“Bartitsu in the American Context”

The excellent Kung Fu Tea blog offers this well-researched post towards answering a question posed by Dr. Emelyne Godfrey in reviewing Diane Rouse’s book Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self Defense Movement. Specifically, how was E. W. Barton-Wright’s eclectic art of Bartitsu received in the United States?

Although E.W. Barton-Wright’s seminal Bartitsu articles were published in the US editions of Pearson’s Magazine, further references to Bartitsu in the American media were scattershot and Barton-Wright’s martial art certainly didn’t impact US popular culture to anything like the extent that it did in the UK. Likewise, although Barton-Wright mentioned a plan to tour his system through the United States, that never came to pass. The closest thing to an “American Bartitsu” during the early 20th century was probably the mysterious Latson System of Self Defense, of which there are few records other than a short series of articles written by the ill-fated Dr. Latson himself.

It could be argued, though, that Barton-Wright’s articles did newly popularise illustrated self-defence features in newspapers and magazines, which had previously been rare but which became quite common during the first decade of the 1900s.

Arturo Bonafont’s 1930 Cane Defence Book Now Translated and Available!

Above; the characteristic “inverted grip” of the Bonafont cane defence style, applied to a disarming strike.

The first decades of the 20th century saw a marked shift in approaches to the use of the walking stick as a weapon of self-defence. Whereas cane manuals had appeared intermittently during the preceding era, they tended to be closely based on sabre fencing and, indeed, to treat the stick as a substitute sabre. Innovators, notably including Bartitsu Club stick fighting instructor Pierre Vigny, observed the flaws in that approach and developed more diverse and sophisticated methods of their own, geared less towards the conditions of gentlemanly stick play in the salle d’armes and more towards the unpredictable, high-stakes circumstances of street fighting.

Vigny’s method was promulgated beyond his personal reach via E.W. Barton-Wright’s famous 1901 article series for Pearson’s Magazine and then by Police Superintendant H.G. Lang’s 1923 book The Walking Stick Method of Self-Defence. During the intervening period, several other authors produced their own works on the subject, including Andrew Chase Cunningham, whose 1912 book The Cane as a Weapon was a uniquely American entry into the canon of early 20th century stick fighting manuals.

Possibly the last, but by no means the least interesting nor valuable, was Nuevos Modos de Defenderse en la Calle con un Baston (New Methods of Street Self Defence with a Cane), which was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the year 1930. Author Arturo Bonafont was clearly an experienced instructor and, like Vigny and Cunningham before him, his idiosyncratic method represented a departure from the orthodoxy of sabre-based stick fighting.  Reading between the lines a little, it seems that his intended audience may have been young “swells” on slumming excursions in and around the brothels of the Argentinian capital.

The Bonafont method relies on a simple and flexible strategy based on two primary grips of the cane. One, for use at closer quarters, is the double-handed grip familiar to Bartitsu enthusiasts as the “bayonette”, while the other is a single-handed “inverted” grip; a position almost unique to Bonafont’s system. From these two primary grips, the system encompasses a comprehensive arsenal of jabs with both the steel ball “pommel” and the ferrule as well as slashing strikes delivered to the opponent’s most vulnerable targets.

Original copies of the Bonafont manual are extremely rare and it’s international appeal has been limited by the fact that it was written in Spanish. Now, however, an excellent English translation has been made available by Darrin Cook of the BigStickCombat.com website.

The new translated ebook edition covers the entire system in exacting detail and is available for only US$3.00 from Amazon.com.

The only criticism that might be made is that, while the new edition faithfully preserves the picture/text placement of the original book, that inevitably means that it’s often necessary to flip back and forth between pages to check Bonafont’s instructional photographs against his text.

That very minor quibble aside, Mr. Cook’s translation will, hopefully, help lead to an international revival of the Bonafont cane system comparable to that of the Vigny method, Irish bataireacht and other styles.

