The experimental sparring match is reminiscent of this multiple-attacker sequence from E.W. Barton-Wright’s Self-Defence with a Walking Stick (1901):
… particularly Barton-Wright’s advice to “swing your stick right and left across people’s heads and faces until they disperse”. Incidentally, Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton once demonstrated an almost identical stick defence sequence during an interview with a London Daily Telegraph reporter.
In this holiday season marking one century since the end of the First World War, we depart from our usual coverage of Edwardian-era antagonistics to highlight the events of the 1914 Christmas Truce.
Although the Truce has been subject to some mythologising since the 1970s, the facts of the matter are extraordinary in themselves. Defying strict orders against any type of fraternisation with the enemy, spontaneous cease-fires took place up and down the Western Front during late December of 1914. Sections of No Man’s Land were briefly transformed into common ground, as handshakes, seasonal greetings and small gifts were exchanged between English, French and German soldiers. Under mutual respite, carols were sung and the bodies of the fallen were buried. Evidence strongly suggests that at least one 30-a-side football game was played.
May the unique lesson of the Christmas Truce inspire all fighters to recall the values of dignity, charity, respect and fellowship.
The Christmas Truce
by Carol Ann Duffy (2013)
Christmas Eve in the trenches of France, the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man’s Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.
Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel, sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother’s eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.
In a copse of trees behind the lines, a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin holding his winter ground –
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.
Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
a few lit pipes;
most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
waiting for sleep.
The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.
But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief thrilled the night air,
where glittering rime on unburied sons
treasured their stiff hair.
The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.
On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
no sign of life,
no shadows, shots from snipers, nowt to note or report.
The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.
Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes,
as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone, candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.
Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot, or vaporised
by falling shells, or live to tell, heard for the first time then – Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …
Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge from man to man;
a gift to the heart from home,
or childhood, some place shared …
When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.
A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
and all joined in,
till the Germans stood, seeing
across the divide,
the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.
All night, along the Western Front, they sang, the enemies –
carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems, in German, English, French;
each battalion choired in its grim trench.
So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself
and offer the day like a gift
for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.
Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!
A young Berliner, brandishing schnapps,
was the first from his ditch to climb.
A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.
Then it was up and over, every man, to shake the hand
of a foe as a friend,
or slap his back like a brother would;
exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie’s stew,
Tickler’s jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
or chase six hares, who jumped
from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
and make of a battleground a football pitch.
I showed him a picture of my wife. Ich zeigte ihm ein Foto meiner Frau. Sie sei schön, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.
They buried the dead then, hacked spades into hard earth
again and again, till a score of men
were at rest, identified, blessed. Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.
And all that marvellous, festive day and night, they came and went,
the officers, the rank and file, their fallen comrades side by side
beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves…
… beneath the shivering, shy stars
and the pinned moon
and the yawn of History;
the high, bright bullets
which each man later only aimed at the sky.
An English-language version of the instructional DVD Bartitsu: Historical Self-Defence with a Walking Stick is now available via this link and will become available to the US market via the Freelance Academy Press. The DVD was produced by Agilitas.tv and features Bartitsu instructor Alex Kiermayer assisted by Christoph Reinberger.
The new English-language version is also expected to become accessible as a paid streaming video series via Vimeo in the near future.
We will be offering a review of the entire lesson series soon! In the meantime, here are two excerpts in the original German language:
The popular TodayIFoundOut.com site offers this in-depth, entertaining and mostly-accurate explanation of the generic late-19th century pugilism fighting stance.
The sweeping claim that Victorian boxers held their guards “low” (relative to the modern style) because they preferred to target the body over the face is mildly controversial. Manuals of boxing and written reports on boxing matches during the bare knuckle era consistently demonstrate punches to all legal targets. It’s worth noting that the way pugilists posed for portrait paintings and photographs did not necessarily reflect their actual fighting stances, which in turn depended very much on individual styles, measure and the stances and tactics adopted by their opponents. Also, for the record, “pugilism” should be pronounced with a soft “g”, as in “pew-jill-ism”.
Master magician, actor, magic consultant/historian and martial arts aficionado Ricky Jay has passed away at the age of 70.
Although Jay’s fame was due to his extensive accomplishments as a scholar and performer, his long-term involvement with the martial arts dated back to the 1970s, when he took up karate. He later admitted that, as a professional sleight-of-hand artist, the danger of hand injuries from intensive martial arts training had been a foolish risk.
After karate came aikido – a style that shares more than a few principles with the art of legerdemain. His aikido sensei was Fred Neumann, who would recall challenging Jay to repeat a particularly confounding sleight of hand trick while Jay was showering after a training session. Without missing a beat, and with no evident means of preparation, Jay casually performed the feat again, stunning his sensei.
Ricky Jay’s 1977 book Cards as Weapons quickly became an underground cryptohoplological classic, purporting (with a fairly straight face) to teach a unique method of self-defence via card-scaling; the venerable magician’s feat of hurling playing cards with great accuracy and force. The book combined absurdist humour, quirky historical scholarship and practical instruction, also featuring “guest appearances” by some of Jay’s acquaintances, including singer Emmylou Harris and scientist Carl Sagan.
Twenty years later, when he was cast as a villain in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Jay was asked to exert his card-throwing prowess in a scene with Pierce Brosnan as Bond:
At one point, they wanted me to throw cards as weapons to attack Bond, but the first time they asked me to do it in rehearsal, I was an enormously long distance away from Pierce Brosnan, and I warned them that the cards went very, very hard and fast, and they said no no, they had someone in front of it to block the shot, and I again said, “I don’t think you should do that,” they said, “No, no, it’ll be okay.” And Pierce seemed to be fine with it.
So I whaled a card, I don’t know how far, 50 or 75 feet away, and they said, “Just throw it at his face,” and I hit him right above the eye, and realized that I almost ruined the most lucrative franchise in the history of film. Suddenly that scene was no longer in the movie. [Laughs.] So in a way that was horribly disappointing, but the rest of it was fun.
Here’s the master himself, performing a number of his “cards as weapons” stunts:
In 2002, Jay playfully scaled cards at action movie star Jackie Chan during a mutual appearance on a talk show hosted by Conan O’Brien.
Throughout his career, the magician frequently drew parallels between the disciplines of close-up magic and martial arts, and likened the mentor/mentee relationships of traditional magic apprenticeship to those of a sensei and his students. Although he “retired” into more sedate and academic pursuits later in life, Jay’s involvement in the martial arts continued via his close friendship with playwright, screenwriter and jiujutsuka David Mamet. Mamet cast Jay as an unscupulous fight promoter in his peculiar, cerebral martial arts movie Redbelt (2008):
And finally, here’s Jay reciting a poem written for (and about) him by the late Shel Silverstein, encapsulating the arcane dangers of a life lived in the service of deception:
Rest in peace, Ricky Jay – man of mystery, scholar of the obscure and sworn enemy of the mundane.
Instructor Christoph Reinberger (in the knee breeches) and a student demonstrate 19th century pugilistic sparring. Notably different from modern boxing, “classic pugilism” may include:
the milling guard – a dynamic guard involving rotating the fists in vertical circles
lunging left lead punches rather than short left jabs
spinning “pivot punches”
choppers (hammerfist/backfist punches)
standing grappling and throwing from the clinch position
The so-called “secret style of boxing” developed by Edward Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny was never explicitly detailed in Barton-Wright’s writing on Bartitsu. However, it likely resembled the generic 19th century style with the confirmed addition of parries designed to injure the opponent’s attacking limbs, and with the confirmed tactical aim of entering to close quarters and finishing the fight with jiujitsu.
A six-minute item on the gentlemanly mixed martial art of Bartitsu, as featured on a recent episode of BBC2’s Celebrity Antiques Road Trip and including demonstrations by the Manley Academy of Historical Swordsmanship:
For the sake of strict historical accuracy, there’s no evidence that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually studied Bartitsu (in fact, the evidence suggests that he wasn’t even especially familiar with it). That said, it’s great to see another precis treatment of the art and its intriguing history in the mainstream media, and media doesn’t get much more mainstream than the Celebrity Antiques Road Trip.
Also worthy of note is that the show benefits the BBC’s charity Children in Need, which funds a wide range of projects helping children and disadvantaged young people throughout the UK.
The popular TV comedy series Drunk History offers its inebriated (and somewhat NSFW) take on the suffrajitsu saga, starring Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) as Emmeline Pankhurst, Maria Blasucci (Ghost Girls) as Edith Garrud and Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls) as Gert Harding.