An updated history of weaponised umbrellas

The release of Kingsman: the Secret Service promises to introduce a new generation of film-goers to the weaponised umbrella, a time-tested motif in anime, comic books, film, literature and television.  The bulletproof Kingsman umbrella comes equipped with all manner of gadgets, from a stunning projectile launcher to a TASER bola, as seen in this video:

However, while this fictional high-tech development in defensive bumbershootery is undoubtedly impressive, it is well worth noting that there has been a hundred-plus year history of attempts to weaponise the humble brolly in real life. These have included the development of martial arts techniques as well as the invention of actual, combat-augmented umbrellas.

As early as 1838, the Baron Charles de Berenger suggested several ingenious methods for using an umbrella in defence against highwaymen and ruffians, including simply shooting straight through it with a flintlock pistol:

In 1897, J.F. Sullivan proposed the umbrella as a misunderstood weapon in his tongue-in-cheek article for the Ludgate Monthy.

Only a few years later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright took the subject seriously in his two-part article series for Pearson’s Magazine, explaining the use of the umbrella and walking stick in self defence. The cane/umbrella were considered the first line of defence in the Bartitsu arsenal, which also included boxing, wrestling and jujitsu.

After the London Bartitsu Club closed under mysterious circumstances in 1902, instructors Pierre Vigny and his wife, who is known to us only as “Miss Sanderson”, continued to teach the use of umbrellas and parasols as defensive weapons. By 1908 the concept had made its way to the United States, being taught at the Philadelphia Institute of Physical Culture and featured in Popular Mechanics Magazine.

The remainder of the 20th century has seen the use of umbrellas as weapons of assassination:

… as well as numerous developments of the “umbrella sword” motif:

… and, of course, the Unbreakable Umbrella:

French news reports during mid-2011 suggested that the bodyguards of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy would soon be carrying a new defensive weapon – the Para Pactum umbrella. Reinforced with kevlar, the Para Pactum has apparently been tested against attack dogs and is also proof against knives, acid and thrown projectiles:

Tony Wolf Bartitsu seminar in Colorado (May 4)

Bartitsu: the “lost” martial art of Sherlock Holmes

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing and stick fighting into the “New Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu.

Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club taught the ladies and gentlemen of London how to beat street ruffians at their own dastardly game. It was later written into the Sherlock Holmes stories as the method by which Holmes defeated Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

Join instructor Tony Wolf in a one-day seminar exploring:

* The original or “canonical” armed and unarmed self defence sequences as presented by E.W. Barton-Wright

* The process of neo-Bartitsu revivalism; continuing Barton-Wright experiments in cross-training between circa 1900 boxing, jujitsu and self defense with a walking stick, umbrella or parasol, via “combat improv” games and exercises

* The fascinating and colorful history of Victorian-era street gangsters and pickpockets, the secret Suffragette Bodyguard Society, and more!

When? May 4, 2013, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where? Niwot High School, Niwot, CO

How much? $60; SAFD discount $50; pre-pay discount $50

Registration contact: Terry Kroenung:

Please bring a sturdy crook-handled walking cane or minimum 36″ smooth dowel or rattan stick, a drink bottle, comfortable exercise clothing and gym shoes.

Bartitsu and umbrella self defence at the Academie Duello (Vancouver, Canada)

Click this link to watch a short video report by Vancouver Province reporter Stuart Derdeyn, interviewing Academie Duello Bartitsu instructor David McCormick.

Bartitsu featured on InnerSPACE


Click this link to watch a short demo. and explanation of Bartitsu courtesy of the Riot A.C.T. stunt team, towards promoting author Adrienne Kress’s new steampunk/girl-power novel, The Friday Society. The item was produced by InnerSPACE, an entertainment news series associated with the Canadian SPACE TV channel.

“Philosophy of the walking stick” (1899)

This excerpt from the Liverpool Mercury (Friday 5th May, 1899) may be among the first news reports in English concerning Professor Pierre Vigny, who would thereafter become a key instructor at E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club in Soho.

