“Schools Where Men Are Taught to Defend Themselves Against the Attacks of Steet Rowdies” (Illustrated London News/The Chicago Inter-Ocean/New York Tribune, August-September 1903)

The following composite article features a number of little-known techniques from the Vigny method of walking stick self defence, which was a major aspect of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu system.

We’ve already featured the main body of the article, which was published in the August 30, 1903 edition of the New York Tribune.

More recently, however, we’ve located the original source for the illustrations used in that article – a photo-feature called “The Art of Stick Defence” in the August 1, 1903 Illustrated London News – and also a September 6, 1903 article from the Chicago Inter-Ocean, which re-uses much of the Tribune article’s text, but offers a set of “new” photographs for some of the techniques.

Although he is not mentioned by name in any of these articles, Bartitsu Club stick fighting and savate instructor Pierre Vigny is clearly their subject. As such, while the techniques shown do not fall within the Bartitsu canon, they are very much part of the neo-Bartitsu lineage, along with the works of Vigny’s fellow former instructors Yukio Tani, Sadakazu Uyenishi and Armand Cherpillod and their first generations of students.

Significantly, the one sequence of techniques that appeared in the ILN photo-series but not in either of the American articles is also the only known photographic representation of Vigny using the “short end” of the cane in self defence (shown in close-up, above). The use of the short-end grip “as a dagger” in close quarters was frequently remarked upon by observers of his system in action and was both described and sketched by Captain F.C. Laing in “The Bartitsu Method of Self-Defence” (1903).

This sequence is also the only known representation of Vigny defending against an attack with a heavy-buckled belt; a weapon commonly used by London hooligans and other street gangsters during the early 20th century.

The Illustrated London News photographs are inserted into the New York Tribune text below, with the alternative photos from the Chicago Inter-Ocean article shown alongside for comparison.

In the crowded city, as well as at the lonely crossroads, a man never knows when he may be called upon to defend himself. However vigilant may be the police, however strong the windows of his house, one is never absolutely secure from thug or burglar. However regular may be his habits, however restrained his desires, still there are emergencies which may keep a citizen out until the “owl” hours or call him into unfrequented by-ways.

Street gangs have never seemed bolder than at the present time, and their attacks upon law-abiding citizens are of frequent occurrence. The majority limit their operations to the tenement house districts, but now and then they appear where least expected. Such was the case in the alleged attack upon David Lamar’s coachman in Long Branch by “Monk” Eastman and some other members of his notorious East Side gang.

When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick. A revolver is likely to harm him more than to help. As soon as a man reaches for his weapon, his adversary has the right to shoot, and the accomplished criminal is almost sure to have his weapon ready first. The stick is the better weapon, because it is quicker. It is in one’s hand already. It is always “loaded.”

In such a crisis the first blow counts. At such a time neither endurance nor strength is as important as quickness. There is only one round, and in most instances there is only one blow. The man who gives it first, and gives it right, is the victor. One does not need to be an experienced boxer or wrestler, for his adversary on such occasions is not likely to observe the Marquis of Queensberry rules nor the laws of the Graeco-Roman school of wrestling. Foul means are fair at such times.

In the city of London the crime of the highwayman and burglar has increased to such an extent that many schools have sprung up in the great English metropolis where one may learn the art of stick defence. The schools have proved popular, and many of the professional fencing and boxing masters have included courses in which the pupil is taught to handle the stick.

The instruction is simple, and contrasts in a striking degree with the complicated science of fencing. Neither is it anything like the old art of handling the singlestick, where two men armed with sticks parry with each other for an opening to administer a blow. Stick defence differs from all these manly exercises in this essential — it is not a pastime between sportsmen; it is a quick and safe method of knocking out a thug.

Many a busy New Yorker, however, would never learn the art of stick defence, even though he believed it would someday save his life, if he had to go to a gymnasium or a fencing school to learn it.

“I simply haven’t the time,” such a man would say.

For the same reason he has long wished to be a boxer, and secretly envied the splendid muscles of the athletes he sees at the beach when he goes down there for a Sunday swim. Neither does he know anything about wrestling, nor many another manly sport which would not only befriend him in an hour of need, but, best of all, build up his physique and enable him to work harder and longer, and yet feel far less weary when he leaves his office at night.

Stick defence, however, can be learned at home more easily, perhaps, than any other art of self-defence, and after a few general rules are mastered the beginner may learn how to apply them in many effective ways. He must, first of all, have a roommate or some other good friend who is willing to play the “thug” and to be ‘”knocked out” some half hundred times. In imagination the “thug’s” arms will be broken, his wrists and ankles dislocated and his neck twisted.

The thug who is of Anglo-Saxon origin generally makes his assault with his fists. If he doesn’t, he pulls a pistol. His most common fist attack is to strike his purposed victim in the face with his left hand, and to hold back his right ready for a blow in the stomach. Nine times out of ten such a ruffian overwhelms his man, and even an experienced boxer may fail to thwart such an assault, but the man with a stick, should he handle himself right, ought not only to withstand his enemy, but also break his arm.

As soon as the stick man sees what his assailant is up to, he clutches his enemy’s left hand with his own, and with his right, holding his stick and guarding his stomach at the same time, he cracks the thug’s arm on the crazy bone, at the elbow. At the same time he strikes he twists the arm inward, so as to make the pain of the blow still more acute. If the stick man wants to strike hard enough he can break a thug’s arm in this way.

Should one find it impossible to use this device in withstanding a left-handed attack, there is another way which proves almost as efficient. As the thug rushes for his man, the stick man grasps his cane at the small end with his left hand, and with his right he clutches it near the handle. His hands are near enough together, however, so that his right elbow is at an angle of 90 degrees, and with this protruding elbow he wards off the swing of the thug’s left arm. At the same time he thrusts the handle of his cane under the chin of his foe and topples him over on his back. In case of a right-handed attack, the man with a stick meets it in the same fashion, but with opposite hands.

This bayonet-style thrust is not described in the New York Tribune text. It is simply captioned “Another guard” in the Illustrated London News article, and is described by the Chicago Inter-Ocean writer as “Holding off an assailant by a thrust in the stomach”.

Unless the sight of a pistol’s muzzle unnerves him, the man with a cane is able to dispose of the thug who pulls a gun easier than if he used only his fists. If the pistol puller is left handed, an upward blow of the cane is best, for it knocks the weapon high into the air, and does not swerve the barrel sidewise, so that the bullet is likely to reach the heart of its intended victim.

But in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the gun is in the right hand, and the stick man need only drop to his knees and, at the same time, strike his would-be murderer a sharp side-wise crack on the knuckles to disarm him.

As the Anglo-Saxon uses his fists, so the Italian and Spaniard have recourse to the knife. Unless such a thug is left-handed, he strikes with his right hand, and he is met by the stick man in much the same way as a left-handed fist blow is averted, by the thrust of the cane’s handle under the chin. The stick man, however, holds his arms differently. He now bends his left elbow to avert the stab and shield his vitals.

As a general thing, the thrust of a cane under the chin partially strangles a thug and so disconcerts him that he drops the blade from his hand. Should the ruffian use his left hand, the man with a stick grasps his weapon with his right hand around its small end and his left about its centre, and with his right elbow shielding his breast he gives the strangling thrust into his enemy’s neck.

The German also has his way of holding up a pedestrian. In the gymnasium or army he has been trained in the use of the broadsword, or even as a peasant boy he has had “schlagen” matches with his playmates. So when a Teuton who has settled in the New World descends to deeds of violence he generally uses a stick. His fate, however, at the hands of the master of stick defence is likely to be as instantaneous as that of the Anglo-Saxon or the Italian.

In meeting this kind of an enemy, an umbrella or a cane with a hooked handle is the best weapon. The stick man catches the cane of his foe, hooks his assailant around the neck and jerks his head forward. At the same time he raises his knee so that the face of the thug strikes against it with great force. This treatment makes a man see so many stars that he invariably drops his cane, and thus surrenders himself to the mercy of his victor.

Some thugs have a way of coming up on their victims from behind and disconcerting them with a kick. The stick man who knows the tactics of thugs is prepared for this kind of assault. As soon as he suspects what is to occur he wheels on his heel and hooks the thug by the foot with the handle of his cane or umbrella. This is sure to send the ruffian over backward on to his back. Another way is to dodge the kick, and crack the upraised leg with a stick over the knee. Such a blow will break a man’s leg if it be administered hard enough.

This pair of photographs was included in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News series but not in the American articles. Vigny is shown disarming his belt-wielding opponent while striking him on the chin with the ball handle of his cane, then preparing to belabour the fallen hooligan.

