“The Mystery of Baritsu” (1958)

In early 1902, and under circumstances that remain a historical mystery, the Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time. Jiujitsu went on to experience a boom lasting even through the First World War, firmly establishing the mystique of the Japanese martial arts in Western pop culture. The popularity of boxing and wrestling continued unabated. Some individuals, notably Pierre Vigny, Percy Longhurst and Jean Joseph Renaud, perpetuated and expanded upon Barton-Wright’s practice of mixing Asian and European “antagonistics”. For almost all intents and purposes, however, Bartitsu itself was forgotten throughout the 20th century.

During this period, Sherlock Holmes aficionados continued to puzzle over Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s reference to “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling”, with which Sherlock Holmes had simultaneously saved his own life and defeated his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, at the brink of Reichenbach Falls. Meanwhile, E.W. Barton-Wright was occasionally referenced in the introductory paragraphs of English judo manuals – as the famous Yukio Tani’s manager. Bartitsu, when it was mentioned at all, was typically described simply as “an English version of jiujitsu”.

And so the situation remained until the mid-1950s research of Ralph Judson, whose work has recently been re-discovered by Andy Stott.

Judson had studied jiujitsu under Japanese instructors for eight years in his capacity as the Commandant of the Manchester Sub-District Physical Training and Close Combat School during the Second World War. A longtime Sherlockian, he had quizzed his Japanese colleagues about Holmes’ “baritsu”, but was consistently told that no such term existed in the Japanese language:

For a long time I tried to discover the origins of the word baritsu, and the precise methods of this form of wrestling. Somebody must have invented it, some time.

After his retirement in 1955, Judson began the task of cataloging his collection of some 6,500 books, which included a number of antique 19th century periodicals. Leafing through the contents of the seventh volume of Pearson’s Magazine, dating to 1899, he was intrigued to find a series of two articles entitled The New Art of Self Defence, by one E.W. Barton-Wright:

In the second installment (Barton-Wright) wrote, “Readers of the March number will remember that I described therein a few of the three hundred methods of attack and counter-attack that comprise the New Art of Self Defence, to which I have given the name of BARTITSU.

(emphasis in original text).

Thrilled to have finally tracked down the origins of Holmes’ mysterious art of “Japanese wrestling”, Judson learned what he could about Barton-Wright, Tani and the Bartitsu Club and offered his ground-breaking research in the form of an article. The Mystery of Baritsu: a Sidelight Upon Sherlock Holmes’s Accomplishments was published in the Christmas 1958 edition of the Baker Street Journal.

Judson’s summary of the Bartitsu story was largely accurate, although, like many prior and subsequent writers, he apparently missed the significance of Bartitsu as an eclectic self defence art, describing it as “a number of selected methods of ju-jutsu, adapted to European needs and costume”. It’s entirely possible that Judson simply didn’t read, or failed to connect Barton-Wright’s second series of Pearson’s articles (on walking stick defence) to his first, and so did not realise that Bartitsu actually encompassed four different methods of “antagonistics”.

Shifting gears into the Sherlockian “Great Game” of pretending that Holmes and Watson had been real people, Judson pointed out that Holmes could not possibly have studied Bartitsu, because the events described in The Adventure of the Empty House took place on May 4th, 1891. Since Bartitsu was not introduced until 1899, he reasoned, Holmes must in fact have referred to jiujitsu, and Watson (writing in 1903) must have simply confused jiujitsu with the then-popular Bartitsu, further confounding future generations of scholars by misspelling the word. (1)

Ralph Judson finished his article by offering an ingenious technical explanation as to how Holmes had defeated Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. Noting that the observation path where they battled is only three feet wide, with a sheer wall of rock to one side and a sheer drop on the other, Judson suggested that:

Just before Professor Moriarty locked his grip, pinning the detective’s arms to his sides, Sherlock Holmes, having inflated to the full extent his chest and his biceps, swiftly deflated himself, and, as he said, “I slipped through his grip”. In one fast and smooth movement, dropping on one knee, he gripped with one hand Moriarty’s heel, which was closer to the abyss, and lifting the heel and with it the foot, diagonally, away from himself, he pushed hard, at the same time, with his other hand, into the groin of the captured leg, applying terrific leverage …

This caused Moriarty to lose completely his balance and gave him no time to clutch at his opponent. When Holmes let go, Moriarty “with a horrible scream, kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands.”

But, for all these efforts, Moriarty could not regain his balance, and over he went – while his opponent was still crouching on the narrow path.

This is the complete picture of this unforgettable conflict – and “Baritsu” is no longer a mystery.

Ironically, though, Judson’s Mystery of Baritsu article was, itself, largely forgotten over time …

(1) A more recent theory is that the art known as baritsu was in fact founded by Holmes himself, based on his documented study of Japanese wrestling, fencing, boxing and stick fighting, and that he later gave permission to his top student, E.W. Barton-Wright, to go public with a modified version of the art.

By far the most detailed version of these events, though, is discussed here.

An Edwardian jiujitsu exposition

(From Womanhood Magazine, 1904)

A VERY INTERESTED GATHERING assembled at Caxton Hall, Westminster, on December 20, at the invitation of Mr. Granger, Agent General for Australia, to witness a demonstration of the Japanese School of Ju Jitsu. Mr. Granger’s talented son, whom his friends were pleased to see happily restored after a dangerous illness, explained the various points in the system, which, he said, was recognised as long ago as the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century there was a Chinese priest who was a very great expert. Gradually the system was adopted by the Japanese Government, and is now regularly taught in the schools.

Ju Jitsu may in truth be termed the “gentle art of self-defence,” and its basis is to act upon a knowledge of the most tender spots in the human body, so that a person skilled in the art, though apparently weak, can protect himself or herself against the biggest bully that exists. In Ju Jitsu no strength must be put forth into the defence, and it is for this reason that ladies learn it more quickly than men, because men want to put strength into it, whereas women use finesse. The principle is to defeat the opponent by utilising his strength and playing upon his most vulnerable point. In Japanese school and university training the system has much the same position as established games have in England. The Japanese woman is educated in it, and it enters into the training of soldier, sailor, and policeman.

A most interesting part of the demonstration was that in which two English ladies, Mrs. Watts and Miss Roberts, took part. Mrs. Watts gave a demonstration of throws with Mr. Eida, and she and Miss Roberts also gave a demonstration of practice. The points illustrated by Mr. Miyake and Mr. Tani were various ways of falling without inconvenience, illustrations of the balance of the human body, and how to throw one’s antagonist; also what is called “the locks”— as for example, the arm lock, in which the arm of the person who attacks, however strong he be, must be broken either at the elbow or shoulder; the leg lock, where excruciating pain can be caused by pressure at a point at the bottom of the calf, or the foot may be injured; and the neck lock, in which a person becomes unconscious owing to pressure on the arteries. Mr. Granger incidentally remarked that the Japanese have no less than three ways to rapidly restore consciousness which are unknown to European medical men, but these are not made known.

Among others who took part in the demonstration were Mr. Kanaya and Mr. Uyenishi. As Mr. Granger humorously remarked, Ju Jitsu is a triumph of knowledge and skill against mere brute strength, and any lady who knows the game is more than a match for any husband who does not.

Edwardian walking stick defence seminar (Edinburgh)

Edinburgh: on the 16th of October, beginning at midday and ending at 5pm, there will be a workshop in Walking Stick Defence given by Phil Crawley. The venue will be the Kirk o’Field church hall.

Although based on the Vigny/Lang system(s), the seminar will include aspects of the Andre, Renaud and Cunningham methods for comparison. The workshop will look at using the walking stick at three different ranges – long, medium and close – in order to defend with a number of different, and often surprising, techniques, and how the stick may be combined with other contemporary arts and objects in order to provide an all-round self-defence against ruffians.

Participants will require a fencing mask, stout gloves and a fencing jacket or gambeson. Forearm protection is advised.

Sticks, and other specialist equipment, will be provided.

Cost will be the small sum of £12 for the day.

Neo-Bartitsu event in Pfarrkirchen

On October 9th and 10th the Pfarrkirchen branch of the Ochs historical fencing association hosted a “challenge tournament” followed by a neo-Bartitsu seminar.

Opening the neo-Bartitsu session, Andy Damms gave a lesson on English pugilism, covering history, basic punches with an emphasis on straight punching and the falling step, followed by simple defenses and then the throws typical of bare-knuckle pugilism.

After the lunch break the seminar continued with savate low line kicks and their respective evasive motions, then basic wrist locks and defence in special situations. The latter included the defender being punched while leaning against a wall, the defender being on the ground while the opponent is standing and drills for facing multiple opponents, taught by Alex Kiermeyer.

Bartitsu seminar at Alte Kampfkunst

Congratulations to Stefan Dieke of the Alte Kampfkunst historical martial arts school in Wuppertal, Germany, for his successful Bartitsu seminar over the weekend of October 9-10.

Concentrating on circa 1900 (kick)boxing and cane fighting, the seminar was well received and Stefan plans another in a similar vein for Spring of 2011.

Welcome, Hounds of the Baskerville!

Here are some resources that may be useful as reference vis-a-vis Tony Wolf’s Bartitsu lecture.

The preview trailer for our upcoming documentary, Bartitsu; The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes:

Click here to preview and order either volume of the Bartitsu Compendium.

Here is the three-part essay, Sherlock Holmes and Bartitsu, which details the crucial role played by the Great Detective in developing Mr. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”; and click here to read the two-part essay, The Fighting Arts of Sherlock Holmes.

The Bartitsu Society forum is available here.

Any help towards our locating the following two articles will be most gratefully received:

Judson, Ralph, The Mystery of Baritsu: A Sidelight Upon Sherlock
Holmes’s Accomplishments
, The Baker Street Journal: an irregular quarterly of Sherlockiana: Volume 8, Issue 5 (1958)

Bowen, Richard, Further Lessons in Baritsu, The Ritual: Review of the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society 20: 22–26. (1997)

The Garter Stiletto (1911)

From the March 1911 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine:

Deprived of pockets in which she might carry firearms, and public sentiment imposing on her the use of more subtle weapons than the club or swordstick, which she would find hard to conceal, modern invention has added another weapon to the hatpin for women of fashion.

The device is the garter stiletto, a long, sharp, vicious weapon that fits snugly in a sheath attached to the garter. The slender steel blade is so thin and so narrow that it would not attract more attention than a hatpin, and could be wielded with more deadly effect, in the case of necessity.

Congratulations to Daniel Pope …

… who has won the Bartitsu documentary DVD artwork contest. Mr. Pope’s entry clearly demonstrates the unusual and eclectic nature of Bartitsu as an “Edwardian mixed martial art” and links to the Sherlock Holmes mythos, also communicating a sense of historical mystery within a pleasing overall design.

Thanks again to all our entrants; your creative talents are much appreciated.

We look forward to unveiling Mr. Pope’s design as the release date for the documentary DVD draws near.