Click this link to see our spiffing video, info, rewards and more towards creating the Forteza Clubhouse – a steampunk/neo-Victorian lounge complete with library, art gallery and a multi-media learning center (and a secret passage entrance – shhh!)
The Clubhouse project has begun! Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts (the headquarters of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago) is creating the ultimate Bartitsu Club salon, and we’d really appreciate your help. Watch the video, check out the rather cool contributor rewards and, if you are so moved, help out. N.B. that the Indiegogo “share” tools make it very quick and easy to share the project page via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, or to embed or send the page info by email.
We’ll be offering regular updates over the next month and will also be inviting design and decor suggestions …
Our band of stalwart adventurers met at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighburhood just before noon, embarking in a small but spirited convoy to La Salle, IL to tour the Hegeler Carus Mansion and its historic gymnasium – normally a two-hour trip. Unfortunately we were delayed by unusually heavy traffic leaving the city, but the Hegeler Carus Mansion staff were kind enough to delay the start of the 2.00 tour to accommodate us. En route, a nascent plan emerged to write a Bartitsu-themed “anthem”, perhaps in the style of a c1900 music hall song. We also met SoA instructor Allen Reed, who lives somewhat near La Salle, at the site.
The mansion tour was fascinating, particularly re. the Hegeler and Carus families’ close connections to events such as the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the spread of Zen Buddhism to the Western world and to the publishing industry via their in-house “Open Court” company. By special permission of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, instructor Tony Wolf was then able to lead an extended, “up close” tour of the famous 1876-vintage gymnasium, which he has been helping to research and re-assemble. Two Bartitsu Club of Chicago members were afterwards inspired to construct their own “teeter ladder” exercise apparatus, which would surely be a unique addition to the Forteza gymuseum; as far as we know, the original teeter ladder in the mansion’s gym is the only surviving example of its type.
Our return to Chicago was significantly delayed by extremely heavy traffic, due in part to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but we were just about able to get everyone fed and at the Lincoln Square Theatre in time for the beginning of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride.
The play is set during the late Victorian era and actually opens with the title character – a no-nonsense, Mary Poppinsish member of the Society of Lady Detectives – making adroit use of jujitsu and then her parasol to fend off various assailants. Further fight scenes showcased everything from smallsword fencing to pugilism in the context of an ostensible Jack the Ripper mystery, but in fact the mysteries to be solved were of a different and more personal nature. All ended happily for the heroines and the audience was left hoping for further adventures with the S.O.L.D.
We began the first full training day with a tour of the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio and then a mini-lecture on Bartitsu history. Warm-ups began by simply walking around the space for orientation, then jogging, then jogging backwards, then jogging while throwing an antique leather medicine ball to and fro (nothing like it for breaking the ice).
We continued the warm-up with a series of synergy exercises stressing efficient whole-body movement, unbalancing tactics and elbow/hip alignment.
Next up was a set of two circuit training sessions in which small groups rotated between short classes taught by three instructors; Allen Reed teaching collar-and-elbow wrestling and jujitsu throws, Tony Wolf teaching fisticuffs and Mark Donnelly teaching cane techniques. These sessions were followed by some “integration” training, making the point that Bartitsu really comes to life when the various skills/styles are tested against each other and combined together.
After lunch we reconvened for longer, specialized classes with each instructor. Mark taught a session on umbrella/parasol defense via the “bayonet” grip; Forteza Fitness instructor Keith Jennings taught some catch wrestling holds, takedowns and reversals; Allen presented several canonical Bartitsu/jujitsu kata, and drills arising from opponent resistance; Tony taught “combat improvisation” based on various canonical unarmed and armed set-plays.
Then each instructor in turn was invited to contribute to a combat scenario beginning with cane fighting, segueing through boxing and throwing and ending up on the ground.
The last session of the day was devoted to informal “breakaway” groups and included some spirited cane sparring, pugilism drills, scenario-based cane techniques, free submission grappling and even some Bowie knife work. Serious points to those young enthusiasts who, after a very full day of Bartitsu training, still had enough energy to squeeze in a kettlebell session.
At 7.00 pm we met in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House – all dark green velvet, dark polished wood and maroon trimmings – and spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting before retiring gratefully, if not necessarily gracefully, to home and rest.
The final day of the School of Arms began with an orientation and quick Bartitsu history lesson for the four new (Sunday only) participants. We started the warm-up with forward and backward jogging and medicine ball tossing, then rotated through whole-group exercises/balance games taught by Mark Donnelly, Allen Reed and Tony Wolf, including iterations of wrist wrestling, stick wrestling, stand-off and finger-fencing.
Next we cycled through two circuit training rounds of small group mini-lessons (roughly 15 minutes each), in which Mark concentrated on cane work, Allen on jujitsu throws and Tony on integrating standing grappling with fisticuffs and low kicking.
After lunch each of the instructors taught a longer, 45 minute class for the whole group. Mark focused on the technical and tactical dynamics of parrying and countering with the cane. Allen taught applications of two canonical jujitsu kata vs multiple opponents and Tony gave a session on spontaneously combining three canonical kata/set-plays (two jujitsu, one cane) in response to opponent resistance.
We then set up for the Antagonisticathlon, which proved to be by far the roughest and wildest rendition of that event yet. The combination of stirring Sherlock Holmes and Steampunk music via the PA system and the presence of an audience fed into a quite extraordinary mixture of hard fighting and surreal Victorianesque humour. It was a sight to see.
After the warm-downs, the School of Arms ended on a high note, with thanks to our hosts at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts for providing the perfect venue for this event, to the instructors and to the brave souls who volunteered as ruffians in the Antagonisticathlon. We then passed out participation certificates and posed for group photos before retiring to O’Shaughnessy’s for drinks and farewells.
Special thanks to the members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago who volunteered to host and chauffeur out-of-towners, the staff at the Hegeler Carus Mansion and to all the participants, some of whom had traveled considerable distances for the event.
A – Bartitsu is a 100+ year old method of cross-training between several martial arts and combat sports including fisticuffs (old-school boxing), jujitsu, wrestling and the Vigny method of self defense with a walking stick. The founder, E.W. Barton-Wright, had traveled the world as a young man and had sampled a wide range of “antagonistics”, as martial athletics were known in his day. In 1899 he set up the original Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue.
Q – And what happened then?
A – The School was successful for a few years, attracting quite a colorful group of athletes, actors and actresses, politicians and soldiers as students. Barton-Wright was a bit of a social climber and he needed the Bartitsu Club to appeal to a relatively wealthy clientele. Then, in early 1902, for reasons that are still a historical mystery, it closed down and the instructors dispersed. Barton-Wright spent the rest of his career working as a physical therapist and Bartitsu itself was almost completely forgotten.
Q – Apart from the Sherlock Holmes connection …
A – Yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave Bartitsu a sort of cryptic shout-out in “The Adventure of the Empty House”, when it was revealed as the means by which Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fight at the Reichenbach Falls. That one obscure reference was the clue that eventually led to the modern revival of Bartitsu, which began almost exactly 100 years after the original Bartitsu School closed down.
Q – How is the Bartitsu School of Arms event tied in with that revival?
A- The Bartitsu Society has been operating as an informal collective of enthusiasts since 2002, and last year (2011) we held our first School of Arms in London. We wanted to model the event as closely as was practical on the way Bartitsu was originally taught, even down to things like renting a genuine Victorian-era warehouse as a venue. We also developed a somewhat radical team-teaching system based on circuit training, which appears to be how classes were run at the original Club. The overall goal was both to boost participants’ skills and also to boost the revival of Bartitsu itself by encouraging networking and skill-sharing between practitioners.
Q – So what about the 2012 event?
A – The plan is to alternate between North America and Europe annually, so this year we’re based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago. Forteza was actually directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s club; it’s a 100 year old building that’s been outfitted to resemble a c1900 gymnasium, including a “gymuseum” collection of functional antique exercise equipment. It’s also the base of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, which will be hosting the 2012 School of Arms.
Q – What’s on the agenda?
A – We’re starting on Friday the 7th with an optional tour of the Hegeler Carus mansion in LaSalle, which is about a two-hour journey from Chicago. The mansion has a fascinating history of its own – among other things, it was the place where Zen Buddhism was introduced to the Western world – but the highlight for Bartitsu enthusiasts will be the turnhall (gym), which is believed to be the oldest still-extant private gymnasium in the US. It’s still equipped with its original apparatus, including wooden Indian clubs, climbing ladders, etc.
We’ll be running cross-training and circuit training sessions all day on Saturday and Sunday, featuring instruction from myself and my colleagues James Marwood, Allen Reed and Mark Donnelly. The object is to both preserve what is known of Barton-Wright’s original style and to continue his experiments, which were basically left as an work in progress when the original Club closed down in 1902. Every instructor has their own “take” on the material, so participants will enjoy a wide range of drills, exercises and perspectives. On Saturday night we’ll all go out for dinner at O’Shaughnessy’s, which has a great Victorian-style side-room – really ideal for this type of event.
Q – What about the “Antagonisticathlon”?
A – That’s happening on Sunday afternoon. It’s basically a fun way to test your Bartitsu skills via “martial arts obstacle course”. Participants represent Victorian-era adventurers fending off assassins and street hooligans while moving through a series of obstacles and challenges set up around the gym. We’re planning some surprises for the next course, including some booby traps …
Q – Sounds like fun. Can people just come along to watch the Antagonisticathlon?
A – Yes, spectators are welcome!
For more information on the 2012 Bartitsu School of Arms, please visit this website.
The second Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture will be hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago between Sept. 8-9. Following the successful model established at the first School of Arms event in London last year, we will be concentrating on Bartitsu as a method of cross-training between diverse “source arts” via a team-teaching approach.
Highlights will include:
* an optional, but highly recommended field trip on Friday, Sept. 7 to visit the historic Hegeler Carus mansion in LaSalle, IL, which includes the oldest known private gymnasium in the US
* two full days of Bartitsu cross-training at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts, a full-time historical Western martial arts training studio in the Ravenswood neighborhood
* the Saturday night dinner in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, just a few minutes’ walk from Forteza
* an Antagonisticathlon (Bartitsu-themed obstacle course challenge) on Sunday afternoon (spectators welcome!)
The Bartitsu Club of Chicago held its second Antagonisticathlon event on the morning of Sunday, July 15th 2012.
The Antagonisticathlon is a fun, challenging martial arts obstacle course in which participants represent Victorian era adventurers running a gauntlet of ruffians and assassins. The course is not timed but “style points” may be awarded at the audience’s discretion.
The obstacles (not all shown in the video clip) included:
* Shoulder barge to heavy punching bag (“knocking a ruffian out the window and into the Thames”)
* Use of overcoat to entangle and throw dagger-wielding hooligan
* Ten reps using antique wall-mounted weightlifting machine
* “Into the Alley of Death”: the adventurer is required to fend off strikes from three ruffians entering at different points of the “alley” and counter each one with a strike to the mask
* “Belabour as you see fit”: freestyle striking with cane against Steampunk standing bag
* Moving a heavy bag over a crash pad and then carrying it across a balance beam (“Rescuing Dr. Watson”)
* Cane fencing, with the object being to throw and belabour the enemy assassin
* Shoulder roll, use cane to knock off the final hooligan’s hat and then knock him unconscious
On Sunday, March 11th of 2012, members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago took part in the first ever “antagonisticathlon” event hosted by the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Ravenswood, Chicago. This was their graduation from the recent six-week introductory Bartitsu training course.
During the late 19th century, the word “antagonistics” meant all manner of combat sports and self defence skills. Antagonisticathlon participants represent Victorian-era adventurers fighting their way through a gauntlet of obstacles and ne’er-do-wells, inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ escape from Professor Moriarty’s assassins in The Final Problem:
My dear Watson, Professor Moriarty is not a man who lets the grass grow under his feet. I went out about mid-day to transact some business in Oxford Street. As I passed the corner which leads from Bentinck Street on to the Welbeck Street crossing a two-horse van furiously driven whizzed round and was on me like a flash. I sprang for the foot-path and saved myself by the fraction of a second. The van dashed round by Marylebone Lane and was gone in an instant.
I kept to the pavement after that, Watson, but as I walked down Vere Street a brick came down from the roof of one of the houses, and was shattered to fragments at my feet. I called the police and had the place examined. There were slates and bricks piled up on the roof preparatory to some repairs, and they would have me believe that the wind had toppled over one of these. Of course I knew better, but I could prove nothing.
I took a cab after that and reached my brother’s rooms in Pall Mall, where I spent the day. Now I have come round to you, and on my way I was attacked by a rough with a bludgeon. I knocked him down, and the police have him in custody; but I can tell you with the most absolute confidence that no possible connection will ever be traced between the gentleman upon whose front teeth I have barked my knuckles and the retiring mathematical coach, who is, I dare say, working out problems upon a black-board ten miles away. You will not wonder, Watson, that my first act on entering your rooms was to close your shutters, and that I have been compelled to ask your permission to leave the house by some less conspicuous exit than the front door.
The “stations” of the antagonisticathlon (not all shown in the video compilation) included:
Charging shoulder tackle to punching bag (“knocking an assassin out the window and into the Thames”)
Precision cane thrusts through suspended rings
Overcoat and cane vs. dagger-wielding assassin
Weight-lifting on antique pulley-weight apparatus
“Death Alley”; cane vs. three stick-wielding assassins
“Rowing across the Thames” on antique rowing machine
“Rescuing Dr. Watson”
Cane vs. stick combat
Shoulder roll and hat toss to finish