“Scientific ragging”: The New Jiu-jitsu (1904)

An anonymous commentary on the potentials of jiujitsu from “The Outing” magazine, dating to 1904:

WHO would have said three years ago that a remote Eastern nation would become an arbiter between the athletic aims of the two extreme nations of the West? But some such relation as this is set up by the Japanese protest against the American exploitation of jiujitsu. Directly the art was discovered it was seized upon in America, advertised, practised and explained in a number of books. The explanations certainly exceeded the art, of which the scope and wonders have been greatly misrepresented, and in giving Jiu-jitsu a flair, which made it the fashionable spectacle in Paris as in New York, abstracted at the same time its chief merit. Jiu-jitsu may be an art, almost a science; but above all it is a game, and the exploiters of it have done the harm to it that they have done to other athletic games in emphasising its spectacular and combative advantages. Jiu-jitsu professionals, skilled after the fashion of ” the magnetic lady” who set silly London gossiping some years ago, will soon be a regular part of music-hall performances. This does not much matter, but it is less endurable that a game which might be a real boon to town-dwellers should be spoiled by sham gymnastic exponents who take themselves more seriously than they deserve.

For an athletic nation we are curiously backward in what may be called palaestral games. Fencing has its eminent devotees. Mr. Egerton Castle, umpiring at a bout in Gray’s Inn Gardens, where a bundle of foils leaned against the leaning catalpa, is a spectacle full of the savour of the Middle Ages. The two straightest backs in the House of Commons were trained on fencing. Captain Hutton has from time to time inspired different schools with his zeal for foils, single-sticks, broad-sword and buckler, quarter-staff, two-handed sword, or case of rapiers. Nevertheless, fencing and the sister games languish in England. They are not popular amusements, and the desire to take them up possesses very few of the many town-immured men and women who lament daily their need of exercise. On the whole, the gymnastic peoples are not the athletic. The Japanese dislike sport on the whole. The Germans prefer to develop chest and arms rather than legs; the English neglect the torso. Perhaps the French are more naturally proficient at both athletics and gymnastics than any people, except the Americans, whose competitive genius is overmastering.

Beyond all question the Japanese are the greatest gymnasts in the world, and have been for years. Two forms of wrestling, Sumo and jiu-jitsu—the first chiefly professional, the second both aristocratic and democratic, have long interested the bulk of the nation. Sumo has been regulated by a Gild of its own which is recognised by Government, used for police purposes, and exempted from taxation. The Gild has schooled its members into the strictest loyalty to the canons of art and etiquette in the same way as the Rugby Union in England, though more precisely and dictatorially, as befits an institution long and officially established, which holds its public examination and publishes its class-lists. Sumo in Japan is the counterpart, with many necessary deductions from the strictness of the analogy, of the Football League in England. It is professional, a spectacular rather than a popular game, and its players need great physical development.

Jiu-jitsu has other qualities, and these seem to me to bring it a long way ahead of any gymnastic game we have in England. And it should be English, for it is no more or less than the science of “ragging,” the exaltation of a rough and tumble, the impromptu wrestling which everyone practices and enjoys from infancy till the age when the sinews creak. It is the only game common to the nursery, the school, the university, the office, and it is greatly improved as a mere amusement by some application of science. The Japanese have especially associated the game, since its emergence in the seventeenth century, with military training, and its superiority to the stiffness of much army gymnastics

does not need argument. But the question now is not whether Woolwich or Osborne should engage a Japanese instructor, but whether many active men who cannot keep their muscles from rusting might not with advantage take their opportunities of scientific ragging in off hours. Its reputation has been spoiled by American over-emphasis. The art includes, of course, instruction in the coup-de-grace, in blows, or rather taps, and falls, and locks, and grips which can incapacitate and break limbs; but its points as a game are quite independent of such violent usage of anatomical knowledge.

The game has the minimum of paraphernalia, can be played in a small space;can be learnt, at least in rudiments sufficient for extracting amusement, from a book. It depends, unlike most gymnastics, on nimbleness more than muscle, and balance, not power, is its key. It is the fashion now to claim moral attributes for games, and the disciples of jiu-jitsu have made the common mistake. But after all “the art of self-defence ” — in England a technical phrase unfortunately restricted to boxing — deserves its constant epithet “noble”; and the jiu-jitsu game, which begins with the art of falling happily and conquering from an inferior position, has a clear symbolic claim to a moral quality. Physical inferiority tends to moral subserviency to the bully; and now no swords are worn and sticks are flimsy, jiu-jitsu is almost the only game which can teach the punier people to flourish in a fight.

“The Best Self Defence” (1910)

Some sound advice in this article from the Australian Northern Star of November 25, 1910. The writer may well not have been aware of Bartitsu, which actually included each of his proposed “best methods of self defence.”

Although boxing is called “the noble art of self-defence,” there are forms of attack against which it would require the co-operation of other defensive arts. Man is a fighting animal, not because there is anything innately savage in his composition, but because he has to fight in order to hold his own in the struggle for existence. We may be the most peaceably inclined nation in the world, but because our neighbours are aggressive as the result of either ambitiousness or envy, we have to make warlike preparations against possible attack. As with the nation, so with the individual.

Mr. Citizen may be a most amiable gentleman. He may be strolling along, full of the utmost benignity and charity towards all mankind, when, from behind the shadow of a temporary lurking place, a murderous “footpad” rudely disturbs his peaceful meditations, by rushing out upon him, on robbery and violence bent! Much as he may, in the abstract, dislike inflicting injury upon a fellow being, our worthy burgher must disable his assailant or be left battered and plundered on the road side. The fittest of the two will survive.

Mr. Citizen may have a stout walking stick, and, thanks to a military training, may be able to use it dexterously, so that on recovering from the first-shock that the footpad’s rush has occasioned, he may elude an attempt to sandbag him, and then bring his weighty stick down heavily upon the unguarded head of the would-be robber, and thus render him hors de combat. Or the footpad may be trusting to his fistic and garrotting powers, and Mr. Citizen may have no walking-stick. So then it would be a case of a contest with nature’s weapons.

Footpads are notoriously what are known in the parlance of the ring as “foul” fighters. That is to say, they kick as well as hit, and are not particular about hitting only above the belt. Consequently, the citizen who finds himself set upon by one of this gang of criminals requires something more than a knowledge of the hits and guards that a rudimentary knowledge of boxing gives. Many a good boxer who suddenly found himself in holds with a wrestler would be at a disadvantage unless he had also a smattering of the science of wrestling, and, therefore, the art of self-defence (to be thorough) should take in not only a knowledge of how to hit, but also how to grapple and throw. While a Britisher has a leaning for boxing as a defensive art more than for wrestling, the fact is patent that not only does he want to know how to wrestle, should occasion require it, but he should know how to wield a walking stick, or an umbrella for defensive purposes.

Maybe the most effective way of escaping or warding of threatened danger would be to “run for it,” if the opposing forces are too numerous, but we are taking the case where this discretion that is said to be the better part of valour cannot be resorted to, and a man has to stand and fight it out in a corner, with one or two assailants. A stroke across the shins is a most effective way of disabling an assailant, and a good single-stick player could effectively deal with any aggressor by such a means in very short order.

Footpads are not generally courteous and chivalrous Claude Duvals, and a favorite mode of attack with them is the use of the boot. Opposed to the citizen possessing a knowledge of the art of the Japanese Ju-Jitsu or the French method of fighting with the feet, the thief wildly letting fly his boots would promptly be stood on his head. Such methods of attack are practised in Ju-Jitsu, the science of Ju-Jitsu being in brief how to defend oneself from attack when deprived of any weapon. Once a Britisher gets a man on the ground his instinct is to let him up again, but with the Japanese that is just the stage of the combat at which the fun really begins. The Japanese practise so that, even though they may be underneath in the fall, they contrive to turn the table on the “top dog.” We Britishers are apt to decry Ju-Jitsu because of the severity of some of the holds and methods invoked, forgetful that it is intended for defensive purposes in mortal combat. The fact that the London police have been instructed in Ju-Jitsu holds shows that there is a lot in it for the man who would know how to take care of himself in an emergency where his life may be hanging the balance.

The garotte, or the grip of the Indian thug, in the ordinary strangling-hold, for which there are several effective stops, and these apparently deadly modes of attack upon citizens can he guarded against in a fairly simple way if the citizen, in his youth will only set about learning how. But our fancy runs so much with the direction of our national pastimes that the very essential sport of wrestling is relegated to the background. Wrestling does not rank second, to boxing as a defensive art. and as such deserves every encouragement. The reason for this unimportant position it occupies in public estimation lies to some extent in the fact that wrestling matches are easily “faked” and several big matches have occurred in which the public felt that the combatants were not triers. But, quite apart from wrestling as a method of entertaining sporting patrons, its value as an exercise and one likely to stand a man in good stead at some time in his life, cannot be gainsaid.

Bartitsu in Martial Arts Illustrated

Earlier, we mentioned that the UK’s leading martial arts magazine Martial Arts Illustrated have published an article on Bartitsu. Thanks to the kindness of the author Nick Collins and the publisher Bob Sykes you can now read the article here. Thanks also go to Bartitsu Society member Terry Butler, whose work made this available.

Note that copyright for the original article resides with Nick Collins and the published version with MAI.


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?



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.



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.5

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.