The first generation of Japanese jiujitsuka to arrive in London included Kaneo Tani, Seizo Yamamoto and Yukio Tani, all of whom had been invited to the England by Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright. K. Tani and Yamamoto remained in London for only a few months, but Yukio Tani remained and was then joined by Sadakazu Uyenishi. The two of them taught, demonstrated and competed under the Bartitsu banner until mid-1902.
During the decade or so after the closure of the Bartitsu Club, a second generation of Japanese experts passed through the English capital. Many of them – most notably professional challenge wrestlers like Taro Miyake, Akitaro “Daibutsu” Ono and Mitsuyo Maeda – settled only briefly before moving on to other countries. Others, such as Yukio Tani, Yuzo Hirano and S.K. Eida, made England their home for a period of years, or even settled there permanently.
Except for the fact that he was born in Japan during 1878, little is known about Eida’s life prior to his arrival in London. The earliest record of his presence there is to be found in the 1901 census, which lists him as an assistant gardener, living in Acton, West London. At that time he was staying with his brother, Saburo Eida, who was an importer of art. S.K. – whose given name was rendered by Edwardian English journalists as “Surye Kichi” – also served as a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, advising Londoners on the exotica of Japanese gardening.
Given that the Bartitsu Club was operating between 1899-1902, it’s possible that Eida trained there, though there’s no known record to that effect. Several years later he did, however, join the staff of the Japanese School of Jujutsu, a dojo figureheaded by former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and his colleague Taro Miyake.
It was common for martial arts experts to supplement their teaching and competing income with “jiujitsu turns” on the music hall circuit, but the notably agile Eida seems to have made a unique specialty of this type of performance. Between September 29, 1906 and April 27, 1907 he teamed with the popular French entertainer, Mademoiselle Gaby Deslys, in performing a “Ju-Jitsu Waltz” as part of a musical extravaganza called The New Aladdin, which ran at London’s Gaiety Theatre.
The Ju-Jitsu Waltz was, essentially, a series of spectacular throws performed by Mademoiselle Deslys, with S.K. Eida serving as her acrobatic uke or “fall guy”. The equivalent term in Mlle. Deslys’ native language was “cascadeur”, likewise implying an acrobat who specialised in tumbling – the term survives in modern French show business to describe stunt performers.
In 1909 Eida married an English woman named Ellen Christina Brown. She took the professional name “Nellie Falco” and, as “Falco and Eida”, the couple revived the Ju-Jitsu Waltz, touring music halls throughout the UK.
S.K. Eida fades from the historical record during the second decade of the 20th century, but it’s not unlikely that he is among the uke/fall guys who appear as “Apache” muggers during this 1912 French Pathe film clip:
In the above experimental sparring bout, Andres Morales (wearing the fencing mask with white trim) sticks closely to the Vigny style in contending with an opponent fighting in a more generic, free style.
In the second video, Andres and his sparring partner both employ the Vigny style. Note Andres’ tactical advantages in switching between the double-handed, rear and front guards, employing ambidextrous striking and even some double-handed strikes:
Andres Morales of the Santiago Stickfighters Club in Chile – a prize-winner in the international Bartitsu Sparring Video Competition – demonstrates rapid, powerful strikes from the Vigny front guard.
As Captain F.C. Laing wrote in The Bartitsu Method of Stick Fighting (1902):
Assume “first position,” guard head, then, before he has time to recover himself, hit him rapidly on both sides of his face, disengaging between each blow as explained; the rapidity of these blows will generally be sufficient to disconcert him.
The prolific Andres Morales of Santiago, Chile demonstrates the use of Vigny stick fighting against two sparring partners armed with training knives. Although there are records of similar stick vs. knife demonstrations by Pierre Vigny himself circa 1900, no such scenarios were recorded in any detail during the heyday of his style.
I am here tonight in spite of armies of police. I am here tonight and not a man is going to protect me, because this is a woman’s fight, and we are going to protect ourselves! I challenge the government to re-arrest me!
The production will make use of rare archival media, narration and theatrical re-enactments, featuring actors playing Emmeline Pankhurst, Canadian Bodyguard leader Gert Harding and jiujitsu trainer Edith Garrud among other notables.
