A Review of “Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick”

Here follows a review of the new English-language edition of the instructional DVD Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny, which was originally released with German-language captions and narration.  The DVD features instructor Alex Kiermayer assisted by Christoph Reinberger and was produced by Agilitas.tv, a company that has previously produced a number of instructional HEMA DVDs.

Mr. Kiermayer and Mr. Reinberger are dressed in the simple white shirt, suspenders and dark pants ensembles that frequently stand in for Victorian/Edwardian attire in Bartitsu exhibitions.  Their demonstrations take place in a large, distraction-free studio space and are well-covered with a truly impressive range of camera angles, including some high overhead shots as well as well-placed closeups.  The technical presentations are methodical and crystal clear and the DVD itself is well-produced, including the new English narration.  Some of the phrasing is a little awkward, possibly because of the necessary translation from German, but this is no way detracts from the value of the DVD as a training resource.

Also, the chapter select feature very efficiently allows the viewer to refer not only to particular chapters but also to technical sub-sections within those chapters.

Chapter 1: Theory first covers the general history of Bartitsu’s rise and fall at the turn of the 20th century and then offers a special focus on Pierre Vigny and his stick fighting method.  These sections are well-illustrated and very highly accurate.  It’s worth noting that recent (largely subsequent to the video’s original production) discoveries about the so-called “secret style of boxing”, a.k.a. “Bartitsu boxing”, have enabled us to make educated deductions about exactly how it differed from the orthodox boxing/savate practiced circa 1900.

The next section presents a variety of knob-handled and crook-handled sticks, noting their relative pros and cons for both self-defence and training purposes.

In Chapter 2: Basics, the various guard positions are clearly described and demonstrated, including the orthodox front (“right”) and rear (“left”) guards and double-handed guard variants.  Gripping the stick is addressed, including the important but seldom-addressed matter of shifting into a fighting stance from the ordinary walking-stick grip position.  The fundamentals of body mechanics via stance and footwork are also methodically detailed in this section.

Mr. Kiermayer also includes several lowered guards, which are shown as positions of invitation (but not defined as guards per se) in the canonical material.  This section then develops into a series of exercises which serve triple duty as as warm-ups, conditioning training and dexterity drills.  These include moulinets and many techniques of passing the cane from one grip to the other, emphasising the crucial ambidexterity of Vigny stick fighting.

Chapter 3: Attacks begins with a simple demonstration of preferred targets including the face and head, solar plexus, elbow, hand, knee/shin, etc.  Effective use is made of graphics, as red circles are superimposed over the key areas of Mr. Reinberger’s anatomy.

The next section deals with striking mechanics, beginning with “snapping” strikes from the sabre grip (i.e., strikes made primarily from the wrist with the thumb extended along the shaft for extra support and precision, although the point is correctly made that this type of grip is not actually advocated by the Vigny style, which defers to the “hammer” grip instead).  “Sweeping” strikes are described as the “bread and butter of la canne Vigny”, requiring a larger preparation but offering much greater power; these are further developing into the characteristic “fanning” strikes of the Vigny system.

Mr. Kiermayer also introduces a simple numbering system for the sake of convenience in training, comparable with the traditions of numbered positions in fencing (“cut to tierce”, etc.) and numbered angles of attack in the Filipino martial arts.  This was alluded to in E.W. Barton-Wright’s Self Defence with a Walking Stick articles, which included a few references to fencing numbers. Although there is no evidence of a consistent number system being emphasised within the canonical style, it’s a useful tool for training purposes.

A range of striking exercises includes simple standing and lunging attacks employing various dynamics and drills in which the training partner spontaneously presents a striking target at various angles and positions.  This section also includes logical extrapolations from the canonical material, such as strikes in which the sections of the cane held between (or extending beyond) the hands in the double-handed grip are used as striking weapons at close quarters.

In addition, it showcases the use of the “short end” of the cane as a dagger-type thrusting weapon at close quarters, which was referred to by numerous observers of Vigny’s Bartitsu demonstrations and also by Captain Laing in his 1902 article.  Curiously, however, this section does not include examples of attacks in which the stick is held with both hands at one end.