Tactics which might supplement those of the stick men have been introduced into the United States Navy. They are trick catches which are, for the most part, based on the Japanese system of wrestling. A sailor renders an assailant powerless simply by twisting his muscles the wrong way. It is called the leverage system, for the reason that it tends to pry a victim’s joints apart by using the bones as levers one against another. Should a New Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time.

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.

“Self-Defence with a Bicycle” teaser video for the 2017 Dreynevent

A fun taste of the “Self-Defence with a Bicycle” class to be offered at the upcoming Dreynevent 2017 historical martial arts workshop in Vienna.

The video and class draw from Marcus Tindal’s highly eccentric article, “Self-Protection on a Cycle – How you may Best Defend Yourself when Attacked by Modern Highwaymen, Showing how you should Act when Menaced by Footpads, when Chased by another Cyclist, and when Attacked under various other Circumstances; showing, also, how the Cycle may be used as a Weapon”, which appeared alongside E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu articles in Pearson’s Magazine during 1901.

Frequently and incorrectly assumed by casual readers to be part of the Bartitsu curriculum, Tindal’s bicycle defence techniques were, in fact, probably inspired by this 1901 letter to the editor of the London Bicycle Club Gazette and have no direct connection to Bartitsu at all, apart from the coincidence of when and where they were first published.  Tindal’s article created a bit of a media stir at the time, and in turn inspired yet another article, complete with a different set of photographs, in a 1905 edition of the Italian journal La Sportiva Stampa.

“Self-Protection on a Cycle” also formed the basis of an amusing and educational seminar at the 2009 ISMAC historical martial arts event in Detroit, USA:

More Vigny-style sparring from the Gemeiner Academy

Some more fast, athletic sparring in the Vigny style from instructors at the Gemeiner Academy of Savate in Australia.  Chief instructor Craig Gemeiner was a pioneer in the reconstruction of Pierre Vigny’s unique method of stick fighting.

Note the rapid tactical shifts between front, rear and double-handed guards and also the use of ambidextrous striking.

“Should an assailant strike at your wind or heart with his right fist”: an anomalous canonical Bartitsu technique illustrated

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In April of 2010 the Bartitsu Society discovered a “new” entry into canonical Bartitsu unarmed combat.  This self defence kata or sequence appeared as part of a reprint of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence” article series in the June, 1899 American edition of Pearson’s Magazine.  Curiously, the sequence had not appeared in the original and better-known English edition and, also curiously, it was the only sequence in the American edition to be described in text but not illustrated with photographs.

Compounding the mystery is the fact that the sequence is titled “One of Many Means of Defence when a Man Strikes at You Low or Below the Belt”, which does not actually match Barton-Wright’s subsequent description of the techniques.  This may imply that the American Pearson’s editor confused two separate titles and descriptions, in which case there may be at least one more, as yet undiscovered, entry into the Bartitsu canon.

Here follows the sequence in question, as written by Barton-Wright and now illustrated for (possibly) the first time.  Note that the camera perspective reverses between numbers 2) and 3), to afford the viewer a better look at the techniques.

No. 1.—One of many Means of Defence when a Man Strikes at You Low or Below the Belt.

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Should an assailant strike at your wind or heart with his right fist, step backward with your right foot, and in doing so place your right hand over your heart, with the palm outward, and grasp his wrist by placing your left hand over his wrist (the placing of the right hand over the heart is only a precautionary measure in case you miss catching his wrist when he leads off at your body).

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As soon as you feel you have hold of his wrist, pull it towards you with a slight outward motion leftways, take a step forward with your right foot, placing it behind his right leg, and seize him by the throat, pressing your thumb into his tonsil or just under the back of the ear, which is extremely painful.

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Then with a sharp leftward pull with the left hand, and a thrust or a push leftward with the right hand (keeping your right calf or the side of your knee tightly behind his right knee), you throw him on his back.

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The photograph of this technique is modified from an essay on self defence in The Universal Book of Hobbies and Handicrafts (1935).

Retain your hold on his throat and ear, and dropping upon the right knee you pull his arm towards you so that his elbow is just across your thigh. With the slightest pressure you could break his arm. At the same time you extend your right arm vigorously and press your thumb well into the cavity under the ear, which will cause great pain, preventing him from getting up.

