“Getting the Short End of the Stick” in Vigny Stick Fighting

Pierre Vigny (right) demonstrates a short-end thrust to the jaw against a belt-wielding “hooligan”.

I noticed that the stick itself was held about eight inches from the end, so that after a crashing blow has been delivered it was quickly followed up by a stabbing movement with the ferrule end, which was used as if it was a dagger.

  • Street Self-Defence: How to Handle the Hooligan (1904)

One of the characteristic tactics of the Vigny stick fighting style is the use of the “short end” of the cane as a close-combat weapon.  Despite not being directly illustrated in the classic Pearson’s Magazine series, this method is frequently referred to in other sources, notably including Captain F.C. Laing’s The ‘Bartitsu’ Method of Self-Defence:

Points are made with the butt end of the stick at any part of the body, the most favourable places being at the throat and ribs.

“Point” in Laing’s usage refers to a thrust as distinct from a strike, and either the butt or ferrule end or the heavier ball-handle end (as demonstrated by Vigny in the photograph above) could be used for this purpose.

Aside from the “backhanded” preparation described and illustrated by Laing, the Vigny style also includes a guard that prepares for a forehand or direct short-end strike, shown in the second of these four illustrations from a 1904 Detroit Free Press article:

The caption for this guard reads:

2) In this posture a blow is delivered from the shoulder, or as an alternative the small end of the weapon may be used as a dagger.

Instructor Tony Wolf demonstrates a direct short-end thrust to the throat during a Bartitsu demonstration at the 2011 WMAW historical martial arts conference.

Numerous observers of Vigny’s stick fighting demonstrations at the turn of the 20th century noted his use of the short-end of the stick at close quarters, and especially its effectiveness as a surprise attack.  An opponent who is set up to expect a sweeping strike with the cane may well be taken off-guard when his adversary steps in close and converts the “strike” into a stabbing thrust with the opposite end.  This description, from the London Daily News of Wednesday, October 29, 1902, is typical:

Holding a malacca cane by one hand at each end, the Professor calmly awaited the onslaught of a skilled opponent with a similar stick. The spectator never knew which hand was to deal the blow, the released end moving with lightning speed, and a short hold was taken, so that the assailant, in guarding against an impending blow, often found himself hammered or prodded with the butt.

Favoured targets for the short-end strike include the ribs, face, throat and eyes.  According to the anonymous author of L’Art de la Canne (1912), a detailed survey of the Vigny style:

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!

… whereas Captain Laing favoured the throat:

Assume “first position,” guard head, then, before he has time to recover himself, hit him rapidly on both sides of his face, disengaging between each blow as explained, the rapidity of these blows will generally be sufficient to disconcert him; the moment you see this; dash in and hit him in the throat with the butt end of your stick, jump back at once and as you jump hit him again over the head.

Alternatively:

A man without a stick rushes at you with his fist.  He will probably strike out at your face or body with his left hand; if so, take up the ” rear guard” position and as he strikes guard with left arm, seize his left wrist, and hit his left elbow with your stick, advance right leg and point with butt end of your stick at his throat, then follow this up by thrusting your stick between his legs and so levering him over.

Laing’s prototype for a new cavalry sword design, which was based on Bartitsu stick fighting, included a spiked pommel for even more effective close-quarters work:

Those interested in the further possibilities of short-end play with the Vigny cane are encouraged to study the video series Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick, which includes several more options:

Instrictor Alex Kiermayer demonstrates a short-end thrust.

English Edition of “Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” Now Available via Vimeo and the Freelance Academy Press

The new English-language version of Alex Kiermayer’s excellent instructional video series is now available as a series of streaming downloads from Vimeo.com. The entire series runs two hours and fifty-four minutes and can be rented for US$29.50 or bought for US$36.90.

The instructional series is also now available on DVD via the US-based Freelance Academy Press website for US$39.95.

Here is our recent, detailed review of the series, which includes lessons on many aspects of Vigny stick fighting for self-defence.

Canne Vigny and Defense dans la Rue Seminar in Australia

Instructor and pioneering Vigny cane revivalist Craig Gemeiner will be offering a seminar in Vigny cane fighting and defense dans la rue (early 20th century French street self-defence) on Sunday, 24 February 2019. The seminar will take place at Toowoomba East State School and is being hosted by the Historical School of Defence – Toowoomba.

La canne Vigny :

The “walking stick method of self -defence”

Pierre Vigny was one of the most innovative masters of la canne. Born in 1869, he began his training at a young age venturing from one academy to another, learning new European martial arts techniques and testing his skills against anyone who would pick up a sword, stick or pair of boxing gloves. By 1889 Vigny had perfected his own method of la canne, the system could be described as a mixture of several European self -defence methods. Vigny’s stick fighting method focused on personal protection and not the academic nor sporting applications as commonly taught during the era. La canne Vigny is well documented and today practitioners are privileged to be able to tap into a system that’s time tested, versatile and still very workable on the street.

Defense dans la Rue:

As a system of personal combat Defense dans la Rue (DDLR), meaning ‘defence in the street’ was heavily influenced by the social conditions of the late 1800s. Urban violence fuelled by Parisian street gangs called the Apaches, along with the advent of Belle Epoque period mixed martial arts competition was the catalyst for its creation. Renowned as a simple but highly efficient system of self -defence, techniques included Savate open hand strikes, low line Savate kicking (Leclerc method) English boxing, grappling and weapon base skills. Since its early development Défense dans la Rue has gone on to acquire a unique style and tactical application. Defense dans la Rue is well documented and today practitioners are privileged to be able to tap into a system that’s time tested, versatile and still very workable on the street.

Please click here for class breakdowns and all other details.

Bartitsu Seminar in Yorkshire

Members of the Tree of Shields historical fencing club (Yorkshire, UK) pose after a recent Bartitsu seminar with instructor Kevin Allmond of the Haworth Industrial Bartitsu Club.

Shields! Bartitsu night was a pain in the neck… Geddit.Tom

Geplaatst door Tree of Shields op Maandag 31 juli 2017

Above: Kevin Allmond demonstrates a neo-Bartitsu umbrella takedown.

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.

“Bartitsu Cane Combat” Workshop at Dreynevent 2019

Instructor Stefan Dieke will be running a Bartitsu cane seminar at the upcoming Dreynevent HEMA conference in Vienna. The conference will take place in February 2019.


Bartitsu Cane Combat – the framework and how we filled its gaps

Trainer: Stefan Dieke

Description:  In 1901 a two-volume newspaper article with the title of “Self-defence with a Walking-stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions” was published in Pearson’s Magazine, showcasing a number of example techniques of Bartitsu cane fighting to the general public.

This article forms the main source for Bartitsu cane combat. Unfortunately, the purpose of such an newspaper article is not to provide detailed information about the system but to stirr curiosity and create interest in the subject. Obviously this is a problematic source for HEMA practitioners as it only provides a selection of example techniques (which may even be altered to be suitable for the readers of the magazine) and not the complete system with the underlying principles.

This class is about what the system may have looked like, based on careful analysis of the illustrations, reading between the lines and practical experience when applying the techniques in freeplay.  We will look at some of the iconic Bartitsu cane combat techniques for fundamental body mechanics, some questionable techniques which are key to our assumptions for the system and at least one really clever technique which gives a glimpse at how advanced the system might have been.

Required Equipment:  A wooden stick (eg, beak or hazelnut) of approximately 22mm (7/8″) diameter and 95-100 cm (38-40″) length, fencing mask, (padded) gloves.

Skill level of Participants:  This workshop suitable also for complete beginners but knowing a twerhau/entrüsthau has some advantages.

“Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick” DVD Now Available in English!

An English-language version of the instructional DVD Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick is now available via this link and will become available to the US market via the Freelance Academy Press.  The DVD was produced by Agilitas.tv and features Bartitsu instructor Alex Kiermayer assisted by Christoph Reinberger.

The new English-language version is also expected to become accessible as a paid streaming video series via Vimeo in the near future.

We will be offering a review of the entire lesson series soon!  In the meantime, here are two excerpts in the original German language:

A Photo Gallery from Day 2 of BartitsuCon 2018

Instructors Peter Smallridge (top) and Tommy Joe Moore demonstrate jiujitsu ne-waza (mat fighting).
The shuto or tegatana (“hand-sword”) of jiujitsu atemi-waza (striking techniques).
The savate fouette median (mid-level roundhouse kick).
A lunging palm-heel strike.
Savate sparring: the chassé frontal (front kick).
Savate sparring: the revers lateral tournant (spinning hook kick).
Jiujitsu newaza randori (freestyle mat grappling).
Savate sparring: Tommy Joe Moore (left) evades a coup de pied bas (low front kick).
Southpaw fisticuffs!

A Photo Gallery from Day 1 of BartitsuCon 2018

The savate fouette median (mid-level roundhouse kick).
Fisticuffs!
Pad work.
Instructor Tommy Joe Moore demonstrates a right hand punch.
“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.” – E.W. Barton-Wright
“With a little practice it becomes easy to make sure of hooking a man firmly by the neck (…) – E.W. Barton-Wright
The Vigny cane “bayonet grip” opposed to a dagger-wielding opponent.
Close-quarters work with the cane.
A painful “suffrajitsu” wrist and elbow lock applied by instructor Jennifer Garside.
Instructor Peter Smallridge demonstrates the fine points of jiujitsu newaza (ground grappling).
A little combat yoga, a.k.a. jiujitsu mat work.