May 4th of 1891 is recognised as the date of consulting detective Sherlock Holmes’ fateful hand-to-hand battle with the Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty. Their fight took place at the suitably forboding and dramatic brink of the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, described here by Dr. John Watson:
It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coalblack rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring for ever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing for ever upwards, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.
Although neither Holmes nor Moriarty appeared to have survived their final encounter, we now know that Holmes had, in fact, defeated his nemesis through his knowledge of what Dr. Watson recorded as “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling“, then took the opportunity to fake his own demise to throw his other enemies off his trail.
In more recent years, the encounter between Holmes and Moriarty has frequently been dramatised in media including the 1979 Russian TV series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (click here for a detailed memoir by fight choreographer Nikolay Vaschilin) :
… and the classic 1980s Granada Sherlock Holmes series:
… in comic books – most notably Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:
– and in movies such as Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:
The opening sequence of the 2011 feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes was shot at the brink of the Reichenbach Falls and in the adjacent Swiss town of Meiringen, which still celebrates its association with the famous fight scene:
Scenes from the Sherlock, Stock and Barrel festival taking place at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, UK. This event marks the return of Bartitsu demonstrations to the Museum, which was also the site of the first modern Bartitsu revival demos in 2001.
Sherlock, Stock and Barrel is a Sherlock Holmes-themed event taking place at the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, England between April 29-May 1.
Notably, the event marks the return of Bartitsu demonstrations to the Armouries, which had, in the year 2001, hosted the first known Bartitsu demos to have taken place since 1902.
Inspired by E.W. Barton-Wright’s Self Defence With a Walking Stick articles, which had then only recently been republished by the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences, the 2001 Bartitsu demos were performed by Fight Interpreters Keith Ducklin and Rob Temple as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
Moments from the Bartitsu seminar at the recent Sherlocon 2017 Sherlock Holmes fandom event, which took place at the Nuovo Teatro Orione in Rome, Italy. Aimed at interested novices, the workshop included examples of Vigny walking stick fighting, self-defence with an overcoat and several canonical jiujitsu set-plays.
In response to the newest Sherlock adventure, The Six Thatchers, TV critic Ralph Jones wrote an opinion piece titled Sherlock is slowly and perversely morphing into Bond. This cannot stand. The elaborate fight scene between Sherlock Holmes and the assassin known only as Ayjay was cited as an example of Holmes’ undesirable transmogrification into an “action figure”.
Now Sherlock writer/actor/co-creator Mark Gatiss has followed in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s footsteps by replying to a critic in verse, playfully underlining the fact that the Sherlock Holmes canon includes numerous action scenes:
Here is a critic who says with low blow
Sherlock’s no brain-box but become double-O.
Says the Baker St. boy is no man of action –
whilst ignoring the stories that could have put him in traction.
The Solitary Cyclist sees boxing on show,
The Gloria Scott and The Sign of the Fo’
The Empty House too sees a mention, in time, of Mathews,
who knocked out poor Sherlock’s canine.
As for arts martial, there’s surely a clue
in the misspelled wrestle Doyle called baritsu.
In hurling Moriarty over the torrent
did Sherlock find violence strange and abhorrent?
In shooting down pygmies and Hounds from hell
Did Sherlock on Victorian niceties dwell?
When Gruner’s men got him was Holmes quite compliant
Or did he give good account for The Illustrious Client?
There’s no need to invoke in yarns that still thrill,
Her Majesty’s Secret Servant with licence to kill
From Rathbone through Brett to Cumberbatch dandy
With his fists Mr Holmes has always been handy.
Martin “Oz” Austwick of the English Martial Arts Academy offers an entertaining and educational analysis of the famous fisticuffs encounter between Sherlock Holmes and the ruffianly Mr. Woodley, from the 1980s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.
The Bagri Foundation in London hosted this recent lecture by Dr. Emelyne Godfrey, author of Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature and its companion volume Femininity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature and Society.
The capacity audience enjoyed Dr. Godfrey’s presentation, which discussed English approaches to self defence during the “long 19th century”.
The lecture began with the mid-Victorian “garroting panics”, which appeared to portend the rise of Thugee-style street gangs in England and engendered the invention of new self-defence weapons such as the “belt buckle pistol”.
The later Victorian era saw the rise of organised gangs such as the Peaky Blinders of Birmingham and Manchester’s Scuttlers, who mostly fought among themselves but whose “outrages” sometimes impacted the concerned citizens of several major cities.
The topic then moved to E.W. Barton-Wright’s introduction of Japanese martial arts to England in 1898, and the subsequent rise and fall of his own eclectic art of Bartitsu, including its famous association with Sherlock Holmes.
The brief but significant Bartitsu craze paved the way for jiujitsu instructors such as Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi and then, during the Edwardian period, the foundation of the Suffrajitsu bodyguard team.
What if, during their fatal combat at the brink of the Reichenbach Falls, both Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty had been trained in Bartitsu and armed with walking sticks? What if the evil professor had, in fact, drawn a knife on Holmes, as represented in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?
These and other scenarios were explored by intrepid members of BWAHAHAHA (the Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Accurate Hoplology and Antagonistics) for the edification of the audience at the 2016 Sherlock Seattle convention:
A tip of the straw boater hat to Threadless.com user mmviolet for her clever melding of classic Bartitsu stick fighting images with the stick figure cypher motif from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men. This design is an entry in a competition to develop a Sherlock Holmes-themed t-shirt.