The game is afoot … and the DVD is on sale!

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing, and stick fighting into a new martial art he termed Bartitsu. This elegant discipline would have been forgotten save for a famous, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Sherlock Holmes used its mysteries to defeat the villainous Professor Moriarty.

Several years ago, director Guy Ritchie and actor Robert Downey, Jr. re-conceptualized the Great Detective as a Steampunk sleuth and man of action. Doyle fans have been divided on the interpretation, but one thing is certain, as martial artists themselves, Ritchie and Downey have given Holmes his fighting chops! Bartitsu, or “baritsu”, as Doyle penned it, gets plenty of screen time in the new Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, as can be seen in this teaser clip.

In conjunction with the film’s release this week, the Freelance Academy Press is featuring Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes at 30% off of its regular price. A unique documentary relating the fascinating history, rediscovery and revival of Barton-Wright’s pioneering mixed martial art, this is a great present for martial artists, Holmes enthusiasts, or lovers of Victorian and Edwardian England.

More information on the Game of Shadows/documentary DVD tie-in is available at the Freelancer blog.

Paintball, Edwardian-style – “bloodless duelling” with wax bullets, circa 1908

The origins of the combat-simulation game of paintball are usually traced back to the early 1980s, when air-powered paint pistols used by foresters to mark difficult-to-reach trees were adapted for sporting purposes. However, an interesting predecessor may be found in the practice of mock-duelling with wax bullets, dating right back to the very early 1900s.

A French medical doctor named de Villers is credited with the invention of the first pistols and wax balls used in “bloodless duelling”, a practice promoted circa 1905 by the Parisian Club de Pistolet:

THERE has been established in Paris a “School of Duelling,” which is frequented only by the elite, one prominent member being ex-President Casimir Perier. This remarkable academy is conducted by Dr. de Villers, and combats frequently take place there by way of practice. In these mimic duels wire masks are worn to protect the face and bullets made of wax are used, so that no injury may be sustained by the combatants. In all other respects, however, the conduct of the affair is carried through as on the “field of honour,” so that when the time comes — if it ever does come — for the scholars to take part in a serious duel they may acquit themselves with credit to themselves and disaster to their adversary — although this latter point is not of much importance.

Although initially intended as a form of simulation training for real pistol duels, wax bullet duelling was quickly adopted as a purely recreational sport in other countries. By 1909 it had been introduced to the Eastern United States, by members of the Carnegie Sword and Pistol Club and the New York Athletic Club:

Despite the leather protective garments, fencing masks with double-thick glass shields for the eyes and hand-guards built onto the pistols themselves, the new sport of “bloodless duelling” was not, in fact, invariably bloodless. Shooting enthusiast Walter Winans, an American resident in London, accidentally shot through the hand of fellow mock-duellist Gustave Voulquin while practicing the sport in Paris. Mr. Winan’s own account of the dangers of the sport is available here, and here is a report by a journalist who faced Winans in a similar duel.

Bartitsu Club member Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon was seemingly attracted to a variety of eccentric pastimes, including wax bullet duelling. He is shown to the right in the picture above, posing with duelling equipment alongside Mr. W. Bean and Captain MacDonnell.

“Be careful with the face, boys …” – fight scene from “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”

A new sneak preview (minor spoilers) of a baritsu fight from the feature film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, opening on December 16th.

“I am a woman, but no weakling” – Judith Lee, lady detective

He stopped – there was silence. The bell rang again. I was just about to suggest again that he should go and see who was at the outer door when – he leapt at me. And I was unprepared. He had me by the throat before I had even realised that danger threatened.

I am a women, but no weakling. I have always felt it my duty to keep my body in proper condition, trying to learn all that physical culture can teach me. I only recently had been having lessons in jiu-jitsu – the Japanese art of self defence. I had been diligently practicing a trick which was intended to be used when a frontal attack was made upon the throat. Even as, I dare say, he was thinking that I was already as good as done for, I tried that trick. His fingers released my throat and he was on the floor without, I fancy, understanding how he got there. I doubt if there ever was a more amazed man. When he began to realise what had happened he gasped up at me – he was still on the floor – “You … you …”

The above is quoted from the short story Mandragora, part of the Judith Lee detective series written between 1912-16 by Richard Marsh. Among the first protagonists of the still very popular lady detective genre, Judith Lee brought several unusual talents to her role as an amateur sleuth, including an almost uncanny ability to read lips and a willingness to physically apprehend evil-doers, thanks to her training in physical culture and jiujitsu. Certainly, she was among the first heroines in Western literature to have studied Eastern martial arts.

Several of Judith’s adventures are linked to from the Bunburyist website.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” preview trailer

More exciting action from the soon to be released Sherlock Holmes sequel, loosely based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem, in which Holmes confronts his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. No word yet on whether the movie will include an enactment of their famous “baritsu” encounter at Reichenbach Falls …

Cane fighting seminar in Wuppertal, Germany

Instructor Stefan Dieke will be holding a seminar on the Vigny method of stick fighting on December 17th & 18th.


* Vigny’s stick fighting concepts
* representative canonical techniques
* exploring variations
* similarities and differences between a cane and a singlestick and how this affects fighting techniques
* fundamental singlestick exercises and their adoptions for the cane
* abstract exercises building up fundamental skills

Venue: the Alte Kampfkunst historical martial arts school, Paradestr. 57 a
42107 Wuppertal, Germany

Fee: 130 Euro per participant

Details: (sorry, in German only) or contact

International guests are welcome! The seminar can be held bilingually in German and English.

“A Guide to Gentlemen’s Self Defence”

An article on Bartitsu and related gentlemanly antagonistics designed by the It’s Great Grafik Design Studio, from issue #7 of the sadly inactive print version of Rugged Magazine. Rugged celebrates “the grand and small sensations of life, a tour de force through the collections of curiosities of all people with a mission, of street culture and everyday life, of media events and tuneful music, of urban sport as well as the incredible world of art – or whatever else we come across. There is no such thing as a target group.”


A tip of the hat to the Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Accurate Hoplology and Antagonistics (name explained here). A branch of the Seattle-based Lonin historical martial arts group inspired by E.W. Barton-Wright and by Captain Alfred Hutton, who taught both Elizabethan and contemporary (Victorian) fencing at the Bartitsu Club, BWAHAHAHA offers a comprehensive cross-training programme in 19th century physical culture as well as armed and unarmed antagonistics.

Bartitsu/defensive tactics seminar to benefit charity (UK)

A day of defensive tactics, including Bartitsu, the lost martial art of Sherlock Holmes, will be held on Sat. December 10 to benefit the Christopher’s Smile charity. Instructors will include Stewart McGill, founder of Urban Krav Maga and others from the Kapap England organisation.

Support this worthy cause by having a go at a Victorian Martial Art, the fighting styles of Bourne and Bond and much much more. Open to all, no previous training required.

Cost: £25 in advance or £30 on the day.

Dress Code: Victorian or Steampunk (Google it !!!)

Contact: (UK) 0781 739 2320 with any queries or to secure a place.

Venue: The Warren (Bromley, UK)

Date/Time: Saturday, December 10, 2011, 11 am-6:00 pm