In memoriam: E.W. Barton-Wright (8 Nov. 1860 – 13 Sept. 1951)

Today marks the 59th anniversary of the death of Bartitsu founder Edward William Barton-Wright.

Born in Bangalore, India, he was the third of six children of railway engineer William Barton Wright and his wife, Janet. Edward travelled widely as a youth, matriculating in France and Germany and then operating mining concessions in Spain, Egypt and Portugal. After studying jiujitsu in Japan for approximately three years, he returned to London and opened his Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in 1899.

The Bartitsu Club era was a relatively prosperous and happy time for Barton-Wright, but it was short-lived. By 1902, for reasons that are still unknown to us, the Club had ceased operating as a martial arts school. The instructors that Barton-Wright had gathered dispersed, and he himself spent the rest of his career working as a physical therapist.

Barton-Wright’s life was punctuated by genuine innovations and bold plans, but plagued by financial and legal problems. A bankruptcy suit brought by a disgruntled former employee in 1910 seems to have dealt his professional life a crippling blow. From 1938 onwards, his therapeutic clinic was in his own home, a small flat in the London suburb of Surbiton.

Despite having quite literally pioneered the teaching of the Japanese martial arts in the West, E.W. Barton-Wright died in obscurity and in virtual poverty; a forgotten eccentric. To the very last, though, he remained proud of his art of Bartitsu. In a 1950 interview with Gunji Koizumi, the founder of the London Budokwai judo club, Barton-Wright recalled:

I have always been interested in the arts of self-defence. And I learned various methods, including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate, the use of the stiletto under recognised masters, and by engaging regular ‘roughs’ I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application. Then when I went to Japan, during my three years’ sojourn there, I studied Ju-jutsu under a local teacher in Kobe who specialised in the Kata form of instruction. I then met Prof. J. Kano, who gave me some lessons. On my return to England I founded an institution at which one could learn under specialised instructors all forms of sports and combative arts. For Ju-jutsu teachers, I asked my friends in Japan and Prof. Kano to select and to send … I then worked out a system of self-defence by combining the best of all the arts I learned and called it Bartitsu.

It was not until the 1990s that scholars began to realise E. W. Barton-Wright’s historical significance in the martial arts, not least being his radical innovation of Bartitsu as a method of cross-training between Asian and European fighting styles. The influence of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and the massive popularity of Mixed Martial Arts clearly vindicate Barton-Wright’s vision. Sadly, he was simply eighty years ahead of his time.

Barton-Wright was interred at Kingston Cemetery in Surbiton. For those who may wish to pay their respects, the relevant details are:

Section E (Consecrated), Grave no. 3012A

Note that, due to his having died in poverty, he was buried in a communal grave. A local ordinance forbids the placing of individual grave markers (gravestones) on these sites, because it is impossible to determine exactly where an individual is buried. Flowers may be left at the base of a tree growing from the grave.

ISMAC Bartitsu 2010

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent in any particular position, as the system embraces every possible eventuality, and your defence and counter attack must be entirely based upon the tactics of your opponent. – E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899

Barton-Wright’s precept of adaptability was the central theme of the Bartitsu intensive held at the 2010 International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention between September 3-6. The Bartitsu course comprised three two-hour long classes, commencing at 9.00 each morning of the event, and was taught by Tony Wolf.

Day 1 began with a precis of Bartitsu history and then moved into biomechanics exercises, concentrating on the image of the standing human body as an isosceles triangle and exploring the limits of triangular stability. Participants started with solo movements and then experimented with various pushing and pulling techniques to de-stabilise their partners, following Barton-Wright’s first and second principles; “to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant” and “to surprise him before he has a chance to use his strength”.

These exercises were then extended into a basic boxing sequence (parry left lead off, counter with left and straight right combination) in which slow “pressing” contact was made, then adding in a low chopping kick to either the lead or rear ankle/shin. To this sequence was then added the third principle of “straining joints” via leverage against the head and neck, elbows etc., with the choice of joint lock or de-stabilising hold depending on the partner’s physical position following the punches and the kick.

Day 2 commenced with a recap of the (kick)boxing work and then segued into a selection of the canonical Bartitsu stickfighting sequences. Again, the emphasis was on freely applying Barton-Wright’s “three principles” in response to the opponent’s spontaneous defensive and/or counter-offensive actions, as a “bridge” between set-plays and free sparring.

