Students knew that rare sport was in store, and they were anxious for the exhibition. With a modest laugh and a smile of pleasure, the men advanced for my benefit. One was short and thick-set, the other slight in figure. They slid along, 1-2-3, as if practising a waltz. Then they twisted their knees, and tied up their bodies in a double knot. They rested, they pushed, and a man was thrown. The beginning and the end were apparent, but only a trained eye could detect the scientific move. Some sudden twist, unexpected, at the right second of poise, had sent the victim sprawling. A few moments were filled with dexterous moves, electric tosses, and quick tumbles. Over the head, on to the shoulder, right, left, across the thigh, a man was tossed like a featherweight in mid-air. The admiring school crouched in envious wonder. The proud manager scanned the play, intent, with knotted brow and wide-open eyes, disapproval and pleasure evident, at the various moves. He would have made a noble daimio in older times, this mixture of courtly grace and stern rigidity. The performers did their best stunts, and gave general pleasure; the manager called a halt, and the teachers retired with profuse expressions of courtesy and compliment. The white and purple sashes of the pupils mingled on the floor, as the men renewed their bouts with fresh impulse and inspiration for the art.
Daily, from three to five P. M., and Sunday morning, from nine to eleven, the school is in session, for that work which makes men ready to see, able to do, willing to dare, courageous in attack, modest in victory, brave in defeat, polite and manly always. The principle and the practice of the school are the making of the soldier, and the humblest men in training here become record-breakers of bravery and endurance at the front.
Here the aspiring lads of Tokio may take few lessons or many, as they choose, and here they have the practice which is one essential in the equipment of every policeman, that he may hand over a scientific touch-down to every tough who needs it.
In the outside court men were drawing water from the deep well to fill the buckets for the after-bath, which is the pleasure and the need of these cleanly people in every walk of life.
For his great and practical philanthropy, Professor Kano has earned the world-wide fame and the national love which he has won. His is patriotic mission work of the highest type, without money and without price, a free gift to the humblest and the highest, for the betterment of mankind, for the making of manly men, who, in time of peace or in time of war, are the strength and bulwark of the nation.
Although all of the circa 1900 Bartitsu articles are now in the public domain and many are available online and/or in the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium, some enthusiasts enjoy owning antique original copies. As of the time of this publication, original copies of the following items are available via eBay:
The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club (Anonymous, 1900): a journalist for the Black and White Budget Magazine reports on the Bartitsu School of Arms, including an interview with Barton-Wright, photographs of Pierre Vigny and others in action and also photos of some of Barton-Wright’s peculiar therapeutic gadgets.
The New Art of Self Defence, part 1 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899): The first of Barton-Wright’s four self-defence articles for Pearson’s Magazine, including numerous photographs and technical descriptions. This article holds the distinction of being the first detailed, illustrated essay on Japanese martial arts to appear in the English language.
Self Defence with a Walking Stick, part 1 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1901): The first essay in Barton-Wright’s explication of the Vigny stick fighting method, featuring numerous photos and detailed technical breakdowns.
Self Defence with a Walking Stick, part 2 (E.W. Barton-Wright, 1901): Part 2 covers further Vigny stick fighting scenarios, including defences against angry mobs and individuals wielding alpenstocks (spiked hiking staves).
A newly-discovered photograph of Captain Alfred Hutton, who is now famed as a pioneer of historical European martial arts reconstruction and of the establishment of competitive fencing as an English sport during the late 19th century. He was also one of the select group of “antagonistics” instructors who taught at the Bartitsu School of Arms.
Hutton was a member of the “committee of gentlemen” responsible for vetting new prospective members of the Bartitsu Club, where he aso taught various forms of historical fencing. In addition to teaching his own classes, he studied both the Vigny method of stick fighting and jiujitsu with his fellow instructors.
“… may Mars who watches o’er
The half-stripped votaries of the sawdust floor,
Protect thee still.”
THE practical uses of boxing for the purposes of self-defence in a street or other row are considerable, but sometimes just a little overrated. Everybody is accustomed to stories, actual or invented, telling of the big bully thrashed by a little boxer. Plenty of big bullies have been thrashed by little boxers: but in the interests of truth rather than of sentiment it is as well to add that where the bully is himself a boxer (and a boxer may be fairly competent without being very courageous) the little man will wish he was a big man. Weight and height and size must of themselves tell.
But then, most fortunately, these valuable qualities sometimes tell against their owner. A hulking ruffian with no knowledge of boxing, or—what is worse — a very little knowledge, will expend his strength in futile swings and wind-mill blows; he will get his feet mixed up; he will fight himself to a standstill. And all the while the other man, little or not as the case may be, will keep himself in reserve; looking on, so to say, an interested spectator. The mighty, blundering arms will pass and repass over his head; but by a little slipping and ducking on the part of a skilled opponent, these stupid blows will never land on any vital part. And then when the giant has worn himself out and stands panting and exhausted, his antagonist—still keeping admirably cool and collected—will carefully and systematically smash him.
That is the best side of street fighting, and it happens fairly often; but it is not always safe to reckon on the ruffian being a merely hulking one: he may be a good hand, for instance, at kicking with hob-nailed boots. And so to be useful in such emergencies the boxer has to alter his methods a little and be prepared for eventualities in no way connected with the Queensberry rules.
Of course you will soon see whether the man who attacks you, or whom, for one reason or another, you feel called upon to attack, is going to fight fairly or not. In the former case all you have to do is to box as well as you can—as though you had entered for a competition with bare knuckles, but with certain modifications. In the latter you must keep a sharp look out and employ certain dodges, some of which will be indicated here, which are outside boxing.
In the first place, your position in any impromptu encounter should be rather different to that employed in ordinary sparring. You should stand more edgeways on towards your opponent, so as to give him as small a target as possible; and your attitude should be more cramped. You need not be afraid of this on the score of being tired the sooner, as such a fight is unlikely to last long. It is extremely important to guard every vital point rigidly. Your left shoulder should be held well up with the chin sunk below it. Your left arm should be more bent than is usual, your right elbow nearer the pit of your stomach, and the fist close to your face. Your feet will be in the same position as they ordinarily are.
It is an ungainly posture, and there will be none of the free and easy movement which is so essential to good boxing. But a fight in grim earnest cannot allow for the elegances of sport. You must protect yourself as best you can and damage your enemy as much as possible in the quickest time. In the case of a hooligan, you must do all in your power to disable him completely. Winning by a fair margin of points is hardly satisfactory in a street rough-and-tumble.
If your opponent stands up and boxes like a man, there is one particular blow you should try and land at once; and that is a straight left at his throat. You can occasionally bring it off when boxing with gloves if your antagonist leans his head back; otherwise the size of the glove mitigates its effect, and the blow lands partly on the top part of his chin and partly on the top of his breast-bone. With the bare fist, however, there is no difficulty about bringing the knuckles into undisturbed contact with the apple of the throat. Such a blow, well delivered, may virtually finish the encounter. The man who receives it gasps for breath, and probably staggers back, laying himself open to another blow given as you please—at the side of his jaw. It is extremely painful, this throat blow, and if you happen to receive it yourself you should cover up with both hands and get away for a moment or two if possible. In order to land it, you should feint with the left at your opponent’s head in order to make him throw it back to avoid the blow. Then step in a little closer and send the left home well under his chin.
Remember always in a street fight a man who has some knowledge of boxing, but does not mean to use it fairly, will try and drive you up to a wall and hit your head back against it, if he can. The consequence of that is obvious; so always try to keep in the open. Do not waste time in hitting your man about the head if he ducks low: it will not hurt him, and you may damage your knuckles. In the same way, unless he has no coat or waistcoat on, be chary of hitting him in the body. Buttons or a watch chain may do considerable damage to your knuckles, especially when repeatedly hit. Of course you must not leave his body alone—particularly if the man is a fat or a flabby one. But make sure that when you do hit him there that the blow is a really hard one, carefully timed. With the hooligan type you should make a point of avoiding his mouth. Dangerous cases of blood-poisoning have resulted from knuckles cut on the teeth of this sort of man. Aim for his jaw, his throat, and his temples in particular.
With the man who fights “all in,” as the saying goes, who will employ any means of hurting you from half a brick to a knee in your stomach, you must be more vigilant. This kind of man will often charge with his head down, trying to butt the wind out of you. The ordinary boxer will naturally regard this as a first-class opportunity for an upper cut. So it is. But you need something much more damaging than that. It is not the slightest good being quixotic on such an occasion. You must stop the man as best you may. The thing to do in this instance is to wait for him, and as he comes in bring your right leg up in a level with the left, and lift your knee with all your power into his face. Your fists should then get a chance of completing the good work in the next second. By the same mark, never lower your own head in case your opponent may remember his knees.
