Sherlock Holmes Wields a Deadly Scarf

Bartitsu is particularly noted for its weaponising of gentlemanly accoutrements such as walking sticks, umbrellas and overcoats.  We’ve also previously examined the use of bowler hats, belts and flat caps as weapons.

The use of weighted scarves as improvised and concealed weapons has a pedigree extending at least as far back as the early 19th century, when members of the Indian Thugee and Phansigari cults infamously employed their rumāl scarves to strangle their victims.  A heavy coin knotted into the end of the rumāl allowed Thug assassins to swiftly and silently “noose” their prey from behind.  This weapon and technique was elaborated by the French popular novelist Eugène Sue, who detailed the art of Thuggee strangulation in his 1884/5 series The Wandering Jew:

(The Strangler) then took a long and thin cord which was encircled round his waist, at one of the extremities of which was a ball of lead, in shape and size like an egg. After having tied the other end of this string round his right wrist, the Strangler again listened, and then disappeared, groping his way along the tall grass in the direction of the Indian, who came on slowly, singing his plaintive and gentle ditty.

At this instant, the sinister visage of the Strangler arose before him; he heard a whistling like that of a sling, and then felt a cord, thrown with equal swiftness and power, encircle his neck with a triple fold, and, at the same moment, the lead with which it was loaded struck him violently on the back of his head.

The assault was so sudden and unexpected, that Djalma’s attendant could not utter one cry — one groan.

He staggered — the Strangler gave a violent twist to his cord — the dark visage of the slave became a black purple, and he fell on his knees, tossing his arms wildly in the air.

The Strangler turned him over, and twisted his cord so violently that the blood rushed through the skin. The victim made a few convulsive struggles, and all was over.

Although the strangler cults were successfully suppressed, the notion of robbers making use of elaborately deceptive tactics – particularly involving strangulation techniques – made its way into the emerging urban folklore of European cities, as in during the “garroting panics” of 1850s and ’60s London.  A very similar tactic was employed by Parisian Apache muggers during the early 20th century, as in the notorious coup du pere Francois trick.

Famed “baritsu” practitioner Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) wields an adaptation of the Indian rumāl in the 1979 movie Murder by Decree, which pits Holmes against the arch-fiend Jack the Ripper.

In one scene set in Holmes’ lab, Dr. John Watson (James Mason) advises his comrade to arm himself, and offers Holmes a revolver – but Holmes demonstrates that he is, in fact, already armed, by smashing through a large glass beaker with a roll of coins concealed in a hidden pocket in his long scarf. Holmes then begins to explain the weapon’s origin, but Watson remarks that he already knows about the rumāl from his time serving as an Army doctor in India.

The climactic fight scene represents what may well be the only combat scarf vs. sword-cane encounter in the annals of cinema:

In 2010, American martial artist Jason Gibbs released the BattleScarf – essentially a standard scarf with pockets, but accompanied by a DVD illustrating how to use it as a striking and entangling weapon. Here’s a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) promotional clip, demonstrating the serious striking power that can be generated by this type of weapon under ideal circumstances:

Although the BattleScarf per se is no longer available, winter scarves with pockets at the ends are easily obtained from clothing stores and may be worth the consideration of modern urban adventurers.

The Sting of the Green Hornet

Having previously shone a spotlight on John SteedAdam Adamant and Harry Hart, it’s fitting that our periodic documentation of the use of umbrella and cane weapons by fictional heroes should now focus on Britt Reid – better known to generations of pop-culture aficionados as the Green Hornet.

The Hornet was created in 1936 for a WXYZ radio serial produced by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker.  As such, the character narrowly pre-dated the costumed superhero tradition generally (though arguably) conceded to have begun with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, which was published in April of 1938.  From the successful radio series, the Hornet flew straight into a movie serial, pulp novels, comic books and, most famously, a 1966-7 TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee.

In common with many of his predecessors, Britt Reid was a wealthy businessman who assumed a masked persona to foil wrongdoers who considered themselves to be above the law.   As far as the police, the general public or the criminal underworld were aware, however, the Green Hornet was, himself, a mob boss; Reid believed that the best way to dismantle crime was from within.  He and his partner/bodyguard Kato employed a range of ingenious weapons and gadgets, most famously including the Black Beauty – a “rolling arsenal” in the guise of a tricked out sedan – and the “hornet sting”, an extendable sonic ray gun that could destroy locks or even blow doors off their hinges.  The “sting” also occasionally doubled as a cane weapon in hand-to-hand combat.

The fight scenes in the Green Hornet TV series are typical of their vintage, apart from the unique and indelible presence of Bruce Lee, whose gung fu skills were first showcased for a mainstream audience as Kato.  The Hornet’s own fighting style was the standard ’60s Hollywood concoction of cowboy haymakers and general roughhousing, except for when he happened to have the hornet sting in his hands at the moment the action kicked off.  Under those circumstances, the masked hero tended (sensibly enough) to hold the weapon in an extended “bayonet grip”, using the shaft to parry or block incoming punches and retaliating with bar strikes; he also very occasionally used single-handed strikes to disarm enemies at close quarters.

Here’s a quick compilation of excerpts from the Green Hornet series mostly showcasing the hornet sting as a close-combat weapon:

The tone of The Green Hornet series was much darker and more realistic than that of the contemporaneous Batman show, which was produced by the same company.  It did not, however, achieve Batman’s pop-culture resonance and lasted only one season.  The characters of the Green Hornet and Kato have lived on via sporadic comic book revivals and in the 2011 action-comedy feature film starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou.

In Memoriam: Ricky Jay (1948-2018)

Master magician, actor, magic consultant/historian and martial arts aficionado Ricky Jay has passed away at the age of 70.

Although Jay’s fame was due to his extensive accomplishments as a scholar and performer, his long-term involvement with the martial arts dated back to the 1970s, when he took up karate.  He later admitted that, as a professional sleight-of-hand artist, the danger of hand injuries from intensive martial arts training had been a foolish risk.

After karate came aikido – a style that shares more than a few principles with the art of legerdemain.  His aikido sensei was Fred Neumann, who would recall challenging Jay to repeat a particularly confounding sleight of hand trick while Jay was showering after a training session.  Without missing a beat, and with no evident means of preparation, Jay casually performed the feat again, stunning his sensei.

Ricky Jay’s 1977 book Cards as Weapons quickly became an underground cryptohoplological classic, purporting (with a fairly straight face) to teach a unique method of self-defence via card-scaling; the venerable magician’s feat of hurling playing cards with great accuracy and force.  The book combined absurdist humour, quirky historical scholarship and practical instruction, also featuring “guest appearances” by some of Jay’s acquaintances, including singer Emmylou Harris and scientist Carl Sagan.

Twenty years later, when he was cast as a villain in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Jay was asked to exert his card-throwing prowess in a scene with Pierce Brosnan as Bond:

At one point, they wanted me to throw cards as weapons to attack Bond, but the first time they asked me to do it in rehearsal, I was an enormously long distance away from Pierce Brosnan, and I warned them that the cards went very, very hard and fast, and they said no no, they had someone in front of it to block the shot, and I again said, “I don’t think you should do that,” they said, “No, no, it’ll be okay.” And Pierce seemed to be fine with it.

So I whaled a card, I don’t know how far, 50 or 75 feet away, and they said, “Just throw it at his face,” and I hit him right above the eye, and realized that I almost ruined the most lucrative franchise in the history of film. Suddenly that scene was no longer in the movie. [Laughs.] So in a way that was horribly disappointing, but the rest of it was fun.

Here’s the master himself, performing a number of his “cards as weapons” stunts:

In 2002, Jay playfully scaled cards at action movie star Jackie Chan during a mutual appearance on a talk show hosted by Conan O’Brien.

Throughout his career, the magician frequently drew parallels between the disciplines of close-up magic and martial arts, and likened the mentor/mentee relationships of traditional magic apprenticeship to those of a sensei and his students.  Although he “retired” into more sedate and academic pursuits later in life, Jay’s involvement in the martial arts continued via his close friendship with playwright, screenwriter and jiujutsuka David Mamet.  Mamet cast Jay as an unscupulous fight promoter in his peculiar, cerebral martial arts movie Redbelt (2008):

And finally, here’s Jay reciting a poem written for (and about) him by the late Shel Silverstein, encapsulating the arcane dangers of a life lived in the service of deception:

Rest in peace, Ricky Jay – man of mystery, scholar of the obscure and sworn enemy of the mundane.

Bartitsu Mini-Documentary on the “Celebrity Antiques Road Trip”

A six-minute item on the gentlemanly mixed martial art of Bartitsu, as featured on a recent episode of BBC2’s Celebrity Antiques Road Trip and including demonstrations by the Manley Academy of Historical Swordsmanship:

For the sake of strict historical accuracy, there’s no evidence that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually studied Bartitsu (in fact, the evidence suggests that he wasn’t even especially familiar with it). That said, it’s great to see another precis treatment of the art and its intriguing history in the mainstream media, and media doesn’t get much more mainstream than the Celebrity Antiques Road Trip.

Also worthy of note is that the show benefits the BBC’s charity Children in Need, which funds a wide range of projects helping children and disadvantaged young people throughout the UK.

Bartitsu to Feature on BBC2’s “Celebrity Antiques Road Trip” on Friday Nov. 16th

Viewers with access to BBC2 should keep an eye out for this upcoming episode of the popular Celebrity Antiques Road Trip series, in which comedians Al Murray and Paul Chowdhry hunt for antiques whose auction sales will benefit the BBC’s Children in Need charity. A tangent will also see Paul Chowdhry investigating Bartitsu, in collaboration with the Manley Academy of Historical Swordsmanship.

“Baritsu” Displays at Sherlockon 2018 (Poland)

Members of the Polish savate and Bartitsu club L’Extreme Est demonstrate aspects of Edwardian-era martial arts, including fisticuffs, kicking, cane fighting, jujitsu and foil fencing, for the audience at the recent Sherlockon 2018 fan convention in Warsaw.

Bartitsu Featured on Japanese TV

This six-minute Bartitsu featurette recently screened on the Japanese television show Sekai Kurabete Mitara  (“See the World in Comparison”). 

Bartitsu on Film

Some absolutely mental bits from Bartitsu Lab on Japanese TV

Geplaatst door The Bartitsu Lab op Donderdag 30 augustus 2018

Playing to the pop-culture notion of the “gentlemanly martial art” via the Sherlock Holmes and Kingsman movies, the segment still manages to communicate some of the essential details such as Edward Barton-Wright’s travels in Japan and the eclectic boxing/kicking/jiujitsu/Vigny cane nature of Bartitsu.

Kudos to the Bartitsu Lab of Warwickshire, UK and to their instructor Tommy Joe Moore.

Bartitsu to Feature on Japanese TV

The Japanese TBS edutainment show Sekai Kurabete Mitara (“See the World in Comparison”) will be featuring a short documentary on Bartitsu on August 20, 2018.  The theme of the show is to explore various current events and customs from throughout the world, with an emphasis on cultural diversity.

This will be the first Japanese-language broadcast on the art of Bartitsu and we’ll post the segment on this site if it becomes publicly available.

Bartitsu to Feature on “Celebrity Antiques Road Trip”

Members of the The Manley Academy of Historical Swordsmanship (Surrey, England) pose with host Natasha Raskin-Sharp and comedian Paul Chowdhry after a Bartitsu exhibition to be featured in an upcoming episode of Celebrity Antiques Road Trip.  In this popular BBC2 series, an antiques expert and a celebrity team up to locate valuable antiques to be sold at auction, for the benefit of the Children in Need charity.