The rear guard and the guard by distance

Girded for battle, Bartłomiej Mysłek of Poland assumes a variation of the Vigny stick fighting rear guard during a recent Bartitsu sparring match.

The rear guard, also referred to by E.W. Barton-Wright as the “left guard”, is one of the signature defensive stances of the Vigny style of stick fighting. It was well-described by the anonymous author of “L’art de la canne”, an essay first published in the Revue Olympique of May, 1912:

The Vigny guard position is, in essence, a combat guard. The left arm is held in front as if bearing a shield; the right arm is raised at the rear, with the weapon held above the head, in a perpetual “spring hold.”

When you are being attacked, quickly retreat with a swift guard change and bring your cane down powerfully upon the opponent’s arm or hand. In doing this, you can be mathematically certain of reaching and damaging your target.

Immediately afterwards, you step towards him, turning your wrist rapidly and striking the steel tip of your cane into his eyes or under the nose. And here is very surprised man … !

In Barton-Wright’s “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” articles, the rear guard is consistently presented as a position of invitation, “baiting” an attack to an apparently exposed target so as to set up a devastating counter-attack via the “guard by distance” tactic.

To “guard by distance” means to avoid the opponent’s attack via footwork and body movement, as distinct from “guards by resistance” which include all defences in which the opponent’s weapon is blocked or parried by the defender’s weapon.

Vigny (right) assumes a rear guard, inviting Barton-Wright’s attack to his exposed left arm, then counters with the “guard by distance”, withdrawing the target and striking to the top of Barton-Wright’s head.
Vigny (right) assumes a variation of the rear guard inviting Barton-Wright’s attack to his head, then withdraws the target and counters with a strike to B-W’s weapon hand.
The “guard by distance” can also involve stepping towards, rather than away from, the opponent.  Here, Vigny (right) invites Barton-Wright’s attack to the left side of his head then steps inside the strike, trapping B-W’s stick and countering with a back-hand strike to the right side of B-W’s head.
Vigny (right) invites Barton-Wright’s left lead punch and counters with a strike to B-W’s knee or shin, then follows up by beating B-W’s time with a “bayonet” thrust to the midsection.
A defence, trap, counter-attack and takedown from the rear guard applied in sparring.

Art for art’s sake: the value of recreational Bartitsu

By Tony Wolf


Recent History

The modern Bartitsu revival is now fifteen years old and, like all teenagers, it’s undergoing some significant changes.

Most of the original cadre of Bartitsu revivalists, dating back to circa 2002, were members of the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) movement, which coalesced out of many disparate sources including modern fencing, historical re-enactment, stage combat, Asian martial arts and various combat sports.

Communicating via the Bartitsu Forum established by author Will Thomas, they set about recreating E.W. Barton-Wright’s cross-training system in the manner of numerous other “extinct” fighting styles, from Medieval German longsword fencing to the use of the rapier and dagger, polearms, abbracciare (Italian unarmed combat), etc., which were being similarly revived at that time.

In most cases, likewise, the challenge of the reconstruction was its own justification; the object being to revive the original style, as closely as possible to the way it was originally practiced, via a combination of academic scholarship and intensive martial pressure-testing.

As such, the original Bartitsu revivalists comprised a small and relatively cohesive “fringe of a fringe” interest group, whose collaboration produced both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005/08) and established most of the characteristics of modern Bartitsu training, including the essentially “open-source” nature of the revival and the concepts of canonical and neo Bartitsu.

Individualism and diversity are inherent to Bartitsu revivalism and, therefore, attempts to “police” that revival are instantly doomed to failure. People are free to do exactly as they want to do. That understanding is why the Bartitsu Society has always been, and remains, a basically informal association of colleagues rather than a hierarchical, bureaucratic “governing body”.

In more recent years, and most especially since the explosive success of the Sherlock Holmes movies (2009/11) firmly embedded an awareness of “Victorian English martial arts” in the popular consciousness, the number of Bartitsu clubs and study groups has grown significantly and a new generation of enthusiasts has emerged.

“To create again”: recreational Bartitsu


While Bartitsu was, literally, the reality-based self-defence of its own time and place, and certainly can be undertaken purely for entertainment at pop-culture conventions and so-on, I would argue that its greatest value today is something quite different, by virtue of the many decades that have passed since its brief heyday at the turn of the 20th century.  Therefore, the remainder of this essay simply advocates for a “recreational Bartitsu”.

Consider that the word “recreation” means “an activity done for enjoyment” and that it is derived from the Latin re-creare, meaning “to create again” – the latter definition being especially appropriate when applied to the activity of reviving an extinct martial art.

Although both self-defence and performance/LARP-oriented revivalisms could also be described as “recreational” in certain senses, I’m using that term to refer to a third approach; that which prioritises the notion of “art for art’s sake”. Recreational Bartitsu, therefore, is primarily geared towards recreating Barton-Wright’s original art, embracing the canonical and lineage materials as cultural artifacts of intrinsic historical value.

In other words, the primary value of the canonical material is, precisely, that it is canonical; it is our most direct link to the original cross-training system that was being developed at the Bartitsu Club circa 1901.  From this perspective, modern self-defence applications are of secondary or tertiary priority, alongside demonstration of the canonical material for public display.

Further, the close and serious study of the canonical and lineage material reveals just enough of the tactical and mechanical principles behind Barton-Wright’s original system to enable practitioners to make truly educated deductions about the rest of the system. That study must include not only the Pearson’s Magazine article series, but also the panoply of supplementary sources that have been unearthed by researchers over the past fifteen years, offering crucial context to the modern revival.

Is this recreational approach any different, then, from “living history”? Does it simply result in martial arts museum pieces, beautifully preserved but lacking real utility?

No. A martial art worthy of that name must be functional, and so the aim of recreational Bartitsu is to first reassemble, and then to prove by pressure-testing, the original system on its own terms, as a method of cross-training between, specifically, c1900 boxing and kicking, the eclectic “British jiujitsu” of the Edwardian era and the Vigny style of stick fighting.  

As with any martial arts reconstruction project, the aim is to get as close as possible to the original methods.  Some of this reassembly is verbatim (from the canon) and some is speculative, referring to the great corpus of Bartitsu lineage materials produced by the Bartitsu Club instructors and their first generations of students, as outlined in the second volume of the Compendium.

The Japanese concept of takemusu, implying “martial creativity”, is inherent to this recreational approach. The process is collaborative and on-going. Rather than attempting to complete Barton-Wright’s abandoned work-in-progress, recreationalists are engaged in a continual state of “combat lab” experimentation.

“All-in” sparring in an identifiably “Bartitsu” style is the apex of this form of recreation. The acid test is simple – if you can fight successfully in a manner that’s closely evocative of the original method, then your recreation is good. If not, keep testing and experimenting until you can.

“… a medium-sized Malacca cane, mounted with a thick metal ball”

Above: Pierre Vigny poses with one of his self-defence walking sticks.

E. W. Barton-Wright’s “Self-Defence With A Walking Stick” articles for Pearson’s Magazine (1901) offer the most detailed impression of the Vigny cane fighting system during the height of the brief Bartitsu Club era.

A basic premise of these articles was to illustrate different self-defence tactics depending on the weapons wielded by the defender and by the aggressor, among other differentials such as physique and available fighting space.  For example, different tactics were advised for when the defender held “a Stick which is too Heavy to Manipulate Quickly with One Hand, when Attacked by a Man Armed with a Light Stick”, as compared to what to do when wielding a “Small Switch in your Hand, and are Threatened by a Man with a very Strong Stick”.

Above: Vigny (left) assumes the double-handed guard against Barton-Wright’s right (front) guard.

