This article, written and illustrated by J.F. Sullivan, originally appeared in “The Ludgate Monthly” of 1897, just a few years before E.W. Barton-Wright introduced Bartitsu to London.
No weapon is so little understood as the umbrella. This—the true arm of the citizen — has simply been brought into sheer contempt and ridicule by no fault of its own, but simply by the ignorance and want of skill of its wearer. In the case of every other weapon which has been adopted, at various periods of the world’s history, by man, the user has considered a thorough knowledge of its capabilities and limits a fundamental necessity in its effective employment; and has invariably fitted himself, by long and constant practise, for that employment. What prehistoric man would have thought of using his flint spear as a gun? What Roman legionary would have dreamed of applying a fuse to the hilt of his sword ? Would any sane Knight of the Middle Ages have been caught employing his lance in the capacity of a single-stick ? Very well then !
It fills me with an inexpressible shame to have to declare—to inform presumably intelligent citizens—that the umbrella is not a broadsword!
The umbrella is distinctly a form of rapier; the husband-beater is a hand-and-a-half estoc (to be used in the saddle, if required); and the sunshade and parasol are short swords, or long daggers: and one and all are designed for thrusting— not cutting.
Yet how does the citizen use his characteristic weapon ? Why, as a broadsword—nearly always!
How does Jones, Brown, or Robinson —fully armed with his umbrella—behave when attacked by bravos, infuriated females, mad dogs, or infuriated cabmen?
MISTAKEN UMBRELLIST AND MAD DOG
He simply hits them on the hat—with the exception of the mad dog, of course —with his gingham: and they simply smile, and reduce him to a pulp. We read of cases every day in the newspaper.
Linger for awhile in any wild district into which the arm of the law has not yet penetrated, and where the citizen holds his life in his hands: the districts round about Bow Street Police Station, for example. Wait until you perceive some pedestrian attacked by a gang of footpads, descending from the mountain fastnesses of Betterton Street and Somebody’s Rents. You need not, as a rule, wait more than five minutes.
Now watch : how does that pedestrian employ his umbrella ? Why, almost invariably as a broadsword.
With his swashing blow he endeavours to cleave a rough to the chine, and behead him.
MISUSED AS A BROADSWORD
The effort fails in its purpose—and why ? Why, simply because no umbrella, even of the finest temper, will bear an edge sufficiently keen to sever the head from the body at a single blow.
Why does that citizen fail to go home to tea; and why are his widow and orphans left desolate ?
Because he never studied the true use of the umbrella.
But see—here approaches another pedestrian whose wary eye indicates that he knows what’s what. He proceeds along Endell Street, his light overcoat twisted around his left arm; his stern right hand gripping a tightly-rolled umbrella. As he arrives at the scattered chips of the former pedestrian, with a blood-curdling war-cry whose echo may even startle the slumbering policemen in the adjacent station, and cause the magistrate to shudder in his chair, out rush the wild hordes of the alley.
Calmly the new pedestrian places his back to the workhouse wall; then, in a moment, his flashing umbrella has passed, to the very hilt, through his foremost assailant. It is out again, and its keen ferrule passes down the throat of a second foeman.
A third falls, the wind whistling shrilly through three distinct perforations which pierce him from back to front. The rest flee in confusion. It is a rout. That citizen stands erect amid a ring of the silent slain. He has learned the use of the umbrella—that is all. He goes home to tea, while the police arrive and gather up the slain.
It is a national disgrace that there exists no School of Umbrella-Fence. In this very London are many schools and clubs for the culture of the rapier and single-stick; yet there is not one where umbrella play may be studied.
Still, even in the absence of schools, the science may be studied at home, with the aid of one’s wife.
It is as well not to allow the wife to be armed in this game, as ladies are proverbially clumsy with weapons, and might damage one seriously.
Let the wife be merely on the defensive, and armed with a shield. A dish- cover with a string inside will serve admirably as a shield; or a sofa cushion will do. By a little practise, according to the following rules, the umbrellist may quickly become proficient in the use of one of the handiest and prettiest weapons yet invented by man.
First Position.—Stand with the feet some sixteen inches apart; the right foot in advance ; the right shoulder turned towards the adversary; the point of the umbrella lowered; the left arm raised as a balance.
The Lunge.—Raise the umbrella to a horizontal position, and thrust it suddenly out until the arm is fully extended; the right foot simultaneously taking a step forward. With a little practise a hit is almost certain, unless your wife has a very quick eye. Hit anywhere, as every hit counts.
If your wife tires of the game, tear up her hat and twist the cat’s neck. Return to first position, and smile.
After a time, when the umbrellist has become to some extent expert, an orange may be placed upon the wife’s head, to lunge at; and when the lunger can succeed in transfixing the fruit with the ferrule, some amount of dexterity has been attained. It is as well for the wife to be provided with sticking-plaster, and a few false eyes; but, as we said before, never allow her to use an umbrella, as serious accidents to the male umbrellist may result.
Where no wife is at hand, any person unable to retaliate will answer the purpose. If you possess a very fat friend, you will find excellent practise in lunging at his waistcoat buttons. Should you injure any vital part, apologise at once: for the strict etiquette of the game should never be omitted.
We will now suppose that the umbrellist has qualified himself for serious combat; and append a few hints as to the proper methods of procedure in some of the many occasions in which the umbrella, as a lethal weapon, may come in useful.
The Duel To The Death With A BURGLAR.—On being disturbed at night by sounds indicative of the presence of a burglar in the house, the umbrellist should arise, select his favourite umbrella, and, proceeding to the grindstone, give a keen point to the ferrule.
He then descends the stairs, and challenges the burglar to single-combat; when the following rules of the duel must be strictly observed :
The burglar, first laying aside any dangerous weapon, such as a revolver or jemmy, with which he may be armed, assumes an upright position, with his hands clasped behind him. The umbrellist now advances, and bows to his adversary, who returns the salute. Play now commences.
It consists of the endeavour of the umbrellist to transfix the burglar with the umbrella. The burglar should not move, as movement is calculated to baulk the aim of his opponent. In this play no hits count unless the ferrule appears on the further edge of the burglar’s periphery.
At each thrust which penetrates, yet fails to go right through, the burglar is at liberty to call “half-through,” and scores one. Seven perforations through vital parts secure victory to the umbrellist. Should there be several burglars, only one should join in the duel at a time; the other or others standing aside and somewhat behind the one engaged, in order to check the effective thrusts. These may be marked on the drawing-room wall-paper, or scratched on the piano with a nail.
For the adjustment of affairs of honour, the umbrella might be made invaluable. In fine, the misuse of the umbrella by a nation priding itself upon its military instincts—a nation upon whose flag the sun never sets—is a standing disgrace only to be wiped out by speedy and thorough-going reform.