Tha Attacks chapter closes with a series of sample combination exercises – each one finishing with the characteristic “attack while moving back into guard” tactic – and a demonstration of freestyle striking against a hanging car tire target.

Chapter 4: Defences opens with the basic parries of classical canne fencing, named after the fencing convention of numbered hand positions.   Although there is some commonality with the Vigny style, classical canne also includes types of defences that are categorically not part of Vigny’s method, including parries in the tierce and quarte guards (in which the point of impact between the sticks is above the defender’s stick-wielding hand) and low parries against leg attacks.

The classical canne parries are also demonstrated via three-count parry/riposte drills and then via a more elaborate drill adapted from one of Henry Angelo’s early 19th century cutlass exercises.  Again, the latter includes defences which are not part of Vigny’s system, and so while these techniques and drills are of academic interest for the sake of comparison between historical styles, they run the risk of confusing beginners who may be following the exercises step by step, because they will then have to be “forgotten” when the focus shifts back to the Vigny style.

The classical canne section is followed by an examination of Vigny’s single-handed hanging guards, which are directly relevant to the practice of Bartitsu stick fighting.  Again, the progression from isolated technique into defence/riposte drills is shown effectively, and there’s a useful graphic that superimposes “after-images” of the defence positions as Mr. Kiermayer runs through the sequence of five basic parries.

The “stick up” variants that follow, however, again contradict the basic defensive premise of the Vigny style, and the inclusion of these parries in the context of a Vigny-style instructional DVD is regrettable. These techniques were not featured in any of the historical Vigny sources, and in fact were actively argued against – the logic being that hanging guards better protect the weapon-wielding hand, resulting in the range of high guard positions that fundamentally characterise the style.

Although lowered guard stances are featured in the Bartitsu canon, they are exclusively used as positions of invitation (to bait the opponent into attacking an apparently exposed target), with any subsequent parry action being executed from a high or hanging guard.  That said, if – in the heat of a sparring match, for example – a fighter is caught momentarily unawares while in a low guard, he or she may be forced to perform a parry in 3 or 4 out of expedience.

The next section involves the use of double-handed blocks, which do not appear in the circa 1900 material but which are present in H.G. Lang’s 1923 book Self-Defence with a Walking Stick. It’s possible that these were among the techniques Lang interpolated into the Vigny style from the Caribbean bois method.

We then move through several variations of the canonical “guard by distance”, in which the defender invites an attack to a deliberately exposed target in order to slip the attack and riposte.  The first variant is curious in that the defender invites a mid-level attack to his elbow and then counters to the attacker’s weapon-wielding hand, which requires a rather awkward, slightly upward-angled strike leaving little room for error.  The equivalent canonical technique involves a low/mid-level invitation to attack the defender’s hand and the counter is performed to the attacker’s head, allowing for a more powerful and unobstructed riposte.

The Defences chapter continues with a progression of partnered attack/riposte drills, many of which are strongly reminiscent of the drills described in Captain F.C. Laing’s 1902 article The Bartitsu Method of Self Defence.  These exercises gradually introduce greater complexity and degrees of “aliveness” by requiring one or both partners to react to spontaneous, rather than pre-arranged attacks.

There follows a section on using the double-handed cane grip to ward off unarmed attacks, including straight right and left punches and both front and roundhouse kicks, and then a useful study of release techniques against seizure to the cane-wielding defender’s weapon or clothing.  This latter classification is notably lacking in the canonical material and the release defences presented here are martially plausible.

Chapter 5: Additional Techniques and Tactics introduces a number of the canonical sequences originally presented in Barton-Wright’s articles and in Lang’s 1923 book, especially those representing the fusion of Vigny’s cane style with Barton-Wright’s jiujitsu.  It’s pointed out that Barton-Wright particularly recommended this type of technique when faced by an opponent armed with a heavier and stronger weapon.

Many of these techniques are presented with slight “neo-Bartitsu” variations, which are then extrapolated into a series of purely neo-Bartitsu close-combat cane takedowns.  Some discussion or demonstration of how to best train these techniques, particularly against a non-cooperative opponent, would have been useful.  In combination, however, this section illustrates the important point that the Vigny style includes a range of close-combat locking and takedown options.