Given that we have already outlined the histories of the weaponised umbrella and hat-pin and have tested the historicity and practicality of the razor-blade cap, it seems fitting to now consider the bowler hat-as-weapon in both fact and fiction.
Perhaps surprisingly, the original bowler hat may have been designed with self-defence somewhat in mind. In 1849, London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler received a commission to create a new type of hat for gamekeepers working on the estate of Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester. Previously, Coke’s gamekeepers had worn top hats, which were inclined to get knocked off by low-hanging branches, and so the bowler was designed to fit snugly to the head.
Another consideration, however, was that the gamekeepers needed some protection against unexpected club-blows to the head delivered by stealthy poachers, so the hats were made from hard felt and built to take a knock.
The new style quickly became very popular among the working classes and was also adopted by members of the Plug Uglies street gang, who were rumoured to stuff their bowlers with scraps of wool cloth, felt and leather for extra protection in street fights.
By the turn of the 20th century, the bowler had become popular among middle-class men. Simultaneously, self-defence authorities began to explore the offensive, as well as defensive, possibilities of the bowler hat. Writing in La Vie au Grand Air of December 8, 1906, Jean Joseph Renaud warned his readers to beware of a “classic trick” employed by “Apache” muggers, who would courteously tip their bowlers while asking for a light for their cigars, only to convert the hat-tip into a surprise attack.
By smacking the innocent party in the face with his hat, the Apache received an instant advantage of initiative, which might then be followed up by grasping the stunned victim around both thighs and head-butting him in the stomach, spilling him backwards onto the pavement.
In L’Art de se Defendre dans la Rue, Emile Andre borrowed a trick from the Apaches, advising readers to use their own bowler hats as surprise weapons. He also recommended the bowler as an improvised hand-held shield if confronted by an attacker wielding a knife, dagger, truncheon or cane, a defensive specialty that may well have been inspired by the Spanish Manual del Baratero (1849). Andre also refers to using the hat to “beat” or strike at an opponents’ weapon, so as to disarm them.
In The Cane as a Weapon (1912), Andrew Chase Cunningham echoed Andre’s advice in recommending the hat as an improvised weapon of both offence and defence:
In case of an assailant with a knife, a very valuable guard can be made by holding the hat in the left hand by the brim. It should be firmly grasped at the side, and can be removed from the head in one motion. The hat can then be used to catch a blow from the knife, and before it can be repeated, it should be possible to deal an effective blow or jab with the cane.
In case of an attack with a pistol, a chance may occur to shy the hat into the opponent’s face and thus secure a chance to strike with the cane.
The use of the hat as a guard is, of course, not confined to the knife, but it may be used against any weapon. The only disadvantage is that it prevents passing the cane from hand to hand.
As bowler hats gradually fell out of fashion during the first half of the 20th century, so did sources treating them as weapons. By the late 1950s the idea seemed positively exotic, which may have been why it appealed to Ian Fleming in arming Oddjob, the fearsome Korean henchman featured in the James Bond novel Goldfinger (1959).
Following Oddjob’s spectacular karate demonstration, Bond asks Goldfinger why his bodyguard always wears a bowler hat:
Oddjob turned and walked stolidly back towards them. When he was half way across the floor, and without pausing or taking aim, he reached up to his hat, took it by the rim and flung it sideways with all his force. There was a loud clang. For an instant the rim of the bowler hat stuck an inch deep in the panel Goldfinger had indicated, then it fell and clattered on the floor.
Goldfinger smiled politely at Bond. ‘A light but very strong alloy, Mr Bond. I fear that will have damaged the felt covering, but Oddjob will put on another. He’s surprisingly quick with a needle and thread. As you can imagine, that blow would have smashed a man’s skull or half severed his neck. A homely and a most ingeniously concealed weapon, I’m sure you’ll agree.’
‘Yes, indeed.’ Bond smiled with equal politeness. ‘Useful chap to have around.’
As played by professional wrestler Harold Sakata in the 1964 film adaptation, Oddjob actually wore and wielded a Sandringham hat rather than a bowler, but that minor change didn’t seem to affect his aim:
The enormous popular success of the Goldfinger movie also served to reintroduce the idea of the bowler hat-as-weapon into pop-culture, perhaps most notably as used by the dapper British secret agent John Steed (Patrick MacNee) of The Avengers TV series. Steed’s primary weapon was always his reinforced umbrella, but he was occasionally seen to use his (presumably also reinforced) bowler hat to execute a surprise disarm or knock-out blow, accompanied by a hollow, metallic “bonk!” sound effect.
My friend Ran Braun, who is a fight choreographer and also a prominent stage director of operas in Europe, first proposed the idea of a Bartitsu documentary in early 2009. We developed some concepts via email, but then both became busy with other projects.
In August of that year, Ran organized a three week Bartitsu and stage combat seminar tour for me in Italy. I arrived at the first venue, which was a brand new sports center in the middle of Rome, and was surprised to meet a professional film crew there along with the students.
An opportunity had suddenly come up, virtually while I was in transit, and Ran had contacted some cultural associations and production companies including the Digital Room, Cletarte and Broken Art. They offered the basic technical and logistical means to start producing a documentary about Bartitsu, but because it had all happened so quickly, we didn’t have a script nor even a storyboard prepared.
Without a script, everything was ad hoc; we started shooting sequences that we could organise in our downtime during the seminar tour, brainstorming and improvising shoots at various exotic locations. As the de facto on-camera host – which was not a role I would have chosen for myself, under normal circumstances – I remember standing on a balcony of the Palazzo delle Clarisse overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, facing the camera and having to begin a monologue with the generic segue “… and so we find ourselves here …”, trusting that there would, eventually, be a script to justify the transition.
I also recall wandering through the streets of Amantea one warm evening, gazing up at the ancient castles on the hills and trying to figure out how to tie location shoots in this beautiful Italian seaside resort in to our then-scriptless documentary about an obscure Victorian English martial art. I realised that the best link was actually the Italian concept of rievocazion; the artistic revival of cultural heritage. That realisation inspired one of the major themes of the documentary.
Simultaneously, I realised that I was going to have to return to Europe in the near future.
The next few months were a blur of activity, because at that stage we were hoping to release the documentary in late December to coincide with Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movie. I returned to the USA for about two weeks, wrote a script, bought video equipment and started organizing second-unit shoots and interviews, re-enactments, image archives, animations, etc.
The project quickly generated a lot of buzz, and many people were very generous with their time and talents. Second-unit location shoots were arranged in the UK and USA, including both martial arts demonstrations and interviews with luminaries such as speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson and mystery writer Will Thomas, both of whom were also Bartitsu enthusiasts. Ran arranged the musical score with input from his colleagues, and we were also given permission to use instrumental tracks by the famed steampunk band Abney Park.
I then flew back to Europe and traveled with Ran to Meiringen in the Swiss Alps for a shoot at the famous Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes used his “baritsu” against Moriarty. I’d never driven through the Alps before – it’s a shattering, vertiginous landscape, with valleys full of massive boulders that have rolled down off the mountains.
We booked in to a Meiringen hotel late in the evening and were woken the next morning by somone in the vicinity practicing his yodeling – welcome to Switzerland! We then figured out how to get up to the Reichenbach Falls, which involves riding a terrific Victorian-era cable car a long way up one of the mountains. The falls are actually a series of cascades, with the biggest one – where Holmes grappled with Moriarty – perhaps half-way up the heavily-forested slopes.
We arrived at the cable car station, which offered a nice view, but it was at that point that we discovered that a local hydroelectric power company was channelling water from the river that feeds the falls. Apparently they regularly do this at at certain times of the year, including, unfortunately, when we were there. So, yes, it was a large waterfall, but it was pretty far from the roaring, boiling chasm that Dr. Watson had so vividly described.
We had a long hike up, over and around the waterfall until we arrived at the “baritsu spot”, where Holmes and Moriarty (notionally) fought to the death. It’s at the end of a narrow path cut into the cliff face on the opposite side from the cable car station. Apparently the path used to extend almost within touching distance of the actual waterfall, but landslides have changed the topography over the past hundred-odd years. We shot our intro sequence there, then made our way back down the mountain into Meiringen township.
The town makes the most of its Sherlock Holmes connection – they have a great little Holmes museum and a fine bronze statue of the Great Detective. We spent the rest of the day doing pickup shots of Holmes-related Meiringen sights and scenic shots of the mountains.
The next day I flew to London to film further location shoots and interviews. The exterior shots in London were all “guerilla style”, of course, which was a great test of nerve and ingenuity. I visited the Holmes Museum in Baker Street, where an elderly actor playing Doctor Watson regaled me with an impressive in-character summary of the Final Problem plot. I wish we could have used part of that speech in the documentary.
We managed some quick “talking head” presentations in front of #67 Shaftesbury Avenue, where the original Bartitsu Club had been headquartered. The building now houses the Shaftesbury Best Western Hotel, but it’s much the same as it was back in Barton-Wright’s day, having been narrowly missed by a German bomb during the Second World War. Additional shoots took place at locations including the exterior of the Surbiton flat where Barton-Wright had spent his final years, and – soberingly – at Surrey’s Kingston Cemetery, where Barton-Wright was interred in an un-marked “pauper’s grave”. Sadly, because it is impossible to pinpoint exactly where an individual is buried in one of these communal plots, local ordinances do not allow memorial markers to be placed there, so instead I laid a small bouquet of white flowers at the base of a nearby tree.
Then I took a train to the Northern English village of Haltwhistle, near the Scottish border, to record some additional interviews and, during a free afternoon, navigate through a wandering herd of cattle en route to walking along a section of Hadrian’s Wall.
After I returned to the US, however, it quickly became obvious that, even given the terrific run of enthusiasm and luck that carried us through that initial production period, there was simply no way we could produce the entire documentary before Christmas. We were, however, able to develop a successful trailer for the project:
Early and mid-2010 were marked by a series of false starts and technical problems. These issues are typical of most media projects, but they were compounded by the fact that we were producing an independent multi-media documentary, staffed entirely by volunteers spread between several countries. There would be intense bursts of activity – including filming a re-enactment of a circa 1914 suffragette jiujitsu training session – followed by long delays as DVD packages of raw footage went missing in transit, personnel left the project, etc.
During post-production my father, Michael, and wife, Kathrynne – who were both professional actors and voiceover specialists – were prevailed upon to record in-character narration for the documentary, all taken verbatim from speeches and articles written during the heyday of the Bartitsu Club. Kat provided the voice of Mary Nugent, the Edwardian-era journalist whose article “Barton-Wright and His Japanese Wrestlers” offered shrewd insight into E.W. Barton-Wright’s character. My father performed the voices of Barton-Wright, Dr. John Watson, an anonymous c1900 newspaper reporter and Captain Alfred Hutton, giving each of them different accents and delivery styles – a significant feat of vocal gymnastics!
We regained our momentum in September. In Rome, our colleagues and co-producers at Broken Art, Paolo Paparella and Angelica Pedatella, collaborated with editor Emanuele Pisasale during post-production, and there was a very great deal of communication back and forth between Italy and the USA. Meanwhile, I had arranged an art contest that produced some lovely cover art for the DVD, and a publishing deal with the Freelance Academy Press, while continuing to gather seminar footage from the US and Italy to represent the Bartitsu revival.
The documentary DVD finally launched in March of 2011. It gathered some great reviews, which were very gratifying to those of us who had been working so long and hard behind the scenes. With permission of the producers, Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes has subsequently been publicly screened at a number of libraries, Western martial arts conferences and similar events. It is available on DVD from the Freelance Academy Press.
In the pedantic interests of accuracy, the “good quality umbrella” that serves as a zipline grapple and destructive melee weapon early in the video is clearly an Unbreakable Umbrella, featuring a solid, high-strength shaft and reinforced fittings. Unbreakable Umbrellas are specifically designed for self-defence. The brolly that is then shown being modified into a gunbrella, on the other hand, is of the standard, hollow-shafted variety.
The results are undeniably impressive, but the world still awaits a combat umbrella that can both shoot metal slugs and smash through a microwave oven.