“Self-Protection on a Cycle” Re-Animated

Here’s an edited recap of the main lessons from Marcus Tindal’s article “Self-Protection on a Cycle”, as brought to life at the 2017 Dreynevent Western martial arts conference. The full presentation is available here.

Tindal’s article was published by Pearson’s Magazine at about the same time as E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu articles, leading to the common mistaken assumption that bicycle self-defence was part of Bartitsu per se. It does, however, come under the heading of fun adjunct studies and is occasionally revived, as previously seen at the ISMAC event in Michigan.

Sergeant George Wheeldon’s Police Self-Defence (circa 1905)

The City of London police history blog Plodd in the Square Mile offers this short but informative article on Sergeant George Wheeldon, who essentially pioneered the systematic practice of unarmed self-defence within the English police force.

Sergeant Wheeldon had been in the audience during some of E.W. Barton-Wright’s first Bartitsu displays, including the original Tivoli Theatre displays by Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.  He was also a prominent correspondent in the great “Jujitsu vs. Boxing and Wrestling” debates that raged via letters to the editors of various sporting journals during 1905-7. In a letter to Health and Strength Magazine, Wheeldon evinced some skepticism about jiujitsu, more in terms of its actual novelty than its evident practicality:

Regarding a number of these holds, I can safely assert that I knew a great many of them long before Ju-ju-tsu came to this country, having studied anatomy for many years, and always having a hankering for tricks of self defence. I learnt a good many through the above study.

He went on to note that the jiujitsu “scissor hold” (dojime) was not unique to Japanese unarmed combat, having been illustrated in a book on catch-as-catch-can wrestling dating to the 1820s, and referred to another hold or takedown which was widely known among English poachers.

Although he may have been overstating his case a little for effect, and possibly out of nationalistic sentiment, Sergeant Wheeldon’s own course in self-defence was itself an eclectic blend of Japanese and English grappling techniques.  It probably represents the first attempt to systematise a method of unarmed self-defence and restraint training for a professional police force.

Jujitsu at Glen Parva Barracks (1905)

Although he had been brought to London to partner Yukio Tani in teaching and demonstrating Japanese unarmed combat via the Bartitsu Club, Sadakazu “Raku” Uyenishi went his own way after the club closed during early 1902. While Tani went on to great success as a music hall wrestler, Uyenishi established the the successful Golden Square School of Jujitsu. As described in this article from the Leicester Daily Post of December 9th, 1905, Uyenishi also gave a number of exhibitions for the armed services.

Noting as usual that the term “Jap” did not carry any negative connotation in Edwardian English, being directly equivalent to the abbreviation “Brit” for British.

Professor Uyenishi, of London, and Mr. Nelson, a promising pupil, gave fine display of the Japanese national art at Glen Parva barracks on Thursday evening. The first portion consisted of throws and self-defence tricks, with some of the wonderful locks which are used in the above. The trips by ankle and knee were given with marvelous dexterity, but undoubtedly the most wonderful tricks of this kind were achieved with the cross hock and cross thigh, when the defeated wrestler found himself performing a neat “cartwheel.”

The Professor also gave a fine exhibition of self-defence tricks, showing how a small man, or woman, may easily defeat a burly opponent, although taken at a serious disadvantage by being attacked from behind. Then followed a lesson for the pupil, who, despite his frantic endeavours to keep his feet, soon found that he had had enough.

The final part of the display was between the Professor and Sergt. Jones, of the gymnastic staff of the depot, who came to the front on the Professor’s call for a volunteer The sergeant made a determined effort to keep feet and, if possible, throw the clever little Jap, but ultimately had to give the signal of defeat, after a good struggle. This concluded the performance, no other candidate coming forward to try conclusions with the professor, who, needless to say, had delighted the audience.

Dr. Herman Ten Kate Discusses the Shinden Fudo Ryu (Part 1)

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.

“A Ju-jitsu Festival in Kyoto, Japan” (1909)

Sketch artist Tom Brown recorded his impressions of a “ju-jitsu festival” taking place in Kyoto for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of November 13, 1909.  He noted that he admired the wrestling itself and also the  formal courtesies offered by the competitors before and after each contest, which were “almost as elaborate as a fencing match”.

“Stick Fighting in Trinidad” (Diss Express – 14 March, 1919)

Above: lithograph of Dominican stick fighting painted by Agostino Brunias; engraved print published London (1779).

The following short article is notable for its reference to the Trinidadian stick fighting style of “playing bois”, which is closely cognate to the Grenadian bois stick style that was amalgamated with Pierre Vigny’s art of self defence with a walking stick by H.G. Lang during the early 1920s.  Although Grenadian bois seems to have evolved into a ceremonial dance, similar stick fighting sports can still be found throughout the Caribbean island chain.

Single combat in various forms survives all over the world, and different peoples have different methods of showing their prowess. In the island of Trinidad, for instance, the natives, who speak mixture of French patois and English, call their method “playing bois” (literally stick-fighting).

The stick used is about a yard long and usually made from the “puie” tree, a very hard wood. This is held at each end diagonally in front of the body, and the blow’s are struck releasing one hand and striking with either the left the right. the carnival season bands from the various districts are made and contests take place whenever two bands meet.

The stick-men are extraordinarily clever at parrying blows, and an expert will stop a cricket ball thrown at him.

“The Art of Self Defence” (1909)

The following article by N. Tegan Lewis was originally published in the Women’s Freedom League newspaper of April 22, 1909, following the jiujitsu self-defence displays by Edith Garrud at London’s Caxton Hall (shown above).

We’ve offered a few contextual annotations, which are shown in italics.

A novel feature of the Green, White and Gold Fair, at Caxton Hall, was the jiu-jitsu displays given by women. Apart from the fact that it is splendid physical exercise, jiu-jitsu is the most suitable form of self-defence for women, success depending on the dexterous use of the opponent’s strength. The science has three branches: the throws, which require much practice; the art of self-defence exclusively, by which all attacks by violence may be resisted; and the art, when the opponent has been thrown, of wrestling on the ground and rendering him unconscious by neck locks and other means. Happily, measures so stringent as those taught in this third branch are not often necessary, but in an encounter with a desperate burglar or an escaped lunatic the knowledge would be decidedly useful.

Emily Watts, another pioneering jiujitsu instructor of this era, largely dismissed ne-waza (mat grappling) in her 1906 manual The Fine Art of Jujutsu, on grounds of sensibility rather than practicality.

In the course of the last quarter of a century women in this country have developed physically, as mentally, in an amazing way while men have been—well, let us say—at a standstill. The modern healthy girl, backed by a knowledge of some scientific art of defence, could render a very good account of herself when necessary and men “Anti’s” who are so fond of the physical force “argument” would do well to take heed in time lest the day come, and perhaps it is not far distant, when they will not be allowed to let the matter drop.

“Anti’s” refers to those who were against the movement towards women’s suffrage.  The fallacious “argument of physical force” essentially stated that women should not be given political power on the grounds that such power ultimately resolves into the ability to exert physical force.

We are all familiar with Mr. Punch’s famous advice to those about to marry, but, though Mr. Punch “were like to die of it,” we have not yet heard Mrs. Punch’s opinion on the matter. May we suggest, with all due deference to Mr. Punch, that her advice to the girl would be “learn jiu-jitsu”?

During the Edwardian period, the Punch and Judy puppet show preserved Mr. Punch’s ferocious violence against virtually all the other characters, including his wife Judy.

Such a precaution would be, let us hope in the majority of cases, merely a matter of form. At the same time it is idle to ignore the fact that there are men, in all classes of society, who habitually ill-treat their wives. At present the usual advice given to the ill-used wife, when circumstances render it practically impossible for her to leave her husband, is “do not lower yourself by retaliation, at all costs uphold your womanly dignity.” Setting aside the utter impossibility of being dignified under such circumstances this advice is, theoretically, perfectly sound. Practically jiu-jitsu is likely to prove far more effective for it is universally acknowledged that your bully is usually a coward.

The theme of jiujitsu as self-defence against an abusive husband provided the basis of the polemic playlet What Every Woman Ought to Know (1911), which included a spectacular fight scene staged by Edith Garrud.

It has long been the custom to consider women more timid than men, but one has only to scan the newspapers day by day to realize that in cases of great emergency—such as the Messina earthquake—women are every whit as brave as men; and hardly a week goes by but some woman goes to the assistance of the police in a street brawl while a crowd of men—citizens stand idly by, indifferent or amused, oblivious of any responsibility. Moreover, in the days when entrance to the army was an easy affair, many women fought side by side with the men and many instances are on record of women taking part in sea fights. There was Hannah Snell, who enlisted as a marine and saw active service, and Mary Ann Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, who was wounded in the action of the Glorious First of June, both of whom received pensions from a grateful Government. Anne Bonney and Mary Read, after serving in the Navy, turned pirates—to their own profit, doubtless, if not to that of the State.

Public opinion has hitherto been the greatest enemy to the physical development of women; the pioneer women cyclists were covered with scorn, the girls who first declared their preference for hockey over croquet were looked at askance as hoydens. Happily the world soon gets accustomed to new ideas, and to-day the girl who cycles and the girl who plays hockey are taken very much as a matter of course—just as will be the girl of to-morrow who practises jiu-jitsu. In a few years time let us hope that the woman who is not versed in the art of self-defence will be regarded, and rightly regarded, as an anomaly.

Edith Garrud’s demonstrations did, in fact, spark a wide interest in women’s jiujitsu, including a fad for “jiujitsu parties”.  Mrs. Garrud also established an exclusive “Suffragettes Self-Defence Club” and, several years thereafter, became the jiujitsu instructor for the secret Bodyguard Society of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

The Bamboo Pole Trick

This photo published in the Italian journal La Stampa Sportiva (November, 1903) shows former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi wheeling out an old favourite.  The “bamboo pole trick” had been a feature of some of the earliest exhibitions of jiujitsu in London, and a prone variation on the same principle was even mentioned in the memoir of Dutch anthropologist Herman ten Kate, who had trained in the same Shinden Fudo Ryu dojo in Kobe as had Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright.

Above; Yukio Tani pulls off the “bamboo pole trick” at a Bartitsu Club event during March of 1899.

As a test/demonstration, the “bamboo pole trick” legitimately does show off the performer’s ability to withstand pain and discomfort and to manage the direction of pressure against their throat.  Subtle shifts of position change the angle of pressure from “straight into the trachea” to “downward against the collar-bones”, which, though still uncomfortable and somewhat risky, is a less actively dangerous than trying to resist a pole shoved directly into the sensitive throat area.

That said, it’s really more of a carnival sideshow stunt than an exhibition of martial arts skill, and that point was not lost on some early observers of the trick in London.  According to a report published in the Sporting Times of October 20, 1900:

Then the talking began, for a gentleman of ripe years, alluded to affectionately by most of the audience as “Charley,” was not quite satisfied with the pushing experiment of arm against throat, and had something to say as to leverage and the Georgia Magnet. Whether he wanted make a match between the little American lady and the big Jap, we in the stalls could not quite catch; but when the discussion was at its height, Mr. Barton Wright appeared from behind the scenes with a message from the big Jap*. He (the big Jap) would stand against the wall, and let the doubting gentleman push with the pole as hard as be could against his throat, if afterwards the doubler would wrestle a fall with him.

It’s a little ironic that “Charley” should have cited the Georgia Magnet in his objection to the bamboo pole trick, given that E.W. Barton-Wright himself had published an expose of Georgia Magnet-style leverage tricks presented as feats of “supernatural” strength.


  • The big man cited here was probably Seizo Yamamoto, who was among the original party of three jiujitsuka imported by Barton-Wright to exhibit and teach their art to curious Londoners.  Yamamoto, along with Yukio Tani’s older brother Kaneo, only remained in London for a few months before returning to Japan.