The final section in Chapter 5 usefully introduces a series of basic unarmed combat techniques, with particular attention to using straight punches and low kicks in combination with the leverage-based releases covered in Chapter 4 to assist in releasing your cane if it’s seized by the opponent.  It’s mentioned that a planned future DVD will focus on unarmed Bartitsu.

Chapter 6: Applications offers a series of self-defence scenarios as examples of how the previously-learned material might be applied in practice.  These include the common-or-garden double-handed lapel grab, a single-handed lapel grip and punch with the free hand, a double-handed shove that pushes the defender to the floor, knife attacks, etc.   As the “attacker”, Mr. Reinberger wears body protection for a number of these sequences, allowing Mr. Kiermayer to demonstrate some of the impact force that would be applied in a real attack situation.

Most of the example defences are logical and realistic extrapolations of the Vigny system as it was practiced at the Bartitsu Club circa 1901, combining basic savate and jiujitsu with the use of the cane; though again, some more discussion of training practices allowing for spontaneity and active resistance would have been helpful.

Finally, Chapter 7: Free Fencing offers a demonstration of several bouts of light freestyle sparring in the Vigny style.  Gratifyingly, both Mr. Kiermayer and Mr. Reinberger demonstrate fluid shifting between a wide variety of guard positions and active ambidexterity in their attack and defence techniques, and there are several points where the fights continue at close quarters (although no actual locks nor takedowns are shown in this section).


In conclusion, Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny is an excellent new training resource for Bartitsu revivalists.  In the sense that each rendition of the style has added novel elements – from the blending of stickfighting and jiujitsu at the original Bartitsu Club, to the incorporation of African/Caribbean techniques by H.G. Lang in the 1920s – most of the innovations introduced here are both stylistically logical and martially plausible.  The only serious criticism is, again, that the inclusion of certain classical canne parries will serve to confuse beginners and to dilute the canonical style.

The expanded range of double-handed cane techniques and the inclusion of release techniques are particularly valuable, serving to “fill in the gaps” left by the scenario-based canonical sequences from Barton-Wright’s articles. In many ways, Mr. Kiermayer’s DVD is in the spirit of Captain Laing’s 1902 essay on Bartitsu self-defence, which likewise offered a systematic progression of technical drills.

The English-language edition of Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick According to Pierre Vigny is currently available from this website.  It will soon also be available on DVD from the Freelance Academy Press and then as a series of streaming downloads via Vimeo.

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 its 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.

Dr. Emelyne Godfrey Reviews “Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self Defense Movement”

Dr. Emelyne Godfrey has reviewed Wendy Rouse’s history of the women’s self-defence movement in the USA for the academic journal Martial Arts Studies.  Dr. Godfrey’s review is available as a free, downloadable PDF via this link.

Review: the Empire – Broughton Pugilism Gloves

Disclosure – the Weapon Store forwarded samples of this product for review purposes.

As the practice of “revived” Western martial arts becomes better established, an increasing number of manufacturers are developing professionally-produced training equipment specific to this niche market.  So it is that the U.K.-based Weapon Store has introduced its Empire line of equipment for the practice of historical fencing and pugilism.

The Broughton pugilism gloves are appropriately named for prize fighter Jack Broughton, the English champion pugilist circa 1734-1740. Broughton’s innovations included formulating a set of seven rules for the prize ring as well as a codified system of scientific defence including the skill of “hitting away” (striking on the retreat).  Broughton is also credited with the development of the first boxing gloves, called “mufflers”, designed to “effectually secure (his students) from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses.”

The Empire – Broughton gloves are very conveniently packaged in a drawstring bag of calico or similar material, which also includes a pair of natural-fibre handwraps and a printed page of information about Jack Broughton’s boxing career.  The right-out-of-the-box impression is that a great deal of thought and care has been put into the aesthetics of the whole package; although this type of glove is a modern invention, the natural materials and colours of the bag and handwraps and the tan-coloured leather of the gloves themselves are all plausibly “old school” and “old world”.  This is a thoughtful touch for practitioners of historic martial arts, who may otherwise have to make do with less aesthetically appropriate equipment.