Day 3 also began with a brief (kick)boxing based review, followed by a close examination of two of the canonical jiujitsu paired kata from the tactical and dynamic points of view. The classical set-plays were then “twisted” on the assumption that the opponent muscled through or otherwise interrupted the set sequence of events, the defender’s challenge being to ride with the interruption and spontaneously apply the imbalancing, surprise and joint-locking principles to regain the initiative. There was a digression at one point into a specific newaza (ground grappling) submission lock as an example of maintaining control should the thrown opponent pull the defender down with them.

Bartitsu documentary DVD art contest!

Announcing an open contest to create DVD cover and label art for the forthcoming documentary “Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”, as featured in this preview trailer:

Theme and design brief

“Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes” is a feature-length documentary exploring the history, sudden downfall (circa 1902) and contemporary revival of Bartitsu, as described here. The documentary features a combination of interviews, animatics, re-enactments and archival footage/images.

We’re looking for DVD cover and label art that communicates the eclectic and unusual nature of Bartitsu as an “Edwardian mixed martial art” as well as its connection to the Sherlock Holmes mythos.

Resources and design elements

Designers and artists are invited to make use of any of the Bartitsu-related images available in the Art Contest Image Gallery, either as inspiration for original artwork or verbatim as design elements. Entirely original artwork is also welcome.


* Only digital submissions can be accepted (see also “Submission deadline” below).
* Submissions must include designs for both the DVD cover and DVD label.
* All artwork must be at a minimum resolution of 300 dpi in jpg, gif or psd format, exactly matching these dimensions:
DVD cover template
DVD label template
* Designs for the front cover must include the title

The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes

and the tag-line

“I have introduced a new art of self defence …” – E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899.

The spine must include the title text and the back cover must include 100 words of “Lorem Ipsum” placeholder text.
* The submitted artwork must be exclusive to the Bartitsu documentary DVD art competition.
* Individuals may enter as many submissions as they wish and are welcome to include a short textual description of their work(s).
* The producers are not obliged to make use of any artwork submitted as part of this contest.
* The winner will be awarded a copy of the packaged documentary DVD and also a US$50.00 prize. Their artwork will be used in promoting and packaging the documentary DVDs.

Works submitted

The producers retain all rights to the photographic representation of works submitted, including the irrevocable and unrestricted right to use, reproduce, and publish said photographs for editorial, trade, advertising, or any other purpose and in any manner or medium; to alter the same without restriction; and to copyright the same.


Confirmed judges include:

Tony Wolf (Bartitsu Society)
Ran A. Braun (Bartitsu Society)
Greg Mele (Chicago Swordplay Guild and Freelance Academy Press)

Submission deadline

Submissions must be received via email to tonywolf(at) before Thursday, September 30th, 2010.

“Jiu Jitsu Lessons For Youths” (1906)

From “The Foolish Almanack for the Year 1906 A.D.”

By observing the following six rules any boy of twelve can easily protect himself from the attacks of a full-grown man:

I. As your opponent makes for you, step quickly under his arm, and, stooping, grasp his left ankle with both hands, fingers interlocked. Rise smartly, and with a circular motion throw him over your right shoulder.

II. Enraged, your adversary will reach for you with his right hand. Step lightly aside, and, as his arm passes you, strike it sharply with your fist. This will break his wrist.

III. Your antagonist will now reach for you with his left hand. Take two rapid steps backward and kick his open palm, at the base of the thumb, upwards. This will dislocate his shoulder and cause a compound fracture of his left floating rib.

IV. Your mortified foe will attempt to kick you. Catch his foot in your left hand and twist his leg off at the knee.

V. Your enemy will make an effort to kick you with his other foot . Step quickly behind him and butt him in the small of the back with your head. Properly administered, this blow should break and dislocate every vertebra in his spinal column.

VI. The last attempt your adversary will make will be to bite you. As he opens his mouth place your open left hand on his forehead, and, thrusting your right down his throat, take a good hold, and with a long, strong pull, turn him inside out. This trick is somewhat dangerous and should only be tried by an expert, as otherwise your opponent may be painfully injured.

“Sherlock Holmes and Bartitsu”

E.W. Barton-Wright (left) and Sherlock Holmes (seated, right). is pleased to present this illustrated essay in three parts by Michael Bertram Wooster. Drawing from his grandfather’s memoirs and from the archives of the Vernet Foundation (Paris), amongst other sources, Mr. Wooster’s essay details the hitherto mysterious collaboration between famed consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and E.W. Barton-Wright in devising the latter’s “New Art of Self Defence”, Bartitsu.

Part One details Holmes’ enthusiasm for physical culture, his growing fascination with Asian martial arts and association with judo founder Jigoro Kano.

Part Two offers insight into Holmes’ meeting and subsequent friendship with E.W. Barton-Wright and the genesis of the Bartitsu Club in Soho.

Part Three outlines the eventual downfall of the Bartitsu Club, the further activities of both Holmes and Barton-Wright and finally resolves the mystery of Holmes’ “baritsu” as recorded by his colleague, Dr. John Watson.

We hope that you enjoy the journey.

“Early Days at the Bartitsu Club”

This entry at Martial History Magazine includes several “new” (circa 1900) newspaper articles about the Bartitsu Club.

Significantly, the first article is an interview with William Henry Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough, who was apparently the President of the Club. We had previously known of Grenfell’s involvement as a promoter and member, but not that he held an official position.

Also of note; the Club at least planned to include classes for children, and to teach “the use of the dagger” in addition to fencing, boxing, wrestling, kicking, stick fighting and jiujitsu. Although Barton-Wright said that he had trained in the use of the stiletto “with recognised masters”, we have no further evidence to suggest that dagger-play was actually taught at the Club, except possibly in the context of defending against dagger attacks:

“The Umbrella as a Weapon of Defence” (1908)

From Popular Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 10 Issues 1-12:

In one of the women’s fencing schools of Paris instruction in the art of attack and defense with foils has been discontinued and umbrellas instituted.

The first lesson the pupils learn in this up-to-date means of defense from attack on the streets is to baffle the watchfulness of the aggressor by skillful blows. The most simple and at the same time most effective, consists in applying a flat stroke of the umbrella upon his headgear. Surprised by this stroke and perhaps blinded by the rim of the hat, he has not the time nor the presence of mind to seize the umbrella. The lunges which follow such a blow are not only effective, but dangerous. The first is known as the “Hors de Combat” blow. Seizing her umbrella near the handle with one hand and near the point with the other and advancing a step with the body well forward, the point if well directed against the center of the aggressor’s neck will drop him to the ground senseless and probably badly hurt. The same blow aimed at the pit of the stomach will probably send the recipient to the hospital and perhaps cripple him for life.

Fifth annual “Manly Arts Day” at Hampton Historical Site

The Hampton National Historic Site in Maryland will host its fifth “Manly Arts Day” on Sunday, September 19th.

Although historically identified as “Manly Arts,” all are welcome to learn about and participate in exercises and demonstrations of swordsmanship, boxing, and other of skills which were used by men and women to “come home alive” in the 19th Century.

Visitors will be able to view an array of historical weapons and practice period correct techniques in a safe controlled atmosphere. Nineteenth century America was not less dangerous than today. But its dangers were different in several ways. Threats to life, limb and property were typically “up-close and personal”, help was farther away and slower to respond. But people in general were more prepared to act decisively to defend themselves from danger on the field of battle, the field of honor or on the way home from the corner market. The need to be aware and be prepared for a dangerous encounter cut across all class, race, and gender lines. We can learn a lot about our ancestors whether rich man, poor man, beggar man, or thief by considering how they prepared for the kinds of dangers they expected to encounter.

Martial arts for defense and sport were closely tied to the Ridgely family – especially in the early years. Charles Ridgely, the builder of Hampton, and his nephew, the Governor of Maryland, were well-known for prize fighting with fist and cudgel. Subsequent generations served in cavalry units and were necessarily familiar with the use of sabers and other swords.

Guest instructors will be Steve Huff and Mark P. Donnelly, two internationally recognized teachers and historians of Western Martial Arts. They will be assisted by Park Ranger Victor Markland and members of the Mid-Atlantic Society for Historical Swordsmanship.

More from “Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”

Screen captures from the upcoming feature documentary “Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”, currently in post-production.

Presenter Tony Wolf in London

Tony on his way up to Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps

Sherlock Holmes struggles with Professor Moriarty

Unarmed combat: Ran A. Braun and Rocco M. Franco re-enact a private lesson at the Bartitsu Club

Close-quarters play with the walking stick

Historian Emelyne Godfrey explains women’s self defence in Edwardian London

A still from an animatic of Yukio Tani throwing an English wrestler