Then there is the ruffian who tries to kick your shins. That is easily stopped if you can keep a cool head, and, as before, wait for him. Lift your foot off the ground six inches or so, and the fellow’s own shin will come into violent contact with the toe of your boot. More dangerous is he who pretends to fight with his fists and suddenly kicks out sideways at your stomach. Of course the most serious injuries may be caused in that way: but if you are quick enough—and the best of boxing is that it makes you alert to perceive this sort of thing as well as the fair manoeuvres of the ring—if you are quick enough then you can step back half a pace, snatch your opponent’s leg as it . rises, and by an upward jerk throw him down.
In any sort of street fight, however, do not be led into wrestling unless you are an expert at it; and keep to long range hitting, waiting your chance for a punishing blow. Little blows are of no use. It is far better to hit seldom and with all your might.
With the type of man already referred to who stops at nothing, who stoops to anything, it never does to run any risks at all. If, for example, you get your head into “chancery”—an expression now obsolete as regards boxing—you are likely to be severely handled. The origin of the phrase is fairly obvious. Having once got into actual Chancery there is considerable difficulty in getting out again. Getting your head into chancery is caused by ducking too low past your opponent’s left, so that he can bring his arm back quickly and hold your head beneath it. True that by this means he cannot hurt you much in the ordinary way as your face is protected by his body, and your left will be free to guard your own: but he may throw you badly, or he may inflict much punishment by kidney blows.
The best way to get out of chancery is to hit at your opponent’s “mark” with your left as hard as you can, at the same time getting your left heel behind his. It is not the least use pulling with your head: but if you are strong enough you may be able to loosen your antagonist’s grasp by forcing up his left arm with your right hand. But in street fighting you should make it a rule never to get near enough to your opponent to allow the possibility of chancery. In boxing, to grip a man’s head under your arm is just like any other form of holding—a matter to be dealt with instantly by the referee.
There is another kind of antagonist more frequently to be met with than any other in a street row, and that is the drunken man. He may be by practice a fair boxer or no boxer at all, or a “kick and half-brick” man. But when drunk—all types when thoroughly drunk have this in common—it is extremely difficult to hurt him. His sensibilities are deadened. His Dutch courage is heroic; and though it is but Dutch courage it serves its purpose. Men like this are easy enough to knock down as a rule, for the simple reason that standing at all is a considerable trouble to them. But unless they are very far gone in drink they will rise, little the worse for the fall, and make for you again. It is always disgusting to hit a drunken man, but it frequently has to be done—and it is as well to remember how difficult it is to make any impression on him.
Subtitled “Ju-Jitsu for Ladies”, this photo feature was originally published the Sketch newspaper of April 12, 1905. A note reveals that photos 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 were taken specifically for this article at the Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu, which was operated by former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and his colleague Taro Miyake; the remaining photos are credited to “Park”. Miss Phoebe Roberts is the demonstrator in most of the these pictures.
1. Should her assailant seek to take hold of her jacket, the lady catches him by the right hand, and by twisting it and pressing the elbow, which causes exquisite pain, easily throws him to the ground. His arm is then in such a position that it can be locked without much trouble.
2. The assailant can be rendered unconscious by this neck-hold after he has been thrown.
3. To effect this side-throw, the lady places her right foot in front of that of her assailant, pulls him sharply round, and throws him with the aid of his own strength.
4. The lady can also deal with any ruffian who may attack her by means of this hand-lock, which if fought against would lead to broken fingers.
5. The stomach-throw here shown is a favourite with the exponents of Ju-Jitsu, and is especially useful against a big opponent. The lady places her foot against her assailant’s stomach, and then drops quickly to the ground, with the result that the man’s weight causes him to be thrown over her head.
6. Having thrown her opponent flat upon the ground, the lady places one foot upon the back of his knee, catches hold of his collar with her left hand and of his toes with her right, and at the same time puts her left knee against his back. The foot is then pressed back towards the body, the pain caused rendering the victim helpless.
7. After she has thrown her assailant, the lady places her left foot on his chest, and then, catching hold of him by the left wrist and pressing her left knee forward, is soon in a position to dislocate his arm should need be.
A spectacular jiujitsu moment from the popular 1917 comedy play Wanted, A Husband, in which the protagonist, a young writer named Mabel, mischievously advertises for a husband to spark ideas for her new novel. Mabel’s “strenuous” friend Maud, who is well-versed in boxing and in Japanese wrestling, volunteers to serve as a “chucker-out” – effectively, a bouncer – and has occasion to tie one over-eager “Colonial” suitor into a pretzel.