Academie Duello Bartitsu instructor David McCormick demonstrates some umbrella self-defence in this video from the Vancouver Sun.
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 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.
From the 1905 omnibus edition of Mind and Body: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Physical Education:
JIU-JITSU HAS 300 MOVES THAT AN EXPERT MUST KNOW, AND HE CAN THEN DEFEAT ANY STRONG MAN IGNORANT OF THEM.
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?”
… by engaging toughs I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application.
– E.W. Barton-Wright, 1950
Because 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.
Bartitsu – Bart-it-soo.
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.
savate – sah-vaht.
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 Tani – Yoo-kee-oh Tah-nee.
Sadakazu Uyenishi – Sah-dah-kah-zoo (oo)yen-ee-shee.
By Tony Wolf
The HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) blogosphere and social media networks have recently caught the edge of the prevailing cultural debates about political correctness, social justice, cultural appropriation, racism and related issues. Inevitably, Bartitsu (as a fringe-of-a-fringe interest) has now been referenced in that context, so I hope you’ll indulge this “editorial” commentary from one who has been, it’s fair to say, closely involved in Bartitsu revivalism from the outset.
Nearly ten years ago – well before the “Bartitsu boom” generated by the recent Sherlock Holmes craze, at a time when any online reference to Bartitsu by “outsiders” was noteworthy to those very few of us who were paying attention – I came across a discussion on a martial arts message board in which one of the correspondents had described E.W. Barton-Wright as a “racist”. I was curious because I couldn’t recall anything in B-W’s own writings that might justify such a description, so I contacted that person and asked for proof.
There was none, as it happened – the writer had simply bought into the modern stereotype of “Victorian Englishmen” as being irredeemably imperialistic and racist, and then assumed that to have been a historical fact in the case of E.W. Barton-Wright. Similar assumptions have occasionally been made by others in subsequent discussions, most recently just a few days ago, when a short mainstream media video item on Bartitsu re-surfaced on a message board and was met with an anonymous comment charging cultural appropriation.
(So far, so much a tiny tempest in a very slightly larger teapot.)
In fact, the accusation that Barton-Wright had “misappropriated” jiujitsu was first made by one of his close contemporaries. That case is instructive, so here’s the gist of it; Herman Ten Kate was a Dutch anthropologist who had trained at the same Kobe Shinden Fudo-ryu jiujitsu dojo as Barton-Wright and who later came across B-W’s New Art of Self Defence articles, in which B-W first referred to “Bartitsu” by name.
Because Ten Kate apparently had not, however, seen any of Barton-Wright’s other articles, which demonstrated that Bartitsu was a “new” art because it combined jiujitsu with other systems, the anthropologist believed that B-W had simply had the gall to re-name jiujitsu after himself. Thus, lacking crucial context, Ten Kate had jumped to a mistaken and unfair conclusion, which he published in his own article for De Gids, a popular Dutch magazine, during 1905.
Back to the present day and to more immediate concerns; there is an individual who has, periodically over the past several years, offered a series of Bartitsu-related posts on the Stormfront “white power” forum. These posts have obviously been calculated to encourage an interest in Bartitsu among white supremacists, although they have failed in that attempt.
Recently, a screen capture of one of those posts has appeared on a Tumblr page dedicated to exposing racism within the HEMA community. That particular post quotes the introductory text from the Wikipedia page on Bartitsu and then ends with the words “the Bartitsu Society”, the latter taken out of context.
At worst, this juxtaposition may leave casual visitors to the Tumblr page with the impression that the Society somehow endorses a racist point of view. That impression is itself encouraged by the Tumblr author’s comment that “The white supremacists of Storm Front include fans & practitioners of Bartitsu and wider HEMA”, which allows the casual reader to imagine any number of “fans and practitioners” as opposed to the one individual who has, in fact, been responsible for those threads.
In a similar vein, there have been recent “incursions” into Bartitsu-oriented social media by a few proud bigots; people whose religious, racial and cultural prejudices are clear to anyone who bothers to look. And here we must be very careful. Obviously, the fact that someone is, for example, a virulent anti-Semite, or that they may indiscriminately hate and fear members of the Muslim faith, has no intrinsic bearing on their interest in/contributions to martial arts, history nor other subjects. The same person may also be congenial company over dinner.
We who are fortunate enough to live in intellectually free societies regularly navigate these tricky waters – hence the conventions that certain contentious topics are best not broached in “polite company”. But as social media are changing those conventions, at a certain point, it pays to do the contextual homework and, if so moved by one’s own conscience, to draw a line in the ethical sand.
With that in mind:
Bartitsu was originally, and now is again, an ongoing experiment in inter-cultural martial arts cross-training. At least one third of the art is of eclectic Japanese heritage via the jiujitsu styles of Barton-Wright, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi; another third is Swiss/French via Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting system; the remaining pot-pourri of European boxing, kicking and wrestling techniques exist mostly in the “neo” realms of modern revivalism because they weren’t detailed in the canonical sources.
Thus, in the racialist language of the late 19th century, Bartitsu itself could be described as “miscegenated”; it is, incontrovertably, the product of deliberate inter-cultural blending. English boxing and Vigny stick fighting are strengthened by tests against, as well as amalgamation with Japanese jiujitsu, and vice-versa. This is necessary progress towards the utopian ideal of martial arts cross-training pioneered by Barton-Wright and his Japanese and Swiss colleagues at the turn of the 20th century, later taken up by many others (famously including Bruce Lee) and most recently proven in the MMA arena, in Dog Brothers gatherings and in many other venues.
As such, Bartitsu intrinsically refutes both the PC notion of “cultural appropriation” and the segregationist stance beloved of racial supremacists.
Further, although we know precious little about the private life of Edward Barton-Wright, the scattered evidence of his social and political leanings indicate a decidedly progressive direction. Notably, at a time when it was common for fighters and promoters to refuse challengers based on race, Barton-Wright’s challenges were specifically open to “all comers – big or little, black or white, no-one is barred.”
The original Bartitsu Club offered classes for women and children at a time when it was extraordinary for “antagonistics” training to be given to anyone other than adult males. All of the politicians who were members and supporters of the Bartitsu Club were affiliated with the Liberal Party. By his own example and by the ethos of his Club and system, E. W. Barton-Wright encouraged an approach to martial arts training that rewarded curiousity, rational skepticism and a willingness to think (and fight) “outside the box”.
Therefore, far from the “fear of the foreign” sometimes assumed to characterise the people and institutions of Edwardian England, the Bartitsu Club was a melting pot of intensive competition, experimentation and collaboration between wildly diverse individuals and martial arts styles.
For the past fifteen years, the Bartitsu Society has succeeded as an exemplar of individualistic, “open-source”, grass-roots martial arts revivalism within an informal “community of colleagues”. We have consistently resisted the temptation to create a bureaucratic, hierarchical organisation, in favour of offering the fruits of our research to everyone who has an interest in this (still) rather obscure martial art. The result is that there are as many different “Bartitsu” approaches as there are clubs and study groups that have taken up the revivalist challenge – about fifty groups, at present.
Fortunately there is, to date, no evidence of any serious attempt to co-opt Bartitsu by misogynists, racial supremacists, religious bigots nor any other xenophobes on the wrong side of history. I’m very confident that the vast majority of Bartitsu revivalists would be repelled by any such attempt.
Bartitsu is for everyone.
The international HEMA community mourns the recent and untimely passing of Ken Pfrenger; musician, raconteur, family man and modern pioneer of 19th century martial arts revivalism.
With a background in Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do Concepts and Filipino martial arts, Ken’s strong interest in Celtic fighting styles prompted him to start the Western Arts forum in 1998. Western Arts became a key online meeting place for many others who shared Ken’s fascination with reconstructing historical European combat systems.
Ken’s work in this area was highly influential, particularly his careful, pragmatic recreations of Irish martial arts and combat sports such as shillelagh stick fighting (with reference to 19th century scholarship via the works of Donald Walker and R.G. Allanson-Winn), collar-and-elbow wrestling and bare-knuckle boxing. In a sense, Ken’s early example “offered permission” to many other revivalists in the niche field of 19th century martial arts. His interests later expanded into Eastern European systems including SAMBO wrestling and the martial use of the long-handled axe.
Prone to out-of-left-field adventures and anecdotes, Ken was a regular and highly popular teacher at WMA/HEMA events including ISMAC (later CombatCon) and the annual “Recreational Violence” weekends hosted by his own training group, NEOHEMAS – the Northeast Ohio Historical European Martial Arts Society. He also authored a number of articles on subjects ranging from Iron Age Celtic sword fighting to 19th century pugilism stances.
Our thoughts are with Ken’s friends and family at this very difficult time. Please consider donating to the family’s fund towards funeral expenses.