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

New ongoing Bartitsu course at the Alte Kampfkunst (Wuppertal, Germany)

Stefan Dieke announces a new, ongoing Bartitsu course to commence in September at the Alte Kampfkunst, his full-time Western martial arts academy in Wuppertal, Germany.

Bartitsu classes will be held every Wednesday from 6.30 to 8.00 pm.

The new course will initially focus on the cane and boxing aspects of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence” and will then extend into the kicking and grappling elements. The course details, etc. are available in German here.

On the 9th and 10th of October Stefan will be teaching a ten-hour, two day introductory seminar on Bartitsu, addressing all four main elements of the art.

Wuppertal, which is world famous for its Edwardian-era sky train, is located between Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area.

William E. Steers and the Hilltop dojo

(With thanks to the late Richard Bowen as well as to John Bowen and Joe Svinth.)

William E. Steers is one of the “mystery men” of the early British jiujitsu scene. His name appears in connection with those of many more famous figures – London Budokwai principal Gunji Koizumi, judo founder Jigoro Kano, soldier/author/journalist E.J. Harrison and pioneering challenge wrestlers Mitsuyo Maeda, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.

Unfortunately, few biographical details are available, and those that are offer a scattershot impression of William Steers. We know that he was born circa 1857. Contemporary sources noted him as having been an auditor for the British Ministry of Munitions; he was also an “extraordinary scholar” and a member of the Society of Arts. By the age of forty he had evidently travelled widely in various capacities throughout the British Empire, possibly as far away as New Zealand.

In 1903 Steers set sail for Japan, where he befriended E.J. Harrison and began training in jiujitsu. Returning to London the following year, Steers joined the Golden Square dojo of former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi. There he made the acquaintance of Gunji Koizumi, who had recently arrived from Liverpool where he had been briefly affiliated with the highly dubious Kara Ashikaga School of Jiujitsu. During this period Steers may also have studied with Mitsuyo Maeda, a prominent competitor on the professional wrestling circuit.

Circa 1909, Steers commissioned the design and construction of an extraordinary house in the Surrey Downs. As it was built atop one of the highest hills in the Tandridge district, near the town of Caterham, Steers named his new home “Hilltop”.

Created by the architectural firm of Parker and Unwin, Hilltop featured a unique blending of Japanese aesthetics with those of the then-burgeoning English Arts and Crafts movement. According to an article in The Craftsman journal of 1910:

By a life spent in close study of the characters and customs of many nations, perhaps more especially of the Japanese, he has gained that breadth of outlook which much travel alone can give, and has come to feel that we have much to learn from the older civilizations of the East, civilizations which on the other hand, we of the West are beginning to mar.

It’s likely that the gi-wearing figure standing in the doorway in the following picture is Steers himself:

The interior of the house featured a graceful combination of Asian and European motifs:


However, by far the most unusual feature of Hilltop was its gymnasium, which melded the typical features of an Edwardian physical culture studio with those of a Japanese martial arts dojo.

Quoting the architect:

… when Mr. Steers came to settle in England it was his wish to do this in a home and among surroundings which would make it possible for him to practice and demonstrate to others what he had come to believe in. His position being as follows:—that it is everyone’s first duty to society and to himself or herself to be always in the most perfect health possible. He even goes so far as to say that few of us are justified in being ill, and would put no duty before that of keeping in perfect health, claiming that only when this has been accomplished are we capable of our best in any sphere, and that it is our duty never to give anything short of our best.

Believing in the physical and perhaps even greater mental alertness and agility resulting from the practice of the Japanese art of self-defense, jiujitsu, he would have it taught in our schools and colleges, to our military, naval and police forces. He holds that its practice gives a physical, mental and moral self-reliance which nothing else can.

One of the principal rooms of his house had therefore to be so planned as to give ample facilities for the practice of this art, while at the same time it was not to be spoiled for the many other uses to which it might be put. On the accompanying plans this room is called the gymnasium. It is worthy of careful study from both decorator and athlete.

