“The Art of the Cane” (1912) Revisited

The article “L’Art de la Canne” originally appeared in the Revue Olympique of May, 1912.  The anonymous author provides a rare technical description and some analysis of Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting system during the post-Bartitsu Club period, after Vigny had left England and returned to Geneva, Switzerland.

A translation of this article was published in the first volume of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005); the following revised and annotated translation offers some updated information and references.

The text begins:

It is all very well to learn how to use “noble”, but unusual weapons such as the sabre, the epee or the rifle; it is even better to superimpose upon this knowledge the management of the weapon that we hold most frequently in hand but of which, it must be admitted, few of us know anything in terms of effective use.

There does exist an art of the cane, but that cane recalls the gymnastic “horse” which is not constructed to resemble the animal in such a way as its exercise can be practically useful. The assaut (sparring) stick is a small, short, light wand, which is neither a baton nor a whip; a hybrid weapon for which no occasion will ever arise to use in earnest.

The author refers to the canne d’assaut, a slender, somewhat flexible stick for relatively safe fencing in the salle d’armes.

When you know how to use the assaut stick and you then pick up your walking stick – rigid, stronger, heavier and of a different length – you are in no way prepared to use your stick for your own defence. And so the opinion has been formed that the so-called walking stick is a worthless weapon.

Prof. Pierre Vigny, who taught at boxing clubs in London and at the military School of Aldershot and now runs a “Defensive Sports Academy” in Geneva, has demonstrated that (the canne d’assaut method) was nothing and that his own method, in addition to constituting an excellent system of gymnastics, leaves little to be desired in terms of practical application. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to explain (the Vigny method) other than by direct instruction. An illustrated manual might succeed in ways that cannot be claimed for a short article. So, we will confine ourselves to an attempt to indicate the characteristics of this method, whose expansion is to be desired.

The need to acquire a great flexibility of the wrist is just about the only similarity between this new fencing and the cane fencing that is taught elsewhere. The guard and strikes are very different. The guard is essentially a combat guard. The left arm is forward as if it were holding a shield; the right arm is raised back with the weapon overhead in, so to speak, a perpetual “back-swing”.

The French term here is prise d’elan, also implying a state of momentum poised before release, like a compressed spring.  This guard is described by E.W. Barton-Wright as the Left Guard or Rear Guard, as demonstrated here by Pierre Vigny (on the right):

You are attacked; a brief retreat with a rapid change of guard and your cane falls mightily onto the hand or arm of the aggressor. You are almost mathematically certain to reach and damage it.

This is the Guard by Distance from the Rear Guard, as described by Barton-Wright and illustrated in Self Defence With A Walking-Stick:

After which, you advance upon him while quickly turning your wrist, thrusting the steel ferrule of the cane like a dagger into his eyes or beneath his nose. And here is a man … amazed!

The use of the ferrule end of the cane as a dagger thrust into the opponents face or throat was referred to by Barton-Wright and described by a number of practitioners and observers of the Vigny style circa 1900, most famously Captain F.C. Laing:

The other strikes are usually whipped. Although M. Vigny calls some strikes “whipped” and  others “wrapped” in order to distinguish them better, you must always get the whistling sound of a whip.

The term used here is enveloppé, which can be translated as “wrapped” or “folded”, but the technical implication is unclear.  Speculatively, it’s possible that a “whipped” strike delivered a slashing or glancing impact whereas a “wrapped” or “folded” strike was a direct, percussive blow.

The little “riding crop” cane will whistle when swung without much effort. The rigid cane will not whistle unless you handle it with real vigour. Where does this force come from?  From the shoulder and in the reins.

This word implies the lower part of the back; the muscular structure of the body on both sides of the spine between the lowest (false) ribs and the hipbones.

You must attain serious mobility of the reins and a wide range of movements of the arm, operated by the shoulder.

Unlike the fencing of the light assaut cannes, managing the momentum of the heavier, asymmetrically-weighted Vigny cane often, though not always, requires a whole-body engagement.  The shift of weight from foot to foot that “powers” this type of action is transmitted into the cane via the legs, hips, back, shoulder and arm.

Of course, the teaching is given on the left as well as the right. The left will not be as strong as the right, but must be able to provide for it on occasion.

Here the author evokes the characteristic ambidexterity of the Vigny style, as from the double-handed guard position:

There are also bludgeoning strikes that require a special preparation. There is nothing like it in other styles of fencing.

Possibly a reference to the use of double-handed striking:

And the muscles, at first, do not want to accommodate.  They contract incorrectly; the force is lost en route and the blow arrives low and as if cushioned. There must be, so to speak, an internal continuity between the cane and the arm that extends it. Without stiffness, but with a tensile force, the wrist must become like a knot in the wood.  For this reason we hold the cane with a full grip, the thumb folded on the other fingers and not lengthened against the cane.  This habit is difficult and somewhat painful to acquire. The palm wrinkles and blisters and the muscles register tension and pain, but this is the price of efficiency.

The Vigny method requires not only that the body is always well-balanced, but also that it sustains equilibrium in perpetual motion. In this, it is akin to Ju-jitsu. It has the disadvantage of not allowing the assaut between average amateurs (students); to truly spar in such a sport would be to expose oneself and one’s partner to the risk of severe injury. Therefore, one must stick to the prescribed lesson or engage in a mock combat with the professor. But does this not, in fact, commend it as an exercise of defence?

The Vigny style was, in fact, used in sparring bouts, at least during the Bartitsu Club era and afterwards at Vigny’s own academy in London; though ironically Pierre and Marguerite Vigny may have employed the canne d’assaut for that purpose, as shown in this photograph:

Vigny vs. Vigny

La canne vigny en Santiago Stickfighting.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 3 februari 2018

Santiago stickfighter Andres Morales (in the fencing mask with white trim) takes on a sparring partner also using the Vigny style in this clip from our Chilean colleagues.

Vigny-style Sparring Under the Canopy

Santiago stickfighting La canne vigny

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 27 januari 2018

Chilean stick fighter Andres Morales, in the fencing mask with white trim, and a sparring partner demonstrate some of the challenges of sparring in the Vigny style under low-hanging branches.

“Les Secrets du Jiu-Jitsu” (1906) Online

A scan of Ernest Regnier’s instruction manual Les Secrets du Jiu-Jitsu (1906) is now available online via this link.

Regnier was a talented but down-on-his-luck Parisian wrestler until he was sponsored by physical culture entrepreneur Edmond Desbonnet to travel to London and train at the Japanese School of Jujitsu.  Regnier’s athletic prowess and antagonistic skills allowed him to learn quickly, and it certainly didn’t hurt that his teachers included former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and his colleague, Taro Miyake.

Returning to Paris, Regnier adopted the vaguely Japanese pseudonym “Professor Re-Nie”.  On October 23 of 1905, he decisively defeated savateur George Dubois in a much-hyped style-vs.-style challenge contest, sparking an intense but short-lived craze for jiujitsu in the French capital.  He then established a salon de jiu-jitsu in Desbonnet’s exceptionally well-appointed gymnasium.  Regnier also had the distinction of training senior Parisian policemen in Japanese unarmed combat, but his jiujitsu career was effectively ended in December of 1908, when he ill-advisedly took on the giant Graeco-Roman wrestler Ivan Podubbny.

Les Secrets du Jiu-Jitsu was co-authored/ghost written by a writer named Guy de Montgrilhard, leading to some confusion in later generations as to “Professor Re-Nie’s” real name.  Although it is, in fact, a fairly simple compendium of some basic throws and locks, the fact that Regnier studied at the Japanese School of Jujitsu places the book squarely within the “Bartitsu lineage” and it serves as a useful supplement to the works of William Garrud, Percy Longhurst and other second-generation instructors.

More from the Santiago Stickfighters

Andres Morales (in the fencing mask with white trim) demonstrates the Vigny style in action against an opponent using a more generic style in this recent sparring match:

In this clip Mr. Morales takes on two opponents at once, fighting on uneven terrain and through the obstacle of overhanging tree branches:

La canne vigny vs 2 stickfighter

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zondag 14 januari 2018

Gentlemanly Fisticuffs in Seattle

An academic exhibition of the manly art of pugilism from a 19th century history event in Seattle. Note the use of the milling guard with elbow covers rolling into the “chopper” (back-fist or hammer-fist) punch, which was part of the London Prize Ring style and fell out of favour with the requirement of wearing large gloves under the Queensberry Rules.  Likewise, frequent entries into throwing range were very much a part of the LPR style.

More Vigny Stick Sparring from the Santiago Stickfighters

La canne vigny

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op maandag 18 december 2017

Santiago stickfighter Andres Morales (in the fencing mask with white trim) illustrates the tactical advantages of shifting between  the rear, double-handed, front and lowered front variant guards versus an opponent who maintains the simple front guard.

La canne vigny

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 23 december 2017

Mr. Morales dominates this sparring match versus a seemingly less-experienced opponent who relies primarily on thrusting attacks.

Unarmed Bartitsu With Alex Kiermayer

A gallery of images from a recent unarmed Bartitsu seminar with instructor Alex Kiermayer for the inaugural Noble Science event in Ronneburg, Germany. This event brought together instructors in various unarmed martial arts and combat sports including Pankration, Scottish backhold wrestling, pugilism, savate Genovese and traditional German wrestling as well as Mr. Kiermayer’s classes on the kicking and grappling aspects of Bartitsu.

Alex Kiermayer demonstrates the chasse median (mid-level side kick).
Another rendition of the chasse.
Students practice low kicks and evasions.
Escaping a kick to the lead leg.
Targetting the opponent’s leading leg.
Escaping the coup de pied bas (low front kick).
Mr. Kiermayer teaches the finer points of ne-waza (mat grappling).
The kesa-gatame (side control hold).
The infamous ude garami (key lock) applied as a submission hold.