Although Vigny’s system was versatile enough to allow for defence with light canes, crook-handled canes and umbrellas, it was optimised for a specific type of cane, which Vigny himself had designed.  In “The Walking-Stick as a Means of Self-Defence” (Health and Strength, July 1903), Vigny wrote that:

(…) therefore the cane is the most perfect weapon for self-defence; but in order to make it so, it must possess the necessary qualities, which, expressed in one word, is solidity.

It is for this reason that I have had a cane specially made under my directions which embraces all the necessary qualities. It is a medium-sized Malacca cane, mounted with a thick metal ball, and so firmly riveted to the cane that it cannot come off however roughly it may be used.

The metal ball handle is of such a thickness that it will not get dented; but in spite of this the cane is a most handsome and elegant one, and has been so much appreciated since it has been brought out that many people may be seen carrying them.

Vigny (right) demonstrates a close-quarters combat technique, jabbing with the thick metal ball handle of his cane into an attacker’s jaw.

Thus, the Vigny cane is characterised by an asymmetrical balance due to the tapering malacca (rattan) shaft and especially by the addition of a metal ball at the thicker end.  In practice, this means that the cane handles differently from an evenly-weighted stick weapon; the heavy end swings and strikes more like a mace than like an ordinary stick.

Above: the balance point of a Vigny-style cane marked with an X.

Single-handedly swinging a 36″ long stick with a weight at the far end generates significant momentum, and the management of that momentum has a significant impact on the techniques and tactics of Bartitsu stick fighting.  This is apparent even when the metal ball is simulated by a solid rubber ball handle for relatively safe sparring purposes; hence, the Vigny style’s characteristic emphasis on ambidexterity and variety of tactical guards, as shown in Barton-Wright’s articles and in this sparring video:

“Sherlock’s Baritsu Den” – a baritsu-themed gym in a Hanover hotel

The game is afoot at the Gästeresidenz PelikanViertel boarding house in Hanover, Germany, which boasts what is almost certainly the world’s only baritsu-themed boutique gymnasium.

The basement gym was opened in 2015 and features modern exercise equipment including a treadmill, cross-trainer, rowing machine, bicycle ergometer and a multifunctional gym system. The baritsu theme is maintained, however, thanks to an elaborate wall mural by graffiti artist BeNeR1, punching bag, natural wooden floor and exposed brick features, benches modified from vintage gymnastics pommel horses and stylish Victorian towel hooks.

More images of the Baritsu Den are available here.

Introduction to Bartitsu & Edwardian Cane Self Defense in Alexandria, VA

Chris Dyer of the Capital Kunst des Fechtens historical martial arts school will be teaching an introductory workshop on Bartitsu and cane self-defense techniques developed by Edward William Barton-Wright in Edwardian England.

The class will be held on 1 June at 8.00 pm at 25 S. Quaker Ln, Alexandria, VA 22314-4524, United States. All equipment will be provided.

This class is open to visitors for $10.

Vigny stick fighting in Santiago, Chile

Little sparring with walking stick.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 6 mei 2017

Some more fast, strong sparring in the Vigny/Bartitsu style by members of the Santiago Stickfighters club.

Bartitsu with Allen Reed at “Cogs and Corsets” in Bloomington, IL

Come learn the martial art made famous by Sherlock Holmes when he fought with his nemesis Prof. Moriarty at the top of Reichenbach Falls.
Prof. Reed spent many years tracking down and apprehending miscreants who violated the law. Now in retirement he brings his experience in antagonistics, fisticuffs and preventing mayhem to ladies and gentlemen who may find themselves in need of such training when waylaid by hooligans upon the highways and byways.

The class is scheduled for 2 PM on Saturday June 3rd on the lawn of the historic courthouse in Bloomington, IL. For more information about all the events of the three day festival (June 2 to 4, 2017) see

Vigny-style sparring from the Santiago Stickfighters

Combate con bastón de paseo.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op donderdag 4 mei 2017

Walking-stick sparring in the Bartitsu/Vigny style, as practiced in Santiago, Chile.  Note the smooth, tactical shifts between the double-handed, rear and front guards: