“A Secret Style of Boxing” (The Sportsman, 12 December 1904)

There’s a good deal to unpack in this advertisement for an assault-at-arms display organised by former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny, including one particularly intriguing item:


ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14 at 8 p-m. Under Distinguished Patronage.



With the participation of the societies The Tierce and Quarte Club, the Self-Defence Club, Le Centre de Quarte of London, the Japanese School of Jujitsu.

Fencing Foils, Duelling Swords, Sabres; English Boxing; French Boxing (La Savate); a Secret Style of Boxing, with numerous tricks and counters; Japanese Wrestling; Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling; Walking Stick, how anyone can defend himself in a crowd.

Foils: Mrs Roger Watts, of Fred MacPherson’s Academy, v. Madame Pierre Vigny (Miss Sanderson); Demonstration of Japanese self-defence Mr S. K. Eida and Mrs Roger Watts (first English Lady to demonstrate this wonderful system).

Reserved Seats, 16s. 6d.; Unreserved, 5s.

Tickets can obtained from Prof. Pierre Vigny, 2. Hinde-street, Manchester-square; Cafe Royale, Regent-street; and St. James’s Hall, Piccadilly.

The “Self Defence Club” was Vigny’s own school, which promoted a “combined” approach to self-defence training very much in the fashion of the Bartitsu Club, albeit with a greater emphasis on fencing than on jujutsu.   Unfortunately, comparatively little is known about Vigny’s system in its own right.

Of the demonstrators listed, it’s notable that we can now identify Madame Vigny/Miss Sanderson as Marguerite Vigny, Pierre’s wife and a frequent competitive foil fencer as well as the founder of her own system of women’s self-defence employing umbrellas and parasols.  S.K. (Surakichi) Eida was an instructor at the Japanese School of Jujitsu and went on to achieve some fame as a “jujitsu waltz” performer on the music hall stage.  Likewise, Mrs. Watts would eventually move from Japanese unarmed combat to devise her own, intricate system of physical culture inspired by ancient Greek athletics.

The reference to a “secret style of boxing, with numerous tricks and counters” is a bit of a puzzle, especially in that it seems to be contextually distinct from both English boxing and French savate.  The actual phraseology is very close to, and may well have been directly inspired by a line from a 1902 St. James’s Gazette article reviewing a Bartitsu display at the famous Bath Club, which included “(…) a secret style of wrestling, with innumerable tricks and counters.”

Perhaps the likeliest explanation is that the “secret style” was a development of the method referred to by E.W. Barton-Wright in an article from the Black and White Budget magazine, several years earlier:

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.

Vigny and Barton-Wright had been working together since June of 1899 and it’s clear that one of the fruits of their collaboration was a distinct modification of (kick)boxing.  This “secret style” was never explicitly detailed by either man, but Barton-Wright’s comments suggest that it involved an aggressive, street-oriented variation of “standard” boxing defences, in which the defender aimed to damage the attacker’s striking limbs:

As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in (orthodox boxing) schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously.

The other likely point of distinction was that Vigny and Barton-Wright both advocated for a more realistic, hard-hitting ethos that was then the accepted norm in French savate circles.  At this time, the majority of professional instructors in France were promoting a rather academic and courteous, light-contact version of savate, which was practiced at least as much as a form of “combat calisthenics” as a serious self-defence method.

In the context of Bartitsu per se, the innovation of  aggressive and damaging guard techniques was a prelude to finishing the fight as may be necessary at close quarters, via jujutsu.  Although the Japanese art was de-emphasised in Vigny’s school, some elements definitely were present, as described by journalist J. St. A Jewell in his 1904 article on Vigny’s school for Health and Strength Magazine:

Part was boxing, part wrestling, part Jujitsu, and part La Savate; but each move blended into the next like a piece of joiner’s dovetailing. One led and landed short, and that proved his undoing, for the next instant he was bent double, rendered helpless, and his arm was by way of being twisted out of socket. That was boxing and Jujitsu. Then the pupil rushed, driving hard with his left, but Vigny ducked aside, pivoted on his left leg and kicked on the mark with his right, in a full body swing, following up the move with back-heeling his man. That was La Savate and wrestling.

“Kingsman” Prequel “The Great Game” Announced

Matthew Vaughn, the director/producer of the successful Kingsman action/comedy film franchise, has announced an upcoming prequel titled Kingsman: The Great Game.  The movie will be set during the early 1900s and will explore the origins of the Kingsman spy organisation.

No other information is currently available, but according to Kingsman Harry Hart, a.k.a. Galahad:

Since 1849, Kingsman Tailors have clothed the world’s most powerful individuals. In 1919, a great number of them had lost their heirs to World War I. That meant a lot of money going uninherited. And a lot of powerful men with the desire to preserve peace and protect life. Our founders realised that they could channel that wealth and influence for the greater good.

And so began our other venture. An independent, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion. Above the politics and bureaucracy that undermine the integrity of government-run spy organisations. A suit is the modern gentleman’s armour. And the Kingsman agents are the new knights.

… suggesting that The Great Game may be set during the 1920s.

The phrase “the Great Game” generally, however, refers to the complex political and diplomatic brinksmanship that existed between the British and Russian Empires during the 19th century; it has also been used to describe the pastime of treating the Sherlock Holmes stories as if they were actual history.

Hopefully, the new movie will continue the Kingsman tradition of dynamically gentlemanly fight scenes, most particularly while armed with impeccably-furled umbrellas …

Adam Adamant: an Edwardian Gentleman-Adventurer in Swinging ’60s London

Popular enough in its day but almost forgotten over the past four decades, the mystery/adventure TV series Adam Adamant Lives! was intended as the BBC’s answer to The Avengers.  Both series featured dapper Edwardianesque gents teaming up with groovy young women to combat the outlandish masterminds of fantastically devious schemes.

Adam Adamant, however, distinguished himself from The Avengers’ John Steed in three essential ways.  Firstly, he was not simply an Old Etonian spy with a taste for snappy suits, formal courtesies and umbrella fighting, but rather a genuine Victorian-era gentleman-adventurer.  In the year 1902, Adamant had been placed in suspended animation by his arch-nemesis, a masked evil-doer known only as “the Face”.  Accidentally rediscovered and revived in 1966,  the hero resumes his crusade in the name of Queen and Country, assisted by his quickly-acquired manservant, Mr. Simms, and swinging chick Georgina “Georgie” Jones.

The second point of difference is that Adam Adamant, as a gentleman of the belle epoque, could not quite bring himself to believe that the women of the 1960s might be anything other than the virtuous objects of his manly protection.   This gallant naiveté frequently resulted in his being duped by villainesses and then knocked cold.

Thirdly, at least when facing male opponents, Adamant exhibited the ruthlessness of his penny dreadful forebears to an extent that might have made even the steely John Steed blanch.  While Steed would not hesitate to kill an enemy if required by dire circumstance, he preferred non-lethal options when possible. Adam Adamant, on the other hand, demonstrates a cold-blooded relish for the kill, whether impaling his opponents (typically with the sword concealed in his ever-present cane, occasionally with spears or javelins), hurling them to their doom from great heights as Holmes did to Moriarty, or just slitting their throats:

The fight scenes in Adam Adamant Lives! are typical of their vintage; low budgets led to fast-paced production schedules that seldom allowed time to properly rehearse action sequences, resulting in sometimes imaginative, often energetic, but frequently sloppy and (actually) dangerous fights.  However, credit must be given to the fight arrangers who devised Adamant’s signature combat style, which is a Bartitsuesque combination of Queensberry Rules boxing, jiujitsu and fencing, with occasional use of the walking cane itself as a weapon.

Adamant’s formal, extended-guard unarmed stance is a fairly good approximation of late 19th century fisticuffs and he makes frequent and effective use of the classic left lead-off, rather than resorting to the modern jab.  His jiujitsu – which must surely have been learned at the Bartitsu Club, given that he lived in central London and was placed in suspended animation the very same year that the Club folded – generally defaults to those techniques that can be learned quickly by a game but over-worked actor and then “sold” by agile stuntmen.

Adam Adamant Lives! lasted for two action-packed seasons but ultimately could not compete with The Avengers.  It did, however, inspire the Austin Powers movie series, which updated the concept to feature an action man of the 1960s being cryogenically frozen and then revived during the late 1990s.  Those who enjoy ’60s action-adventure with an Edwardian flair should also note that a number of Adam Adamant Lives! episodes are available on YouTube.

“The Suffragette Who Knew Jujitsu” – a Video Profile of Edith Garrud

The latest video update for the No Man Shall Protect Us documentary project profiles Edith Garrud, who was the first female professional instructor of the Japanese martial arts in the West, and also the star of one of the very first martial arts movies.

Click here to visit the No Man Shall Protect Us page on Kickstarter.

“Tani, the Japanese Wrestler” (1905)

From the 1905 omnibus edition of Mind and Body: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Physical Education:


TANI, the Japanese wrestler, was in the midst of a bout with an alert, muscular young Englishman from the Mile End Road. The Englishman was doing very well and the audience at the Royal, Holborn, were enthusiastically on his side, urging him with shouts of encouragement, native to East End, to hold on like death.

The odds seemed to be in his favour. He was the bigger man of the two, and apparently the stronger. He had good, stout limbs, yet he was lithe and quick. It seemed absurd to set him against the short, slight, wiry Japanese, who looked even less than his eight stone ten.

And the Japanese was down on his back, and the Englishman held him with a grip of irbn, and the Mile End Road thought he could do it for the five minutes that remained of the stipulated fifteen, and thus win the prize.

Suddenly there was a change. The Japanese wriggled out of trouble like a cat. He stepped around his opponent as lightly as if he were waltzing, seized a wrist, hitched the man down with a leg trip, and at once, sinking on his back at right angles to the Englishman, threw his leg across the man’s neck and held him there like a log until Mile End Road tapped the mat in signal of defeat.

There were some murmurings among the audience. It looked suspiciously as if the Japanese had half strangled his opponent, and the Englishman’s admission from the stage that he had nothing to complain of scarcely removed the impression. I went behind the scenes afterward and Tani showed me this particular fall.

