“Self Defence with Sherlock Holmes” at the Royal Armouries Museum (Leeds, UK)

A recent Bartitsu display at the Royal Armouries Museum.

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, UK will be offering hands-on Bartitsu classes for children as part of an upcoming series of workshops in various historical martial arts.  The classes will run daily at 11am, 1pm & 3pm between August 13-17.

See this link for further details.

In Memoriam: William Hobbs (1939-2018)

The late William Hobbs (left) directing Sir Albert Finney.

By Tony Wolf

I’m sad to report the passing of William Hobbs, who was among the most influential and respected fight directors of the 20th century. He died on July 10th, at the age of 79 years.

Bill Hobbs was a true pioneer of the “modern style” of performance combat.  While many of his predecessors in film, TV and stage combat had also been expert fencers, Hobbs broke the mold in crafting fights that were at least as integral to character and story as any other aspect of production design.

It’s about thinking through the character, not through spectacle.  A fight has got to grow out of the situation of the play. Perhaps my advantage is that having been an actor, I’m trying only to do the move I feel is right for the character. You are not doing pyrotechnics for the sake of being pyrotechnic.

  • William Hobbs, quoted in The New York Times (1995)

His fighters were, for the most part, portrayed as fallible human beings. They frequently found themselves scrambling to recover from mistakes, became exhausted or enraged, slipped in the mud, sometimes succeeding (or just surviving) almost in spite of themselves.

All of this was in profound and refreshing contrast to the more purely heroic action scenes of Hobbs’ predecessors in the field, which too often eschewed messy realism and psychological substance for the swashbuckling cliches of textbook “movie fencing”.  Bill Hobbs’ fight choreography always sought to surprise his audience, and took the less-obvious path.

As a co-founder of the Society of British Fight Directors, Hobbs was also a pioneer in the practical research of historical martial arts.  In this, along with his fellow founders Arthur Wise and John Waller, he anticipated the modern HEMA revival movement by several decades.

From the mid-1960s through to the mid-2000s, Bill Hobbs’ acclaimed fight choreography was featured in dozens of major theatrical, film and television productions.  Germane to Bartitsu.org, he staged the dapper John Steed’s umbrella combat scenes for The Avengers (1998):

Career highlights, in terms of acclaim among his peers, include his work on Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), Ridley Scott’s The Duellists (1977),  Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love (1998). 

Perhaps his most famous fight, however, was the honour duel between Rob Roy and Archie Cunningham in Michael Caton-Jones’ Rob Roy (1995).

Younger audiences will recognise Bill Hobbs’ signature creativity and commitment to detail in the “water dance” fighting style of Syrio Forel, as featured in season one of the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones. Actor Miltos Yerolemou worked extensively with Hobbs to develop his character’s unique method of swordplay.

On a more personal note, I believe that it was a 1980s TV news item about William Hobbs’ work that first inspired me to take up fight direction as a career.  In fact, his 1967 book Stage Combat: The Action to the Word (with a foreword by Sir Laurence Olivier!) was among the very few resources available to me when I set out on that path.  Because there was literally no-one in my home country of New Zealand who could teach me how to become a fight director/stage combat instructor, Bill Hobbs effectively became my mentor via the written word.

When I travelled to London to attend the first ever international stage combat workshops in 1995, I carried my copy of Hobbs’ book with me. A customs agent asked what I’d be doing in England, and I explained a bit about the conference, at which he smiled broadly and asked “Will you be working with Bill Hobbs? I used to flat with him in the ’60s! Welcome to England, sir!”

The conference itself took place at London’s Roehampton Institute.  It was an amazing workshop of creative combat, with a colourful, eclectic roster of instructors and participants.  I remember that Bill seemed quite nervous as he spoke to us, and I only afterwards learned that he’d been worried that his audience of mostly young, up-and-coming fight directors would think him “old hat”.  Far from it; and I think he was a little overwhelmed by the adulation that he did, in fact, inspire in us.

After his lecture, Bill was gracious enough to sign my dog-eared copy of his book.   Many years later, I was honoured when he agreed to review and write a foreword for my own anthology of historical stage combat essays and anecdotes, A Terrific Combat!!!  Theatrical Duels, Brawls and Battles: 1800-1920 (2009).

Bravo, Maestro, and thank you; now rest in peace.

“Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” Cane Fighting

A compilation of gory, spectacular finishing moves employing the deadly sword cane weapon from the video game Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. In this game, the player takes the roles of twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they battle to wrest control of 1868 London from the sinister secret society of Templars.

When not being used as multi-purpose bludgeons, the assassins’ sword canes are equipped with concealed daggers and also with retractable scythe blades at the ferrule end.  As such, they are reminiscent of the various weaponised walking canes that were actually developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Sherlock” Actor Benedict Cumberbatch Fends Off Real-Life Muggers Near London’s Baker Street

LONDON (Reuters) – British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, known for his portrayal of fictional crime-fighter Sherlock Holmes and comic book superhero Doctor Strange in the Marvel movies, has been hailed a hero for chasing away four assailants as they mugged a cyclist in London.

