The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 in text, video and images

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture was a three-day conference and training seminar held in Chicago between September 7-9, 2012. The event was hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

Onwards to the Bartitsu School of Arms 2013 …

“Waylaid by a ruffian!”

A cautionary tale of urban maleficence. Don’t let this happen to you! Ladies and gentlemen alike are invited to arm themselves against the tide of ruffianism by attending the second annual Bartitsu School of Arms in Chicago (September 8-9, 2012) – see this page for all details!

The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 Q&A

A Q&A session with Tony Wolf regarding the upcoming second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture event, to be hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio between September 8-9.

Q – First things first; what is Bartitsu?

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.

Update: the Bartitsu School of Arms 2012

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!)

Full details and link to the registration page available here.

Bartitsu School of Arms: Chicago, 2012

The 2012 Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture will take place in Chicago, IL, USA between September 8-9.

Participants are invited to join a field trip and guided tour of the Hegeler Carus mansion and historic gymnasium in LaSalle, IL on the afternoon of Friday, September 7.  Saturday the 8th will include a full day of Bartitsu cross-training instruction followed by dinner, discussions and socialising, and Sunday the 9th will include a further day of training with fellow enthusiasts, finishing with a fun and challenging antagonisticathlon combat obstacle course event.

Please see the 2012 Bartitsu School of Arms web page for all details, registration, etc.