Either a walking-stick or an umbrella is now considered an indispensable part of a gentleman’s attire, but few of those who carry these articles know how to use them effectively. Carlyle dealt with the philosophy of clothes in a ponderous volume, which few people have ever finished; but it has been left to Professor Pierre Vigny to illustrate in a practical manner the philosophy of the walking-stick.

On Wednesday night, in the Salle Bertrand, Warwick-street, London, he gave an exhibition of what can be done with it as a weapon of defence as well as ornament, and gained the applause of an audience which comprised many of the best foilists and escrimeurs in London. In his hands the baton became a veritable poem, and showed a capability of development undreamt of by most people, whose chief use of either cane or umbrella is to whirl it in the hand like a windmill, to the imminent danger of their neighbours.

M. Vigny walks in with a stout oak stick, looking like a countryman on his first visit to London, who does not know much about anything. A gang of sharpers surround him as easy prey, and are considerably surprised when the cudgel falls on their heads with a force and dexterity which put them to flight. The same thing happened when M. Vigny was armed with only an elegant, neatly-folded umbrella. In fact, the possibilities of defence with even a fragile stick were shown to be unbounded.

In addition to this display, which was both clever and brilliant, M. Vigny gave exhibitions of his skill with foils, single-stick, sabres, duelling-swords, French and English boxing, and club-swinging, his opponents comprising such experts as Staff – sergeant Betts, Mr. John Jenkinson, Professor Anastasie, M. Felix Bertrand, Mr. Egerton Castle, Professor Danguy, Professor Perkins, and others. The “assault” was undoubtedly one of the best seen in London for a long time.

Bartitsu clubs on Facebook

Although the venerable Bartitsu Forum remains the most active online venue for Bartitsu discussion, a number of Bartitsu clubs have set up their own Facebook pages as well. Here’s a list of links:

The Bartitsu Club of New York City
Botta Secreta Productions (San Francisco)
The Bartitsu Club of Chicago
The Bartitsu Club of Tallahassee
The Bartitsu Club: Isle of Wight
The Battersea Bartitsu Study Group
The Copenhagen Monday Bartitsu Club
Fight Like A Gentleman (Academie Duello Bartitsu, Vancouver, Canada)

Bartitsu information in Italian/Bartitsu informazioni in lingua italiana

Roberto Munter has generously made available an extensive Bartitsu PDF for Italian readers.

The first third of the document presents a thorough history of Bartitsu as well as sections on la Belle Epoque, physical culture, the street gangs of London and Paris and the Suffragette movement.

The booklet also includes complete Italian translations of the New Art of Self Defence and Self-Defence with a Walking Stick by E.W. Barton-Wright, two articles about Pierre Vigny’s system and Self Protection on a Cycle by Marcus Tindal.

You can download the PDF by clicking this link.

Roberto Munter ha messo a disposizione dei lettori italiani un ampio documento PDF sul Bartitsu. La prima parte espone una storia completa del Bartitsu e delle sezioni su La Belle Epoque, la cultura fisica, le bande di strada di Londra e Parigi e il movimento delle suffragette.

Il libretto include anche le traduzioni complete in italiano de La Nuova Arte della difesa personale e L’autodifesa con un bastone da passeggio, di E.W. Barton-Wright, due articoli sul sistema di Pierre Vigny e Auto-difesa con la bicicletta di Marcus Tindal.

È possibile scaricare il PDF cliccando su questo link.

Bartitsu course to commence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Mark Donnelly is offering a 10-week Bartitsu course between January 8th – March 26th in Harrisburg, PA. The course will be hosted by the Keystone Academy of Dueling and Swordsmanship (KADS) and held between 8-10 p.m. on Tuesday nights at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 North Cameron Street. All inquiries should be directed to Mr. Donnelly via 717 829 5534.