It was not possible to secure quite as much sunshine in this room as could have been wished, partly owing to considerations for its privacy and partly to the necessary position for the living room. The gymnasium, however, gets all the northeast, east and southeast sun there may be, that is the morning sun, and its use as a gymnasium is almost entirely in the morning. The front of this room being composed of rolling shutters and large opening windows through which one enters onto an exercising lawn, terminating in an open-air swimming bath, necessitated extreme privacy and therefore an aspect away from the road which runs by the south end of the house. The room is carried to the full height of the house—that is, two stories—so, when the rolling shutters, together with the French windows on either side of them and the row of windows above are all open, as is almost always the case, the room is a very high one with practically one side open; in fact, it becomes a three-walled room. This sense of openness and airiness may be experienced which would be unobtainable in a less lofty room, even though as open in front. The floor, like a dancing floor, is carried on springs, and is covered with Japanese reed mats two inches thick. A dressing room and bath are connected with the gymnasium.

In summer, with mattresses thrown down at night upon the reed mats and the front thrown open, this room becomes one of the most delightful sleeping apartments imaginable. The Japanese custom of having no apartments set aside exclusively for sleeping in is one that Mr. Steers holds we might well adopt. Is it not possible that in some of our smaller houses we could frequently with advantage so adapt the furniture in some of the rooms in which part of our daily occupations are performed, that by simply throwing down mattresses and bedclothes when night comes we could sleep quite comfortably? Some claim that it is unhealthy to sleep at night in a room used in the daytime; surely this idea belongs to the days when it was customary to keep all windows closed. In these days when we all appreciate the hygienic value of fresh air and no longer open windows merely to “air the room,” but live with the windows open day and night, this claim can have no significance.

The decoration of the gymnasium was undertaken by Mr. Hugh Wallis of Altrincham. He was asked to go to Caterham, to stand in the middle of the room and imagine he was standing in a green glade or clearing in a forest, then to paint on the rough plaster of the walls the vistas among the trees, their foliage, boles, stems and branches, glimpses of sky and distant landscape, and in the foreground, characteristic woodland flowers in the grass. When the artist reached Caterham, however, the spirit of the delightful Surrey scenery surrounding him took so great a hold of the imagination that he had perforce to reproduce it in his delightfully decorative style. The vistas between the trees widened out and became filled with glimpses of distant country, broadening finally into wide peaceful scenes in the luxuriant Surrey countryside.

According to British judo historian Richard Bowen, Steers shared Hilltop with fellow jujitsuka E. H. Nelson, who had helped to organise their teacher Sadakazu Uyenishi’s “Text-Book of Ju-Jitsu”. Strangely, however, Steers was only to occupy Hilltop for a few years. In 1911 he sold the property and the following year he returned to Japan, where he enrolled at the Kodokan in Tokyo and became a student of Jigoro Kano’s. Kano later described Steers as having been the most earnest foreign student he had ever taught. At the age of fifty-five Steers was awarded the black belt rank in Kodokan judo, being only the second Westerner ever to achieve that rank.

Re-settling in London, Steers continued to display an almost evangelical zeal for judo, most especially for its emphasis on both moral and physical fitness. In 1918, at the age of sixty-one, he gave a speech entitled “A Perfect Manhood, or, Judo of the Kodokwan”. During the lecture he advocated free tuition in judo for almost every English citizen and performed a demonstration of “hand-throws, waist-throws, leg-throws, and lateral and frontal sutemi – a sacrifice for a gain.” This event aroused huge enthusiasm within the newly-founded London Budokwai, whose members sent copies of the text to many hundreds of politicians and educational institutions. Unfortunately, nothing came of their efforts.

Steers became Budokwai member number 52 and went on to become the clubs’ first honourary secretary. He was responsible for introducing his friend E.J. Harrison to the club, and later, the prominent American martial artist and scholar Robert W. Smith.

Steers’ most historically significant accomplishment, though, was that he was instrumental in forging ties between the London Budokwai and the Kodokan. In 1920 the Budokwai hosted a visit by Professor Kano and 4th-dan instructor Aida Hikochi, and thereafter the club officially took up the study of judo. Both former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and Gunji Koizumi were accredited Kodokan 2nd-dan black belts, with Tani becoming the Budokwai’s first professional teacher. This shift marked the end of the era of eclectic “British jiujitsu” begun in 1898 by E.W. Barton-Wright, and the beginning of the formal development of judo in the UK.

William E. Steers died in his early 70s during the year 1930.

The mystery of the “Japanised Englishman”

Pieter M.C. Toepoel was, in a sense, the E.W. Barton-Wright of the Netherlands. A boxing and physical culture teacher and something of a free-thinker, attracted to novelties, Toepoel was the first man to teach Japanese martial arts in Holland. He eventually developed a Bartitsu-like method combining boxing, jiujitsu and even self defence with a walking stick.

In his 1910 book Het origineele jujutsu, Toepoel recalled that:

…in 1899 I read in an English Magazine about an international system of self defence which had used amongst others a couple of pins from jiujitsu.

This is obviously a reference to E.W. Barton-Wright’s Pearsons Magazine articles on Bartitsu. Thus inspired, Toepoel made his way to London and possibly Paris and seems to have picked up an eclectic jiujitsu education. His book name-drops former Bartitsu Club instructors Sadakazu Uyenishi and Yukio Tani as well as Koyama, Miyami, Re-nie (Ernest Regnier, who pioneered jiujitsu in Paris), Okashi, Saito and Apollo (strongman William Bankier, who became Tani’s manager after the Bartitsu Club era), but does not identify Toepoel’s (main?) instructor in the art.

Most puzzlingly, Toepoel refers to learning jiujitsu upon the thin carpet of a shabby old London boxing club, and described his teacher – introduced to him by some boxing acquaintances – as a “Japanised Englishman” who had trained daily for seven years with Taro Miyake. Toepoel further notes that they would stop practicing when others entered the club, implying that this was a security precaution so that others would not “steal” their techniques; he was also apparently made to promise that he would never teach jiujitsu himself in the UK.

This is all very curious; who was the “Japanised Englishman”, and why all the secrecy?

Toepoel refers to both Tani’s Oxford Street school and to Uyenishi’s Golden Square dojo, which would seem to date his training in London to the period of roughly 1904-1909. By that time, there were several books and numerous articles available on jiujitsu, not to mention two full-time schools and several rather marginal ones. Although Japanese wrestling was hardly being taught on every street corner, it was quite widely available and it’s odd that a jiujitsu teacher at that time would have been quite so secretive.

Taro Miyake arrived in London in 1905, so it would seem to be impossible that any English jiujitsuka could have trained with him for seven years prior to 1910, unless that person had begun studying with Miyake in Japan.

On the face of it, and assuming that Pieter Toepoel was above adding in a bit of spurious detail for the sake of drama, there were only a few jiujitsu practitioners in London at that time who could conceivably have been described as “Japanised Englishmen”. Our candidates include:

E.W. Barton-Wright, who does not seem to have impressed anyone else as being “Japanised”, but who had spent three years in Japan and apparently spoke Japanese tolerably well.

William Garrud, who was teaching his own classes (in person and by correspondence) by 1905, but Garrud was possibly even less “Japanised” than was Barton-Wright.

“Professor Vernon-Smith”, who advertised jiujitsu classes at his Anglo-Japanese Institute of Self Defence (3 Vernon Place, Bloomsbury Square). The latter school seems to have employed Sadakazu Uyenishi as well as “a staff of expert instructors teaching gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, fencing, la savate etc.”; very little else is known about it, or about Vernon-Smith.

William E. Steers, a passionate Japanophile who travelled to Japan in 1903, studied jiujitsu there with fellow expatriate Englishman E.J. Harrison and returned to London in 1904, where he began training at Sadakazu Uyenishi’s school. Later, circa May 1912, Steers went back to Japan and studied judo with founder Jigoro Kano, who described him as being “the most earnest foreign student I have ever had”.

On the face of it, W.E. Steers seems to be the best candidate. The dates roughly match up and Steers’ huge enthusiasm for all things Japanese might well have led to his being characterised as a “Japanised Englishman”. The detail of Toepoel’s instructor training for seven years with Taro Miyake is still puzzling, in that Miyake was affiliated with Tani’s Oxford Street school, while Steers was enrolled at Uyenishi’s dojo at Golden Square. However, it is reported that Steers did study judo with the famous Mitsuyo Maeda from the year 1907, when the latter first arrived in London.

Shifting into pure speculation; assuming that W.E. Steers was Pieter Toepoel’s jiujitsu teacher, why would there have been such secrecy surrounding their lessons? Perhaps Steers felt that he was not really qualified to teach the art; I have found no other records of him as an instructor, though he was active and influential at the administrative level during the early years of the London Budokwai. As he was not a teacher in any official sense, though, Steers would presumably not have been concerned about Toepoel as a potential commercial rival, so why would he have required that the latter promise never to teach jiujitsu in the UK?

Also, Steers was evidently quite a wealthy man, so a shabby, thinly-carpeted boxing school seems an odd choice for a training venue, unless, again, Toepoel’s lessons were being “hidden” for some reason.

Research is ongoing …

International Concourse in the Arts of Self Defence (1902)

A pictorial report on a Bartitsu Club exhibition from Caras y caretas (1902)

The Spanish text reads:

International Concourse in the Arts of Self Defence

On the 23rd of November was held in the School of Arms in London an interesting tournament and demonstration of the various self defence methods that have been adapted into the “Bartitsu” system which has, as with many other Japanese trends, been adopted easily in Europe.

The Japanese champions were there along with wrestlers and boxers from Britain and from the European continent. Part of what one might describe as a match of over-riding interest was an encounter between a professional wrestler who represented the Cornish and Devonshire style and a champion of Osaka (Japan) named Uyenishi. The Japanese wrestler won each of the three rounds of this contest.

A professional boxer contended against the school’s champion of the French savate, and the result was indecisive. Several of the competitors explained aspects of the Bartitsu system, and through their exhibitions much interest was sown in the employment of the walking stick as a defensive weapon.

Our pictures reproduce the main scenes of this interesting tournament in which, overall, the Japanese dominated, and if partially, in some of the European exercises, failed, they were not truly defeated since with the methods of their own country they were victorious against all attempts to dominate them.

New Bartitsu course @ Academie Duello

One of the world’s premiere Western martial arts schools, the Academie Duello in Vancouver, Canada, is now offering regular classes in E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

There will be purely historical techniques, as well as modern variations for realistic self-defense. Drills are designed for accuracy as well as the ability to think while fighting. To test your skills, part of the class time will feature sparring. This is really the first Western mixed martial art, combining kickboxing with jiujitsu and cane fighting… not for the ring, but for ultimate self-defense.

Click here to read more about the Academie’s Bartitsu programme.

We wish our Canadian colleagues all success in this new venture!

A battle royale

A cartoon from the Libertarian political satire blog stages the rivalry between France and England as a savate vs. Bartitsu battle royale.

This is the second time in over a hundred years that humourists have referenced Bartitsu to make a political point. In a 1904 article poking fun at the customs of hereditary peerage for Punch’s Almanack, writer, war-games enthusiast and fervent socialist H.G. Wells wrote:

Next in importance to pronunciation and recitation in building up the mental and moral equipment of our ideal Duke, I would place the handling of toy soldiers, with this proviso, that every army corps should be provided with a section of cyclist volunteers. At the age of ten the Duke should himself be instructed in the use of the bicycle (preferably a Bantam), the Mauser pistol, and the Bartitsu method of self-defence, a mode of fighting rendered indispensable by the Anglo-Japanese alliance.

Bartitsu and historical fencing

“The fence of the case of rapiers, as of all the other Elizabethan weapons, is much in vogue at the present time at the Bartitsu Club, now the headquarters of ancient swordplay in this country …”
– Captain Alfred Hutton, “The Sword and the Centuries” (1902)

Alfred Hutton was at the centre of the late-Victorian revival of “ancient swordplay”, or historical fencing styles including the use of the raper and dagger, sword and handbuckler and two-handed sword. Beginning in the 1880s he had tutored a small but enthusiastic group of students, most initially in their young teens, via a boys’ club attached to the School of Arms of the London Rifle Brigade.

Hutton and his colleague, the novelist Egerton Castle, organised a number of historical fencing exhibitions during the 1890s. By 1900 Hutton’s cadre of Elizabethan swordsmen had performed throughout the city of London and had even been invited to demonstrate their skills at a grand “Festival of Historical Swordplay” in Belgium.

Shortly after E.W. Barton-Wright returned to London from Japan and started promoting his new Bartitsu method, he joined Hutton on the lecture/demonstration circuit. Mixed Bartitsu and historical fencing exhibitions were held, most notably at the exclusive Bath Club and at a fund-raising event for Guy’s Hospital.

Hutton joined a number of notables, including politicians and minor nobility, in supporting Barton-Wright’s desire to establish a permanent training academy. When B-W opened his Bartitsu Club in Soho, Hutton began holding historical fencing classes there as well. His students included some prominent London actors, who studied historical fencing for use in stage combat, as well as young men from the L.R.B. School of Arms. Hutton also served on the Club’s Committee, which approved or declined applications from would-be Bartitsu Club members.

Given Barton-Wright’s emphasis on Bartitsu as practical self defence, it’s unlikely that historical fencing per se was considered to be a formal part of the Bartitsu curriculum. It is evident, however, that informal cross-training did take place; Hutton offered a glowing review of Pierre Vigny’s method of self defence with a walking stick, and even demonstrated that method during a 1902 newspaper interview. It’s also likely that he took some jiujitsu lessons at the Club, either with Barton-Wright or with instructors Yukio Tani or Sadakazu Uyenishi. Hutton produced a monograph on jiujitsu techniques for schoolboys and later offered a jiujitsu-based class in humane control and restraint techniques for doctors working in London psychiatric hospitals.

Sadly, the untimely closure of the Bartitsu Club seems to have brought an end to the collaborations between Barton-Wright and Hutton. But during the year 1901, when the Club was a hive of activity, one might have signed up for classes in recreational rapier or longsword fencing alongside jiujitsu, boxing, wrestling and walking stick defence. It must have been quite the scene.

The BBC’s new “Sherlock”

A heads-up and thumbs-up for the BBC’s new series updating Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century.

According to the official website:

Co-created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the new Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as his loyal friend, Doctor John Watson. Rupert Graves plays Inspector Lestrade.

The iconic details from Conan Doyle’s original books remain – they live at the same address of 221b Baker Street, have the same names and, somewhere out there, Moriarty is waiting for them.

Steven Moffat says: “Conan Doyle’s stories were never about frock coats and gas light; they’re about brilliant detection, dreadful villains and blood-curdling crimes – and frankly, to hell with the crinoline. Other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures, and that’s what matters.”

The first three ninety-minute episodes of what seems certain to become a long-running series screened in the UK over the past three weeks and are available online in various formats. The series is recommended especially for its deft conjuring of a slightly fantastical but recognisable modern London. Episodes two and three, The Blind Banker and The Great Game, feature some exciting fight scenes. No word yet on the origins or nature of the contemporary Holmes’ baritsu skills …