Cumberbatch, 41, jumped out of his taxi and ran to the aid of the man working for food delivery company Deliveroo as he was set upon by the muggers, the Sun newspaper reported.

“The cyclist was lucky, Benedict’s a superhero,” Cumberbatch’s Uber driver Manuel Dias told the Sun. “Then it all got a bit surreal. Here was Sherlock Holmes fighting off four attackers just round the corner from Baker Street,” said Dias.

“I had hold of one lad and Benedict another. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing. He was very brave. He did most of it, to be honest.

They tried to hit him but he defended himself and pushed them away. He wasn’t injured. Then I think they also recognized it was Benedict and ran away.

Benedict was courageous, brave and selfless. If he hadn’t stepped in, the cyclist could have been seriously injured.”

He said the actor embraced the cyclist after the scuffle.

The attempted robbery took place on Marylebone High Street, just around the corner from Holmes’ fictional home on Baker Street.

“One of the males attempted to grab the victim’s cycle … He was then punched in the face, struck on the head and hit with his helmet,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement, adding that the incident took place in November last year.

“Nothing was reported stolen. The victim did not require hospital treatment. No arrests have been made,” the statement added.

Cumberbatch, who has played the fictional detective in TV series Sherlock since 2010, has also starred in films such as The Hobbit, Avengers: Infinity War and The Imitation Game, where he portrayed British World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing.

Cumberbatch told the Sun he was not a hero.

“I did it out of, well, I had to, you know ,” he was quoted as saying.

Cane Vs. Sword (Sherlock Holmes, 2009)

The climactic fight between Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr. and Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), in which Holmes appropriately wields a cane against Blackwood’s devilish blade:

For details on this scene and other aspects of “movie baritsu”, check out our interview with Sherlock Holmes fight choreographer Richard Ryan.

Bartitsu vs. Kendo Via Lightsaber Fencing (?)

Curiously, in that Bartitsu stick fighting is a predominantly single-handed method, some of the participants in this CBS Minnesota news item on competitive lightsaber fencing claim a Bartitsu background.

While the rules of competitive lightsaber seem closely comparable to those of kendo combined with HEMA longsword, the French combat sport of canne de combat might, perhaps, make a better model.  Because the French method was specifically devised as an “artistic fighting style”, the rules require moulinets and extensions on every attack and award higher points for executing spectacular techniques such as leaps and pirouettes.  In that sense, it’s rather closer to the flashy, cinematic style featured in the Star Wars movies.

An adaptation of canne de combat rules to the predominantly two-handed lightsaber would yield a visually unique and competitively challenging new combat sport.

“Suffrajitsu” Back in the News as UK Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

February 6, 2108 marks the centennial anniversary of (limited) women’s suffrage in the UK.  As numerous cultural and media organisations mark the anniversary, here are some current and upcoming projects that focus particularly on “suffrajitsu” – the use of jiujitsu by radical suffagette Bodyguards, circa 1913-14.

The Good Fight

Chicago’s Babes With Blades Theatre Company is currently staging Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, which details the history and missions of the suffragette Bodyguard team.  Women’s jiujitsu pioneer and Bodyguard trainer Edith Garrud appears as a character in the play.

Suffrajitsu by Horse + Bamboo Theatre

England’s Horse + Bamboo Theatre Company is currently developing Suffrajitsu, an original play celebrating the suffragette Bodyguard through puppetry, music and film.  Aimed at young audiences, the play will begin touring the UK in Autumn 2018; you can learn more about, and support the project via this Crowdfunder site.

“The Awesome Art of Suffrajitsu”

The UK fashion and lifestyle magazine Stylist has featured suffrajitsu, including some great original illustrations, in its suffragette centennial issue.

No Man Shall Protect Us

Currently in production, the documentary No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards will make use of narration, rare archival media and dramatic re-enactments.  Successfully crowdfunded in late 2017 and co-produced by Tony Wolf, author of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, the completed documentary will be made freely available online later this year.

Suffrajitsu at the Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England will be showcasing Edith Garrud’s suffrajitsu as part of the Warrior Women exhibition during mid-late February.

Kitty Marshall: Suffragette Bodyguard at the Museum of London

The Museum of London’s year-long Votes for Women exhibition includes a showcase for Katherine “Kitty” Marshall, who was an active member of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Bodyguard team.  Marshall also wrote the memoir Suffragette Escapes and Adventures, which currently exists in manuscript form as part of the Museum’s suffragette collection.

Kitty and the Cats: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Suffragette Bodyguard and the London Police

Author Emelyne Godfrey’s book on Kitty Marshall and the Bodyguard will be released later in 2018.

Suffragette City

Suffrajitsu martial arts lessons will be part of the UK National Trust’s Suffragette City, an immersive, interactive experience that will recreate the headquarters of the Women’s Social and Political Union circa 1913.