As with any new leather product, a “breaking in” period is required.  Although comfortable over open or semi-clenched hands, the gloves are initially stiff enough that forming a tight fist is difficult.  After stretching and absorbing sweat during several training sessions, they conform to a functional semi-clenched shape and the leather naturally darkens, which further enhances their aesthetic appeal.

Specific to Bartitsu training via the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, the Broughton gloves have thus far held up admirably to bag-work, pad-work, light sparring and jujitsu/wrestling/free-grappling drills (including wrist locks). The smooth leather piping offers no risk of abrading other trainees’ skin during serious grappling. After four months of regular weekly training sessions, the stitching and padding are holding up well.

Refreshingly, the gloves offer enough mobility to comfortably grip the thick cloth of judo/jujitsu gi jackets, and do not significantly interfere with dexterity even during Indian club manipulation exercises (which is, obviously, above and beyond their brief). Similarly, although the Broughton gloves are not intended for weapon fighting, they have also demonstrated value in safely absorbing incidental impact and eliminating abrasions to the covered portions of the hand during semi-improvised sick fighting drills.

The Weapon Store plans to bring out two further gloves designed for historic pugilism and related skills; the “Molyneux”, a 16 oz. heavy duty boxing glove, and the “Barton-Wright”, a very simple protector with a completely open hand to allow full freedom of movement while still offering a degree of protection when striking with the closed fist.

Report on a Bartitsu seminar at the Gallowglass Academy

A guest post by Allen Reed, reporting on his recent Bartitsu seminar at the Gallowglass Academy in Leaf River, Illinois.

On Saturday, February 11th, five new Bartitsuka gathered at Gallowglass Academy to find out more about the art of Bartitsu. Four out of the five had previous Oriental martial arts experience. The other student had previously taken my classes on Bowie knife and tomahawk.

I started with the standard precis of the history of Bartitsu and how it got to where we are today. We then started in on 19th century pugilism. I like to start with pugilism as I find it provides a good warm up and starts building a sense of body movement and contact.

We covered the standard left lead and right rear punches both in slow motion and then with focus mitts so everyone got to actually feel how powerful the punches can be. We then covered defenses against these punches. First the standard blocks with the opposite arms and then the Jack Slack elbow block. From the Slack guard I showed how to counter with a “chopper” to the nose of the opponent. We then returned to standard blocks and worked on using the elbow and hammer fist as a counter strike.

We then moved to the two savate kicks I include in my Bartitsu teachings, the coup de pied bas and chasse bas (both front foot and rear foot versions). First we worked them slowly using each other to see how they can be used against knee, shin and foot. I then had each student use the kicks with full force against a kick shield. We then went back and worked on combinations of kicks and punches in slow motion on each other, using “pushing” force to examine how each strike impacts an opponent’s posture and balance.

During the discussion of pugilism I showed how the pugilistic left foot and arm forward stance can be modified for modern self defense with the “fence” stance of both hands open in front of you to provide a physical and psychological barrier to an attacker. Yet the hands up in front also allow for powerful strikes.

This brought us to lunch time. During the lunch break I discussed the modern legal ramifications of using force in a self defense situation.

After lunch we put the mats down and worked on how to do break falls. Two of the participants had experience with falling before but the other three had not. I then started work on the back heel throw from pugilism which is close to the throws that Barton-Wright uses in many of the jujutsu techniques.

This then moved into doing jujutsu from the Canon. Since we had been doing the back heel throw I first taught the defense from a face strike that is blocked and you end up tripping the attacker up with a rear throw (back heel.) We then did a failure drill of allowing the attacker to block the “back hander” strike so the defender had to do some other strikes to set up for the throw or take the attacker down another way.

We then worked on the defense from a one handed lapel grasp, since this is pretty much the same defense as the face strike but we did the grasp with the left had so everyone could learn that these techniques can be done on both sides. The failure drill for this technique was that the attacker steps back with his left foot so you can not get the trip on the first attempt.

The final technique we worked on from this series of throws was the belt grab or reaching for the pocket watch defense. I switched this to a neo-Bartitsu grab on the wrist since none of us wear swords or carry pocket watches very often. For this I showed the pain compliance grab at the throat version showing how this can also be used as a choke.

Next I taught the “How to Escort a Man Out of the Room” with the figure four lock on the elbow. We then worked on a neo-Bartitsu version using the same arm lock for a knife defense.

With that I thought it was time to start work on the Vigny cane techniques. I explained how Vigny advocated using a walking stick with a heavy ball on the end but that I liked to use a crook handled cane for modern defense since it is legal any where you go and does not stand out as much as a walking stick does in our modern world.

First we worked on Guard by Distance. We started by doing the Canonical technique slowly to get the feel for the move. I then had one of the partners in each pair put on a focus mitt on their “cane” hand so the defender could actually strike with power to the incoming hand. After seeing how powerful the blow to the hand could be we switched to a neo-Bartisu move with the attacker wearing a hockey glove while armed with a knife. So again the defender could strike with some power while facing a more realistic modern attack.

For the failure drill I had the neo-Bartitsu attacker with the knife decide if the strike to the hand was hard enough to disarm them and if not the defender had to follow up with other strikes with the cane.

We then worked on the first of B-W’s defenses using a light stick against a man with a heavy stick where again the idea is to trip the attacker up. First we covered the Canonical technique and then switched to a more modern neo-Bartisu “heavy stick” of a baseball bat. We then worked on how to do the same basic technique but using the crook cane to hook the knee or ankle of the attacker.

I then showed the technique of hooking an unarmed attacker at the neck and pulling his head into a knee strike.

As a prelude to doing a series of failure drills against an unarmed attacker I went back and showed how to use the head control movements that B-W uses in the jujutsu techniques. For the Canonical technique we used the two handed lapel grab. We then did a series of failure drills where the defender with the cane has the cane grabbed or taken away by the offender.

The grand finale of the day was everyone put on some head protection and we did individual drills with everyone rotating through being attacker and defender one at a time so they had the mat space all to themselves. After the first series I stood by as coach and second attacker who came with a baseball bat in case any defender got too tied up with their offender.

After it was all over we did a quick after-action review. Everyone said they enjoyed themselves and learned new things. In particular they liked the failure drill since their previous martial arts training had never included that kind of follow up in case the first plan did not work.

2011: the Bartitsu year in review

January – Emelyne Godfrey’s book Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature hits the shelves.  Bartitsu is given a shout-out in a new television superhero series, The Cape.  We also receive our first glimpse of “baritsu” action from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Bartitsu demos and seminars are offered in Pilot Point, Alaska and in Spino d’Adda, Italy.  We help vote for female jujitsu pioneer Edith Garrud to be commemorated with a street plaque.

FebruaryAlex Kiermayer presents a well-received Bartitsu seminar at the annual Dreynevent historical martial arts conference in Vienna.  Chris Amendola‘s Bartitsu classes get underway again in Houston and Robert Reinberger makes a copy of William Garrud’s Combined Self Defence available online.  Wellington, New Zealand hosts the world premiere of a new play, The Hooligan and the Lady, a dramatised biography of Edwardian-era jujitsu and self defence advocate Florence LeMar.

March – We receive a green light to proceed with the memorial wall display at Westminster Library.  Jujitsu pioneer Edith Garrud gathers enough votes to be among the historical figures to be honoured with a street plaque in the London borough of Islington.  Announcement of three separate media projects based on the premise that Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini teamed up as detectives.  March 27th heralds the long-awaited release of the feature-length documentary, Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.  Terry Kroenung and friends perform a Bartitsu demo. at the Anomalycon steampunk event in Denver.

April – Bartitsu instructor Stefan Dieke is interviewed by reporter Nico Rau for a story on Bartitsu featured on Germany’s DRadio Wissen.   Instructor Allen Reed teaches a Bartitsu seminar at the Oklahoma Steampunk Exhibition.

May – Instructor Tom Badillo teaches a Bartitsu seminar at the Gaslight Gathering in San Diego.  Ran Braun teaches a baritsu-inspired seminar for the Red Crow Stunt Team in Reggio Emilia, Italy and Mark Donnelly offers three classes at the Steampunk World’s Fair convention in New Jersey.  The first ever Bartitsu lecture and demonstration is offered in Zagreb, Croatia.

June – A new Bartitsu study group is formed in Battersea, London. Allen Reed offers a class and demonstration at the 1900 Chautauqua at Rockford, Illinois.  A new interview with Bartitsu Forum founder and novelist Will Thomas appears online.  An extensive article on Bartitsu is featured in the German magazine, Schwert & Klinge.  The Bartitsu Club of Tallahassee, Florida creates a new web page.

July – The new trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows promises a great deal of exciting baritsu action.  Publication of the book 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain, written by the late scholar of British judo and Bartitsu history, Richard Bowen.  Mark Donnelly teaches a seminar for a recently founded  Bartitsu study group, the Bartitsu Club of New York City. Tony Wolf teaches Bartitsu seminars and presents a public screening of the Lost Martial Art documentary at CombatCon (Las Vegas, Nevada).

AugustBartitsu fight scenes are featured in the Mercury Player Theatre’s production, You’ve Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery10th anniversary of the Bartitsu Society’s official online communication venue, the Bartitsu Forum.  The 1st annual international Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture conference is held in London – a resounding success!

September – Bartitsu receives an extensive write-up in Holland’s Volkskrant newspaper.  The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes DVD becomes available via Amazon.com.  At the 2011 WMAW Western martial arts conference (Racine, Wisconsin), instructor Tony Wolf offers Bartitsu seminars and a demonstration as part of a 19th century style Assault at Arms display.

OctoberPhil Crawley commences a new antagonistics course via the Black Boar Swordsmanship School in Fife, Scotland.  A new interview with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright is discovered.  A second trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is released.

NovemberAllen Reed teaches Bartitsu at the TeslaCon steampunk event in Madison, Wisconsin.  The  Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Accurate Hoplology and Antagonistics (Seattle, Washington) goes public.

December – DVDs of Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes go on sale via the Freelance Academy Press, coinciding with the long-awaited release of Game of Shadows, which does indeed include plenty of baritsu actionAnnouncement of a new Western martial arts and physical culture school (Chicago, IL), to feature Bartitsu instruction from Tony Wolf.  Phil Crawley releases his new translation of Emile Andre’s  The Art of Self Defence in the Street With or Without Weapons.

 

In memoriam:  We record the sad passings of classical savate master Roger Lafond and American martial arts pioneer and author Robert W. Smith.  May they rest in peace.

The substance of style: a review of the martial arts action in “Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows”

Due warning: this review contains minor plot spoilers.

A Game of Shadows is afoot all over Europe in the blockbuster sequel to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 hit movie, Sherlock Holmes. The plot is very loosely based on events described (and, significantly, implied) in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Final Problem, in which Sherlock Holmes famously confronts his arch-nemesis, the diabolical criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty.

Since many other critics have already offered thorough reviews of the film as a whole, and since this is Bartitsu.org, this commentary will focus specifically on the movie’s martial arts content; Holmes’ fictional “baritsu” fighting style being taken as an analogue of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu. For full disclosure, the Bartitsu Society donated copies of both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium to the production team for the 2009 movie.

Game of Shadows offers no less than five significant hand-to-hand fight sequences, three being especially elaborate. All are expertly choreographed by a team led by fight director Richard Ryan (see our exclusive interview with Richard here). Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as an excellent combatant with a tachypsychic ability to virtually meditate in the midst of chaos. Holmes is never made to seem invulnerable, however; he takes plenty of damage during the course of the story. The fight scenes are also exceptionally well shot and edited for maximum impact and enjoyment; it really helps when the director (Ritchie) is also a martial arts enthusiast (Brazilian jujitsu and judo), with an enthusiast’s eye for technical detail.

Robert Downey, Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) is himself a passionate student of the martial arts, specifically Wing Chun kung fu. Stylistically, there is comparatively little to call between Wing Chun and the transitional London Prize Ring/early Queensberry Rules method of English boxing, which was likely what Conan Doyle had in mind for Holmes and which was incorporated into Bartitsu by Barton-Wright. Both styles emphasise linear punching with vertical fists and protecting the central line of the body via skillful defence, including both percussive blocks and deflective parries. The two styles are so technically similar that it has even been speculated that Wing Chun may have been influenced by bare-knuckle boxing via European travellers visiting China – an intriguing, but unprovable theory.

Holmes’ “baritsu” pugilism strikes a nice balance between Asian and European fisticuffs; his defence is more mobile than is typical of pure Wing Chun, including numerous ducks, while his strikes are more diverse than was legal in British boxing, including nukite (spear-hand) and tegatana (knife-hand) blows as well as orthodox punches. His tactic of distracting opponents with thrown objects, established in the first movie and reminiscent of Barton-Wright’s overcoat trick, makes a welcome return.

There is also considerable stylistic cross-over between the low kicks of Asian martial arts and those of savate, or la boxe Française, the French method of kickboxing. Although savate is never mentioned in the Holmes canon, it is absolutely plausible that that the polymathic detective should be familiar with this method of foot-fighting, which was widely popular in France during the late 19th century and had even been exhibited in London several times. It is worth noting that E.W. Barton-Wright carefully distinguished the style of kicking taught at his school from the orthodox techniques of la boxe Française. This is assumed to have been a reaction against the stylised, academic/gymnastic style that was then popular in middle-class Parisian salles de savate.

In Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes makes frequent use of low kicks blended with fisticuffs, including swinging/chopping kicks (the coups de pied bas of savate) to the shin against two separate opponents and stamping front thrust kicks to the thighs of various other enemies. At least once, he also employs a skipping side kick (savate’s chasse median) to spectacular effect. Both pugilism (augmented by atemi-waza) and kicking are featured especially in the movie’s first fight sequence, in which Holmes is accosted by a group of four hired gangsters.

Perhaps the most overt stylistic nod to Bartitsu per se, however, takes place during the movie’s longest action set-piece, a furiously kinetic brawl (primarily) between Holmes and an acrobatic Cossack assassin, which rages throughout, out of and then back into an opulent and rather decadent gentlemen’s club. Even the athletic Holmes is just barely able to keep up with the Cossack’s parkourian agility, but the Great Detective’s triumph is assured by his inventive, high-impact close-combat via crook-handled umbrella, blended with wrenching jujitsu throws, locks and takedowns – the combined effect very strongly reminiscent of Barton-Wright’s classic essays on The New Art of Self Defence and Self Defence with a Walking Stick.

Each of the film’s fight sequences highlights Holmes’ idiosyncratic melding of techniques from different fighting styles and his astounding powers of combative improvisation, both, again, aspects of Barton-Wright’s ideal of Bartitsu as a method of cross-training. On the subject of improvisation, Barton-Wright noted:

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent into any particular position, as this system embraces every possible eventuality and your defence and counter-attack must be based entirely upon the actions of your opponent.

Several critics have complained that Holmes’ unique perceptive ability, which approaches a kind of psychic precognition, is over-used in this film. Dubbed “Holmes-o-vision” by Guy Ritchie and memorably debuted in the 2009 original, this cinematic device is, in fact, used three times during fight sequences, but is twice cleverly subverted in surprising and gratifying ways.

Finally, the less said about Holmes’ inevitable confrontation with the suavely menacing Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) at Reichenbach Falls, the better; not because it’s anything less than superb, but because it would be churlish to even begin to give that game away. Suffice it to say that it’s not what you expect …

In all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows simultaneously offers a terrific cinematic rendition of Holmes’ “baritsu” and, within the conventions of action choreography, a genuinely plausible representation of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu.

Bravo!

Review: “100 Years of Judo in Great Britain”, Volume 1

This review is specific to Volume 1 of a two-part series of books by the late judoka and historian Richard Bowen (1926-2005), whose extensive private collection of judo/jujitsu books and ephemera now forms the Bowen Collection at Bath University.

The “Reclaiming of its true spirit” subtitle is curious, in that aside from a few scattered editorial comments, the book does not actually address reclaiming judo’s “true spirit”. Rather, Volume 1 of 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain offers a very thorough history of the early 20th century personalities and politics of jujitsu and judo in the UK, with generous asides exploring Japanese martial arts in the USA and elsewhere during the same period.

Bowen was obviously a devoted and very careful scholar, with long-term access to rare archives, diaries etc. in addition to in-depth first-hand knowledge of the subject and many of its principal figures. Specific to Bartitsu, he performed pioneering research into the lives of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright, music hall challenge wrestlers Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi and strongman/jujitsu promoter William “Apollo” Bankier, amongst many other notables. 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain cites and offers extensive quotes from numerous c1900 newspaper articles, etc. that promise to open new doors for contemporary Bartitsu researchers. Also, students of Brazilian jujitsu/MMA history will be interested to read about Mitsuyo “Conde Koma” Maeda’s early experiences as a challenge wrestler in London.

Perhaps unavoidably, given that the book was published posthumously, some sections are obviously better polished than others. Frustratingly at times, there are no chapter headings, contents pages nor index, though there are almost 100 pages of carefully annotated end-notes. The proof-reading also leaves quite a lot to be desired. Ultimately, though, these are minor quibbles in comparison with the absolute wealth of knowledge and detail to be found in this book. It is a unique and very valuable contribution to martial arts scholarship.

Early reviews for “Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”

Reviews are coming in for the new documentary (available here) and they are good …

Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes reveals an exciting world of Victorian ruffians, garroting panics, militant suffragettes, and physical culture, as well as the colorful life of Bartitsu’s founder Edward Barton-Wright … music by the steampunk band Abney Park creates a moody atmosphere of Victorian danger, excitement, and heroics. Through interviews, re-enactment, archival images, and contemporary footage of neo-Bartitsu students, the “lost” martial art is brought to life.

Rachel Klingberg: read the full review here.

Here’s the problem – what to do when you love a good punch up, but public brawling is incompatible with your image as an amenable, if damp-stained, man of letters? The answer is “Bartitsu,” a nineteenth-century martial art developed specifically to transform the upright classes into killing machines, and whose unusual history has been revealed in an excellent new documentary …

Andrew McConnell Stott: read the full review here.

Sleek and engaging … fascinating … a superbly watchable piece of martial arts history …

Bullshido.net martial arts movie reviews: read the full review here.

ISMAC Bartitsu 2010

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent in any particular position, as the system embraces every possible eventuality, and your defence and counter attack must be entirely based upon the tactics of your opponent. – E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899

Barton-Wright’s precept of adaptability was the central theme of the Bartitsu intensive held at the 2010 International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention between September 3-6. The Bartitsu course comprised three two-hour long classes, commencing at 9.00 each morning of the event, and was taught by Tony Wolf.

Day 1 began with a precis of Bartitsu history and then moved into biomechanics exercises, concentrating on the image of the standing human body as an isosceles triangle and exploring the limits of triangular stability. Participants started with solo movements and then experimented with various pushing and pulling techniques to de-stabilise their partners, following Barton-Wright’s first and second principles; “to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant” and “to surprise him before he has a chance to use his strength”.

These exercises were then extended into a basic boxing sequence (parry left lead off, counter with left and straight right combination) in which slow “pressing” contact was made, then adding in a low chopping kick to either the lead or rear ankle/shin. To this sequence was then added the third principle of “straining joints” via leverage against the head and neck, elbows etc., with the choice of joint lock or de-stabilising hold depending on the partner’s physical position following the punches and the kick.

Day 2 commenced with a recap of the (kick)boxing work and then segued into a selection of the canonical Bartitsu stickfighting sequences. Again, the emphasis was on freely applying Barton-Wright’s “three principles” in response to the opponent’s spontaneous defensive and/or counter-offensive actions, as a “bridge” between set-plays and free sparring.

Day 3 also began with a brief (kick)boxing based review, followed by a close examination of two of the canonical jiujitsu paired kata from the tactical and dynamic points of view. The classical set-plays were then “twisted” on the assumption that the opponent muscled through or otherwise interrupted the set sequence of events, the defender’s challenge being to ride with the interruption and spontaneously apply the imbalancing, surprise and joint-locking principles to regain the initiative. There was a digression at one point into a specific newaza (ground grappling) submission lock as an example of maintaining control should the thrown opponent pull the defender down with them.