The Redoubtable Toupie Lowther

Bartitsu has received an unusual shout-out in the new biography Toupie Lowther: Her Life, by English author Val Brown.

Born to a wealthy, aristocratic family in 1874, May Lowther – known almost universally as “Toupie” – grew into a multi-talented woman of means, adept at opera singing, motoring and (especially) both tennis and fencing. In the latter capacity she once playfully challenged Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton to a match after Hutton had made a polite but, to her ear, condescending remark about female fencers.

Toupie’s other athletic enthusiasms included weightlifting, jiujitsu and possibly boxing, and Val Brown speculates that she may also have studied Bartitsu, given that the Bartitsu Club admitted female students. Although history isn’t clear on that point, Brown does note Toupie’s portrayal as a Bartitsu practitioner in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, in which she serves as Emmeline Pankhurst’s chauffeuse and getaway driver and as the second-in-command of the clandestine “Amazons” bodyguard team. She is also featured as a significant supporting character in the spin-off novella The Isle of Dogs and as the protagonist of the short story The Pale Blue Ribbon.

In real life, Toupie Lowther was decorated for her service in France during the First World War, which included organising and operating an ambulance team under extremely dangerous conditions.

Post-War, Toupie was also a friend of writer Radclyffe Hall and her partner, sculptor Una Troubridge, until after the publication of Hall’s controversial novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928. Toupie believed that the novel’s female protagonist, the cross-dressing former WW1 ambulance driver Stephen Gordon, was based to a large extent on herself, and this seems to have caused a rift in the friendship.

An interesting woman who led a highly unusual life for her time, Toupie Lowther well deserves the wider recognition that this very readable book will undoubtedly bring her.

Toupie Lowther: Her Life is available in paperback from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

The Bartitsu Club as Imagined in “Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons” (2015)

In the 2015 graphic novel Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, the Bartitsu School of Arms serves as the gymnasium and headquarters of a secret society of female bodyguards who protect the radical suffragettes from arrest and assault. The graphic novels were commissioned as part of the Foreworld Saga, a multimedia franchise initiated by speculative fiction authors Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo.

While there was a real-life Bodyguard team who defended Emmeline Pankhurst and other notable suffragettes circa 1913/14, they were not, historically, based at the Bartitsu Club, which had closed its doors for the last time in 1902.

That said, as shown in the graphic novels, this fictional Bartitsu Club did draw a great deal of inspiration from history …

The physical layout of the Suffrajitsu universe’s Bartitsu School of Arms is closely based on that of the Forteza Western Martial Arts school in Ravenswood, Chicago (home of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago).  Comparatively little is known about the layout of the real Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue, except that it was a large basement space featuring white tiled walls and support pillars.

The stalwart chap bracing the punching bag in the foreground is Armand Cherpillod, who was (in real history) the Bartitsu Club’s wrestling and physical culture instructor.

The two jiujitsu throws shown in the foreground and medium ground are closely based on techniques shown in Emily WattsFine Art of Jiu-jutsu (1906).  Mrs. Watts was, in fact, a student of Sadakazu Uyenishi, who is shown observing the suffragette Bodyguards’ training in the medium background.

The Amazons shown in the background are practicing the Vigny style of stick fighting and savate, as taught at the real Bartitsu Club by Pierre Vigny.  The Amazon defending herself against her training partner’s savate kick is demonstrating a variation of “How to Defend Yourself with a Stick against the most Dangerous Kick of an Expert Kicker“, as per Barton-Wright’s 1901 article Self-Defence With A Walking Stick.

The elaborate sigil above Uyenishi’s head is the symbol of the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae, a secret order of martial artists who play a major role in the earlier Foreworld stories.

The longsword and other swords barely visible on the wall behind Uyenishi are nods to Captain Alfred Hutton, who taught Elizabethan-era fencing styles at the real Bartitsu Club.

The Amazons emerging from a trapdoor hidden under the mats of the Bartitsu Club is a reference to an anecdote told by Edith Garrud, who taught self-defence to the real suffragette Bodyguard team (and who makes a cameo appearance in the third panel above).

According to Edith, her London dojo was used as a safe-house by suffragettes escaping from the police after window-smashing protests.  It featured a trapdoor in which they would hide their street clothes and any remaining missile weapons, so they would appear to be innocently practicing jiujitsu when the police came knocking at the dojo door.

The technique posters shown in the background of this picture are actually miniaturised images of real Bartitsu techniques from E.W. Barton-Wright’s “Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” article.

The sparring equipment worn by Barton-Wright and his niece and student Persephone is based on protective clothing actually worn by combat athletes during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, including cricket pads for the knees and shins, padded fencing gloves, sabre fencing masks and padded vests.

Barton-Wright (left) is assuming the classic “rear guard” of Vigny stick fighting, while Persephone counters with the “double-handed guard”.

This picture of the Bartitsu Club’s elaborate electrotherapy clinic, which is adjacent to the combat gymnasium, is closely based on photographs of Barton-Wright’s real clinic.  After the Bartitsu Club closed, Barton-Wright persisted in the therapeutic field for the remainder of his career, specialising in various forms of heat, light, electrical and vibrational therapies to alleviate the pain of arthritis and rheumatism.

“No Man Shall Protect Us”: Crowdfunding a Suffrajitsu Documentary

I am here tonight in spite of armies of police.  I am here tonight and not a man is going to protect me, because this is a woman’s fight, and we are going to protect ourselves!  I challenge the government to re-arrest me!

  • Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst

Crowdfunding now via Kickstarter, the documentary No Man Shall Protect Us tells the true story of the secret Bodyguard Society of martial arts-trained women who protected the radical suffragettes circa 1913/14.

The production will make use of rare archival media, narration and theatrical re-enactments, featuring actors playing Emmeline Pankhurst, Canadian Bodyguard leader Gert Harding and jiujitsu trainer Edith Garrud among other notables.

No Man Shall Protect Us will be co-produced by Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf, the author of Edith Garrud: The Suffragette Who Knew Jujutsu (2008) and the graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons (2015).  Pending a successful funding campaign, production will begin in January of 2018; the completed documentary will later be made freely available online.

Watch this space for updates on No Man Shall Protect Us!

A “Suffragette Bartitsu Brawl” video from Fight Rep

Fighting for the vote, the Suffragettes have planted an explosive device. As they attempt to make their escape, a husband sells out his wife’s cause to the special constables …

Hats off to the team at London’s Fight Rep for this Suffrajitsu-inspired tribute to Edwardian ass-kickery, which was rehearsed and shot in a mere eight hours. Bartitsu aficionados will appreciate the use of signature techniques from E.W. Barton-Wright’s Pearson’s Magazine articles and Marguerite Vigny’s (“Miss Sanderson’s”) demonstrations of parasol and umbrella self-defence.

Bartitsu gift ideas

The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 1: History and the Canonical Syllabus (2005) and The Bartitsu Compendium Volume II: Antagonistics (2008)

Compiled by members of the Bartitsu Society, volumes 1 and 2 of the Bartitsu Compendium are available in print from Lulu.com.

Volume I collates most of the canonical Bartitsu material and features over two hundred and seventy pages of original essays, rare vintage reprints and never-before-seen translations, illustrated with hundreds of fascinating photographs and sketches.

Volume II provides resources towards continuing Barton-Wright’s martial arts experiments. It combines extensive excerpts from fifteen classic Edwardian-era self defence manuals, including well over four hundred illustrations, plus a collection of long-forgotten newspaper and magazine articles on Bartitsu exhibitions and contests; new, original articles on Bartitsu history and training; a complete course of Edwardian-era “physical culture” exercises; personality profiles, essays and more besides.

Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes documentary (2011)

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing, and stick fighting into the “Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. After Barton-Wright’s School of Arms mysteriously closed in 1902, Bartitsu was almost forgotten save for a famous, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House.

In this fascinating 54-minute documentary shot in Switzerland, Italy, the UK and the USA, host Tony Wolf reveals the history, rediscovery and revival of Barton-Wright’s pioneering mixed martial art.

Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes is available from the Freelance Academy Press.

Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons graphic novel trilogy (2015)

London, 1914: The leaders of the radical women’s rights movement are fugitives from the law. Their last line of defense is the secret society of “Amazons”: women trained in the martial art of bartitsu and sworn to defend their leaders from arrest and assault.

After a series of daring escapes and battles with the police, the stakes rise dramatically when the Amazons are forced into a deadly game of cat and mouse against an aristocratic, utopian cult…

The Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy is available as e-books from Amazon and comiXology – we strongly recommend comiXology’s Guided View system for a fluid, intuitive online reading experience – as well as in print form as part of the Blood and Honor anthology.

A series of four prose short stories and novellas set in the world of Suffrajitsu are also available, via Amazons’ Kindle Worlds system.

The Bootfighters Catalogue (canne Vigny and defence dans la rue instructional videos)

Australian instructor Craig Gemeiner’s set of canne Vigny and defence dans la rue DVDs are recommended by many members of the Bartitsu Society.

Bartitsu sparring cane from Purpleheart Armory

Widely used by members of the Bartitsu Society, these rattan training canes are recommended for both drills and sparring applications.

The BlackSwift Raven self-defence walking stick

Combining a stylish, low-profile appearance with superb dexterity and great strength, the BlackSwift Raven is especially recommended as a “carry” cane for self-defence purposes.

Dr. Emelyne Godfrey lectures on the early history of jujitsu in England and the Jujitsuffragettes

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”.

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.

Stabbing by Scuttlers

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.

Reichenbach

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.

Godfrey lecture

Attendees included Mike Callan from the International Association of Judo Researchers and Amanda Thyme, who is researching the life of pioneering English judo practitioner Sarah Mayer.

Mike - Emelyne - Amanda crop

Suffrajitsu goes (semi-)viral

Money shot

 

Thanks to the recent BBC News article about the radical suffragettes’ use of the martial arts, which featured Tony Wolf’s Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, popular awareness of the suffragette Amazons has reached an all-time high.  The article and subsequent BBC World Service radio interview with Tony have generated over 14,000 tweets and Facebook posts over the past two days.  Emelyne Godfrey, the author of two books on self-defence during the “long Victorian era”, has also recently been interviewed on this subject for BBC Wales radio.

Suffrajitsu – now in print!

Blood and Honor print copies

The Suffrajitsu trilogy is now available in Blood and Honor, a printed collector’s edition from Jet City Comics. This new print anthology also features two other Foreworld Saga trilogies; The Dead God and Symposium.

Inspired by the adventures of the real-life suffragette Bodyguard unit circa 1914, Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons was written by Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf. The story features a strong Bartitsu theme, including scenes set in E.W. Barton-Wright’s martial arts academy, which serves as the Amazons’ gymnasium and secret headquarters.

Bartitsu Club

The trilogy is also available in e-book format via both Amazon.com and comiXology.

Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons #3 available now!

Suffrajitsu 3 cover

The climactic chapter of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy is now available from Amazon.com and comiXology!

In Issue #3, Persephone Wright and her team of Bartitsu-trained Amazons must race to prevent a terrorist attack that may have dire consequences for the entire world …

(… and yes, that it Persephone’s uncle – Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright – to the right on the cover).