“Well,” said he, “you are in the street and you desire my life. You have a heavy dagger and I have none. You make a downward plunge — so; and see what happens.”

I made the downward plunge in a double sense. Quick as lightning Tani had me by the wrist, his other hand pressed hard on my shoulder, the back of his leg pressing inward on the back of mine.

I went sprawling on my back, Tani slipped down on his and his leg was curled over my throat. But,that was the least part of the operation, only designed to keep my head in position. Tani had retained his hold on my wrist and now held it with both hands. The slightest struggle on my part exerted a pressure on the elbow which went near to breaking the arm. With my disengaged hand I beat a violent tattoo on the mat to indicate that I was convinced.

“That’s all very well with me, being no lion in strength,” I said. “But what would happen with Hackenschmidt? You couldn’t get his arm down for that lock.”

“This,” said the Japanese—and he quickly turned the arm the other way, fixing the lock of exquisite agony. “In fact,” he pursued, “the bigger the man the better I like him. It is his strength, not mine, that does the mischief. That stands to reason. If I put on a lock he cannot break, the harder he may struggle against it the greater the damage he enjoys.”

To correctly appreciate jiu-jitsu, it is necessary to understand that it is more than a sport, designed to teach the student to meet every form of attack that may be made upon him.

It was developed by men who had made a profound study of anatomy and the laws of leverage and force; and it was perfected by generation after generation of clever men. Every boy of the samurai or warrior class was taught it, and it was their favorite form of competitive sport.

There is one deadly grip which always offends English notions of fair play. That is what Apollo, Tani’s manager, christened the knockout blow.

Tani grips both sides of your collar, hands crossed, palms outward, puts one foot on your thigh, and falls backward. You fall with him. Retaining his double grip on the collar and his leg on the thigh, he rolls over and you roll over with him. Then, like a cat, he is sitting astride your chest, and you are done.

This grip is generally regarded by British audiences as a strangle, and it has been known to provoke howls of protest. But it is not a strangle, as I can testify by personal experience. The pressure is all at the sides and back of the neck, the windpipe not being touched.

Appollo tried it and found the sensation that of “floating among clouds in a perfectly happy state.” He wondered how it was done, and Tani could not explain.

Then he read that a Dutch physician, while sojourning among the Japanese, found that the native doctors, when performing slight operations, used no anaesthetics, but simply applied pressure to the carotid artery, by which means the patient was rendered unconscious.

That was the explanation of the Japanese knock-out grip. Pressure on the two carotid arteries arrested the flow of blood to the brain, and the victim, if he was too proud to give the signal, drifted out of conscious existence.

I asked Tani to show me his reply to a kick. He allowed me to kick him, but he caught the foot, twisted the toe around, and on the instant had me sprawling on the mat, tied up in a contorted knot, from which I was uncommonly glad to be released.

One thing which I particularly noticed in these falls was that Tani left me to do the hard work. He cajoled me off my balancc, I fell, as he wanted me to fall, and he then had me in a lock wherein, if I was anxious for a broken bone, the breaking had to come from me. He wrestles as if he were playing chess, and while you are still standing, he makes the hold which he exercises when you are thrown.

Apollo admits that after two years’ constant practice with Tani he began to “rather fancy himself” at the art. So one day he made a wager with Tani that he could withstand him for 15 minutes. And in exactly three minutes Apollo was beaten by a hold that he had never seen before. It is asserted that there are some 300 moves in the game, with which a wrestler must be familiar before he is regarded as a master.

But, as Tani says, why use more variations than you need? “There were two of us, and we used to show the art of defense against a street attack. My comrade, he attack me, and I throw him out. But what use is that? We do it so quickly that the people think it is a made-up job, some juggling, or something, and they only laugh. It is the same when two Japanese wrestle on the stage. If you do not know the fine points of the game, how can you see they are good?

“And so it is better for me to wrestle with your Englishmen, so that you can see how we combat their attacks. And how I should love to try it on one of your biggest champions! But they want me to play their game, which I do not know: and if it is a game merely of strength, how shall a man of nine stone beat a man of fourteen?”

The Bartitsu pronunciation guide

past-and-presentBecause Bartitsu is a culturally eclectic, Edwardian-era self defence system, revivalists are faced with a variety of words that have fallen out of fashion over the past century or simply originate in languages other than English.  Here’s a quick and easy guide to the phonetic pronunciation of some of these words:

Apaches (as in the Parisian street gangsters rather than the Native American people) – Apahsh.


la canne  – pronounced lah kahn.

jiujitsu – in Japanese, joo-jits’ (with a very lightly voiced “oo” sound at the end); in standard English adaptation, joo-jitsoo.

pugilism – soft “g”, as in pew-jill-ism.


Suffragette  – pronounced with a soft “g”, like suffrajet.

Vigny – we’re not certain how Pierre Vigny pronounced his surname, but most likely either Vih-nyee or Vih-nyay.

Yukio TaniYoo-kee-oh Tah-nee.

Sadakazu UyenishiSah-dah-kah-zoo (oo)yen-ee-shee.