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.

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

Re: Public Screenings of “Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”

Just a reminder that the 2011 documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes cannot legally be screened at venues such as public libraries, nor at events such as steampunk conferences, martial arts seminars, etc.  without the express permission of the producers.

Here’s the Motion Picture Association of America’s advice:

The Federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the US Code) governs how copyrighted materials, such as movies, may be used. Neither the rental nor the purchase of a copy of a copyrighted work carries with it the right to publicly exhibit the work. No additional license is required to privately view a movie or other copyrighted work with a few friends and family or in certain narrowly defined face-to-face teaching activities. However, bars, restaurants, private clubs, prisons, lodges, factories, summer camps, public libraries, daycare facilities, parks and recreation departments, churches, and non-classroom use at schools and universities are all examples of situations where a public performance license must be obtained. This legal requirement applies regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, whether the institution or organization is commercial or nonprofit, or whether a federal or state agency is involved.

Willful infringement of these rules is a federal crime carrying a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine. Even inadvertent infringement is subject to substantial civil damages.

If you wish to arrange a public screening of Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, please contact Tony Wolf via info(at)tonywolfsystem.com for further details.

Baritsu in Denny O’Neil’s “Sherlock Holmes” Comic Book Adaptation (1975)

Famed comics writer/editor Denny O’Neil offers his take on the famous “baritsu” fight between Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty in these scenes from O’Neil’s Sherlock Holmes #1 (1975).

At the end of the first chapter, Holmes encounters Moriarty at the brink of the Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps.  Both men appear certain to plunge into the roiling abyss …

… and, indeed, that is what Holmes’ boon companion, John Watson, deduces to have happened when he examines the scene.  However, as Holmes later explains: