“Self-Protection on a Cycle” Re-Animated

Here’s an edited recap of the main lessons from Marcus Tindal’s article “Self-Protection on a Cycle”, as brought to life at the 2017 Dreynevent Western martial arts conference. The full presentation is available here.

Tindal’s article was published by Pearson’s Magazine at about the same time as E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu articles, leading to the common mistaken assumption that bicycle self-defence was part of Bartitsu per se. It does, however, come under the heading of fun adjunct studies and is occasionally revived, as previously seen at the ISMAC event in Michigan.

The “Bartitsu Lab” in Warwickshire, UK

New Bartitsu classes are beginning via the “Bartitsu Lab” in the Warwickshire town of Alcester:

What’s ‘The Bartitsu Lab’?

TBL is a ‘test and learn’ approach to Bartitsu. We cover the key skills required with a scientific method. In this way, we ensure that content is always relevant, practical and reliable.

It means we explore different arts, bring in guest instructors, and test what we think we know. Bartitsu is a ‘process’ through which we can apply any art.

For us, the art must always evolve to meet the challenges of its day. TBL allows us to do just that with Bartitsu.

For all details, see the Bartitsu page at www.artofmoore.co.uk​.


“Coming to Close Quarters”: the Strategy of Unarmed Bartitsu

Above: an unarmed Bartitsu class in Germany.

This article assumes that the object is to train in a neo-Bartitsu that is as close as possible to the original style. Therefore, the approach described here is very closely based on the primary, canonical sources, especially E.W. Barton-Wright’s own comments on this subject from late 1901 and early 1902, at which point his “Bartitsu experiment” was fairly well-established. By that time, most of the Bartitsu Club instructors had been working together on an almost daily basis for at least a year, and in some cases for nearly three years.

The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that unarmed Bartitsu was a new, hybrid method drawing primarily from boxing, kicking and an eclectic blend of jiujitsu styles. At a time when Barton-Wright’s club was literally the only place outside of Japan where students could formally study Japanese unarmed combat, jiujitsu was, reasonably enough, considered to be something of a “secret” art.  In fact, it was frequently referred to as such by Barton-Wright and others during this period.

The formal, kata-based pedagogy of ko-ryu jiujitsu was, however, typically predicated on defences against single, highly committed attacks.  During late 1901, Barton-Wright pointed out that this pedagogy was not necessarily equipped to counter attacks such as the quick, aggressive combinations of a skilled boxer or savateur, nor (perhaps) the unpredictable flurries of strikes that might be made by an untrained street brawler.

As Barton-Wright commented:

In order to ensure, as far as it is possible, immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, one must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which are scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applies to the use of the foot or the stick.

He continued:

Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

The experience of numerous subsequent martial arts and combat sports, notably including modern MMA, has tended to confirm Barton-Wright’s observation in this regard.  Without putting too fine a point on it, the defences of boxing and savate are optimised for attacks made in those styles.

As Barton-Wright noted in the 1901 article Bartitsu: Its Exponent Interviewed, however, orthodox boxing/savate defences – as typically taught to middle-class students in commercial schools, geared entirely towards relatively safe competition – could be modified and improved towards the goal of winning a street fight:

The amateur (boxer) is seldom taught how to hit really hard, which is what you must do in a row. Nor is he protected against the savate, which would certainly be used on him by foreign ruffians, or the cowardly kicks often given by the English Hooligan. A little knowledge of boxing is really rather a disadvantage to (the defender) if his assailant happens to be skilled at it, because (the assailant) will will know exactly how his victim is likely to hit and guard.

He then clarified:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, and which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate.

As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously. So we teach a savate not at all like the French savate, but much more deadly, and which, if properly used, will smash the opponent’s ankle or even his ribs. Even if it be not used, it is very useful in teaching the pupil to keep his feet, which are almost as important in a scrimmage as his head.

Thus, Bartitsu guards represented an aggressive, damaging modification to the standard blocks of boxing and savate.  The opponent’s strikes would be met percussively, the defender chopping into punches with elbow/forearm strikes or offering the sharp wedge of an elbow-forward shield, as well as counter-kicking into attacking shins and ankles, as a precursor to finishing the fight at closer quarters.

By his own account, Barton-Wright clearly considered Japanese unarmed combat to be superior to other forms of wrestling as a means of self-defence.  This consideration implicitly included the various European folk-styles available at the turn of the 20th century.  Thus, whereas an unarmed Bartitsu exponent might square off against an assailant in an orthodox circa 1900 boxing/savate guard stance, and would certainly attempt to damage their attacking limbs with percussive guards, (s)he would be well-prepared to finish the fight with jiujitsu:

If one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field.

The overall strategy Barton-Wright advocated for unarmed Bartitsu is, therefore:

  • To assume a boxing/savate guard stance if possible, encouraging the opponent to attempt to punch or kick in the “orthodox styles”
  • If the opponent does attempt to punch or kick, counter by striking into the attacking limbs


  • If the opponent attempts to break through the defender’s guard with a grappling attack, allow it
  • In either case, finish the fight with jiujitsu

Walking Stick vs. Two Unarmed Opponents

Chilean stick fighter Andres Morales takes no prisoners in this sparring contest, demonstrating how to defend against two unarmed opponents.

Trabajo de walking stick vs 2 .

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zondag 18 maart 2018

Note Andres’ use of footwork and deceptive, powerful strikes to his opponents’ heads, faces and attacking limbs, employing the cane from both single and double-handed grips.  At close quarters, he follows the advice given by E.W. Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny, relying on “bayonet” thrusts from the double-handed grip to regain distance and initiative.


Antagnonistics V in NYC

Antagonistics V – Tactical Principles of Victorian Self-Defense

with Professor Mark P. Donnelly

Saturday, April 21, 2018,  1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

440 Lafayette Street, Room 3D

New York, NY 10003

Mark P. Donnelly (Professor of Arms), an internationally-recognized expert on historical combat, will teach this five-hour “gentlemanly antagonistics” workshop.

– Explore the tactical principles of Bartitsu, and how they are still relevant today.

– Learn to use a walking stick, parasol, and other Victorian accessories to maintain “preservation of person and property when beset upon by ne’er-do-wells of nefarious intent.”

– For the first time ever, we’ll be exploring the history and use of the swordstick or sword-cane as commonly carried in Victorian and Edwardian Europe.

This workshop is a rare opportunity to study martial arts, combative theory, and obscure history in a safe, controlled, welcoming and civilized atmosphere with some of the top practitioners in the world. Open to gentlemen and ladies over 18. All experience levels welcome and all equipment provided.

Visit www.nycsteampunk.com to register. Places are limited.

Bartitsu/Vigny Stick Sparring

Andres Morales of Chile (in the black shirt/shorts combo) and a sparring partner demonstrate the quick, deceptive Vigny canne style, as incorporated into Bartitsu circa 1900. 

La canne vigny

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 10 maart 2018

As described by a journalist from The Sporting Life newspaper in July of 1899:

(Vigny) first proceeded to demonstrate the use of the stick by showing the different attacks and guards, displaying wonderful wrist work, in which great strengths and suppleness were combined. He grasps a stout Malacca cane about six inches from the end, and does all the movements with the wrist only, and not with the fingers. He passes his stick from right hand to left and vice versa without the slightest trouble, using right-hand and left-hand alternately with equal dexterity.

“Self Defence for Ladies and Gentlemen” Seminar in Bavaria, Germany

Bartitsu instructor Alex Kiermayer and pugilist Christoph Reinberger are teaming up for a seminar in Victorian and Edwardian antagonistics. The two-day event will cover fisticuff, jiujitsu, Bartitsu stick fighting and more and will take place between June 30 – July 1 2018 in the Bavarian municipality of Garching an der Alz. For all details (in the German language) please visit this site.

“Seize Him by the Throat”

Although we don’t have a full catalogue of the atemi (striking and nerve pressure techniques) practiced at the Bartitsu Club circa 1901, analysis of the writings of E.W. Barton-Wright and his associates reveals a preponderance of attacks targetting the opponent’s face and throat.  The trachea (or “tonsil”) appears as a pressure target in three of the fifteen atemi methods represented in Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self-Defence” articles (1899).  Journalists and other observers frequently (and somewhat alarmedly) referred to these methods of unarmed Bartitsu as “fiendish science” and “foul play”.

While throat attacks were, indeed, counted as fouls in European wrestling styles, Japanese jiujitsu was concerned with practical self-defence rather than manly sport.  As Barton-Wright himself had pragmatically noted,”no method was too severe” to be applied in defence of one’s own life.

With your left hand firmly grasp his right wrist. Then seize his throat with your right hand, forcing your thumb into his tonsil. This will cause intense pain, and he will bend his head and body backwards in order to avoid it. In this position he is standing off his balance and you take this opportunity of placing your right foot behind his right knee, and then proceeding to throw him as before.

In this video, nightclub bouncer and bodyguard Scott Pilkington demonstrates the direct stopping power of a trachea hold:

“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: