E.J. Harrison on E.W. Barton-Wright

A passage from E. J. Harrison‘s classic book The Fighting Spirit of Japan, originally published in 1912. This section is taken from a reprint dating to the early 1950s.

Perhaps a pioneer of the Japanese art (of self defence) or a certain version of it was the late Barton-Wright, who studied for some time in Japan, afterwards proceeding to London where he opened an academy and taught what he knew under the name of Bartitsu. He claimed that he had grafted on to the parent stem various shoots of his own invention or culled from other schools in different parts of the world. Without doubt Mr. Barton-Wright was a colourful personality in his day and generation and could give a very good account of himself against all and sundry lacking knowledge of either jujutsu or judo. This splendid veteran passed away only a few years ago, on the threshold of his tenth decade.

Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation

A Bartitsu essay by Tony Wolf is featured in this new two-volume encyclopedia from ABC-CLIO publishing.

You can click this link to visit Martial Arts of the World at Amazon.com. At US$144.00, the encyclopedia is primarily intended for libraries, but serious collectors of quality martial arts literature will want their own copies.

Films from Hollywood to Hong Kong and such competitions as MMA and Ultimate Fighting give us vivid, if oversimplified, images of martial arts in action. But the realities of the world’s martial arts traditions—their histories, philosophies, codes of honor, and methods—are richer than any pop culture portrayal can suggest, with centuries-old combat disciplines practiced in virtually every corner of the globe.

ABC-CLIO’s Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation is the most authoritative reference ever published on combat disciplines from around the world and across history. Coverage includes Shaolin monks, jousting knights, Roman gladiators, Westerner gunfighters, samurai warriors, and heavyweight boxers. These iconic figures and many more are featured in this title, as well as representatives of less well known but no less fascinating systems, all vividly characterized by expert contributors from around the world who are themselves martial arts practitioners.

Martial Arts of the World comprises 120 entries in two volumes. The first volume is organized geographically to explore the historic development of martial arts styles in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The second volume looks at martial arts thematically, with coverage of belief systems, modern martial arts competitions, and a wide range of such topics as folklore, women in martial arts, martial arts and the military, and martial arts and the media.

The encyclopedia offers notably in-depth coverage of areas that have often been neglected in similar works, including martial arts of European, African, South American and Oceanean origins. Another real strength is the emphasis on “Themes” in the second volume, likewise offering truly insightful coverage of the relationship between martial arts training and belief systems, folklore, media, military and paramilitary cultures, performing arts and politics, among other topics.

The four-page Bartitsu entry is featured in the second volume as a case-study of the globalisation of the martial arts. It covers the origins, creation, slide into obscurity, rediscovery and modern-day revival of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

Bartitsu is also referenced in entries on the Jujitsuffragettes, the international spread of jiujitsu, French canne fencing etc.

The eccentric evolution of boxing armour

The first patented suit of boxing armour was registered with the US Patent Office in 1895. Joseph Donovan’s invention offered protection to the most vulnerable parts of the boxer’s anatomy and included an inbuilt electrical scoring system.

At last electricity has been brought to the direct aid of boxers, and the followers of the manly art of self defense will hail with delight the device just patented by Mr. Joseph Donovan of Chicago. We will let Mr. Donovan describe his invention in his own language, as follows:

It is well known that sparring or boxing is one of the most health-giving exercises in the whole range of athletics, developing endurance, stability of physique, a quickness of eyesight and action, and tending to bring out in its finest and quickest form every muscle of the body. Unfortunately, however, with all these good qualities there is a roughness and a brutality with it, which has thrown it almost entirely outside the pale of legitimate athletics, and to eliminate these rough and objectionable features entirely to those practicing boxing by padding over all the vulnerable points above the belt and providing each and all of these points with a registering device, so that all blows shall be rung up and registered automatically, thus reducing boxing to a simple test of quickness and endurance, and nothing more, is the principal object of my invention.

A form of pneumatic armour for boxers was tested in 1897. Unlike Donovan’s suit, the pneumatic armour did not offer any form of scoring function; it was intended simply to preserve the sparring partners of would-be champions in training.

By 1913, another entrepreneur – Dr. Otis Brewster – was promoting his own boxing armour, designed especially so that youngsters could train in boxing safely.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Dr. Brewster patented a heavy-duty suit of steel armour to protect soldiers against small arms fire and in close-quarters bayonet combat.

Although trials proved that the soldiers could kneel, lie down, run and even jump while wearing Brewster’s armour, and that it was proof against both rifle bullets and sledgehammers, it was never adopted by the War Department. This may have been due to the fact that Brewster wanted $600,000 for his invention.

Boxing vs. la savate (circa 1869)

From “Fores’s Sporting Notes and Sketches”, 1894:

YES, I have seen one or two queer events in the boxing line. How time makes the running nowadays! Somehow, things seem to come and go much faster than they used to do, and, although I still feel young, it is nearly a quarter of a century since I witnessed the most amusing show, I suppose, that was ever given in the way of a contest between two exponents of the noble art of self defence— one an Englishman, and the other a Frenchman.

The match was arranged by a well-known amateur boxer, and took place in a small town in France, in the rooms of an old Frenchman who gave lessons in fencing, &c. Only about a dozen spectators were invited, and I happened to be one of the favoured few. The Englishman was one of the stars of his profession, and a real tough bruiser, and had never seen the French style of boxing, viz. ‘la savate.’ The Frenchman was one of the leading professors of the art, and had never met an Englishman. So we looked forward to seeing something that would amuse us. We were not disappointed. They both wore gloves, the weight of which I do not remember, and canvas shoes. There was no ring, so they had the whole room to manoeuvre in. The spectators stood round the corners.

I will call the Englishman ‘Tom,’ and the Frenchman ‘Alphonse.’ Tom appeared in the orthodox rig, breeches and socks, and stripped to the waist. Alphonse turned out in a white jersey and black tights. He was a great contrast to the broad-shouldered, bullet-headed Englishman, being nearly a head taller, with extraordinarily long legs, and a wild and hungry look about the eyes. They advanced to the middle of the room, and Tom held out his hand in the usual manner, but was received with a low and courteous bow from Alphonse.

Tom led off by making a feint at the face of Alphonse, who parried it, and landed Tom a smart kick on the side of the head with his right foot, followed immediately by another kick on the other side of the head with his left!

Tom’s look of astonishment was a picture, he tried in vain to get in at Alphonse, who seemed to flutter about more like a butterfly, or daddy-long-legs, than anything else; he tried to catch hold of the feet that kept playing about his head, but without avail, the head that he wanted to go for was never where the head should be, according to Tom, so practically, he had nothing to tackle, except an elongated pair of understandings that seemed to work on springs and on which he could make little or no impression.

I forget how many rounds were fought; any how, we were all convulsed with laughter till the last round, in the middle of which Alphonse threw himself back on his hands and shot out with his left foot, the sole of which was planted with terrific force full into Tom’s face.

The pugilist staggered back nearly the whole length of the room, but he recovered himself, and, with a wicked look, made a rush at Alphonse, and drove him into one of the corners, where he could not use his legs, and landed him one he will never forget, right under the jaw, which almost lifted him off his legs, and his head went with a crash against the wall, and poor Alphonse dropped senseless to the floor. Tom stood over him and muttered, ‘You d—d Froggy, I’ll teach you to play football with my head!’

It was some time before Alphonse came round, in fact, we thought at first that he was killed; however, with plenty of cold water poured over his head, and a fair quantity of cognac poured down his throat, he at last recovered, and it is needless to say, had had quite enough of it. I would go a long way to witness such another show, the extraordinary agility of the Frenchman was most astonishing, and there is no doubt an adept at ‘la savate’ is no mean adversary for an ordinary boxer to tackle.

“A new and improved ‘battel'”

In his intriguing article “The Passing of the Duel” (Chambers’s Magazine, 1906), Alfred Fellows speculated about the invention of a new and more civilised form of duelling, especially designed for English gentlemen. If properly overseen by a “Court of Honour”, he argued, this would be a more manly and visceral form of redress than was allowed under the law in 1906.

(…) a duel with deadly weapons would be out of the question as a proper solution; and the aim being to punish the offender, such a thing as a fight with fists would be almost as undesirable, for as often as not the injured party would be thrashed. A possible solution would be to order the offender to be trounced up and flogged by the other, or otherwise arrange matters so that no harm could befall the innocent person ; but apart from the fact that the guilty would never voluntarily submit to a tribunal which could only punish him, most gentlemen would feel that to hit a helpless man in cold blood was worse than receiving money from him as a solace for dishonour.

The problem is to find something which could be recognised as satisfactory by gentlemen, could take place in a school of arms or similarly suitable place, would not endanger life, would be capable of adjustment according to the righteousness of the respective causes, and perhaps having regard to size and reach (skill ought not to be so discounted), and would yet be an ordeal to both parties: the facing of sharp, physical pain, and the necessity of ignoring it. If it may be permitted to let imagination run riot for a minute, and to take unwarrantable liberties, a committee might be selected to consider the matter, and the services of Professor Sandow, Captain Alfred Hutton, Mr Eustace Miles, Mr Fry, and a professional boxer be commandeered, with some capable doctor to assist them. Perhaps, also, some professor of jiu jitsu would be useful, and these distinguished persons could then safely be left to devise a new and improved “battel”.

Although E.W. Barton-Wright may never have imagined Bartitsu as a revival of the code duello, he would have appreciated the irony of Fellows’ imagining a “new and improved ‘battel'” for gentlemen combining boxing, fencing, physical culture and jiujitsu just four years after the closure of the Bartitsu Club.

Bartitsu as “urban survival”

Bartitsu is cited as an example of urban survival training in a new book, How to Predict the Weather with a Cup of Coffee, by Matthew Cole.

Harnessing the laws of science, nature and human behaviour, this book revisits and reinvents the tricks that got us through our savage past and updates them for the 21st century. It arms you with a caveman’s toolkit for survival wherever you may be – Starbucks, the office, or a crowded tube on a Friday night – and tells you all you need to know to transform your daily grind into a non-stop adventure (you don’t even have to wear khaki).

After a summary of Bartitsu history, Cole concludes:

Barton-Wright was a man after my own heart, equipping his students for the new and very real challenges of life in a modern city. Until then, men had felt protected by the rules of decency and fair play, but that old order had crumbled. Bartitsu helped the modern gentleman meet this new test with pragmatism and dignity. Hoorah for B-W.