A report on the 2011 Bartitsu School of Arms (London)

The 2011 (and inaugural) Bartitsu School of Arms symposium was held over the weekend of August 27-28 in London, England. The symposium represented a landmark in the revival of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”, founded 110 years ago in the same city. 18 participants attended the event, including Bartitsu enthusiasts from the USA and Germany as well as throughout the U.K.

The theme of the 2011 School of Arms was to continue Barton-Wright’s radical experiments in cross-training between various martial arts and combat sports, which were abandoned as a work-in-progress when the original Bartitsu Club closed down under mysterious circumstances in early 1902.

The event began on Friday evening outside the doors of the Shaftesbury Best Western Hotel, the building that once housed Barton-Wright’s club. At precisely the time the group gathered, sheltering from a torrential downpour, the clouds parted and the sun shone through, which was generally taken as a good omen. The group then made its way to the back bar of the Salisbury inn, a classic late-Victorian London pub.

Training began at 9.00 a.m. on Saturday morning at our venue, the ground floor of a Victorian era warehouse in Bermondsey, which roughly made up in 19th century ambiance what it lacked in amenities. The large, white-walled space was divided into 10′ squares by a grid of iron pillars, with enormous wooden beams in the ceiling and a sturdy old wooden floor. A wall display featured a portrait of E.W. Barton-Wright, rare photographs taken inside the original Bartitsu Club and other inspirational images. Rubber-tipped rattan training canes were propped against the pillars and one section of the floor was covered with thick rubber jigsaw mats.

Mornings began with various warm-up exercises, including American wrestler and physical culturist “Farmer” Burns’ upper-body routine. The remainder of the mornings were spent alternating between circuit training, in which small groups rotated between instructors teaching 5-10 minute mini-lessons/drills in savate kicking, boxing, jujitsu and stick fighting, and team-taught sessions in which pairs of participants experimented with self defence scenarios incorporating elements of each of the lessons they’d just learned. The aim was to practice Bartitsu as a holistic art, smoothly transitioning between techniques, styles and ranges as required by the needs of the moment.

After the lunch break, the afternoon sessions featured longer, whole-group classes in each of the specialist subject areas, taught by James Marwood, Tony Wolf, Allen Reed, Stefan Dieke and George Stokoe. These classes covered practical self defence, neo-Bartitsu drills inspired by the canonical stick fighting and unarmed combat sequences, fencing theory applied to Vigny stick fighting and tactical kicking.

The final session on both days was allocated to “break-out” time, a chance for participants and instructors to explore areas of special interest in a less formal environment. In one corner a group would be debating and demonstrating the “garotting” attack of 19th century muggers, in another a pair of stick fighters would be sparring and a submission grappling match would be taking place on the mats.

Evening events included drinks and socialising at the Sherlock Holmes pub on the banks of the Thames and a meal at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub and restaurant dating back to the 1700s that was once the haunt of Charles Dickens and, later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The 2011 Bartitsu School of Arms was a great success and plans are already underway to make it an annual event.