“Returning kicks with interest”: counter-kicks and stop-kicks in Bartitsu unarmed combat

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Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate (…) The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate. This latter … is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it.

– E.W. Barton-Wright, December 1900.

In his articles, interviews and lectures, Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright consistently – and rather cryptically – distinguished the type of kicking taught at the Bartitsu Club from that of French savate, which he disparaged.

This essay offers an interpretation and synthesis of those comments, taking into account their historical, social and technical contexts.  If there was a meaningful adaptation or distinction, then what was it and how may it be translated into neo-Bartitsu practice?

Canonical kicks

It may be noted that – although Pierre Vigny was clearly the senior savateur at the Bartitsu Club – Barton-Wright spoke fluent French and had studied savate in its homeland during the 1880s, probably while he was studying at a French university.

The Bartitsu canon, as demonstrated by Barton-Wright and Vigny, however, holds only a very limited arsenal of kicking techniques. The most immediately apparent is a single technique in Barton-Wright’s article series on Self Defence with a Walking Stick:

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Glossed as “How to Defend Yourself with a Stick against the most Dangerous Kick of an Expert Kicker”, the context for this technique is clearly that of the stick-wielding Bartitsu-trained defender countering a “foreign” ruffian’s stepping side kick. It’s very likely that Barton-Wright and Vigny had in mind the infamous Apache street gangsters of Paris, who were widely known to practice savate.

On this basis, while it can be reasonably inferred that Bartitsu students might train in such kicking techniques well enough to be able to “role play” as Apache savateurs for training purposes, the side kick doesn’t necessarily offer any context clues regarding how a Bartitsu practitioner might kick in self defence.

This article series also demonstrates a knee to the face attack, to be performed after the defender has hooked the attacker around the neck with the crook of his cane:

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The only other photographic evidence of kicking techniques as part of the Bartitsu canon is this image of Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny demonstrating a mid-level front or crescent kick as he simultaneously blocks his opponent’s left lead punch and counters with his own left:

Vigny demonstrates savate in Bartitsu Club

 

A later article in the Pall Mall Gazette also mentioned that the kicking methods taught at the Bartitsu Club were “somewhat different from the accepted French method.”

But how, and why?

The kick felt round the world

For historical context, it’s worth bearing in mind that – on top of the traditional and deep-rooted Anglo-French rivalries – at the time Barton-Wright was introducing his novel concept of Bartitsu to the British public, their most recent impressions of savate had been decidedly negative.

During late 1898, just as Barton-Wright had arrived in London from Japan, the Alhambra music hall had hosted a savate exhibition by French instructor Georges D’armoric and his students. Despite the savateurs’ best efforts and intentions, the reactions of their London audience and critics ranged from grudging appreciation to cat-calling; kicking in combat sports was widely held to be “un-manly” and offensive to insular English sensibilities.

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Above: a London newspaper artist’s impression of the Alhambra savate exhibition.

Then, during October of 1899, Charles Charlemont had won – under extremely controversial circumstances – a “savate vs. boxing” challenge match in Paris. His opponent had been Jerry Driscoll, a former British navy champion.  The British and international sporting press was outraged at the circumstances of that match, decrying the conduct of Charlemont, the referee, the French spectators and organisers and especially at the outcome, in which Charlemont was widely held to have won via an accidental but illegal groin kick.

In this environment, it’s likely that Barton-Wright deliberately de-emphasised the kicking content of Bartitsu and distanced it from the French method as a gesture towards nationalistic sentiment and social respectability. Similarly, he may have been attempting to score points by suggesting that the Bartitsu Club was promoting a “new, improved” (even an Anglicised) version of savate.

Compounding the issue was the fact that savate was, at that time, undergoing a bitter controversy between two factions in its country of origin.

The Academics vs. the Fighters

Although the ultimate cultural beginnings of savate remain obscure, researchers including Jean Francois Loudcher have traced the art to the working-class custom of “bare-knuckle honour duelling” during the early 19th century.  Over the best part of the next hundred years, it evolved in a largely haphazard fashion, played as a rough-and-tumble fighting game in back alleys and cafe cellars, with occasionally successful efforts at codification and systematisation.

By c1900 there was, on one side and in the majority, those who might be characterised as “the academics” – professional instructors, notably including Joseph and Charles Charlemont, who taught and advocated for a stylised, gymnastic form of the art, practiced at least as much as a method of physical culture and artistry as of self defence.

The aim of the academic faction was to firmly establish savate as a “respectable” activity that could be offered to French soldiers and the patrons of middle-class gymnasia, as part of organised physical culture curricula. Due to their influence, the most established and popular version of savate retained the duelling-based tradition of fighting “to the first touch”, translating into a very courteous, light contact combat sport.

It is highly likely that this was the version that Barton-Wright referred to as being “quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it.”  Much the same thing had been noted by an experienced French observer of the Charlemont/Driscoll fight, who remarked that Charlemont was handicapped by his long experience of “kicking gently” in academic bouts.

The smaller, opposing faction were “the fighters”, represented by Julien Leclerc and others, who preferred an updated, hard-hitting and more pragmatic savate, influenced by the non-nonsense ethos of British and American boxing.  The “fighters” represented a counter-culture within the politicised world of fin-de-siecle savate, advocating for rule changes that would push the increasingly genteel art/sport back towards its rowdy, back-alley origins.

Also – and very controversially, at the time – many of the “fighters” were professionals, or at least wanted to have the chance to fight professionally.  This caused great indignation among the “academics”, who were largely teachers and proud amateurs and who were horrified by suggestion that their art should be marred by prize-fighting.

The Devil is in the Details

According to the December, 1900 article quoted earlier:

Mr. Barton-Wright does not profess to teach his pupils how to kick each other, but merely to know how to be able to return kicks with interest should one be attacked in this manner.

Interesting but, on the face of it, puzzling; how does one not teach people how to kick each other, but still teach them to return kicks with interest?

The strongest hint yet was given in a September, 1901 interview with the Pall Mall Gazette, in which Barton-Wright reiterated his general theme with the addition of some crucial technical and tactical details:

The fencing and boxing generally taught in schools-of-arms is too academic. Although it trains the eye to a certain extent, it is of little use except as a game played with persons who will observe the rules.

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.

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.

… and the interviewer was also given a demonstration of the difference between the savate of the Bartitsu Club and the “accepted French style”, i.e. the style practiced by the majority of French savateurs:

He has also a guard in boxing on which you will hurt your own arm without getting within his distance, while he can kick you on the chin, in the wind, or on the ankle.

As to the usual brutal kick of the London rough, his guard for it (not difficult to learn) will cause the rough to break his own leg, and the harder he kicks the worse it will be for him.

Thus, it’s clear that both Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny were in the minority “fighters” camp, advocating for a pragmatic, combat-oriented reform of savate that would allow full contact matches and the possibility of knock-outs.

“Come an’ take him orf. I’ve bruk ‘is leg.”

The techniques alluded to include kicks to low, medium and high targets as well as a destructive leg-breaking guard against the “brutal kick of the London rough”, which is possibly cognate with Barton-Wright’s description of “smashing the opponent’s ankle”.

The most famous literary expression of this tactic is certainly the following fight scene from Rudyard Kipling’s In the Matter of a Private (1888), in which Private Simmons launches a vicious kicking attack at Corporal Slane:

Within striking distance, he kicked savagely at Slane’s stomach, but the weedy Corporal knew something of Simmons’s weakness, and knew, too, the deadly guard for that kick. Bowing forward and drawing up his right leg till the heel of the right foot was set some three inches above the inside of the left knee-cap, he met the blow standing on one leg —exactly as Gonds stand when they meditate —and ready for the fall that would follow.

There was an oath, the Corporal fell over to his own left as shinbone met shinbone, and the Private collapsed, his right leg broken an inch above the ankle.

“‘Pity you don’t know that guard, Sim,” said Slane, spitting out the dust as he rose. Then raising his voice—”Come an’ take him orf. I’ve bruk ‘is leg.” This was not strictly true, for the Private had accomplished his own downfall, since it is the special merit of that leg-guard that the harder the kick the greater the kicker’s discomfiture.

Synthesis

Barton-Wright clearly and concisely explained his overall tactical conception of Bartitsu unarmed combat in his February, 1901 lecture for the Japan Society of London:

In order to ensure as far as it was 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 …

judo and jiujitsu are 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.

This statement underscores the specifically defensive value of boxing and savate “in order to get to close quarters” against the types of attacks that might be anticipated from a London Hooligan or other ruffian, with the intention of deploying jiujitsu as a type of “secret weapon”.  His comments on boxing, like those on kicking, notably emphasise the value of destructive guards that intercept and damage the aggressor’s attacking limbs.

In his article A Few Practical Hints on Self Defence (1900), Percy Longhurst offered a cognate technique, highly reminiscent of that described by Rudyard Kipling:

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The English rough can, and does kick, although it is usually after his victim is on the ground; his kicking is barbarous and unscientific. There is, however, one kick that he sometimes uses that is very dangerous, causing terrible internal injuries if not stopped, and it is difficult to avoid if one does not know the counter. It is the running kick at the abdomen.

The defense is to raise the right knee and bring the leg across so that the side of the heel is resting on your left thigh. Your shinbone will catch his leg as it rises at its weakest park, and will probably cause it to break.

As mentioned earlier, savateur Julien Leclerc was another advocate of the “fighters” perspective and, unlike Barton-Wright or Vigny, he left a detailed record of his approach to savate in the form of his book, La Boxe Pratique: Offensive & Defensive – Conseils pour la Combat de la Rue (1903). Leclerc’s manual provided the essential, basic savate kicks detailed in the first volume of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005).

Cross-referencing Barton-Wright’s comments and Vigny’s demonstrations with Leclerc’s manual yields a focus on les coups d’arrets, or “stopping blows”; kicking into kicks, as is shown below:

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Thus, the “adaptation” and “distinction” Barton-Wright referred to was, most likely, to hit harder than would be tolerated in the mainstream French salles de savate of his era, and to employ some of the kicks and counter-kicks of savate toward a Bartitsu-specific tactical goal.

The unarmed or disarmed Bartitsu practitioner should be prepared to counter kicks with hard coups d’arret, chopping into the opponent’s ankles or shins, as part of an aggressive defence strategy. While one might follow with boxing punches, atemi-waza strikes or further kicks as required by the needs of the moment, the tactical aim is to damage the opponent’s limbs and disrupt their balance en route to finishing the fight at close-quarters via jiujitsu – a legitimately “secret weapon” circa 1900, when the Bartitsu Club was the only school in the Western world where a student could study Japanese unarmed combat.

In this video, Bartitsu instructor Alex Kiermayer teaches a set of savate-based low kicks, evasions and stop-kicks:

 

The tactics of Bartitsu kickboxing

vigny-boxing
Above: Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny (left) demonstrates a simultaneous guard and counter technique.

E.W. Barton-Wright was fulsome in his praise of boxing, which was virtually synonymous with the idea of “self defence” in London at the turn of the 20th century. In introducing his radical cross-training concept of Bartitsu, however, he was also careful to point out that even “manly and efficacious” British fisticuffs might not be enough to cope with a determined street attacker who didn’t play by the rules:

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.

“Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900

Circa 1900, many boxers still employed the so-called “milling” guard, as seen in this exhibition bout between champions Jim Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons:

The mill – referred to by pugilist and author R.G. Allanson-Winn as a “cycloidal action” – involved continually rotating the fists in vertical circles,  which served to keep the arms limber and to disguise the timing of the punch.

Barton-Wright continued:

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. – Ibid

Taken at face value, these comments suggest a specific tactic; that the forewarned but unarmed Bartitsu-trained defender would adopt a boxing guard and spar specifically in order to “sucker” their adversary into close quarters.  Once at close quarters, the defender would deploy jiujitsu as a sort of secret weapon – a reasonable proposition at a time when Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club was literally the only place in the Western world where a student could learn Japanese unarmed combat.

In fact, both of Barton-Wright’s “boxing” scenarios in the Black and White Budget article proposed that an unarmed fight might begin with fisticuffs, but would end with jiujitsu:

Again, should it happen that the assailant is a better boxer than oneself, the knowledge of Japanese wrestling will enable one to close and throw him without any risk of getting hurt oneself. – Ibid.

While acknowledging that kicking and countering kicks were important aspects of self defence training, he then asserted that:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, 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. This latter … is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it.– Ibid.

He followed with another revealing comment on the subject of kicking in self defence:

Mr. Barton-Wright does not profess to teach his pupils how to kick each other, but merely to know how to be able to return kicks with interest should one be attacked in this manner. – Ibid.

Later, an article in the Pall Mall Gazette also mentioned that the kicking methods taught at the Bartitsu Club were “somewhat different from the accepted French method.”

In considering Barton-Wright’s comments on savate, it’s worth recalling the traditional Anglo-French rivalry and the middle-class London cultural bias against kicking in self defence as being “un-English”.  This may have been an especially sore point in the wake of the infamous savate vs. boxing match between Charles Charlemont and Jerry Driscoll, which had taken place just as Barton-Wright arrived back in London from Japan.

It’s likely that B-W deliberately de-emphasised the kicking content of Bartitsu and distanced it from the French method in his articles and lectures as a gesture towards nationalistic sentiment and social respectability. Similarly, he may have been attempting to score points by suggesting that the Bartitsu Club was promoting a “new, improved” (even an Anglicised) version of savate.

In any case, it’s evident that neither Barton-Wright himself nor Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny had much time for the stylised, light-contact assaut style that had then become popular in French academies:

Several months later, in a lecture for the Japan Society of London, Barton-Wright explained that:

Under Bartitsu is included boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking stick as a means of self-defence. Judo and jujitsu, which (are) secret styles of Japanese wrestling, (I) would call close play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was 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 were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick … judo and jiujitsu are 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. – Barton-Wright, “Jiu jitsu and Judo: the Japanese Art of Self Defence from a British Athletic Point of View”, February 1901

This statement underscores the specifically defensive value of boxing and savate “in order to get to close quarters” against the types of attacks that might be anticipated from a London Hooligan.

Barton-Wright continued:

Directly one (sees) a man, one ought to know whether he (is) a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in one’s self. – Ibid

Finally, in a September, 1901 interview with the Pall Mall Gazette, Barton-Wright explained what he meant by “guards not at all like those taught in boxing schools”:

The fencing and boxing generally taught in schools-of-arms is too academic. Although it trains the eye to a certain extent, it is of little use except as a game played with persons who will observe the rules.

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.

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.

In sum, the Bartitsu student must know how to hit really hard, how to counter kicks as well as punches and – significantly – how to fend off punches in such a way as to injure his opponent’s attacking limbs.  Percy Longhurst, in his book Jiujitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence, describes a version of this technique:

A man who makes wild round-arm swinging blows at your head may be severely checked by the point of your elbow, raised so that it catches him on the inside of his upper arm.

Barton-Wright continued:

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.

The interviewer then described two of these unorthodox guards, as demonstrated by Pierre Vigny:

He has also a guard in boxing on which you will hurt your own arm without getting within his distance, while he can kick you on the chin, in the wind, or on the ankle.

As to the usual brutal kick of the London rough, his guard for it (not difficult to learn) will cause the rough to break his own leg, and the harder he kicks the worse it will be for him.

This is surely what was previously referred to as “returning kicks with interest”!

And, again, the Bartitsu practitioner would be expected to finish the fight with jiujitsu as a secret weapon or surprise attack:

My own experience is that the biggest man in a fight generally tries to close. By the grips or clutches I can teach, the biggest man can be seized and made powerless in a few seconds.

Mr. Barton-Wright himself shows you wrestling tricks, by which, by merely taking hold of a man’s hand, you have him at your mercy, and can throw him on the ground or lead him about as you wish, the principle being, apparently, that you set your muscles and joints against your opponent’s in such a way that the more he struggles, the more he hurts himself.

Thus emerges an overall strategy for the unarmed or disarmed Bartitsu practitioner, on the guiding theme of using the attacker’s force to his own detriment:

  1. Assume an orthodox c1900 boxing guard (upright stance, extended or milling guard with the fists)
  2. If the opponent attempts to break through your guard to grapple, admit them and counter with jiujitsu.
  3. If the opponent strikes, counter with limb destruction techniques; kick into their kicks or use your elbows and/or fists to strike into their punches, so that they harder they strike, the more they will be hurt.

Emerging from the mill, these “different and more numerous guards” employ the sharp, solid wedge of the elbow, rather than the gloves or forearms, to chop into or bar the attacking limb(s).  The defender might follow with boxing punches or atemi strikes as required, but these attacks would occur during a transition into the close quarters combat of jiujitsu.

The following video of Bartitsu training at the Chicago’s Forteza martial arts studio offers a selection of boxing drills, featuring the milling guard, destructive elbow blocks, closing to close quarters, light sparring and pad work: