Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey, Jr. and others discuss their interpretation of the martial arts of Sherlock Holmes for their hit 2009 motion picture. See also our interview with Sherlock Holmes fight choreographer Richard Ryan, which goes into further detail regarding cinematic “baritsu”.
From the Daily Mirror, April 4, 1904
Impressed by the success of the Japanese system of wrestling – the Ju-jitsu — President Roosevelt has ordered it to be adapted in the. Naval Academy, where it is to be practised, in addition to the ordinary athletic exercises.
President Roosevelt is said to be devoted to this style of wrestling, and many American society ladies have taken it up as a new diversion.
But Americans are not alone in their enthusiasm for the new sport. I In England women are taking great interest in Ju-jitsu. Yukio Tani, the great Japanese exponent of the art, who is quite confident of beating his English opponent in the great match for £200 a side, puts in several hours a week instructing the dames and damsels of Mayfair in the noble art of (Japanese) self-defence. Lady Clara Vere de Vere has taken up Ju-jitsu , as the science is called, with vigour, and is rapidly making herself competent to tackle the burliest hooligan who ever donned cap and muffler. The writer on Saturday received the testimony of “Apollo,” the Jap’s manager, on the subject.
The strong man was at breakfast when our reporter called at his cozy flat in Shaftesbury avenue, but he readily consented to talk.
Makes Women Graceful
“Ju-jitsu”, said he, “is particularly adapted for ladies for several reasons. In the first place, no muscular strength is required, for it is all a question of ‘knack’ and quickness. In the second the science, apart from its usefulness as a means of self-defence, induces grace of carriage and develops the’ figure. You see, to be a competent ju-jitsuist you must hold yourself upright. Whereas, in other styles of wrestling, one has to adopt a crouching attitude, which contracts the chest and makes the figure ugly.”
The fad, it appears, commenced when Tani began to take engagements to appear at private houses and give exhibitions’ of wrestling in the Japanese style. Fashionable hostesses began to vote Hungarian fiddlers and Polish tenors altogether out-moded after they had seen the lithe and graceful Jap and his manager give a glimpse of ju-jitsu. Sometimes, at dances, the wrestling-mats were spread on the ball-room floor between waltzes, and looking on at a bout of ju-jitsu gave the dancers a rest. The grace, the quickness, and the absence of violence which are the distinguishing marks of
ju-jitsu fascinated Lady Clara Vere de Vere, and from seeing it done to wanting to do it herself was but a step. Now, Tani has his hands full putting fair and aristocratic aspirants up to the various locks and holds which constitute the Japanese art of self-defence.
Keenness of the Ladies
“A girl,” says the authority, “will learn ju-jitsu in one-third of the time, and with one-half the trouble, compared with a man. For one thing, they are keener about it; and for another, we cannot get the men to take it seriously enough to moderate their drinking, smoking and late hours – all of which are not conducive to excellence in ju-jitsu.
“Again, a girl is more anxious to improve her general physique than the male thing – and there is no doubt that this style of wrestling is a first-class thing for health and beauty.
An ever-present terror to women living in the country is the prowling tramp. But, armed with a knowledge of ju-jitsu, madame or mademoiselle may take her unattended walks abroad, and in the event of an encounter with the ‘hobo,’ may give him the alternative of crying quarter or having an arm broken.”
So fashionable is the new craze becoming that some West End stationers are printing invitation cards with “Wrestling” in the corner where “Dancing” or “Music” was wont to stand.
Some of my readers may have been present at the very interesting exhibition of bartitsu given last summer by the well-known athlete, Mr. Barton-Wright. Since then the apostle of this most useful form of self defence has been striving to force his pastime to the front, and so successful have his efforts proved that in several of our leading schools the “game” has already been regularly adopted.
Briefly, bartitsu is a form of self-defence in which the only weapon employed is a common walking stick, preferably a malacca-cane. The theory of bartitsu is based upon the theory of fencing and of single-stick in combination with just a suspicion of the “savate.”
The work is done almost entirely with the wrists, the hands being used alternately.
Perhaps the most fascinating stroke of all is a sort of “forward backhander,” if I may so describe it, the cane being suddenly brought down to “guard.” and then unexpectedly swung back over the shoulder.
It is not to be wondered that so practical a form of self-defence should be appealing to many of our athletes, and when it becomes more generally known it will, in all probability, secure a large following.
An introductory Bartitsu workshop lead by Ran Arthur Braun, with the collaboration of master-at-arms and police officer Maestro Gaetano Papagni will be held on January 23rd at Spino d’Adda (about 20 km. from Milan, driving towards Crema).
Time: 11.00 – 13.30 (unarmed combat)
14.30 – 17.30 (walking stick self defence)
For details, please contact Maestro Gaetano Papagni at email@example.com
Built in 1897, Undershaw was the residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family at the time Doyle wrote several of his best and most famous works, including The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Sherlock Holmes defeats Professor Moriarty through the use of “baritsu”.
Sadly neglected now, this historic building is threatened by re-development. The Save Undershaw Preservation Trust is working to restore the home as a museum. All details, including extensive historical information, photo galleries and the preservation project are available at the Save Undershaw website.
By mid-1899, E.W. Barton-Wright was busy attracting support for his novel venture; a Club dedicated to the instruction of physical culture and self defence. Late-Victorian London was already home to several athletic clubs, including the Inns of Court School of Arms and the German Gymnasium, in which gymnasts rubbed shoulders with fencers, boxers and wrestlers. Barton-Wright’s plan, however, was to focus the activities of his Club squarely on his “new art of self defence”, Bartitsu.
According to the custom of the day, he set about attracting influential “names”; people whose reputations and social standing would help to guarantee his Club’s propriety in the highly class-conscious London of the late 19th century.
“Fencing and Bartitsu at the Bath Club” in 1899. Captain Alfred Hutton and W.H. Grenfell demonstrate rapier and dagger fencing, while E.W. Barton-Wright displays Japanese unarmed combat.
During a series of popular demonstrations in which Barton-Wright’s “new art” was exhibited alongside Captain Alfred Hutton’s revival of historical fencing, the founder of Bartitsu became acquainted with both Hutton and the latter’s colleague, William Henry Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough. Both men were quickly drafted into helping to promote Barton-Wright’s Club. Hutton joined the venture both as a Committeeman, responsible for “vetting” the names of people applying to join the Club, and as an instructor, teaching his rejuvenated methods of antique fencing to members of London’s theatrical elite for use in stage combat.
Grenfell accepted the position of Bartitsu Club President, and enthusiastically described Barton-Wright’s vision for reporters. His comments are revealing, not only with regards the conception of Bartitsu as a martial art, but also of the differences between Victorian and contemporary ideas of what a “martial arts club” actually was:
“The idea,” said Mr. Grenfell, to a “Daily Mail” representative, “is to establish an athletic class for people of good standing, and it seemed to us best to establish it in the form of a club, so as to be able to exclude undesirable persons. So members will be able to come themselves, and to send their children and the ladies of their family for instruction with every assurance that they will be running no risk of objectionable associations.”
“Is Bartitsu, then, a sport for women and children?”
”Oh, we are not going to confine ourselves to Japanese wrestling. Athletic exercises of many kinds and physical culture will be taught, but with this difference, that physical culture will be taught in a new form, which will make it interesting.”
“And this new art of self-defence?”
”Bartitsu; that will be taught as part of the general scheme of physical culture. And you know it is very desirable to teach people how to protect themselves against violence.”
“But does not the noble art of self-defence do that – the art of using the fists?”
”No. In the first place the violent ruffian is likely to be fairly proficient in the use of the fists, and in the second place the stronger and heavier man has an overwhelming advantage in fist fighting. The great thing is to show people every possible form of attack to which they may be subjected, and to teach them how, by the application of scientific principles, every attack may be successfully met. Bartitsu teaches you how to overcome an opponent of superior weight by using his weight against himself, of throwing him by yielding instead of resisting, and of gripping him in various ways so as to put such a strain on his joints that however strong he may be he will be completely at your mercy. Then it teaches you how to fall so that the fact of being thrown will give you an advantage over the man who throws you.”
“It is a sort of physical counterpart, then, of the great financial art of making a fortune out of bankruptcy.”
”Then there are other means of self-defence which are useful. A lady I had the other day was, while riding her bicycle, attacked by a tramp. She was helpless against his superior strength. But there are ways of using a bending cane by which a lady might, if she has been taught the art, keep a molesting tramp at arm’s length. This will be taught as well as several other systems, all of which are not only useful but interesting to learn.”
London Daily Mail, 1899-06-13 (with thanks to Jason Couch of martialhistory.com).
June of 1899 appears to have been a formative period in the development of Bartitsu. Some elements were already in place and some were still fluid. It’s clear from Grenfell’s comments that jiujitsu was intended to play a key role, that novelty and diversity were considered to be “selling points” and that Barton-Wright was already considering the use of the walking stick as a means of self defence, though he may not have settled on Pierre Vigny’s method at that stage.
Ironically, as it was to transpire, the aura of middle-upper class exclusivity the Club’s promoters were aiming for may ultimately have helped to doom the enterprise. Despite “Health and Strength” journalist Mary Nugent’s description of the Bartitsu Club as “a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light” (1901), pictures taken inside the Club suggest a rather utilitarian basement space that might not have appealed to their “desirable” clientele:
It’s also not unlikely that the promoters had simply over-estimated the number of wealthy, respectable Londoners who shared their zeal for exotic self defence systems. Still, for a few years around the turn of the 20th century, Barton-Wright’s Club was the headquarters of a groundbreaking experiment that anticipated many modern trends in the martial arts.
I resolved on putting myself into the hands of some professor of self-defence, who whilst he knocked me about for his amusement, and worked me into a state of complete exhaustion for my improvement in condition as for his own benefit in pocket, should teach me that noble science …
– The works of G.J. Whyte-Melville, Volume 7 (1899)
Although the term “professor of self defence” sounds odd to modern ears, attuned to associate professorship with formal academia, professors of that subject (and of boxing, physical culture, etc.) were common at the time E.W. Barton-Wright opened his Bartitsu School of Arms in London. In fact, Barton-Wright himself was referred to as a professor of self defence by reporter Mary Nugent, in her December 1901 article “Barton-Wright and his Japanese Wrestlers”.
Typically, a professor of self defence circa 1900 was a combat athlete in his post-competitive years, when and if they turned to teaching their skills. In some cases, such as that of Bartitsu School instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi, the term was used to describe still-active competitors who also worked as self defence teachers. Never, apparently, a “rank” to be awarded, antagonistic professorship was simply an honourific title, equivalent to the Japanese sensei or the modern English coach.
… the services of Professor Sandow, Captain Alfred Hutton, Mr Eustace Miles, Mr Fry, and a professional boxer (could) 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.’
– Chambers’s Journal (1906)
Professorship has also been retained, or has evolved into a specific rank in some contemporary martial arts, including Gracie jiu-jitsu, capoeira and kenpo as well as various Filipino martial arts. Curiously, one of the few similar instances of the original implications having survived in modern English is that of traditional Punch and Judy puppeteers, who are customarily called professors.
Although the implications of the word “professor” became increasingly specialised in 20th and 21st century English, and are commonly understood to refer to formal academic rank, the Merriam Webster dictionary offers several definitions:
1: one that professes, avows, or declares
2: a) a faculty member of the highest academic rank at an institution of higher education
b) a teacher at a university, college, or sometimes secondary school
c) one that teaches or professes special knowledge of an art, sport, or occupation requiring skill
An article by “S.L.B.” from “The Sketch”, April 10, 1901:
Last year, a very interesting exhibition of self defence was given at St. James’s Hall, and was the subject of prolonged discussion by many of the people present. Mr. Edward Barton-Wright, who gave the demonstration, was honoured with an invitation to repeat it before the Prince of Wales, but he met with a bicycle accident and the exhibition became impossible. It may be that the style of self-defence introduced to public notice would have failed to attract attention by reason of its novelty alone, but Mr. Barton-Wright had not mastered it without the firm intent to give it a fair chance before the public. He proceeded to found a Club at 67b, Shaftesbury Avenue, where physical culture may be studied under Professors of all nationalities, some of the best of the world’s athletes and sportsmen being engaged as instructors. To-day the work is in full swing, stimulated by the uprising of the “hooligan”.
In his early days, Mr. Barton-Wright was an engineer, and his duties took him into strange lands and among ill-disposed people. He had to go slowly, and to learn that the knowledge of boxing under the Queensberry rules, his sole accomplishment then among the arts of self-defence, is of little or no use against men who attack their opponents with feet as well as hands, from below the belt as well as above it, from the back as well as face-to-face, and with bludgeons, life-preservers, knives and other persuasive weapons. The straightforward stroke that, catching the ruffian upon the “point” or “mark”, disables him from further attempts, is of little or no good when it cannot be delivered, and in every city he visited the young engineer found more and more to learn.
Soon he was seized with the bright idea of combining the self-defence of all nations into a system that, when properly acquired, should enable a man to defy anything but firearms or a sudden stab in the dark.
The chief point to bear in mind was that an adequate system of defence must be able to meet any form of attack; the man who endeavours to disable you by kicking you in the stomach is entitled to as much respect and consideration as he who strives to garrote you, or to try the relative resisting powers of a loaded stick and your skull.
The Bartitsu Club, through its Professors, over whom Mr. Barton-Wright keeps an admonishing eye, guarantees you against all danger. In one corner is M. Vigny, the World’s Champion with the single-stick: the Champion who is the acknowledged master of savate trains his pupils in another. He could kill you and twenty like
you if he so desired in the interval between breakfast and lunch – but, as a matter of fact, he never does. He leads you gently on with gloves and single-stick, through the mazes of the arts, until, at last, with your trained eye and supple muscles, no unskilled brute force can put you out, literally or metaphorically.
In another part of the Club are more Champions, this time from far Japan, where self-defence is taken far more seriously than here. The Champion Wrestler of Osaka, or one of the shining lights among the trainers for the Tokio police, dressed in the picturesque garb of his corner of the Far East, will teach you once more of how little you know of the muscles that keep you perpendicular, and of the startling effects of sudden leverage properly applied. The Japanese Champions are terribly strong and powerful; at a private rehearsal of their work, given some two months ago on the Alhambra stage, I saw a little Jap. who is about five feet nothing in height and eight stone in weight, do just what he liked with a strong North of England wrestler more than six feet high, broad, muscular and confident. The little one ended by putting his opponent gently on his back, and the big one looked as if he did not know how it was done.
There is no form of grip that the Japanese jujitsu work does not meet and foil, and in Japan a policeman learns the jujitsu wrestling as part of his equipment for active service. One of the Club trainers was professionally engaged to teach the police in Japan before he came to England to serve under Mr. Barton-Wright.
When you have mastered the various branches of the work done at the Club, which includes a system of physical drill taught by another Champion, this time from Switzerland, the world is before you, even though a “Hooligan” be behind you. You are not only safe from attack, you can do just what you like with the attacking party. He is as helpless in your well-trained hands as a railway-engine in the hands of its driver. The “Hooligan” does not understand the principles on which he works; you do, and, if it pleases you to make his machinery ineffective for further assaults upon unoffending citizens, you can do so in a way that cannot be believed until it is seen. No part of South London need have terrors for you; Menilmontant, La Vilette and the shadier side of the Bois are as safe for you in Paris as the Place de l’Opera. I find myself wishing that the Bartitsu Club had been in Shaftesbury Avenue as recently as some five or six years ago, when shortly after midnight the slums of Soho would send forth ruffians at whose approach wise men sought the light.
The work of the Club makes a strong appeal to Englishmen, because they are naturally of an adventurous disposition and have a great aversion to the use of any but natural weapons of defence in the brawls that they are bound to encounter now and again. There is a keen pleasure in being able to turn the tables on a man who tries to assault us suddenly and by means that he relies upon to give him an unfair advantage. I am well assured that a few of Mr. Barton-Wright’s pupils sent into a district infested by “Hooligans” would do more to bring about law and order than a dozen casual arrests followed by committal with hard labour, with or without the “cat”. And there is an element of sport in the Bartitsu method that should appeal to any “Hooligan” with a sense of humour.