“Boxing vs. the Savate” (1899)

A decidedly outraged British newspaper report on a controversial savate vs. boxing contest held in Paris on Oct. 19th, 1899. For insight into how this and other prominent savate exhibitions may have influenced Bartitsu, see “The tricks of other trades”; French boxing at the Alhambra (1898) and Speculations on Bartitsu (kick)boxing.

The boxing competition between Jerry Driscoll and M. Charlemont, which took place here yesterday, ended in a fiasco. Driscoll boxed in the English fashion, while Charlemont, wearing ordinary walking boots, used his hands and feet indifferently. The alleged sportsmen who organised this exhibition considered that it would decide the superiority of one style of boxing over the other, and it was surprising to hear them explain how, without the slightest doubt, Driscoll’s legs were to be broken by the first kick from his terrible adversary.

The fight took place in a riding school in the Rue Pergolese, and during six rounds Driscoll knocked his man all over the ring. In the seventh he received a foul kick in an extremely dangerous and sensitive spot, expressly forbidden by the rules, and was counted out.

Conditions of the Match

The conditions on which the encounter took place were that 4oz. gloves were to be used, the Frenchman being allowed to wear walking boots without nails. Ten two-minute rounds were to be fought, the intervals to be one minute. A competitor leaning on the ropes or lying on the ground for ten seconds was to be counted out. Another rule provided that no such blow as that which terminated the contest was to be given.

Both Charlemont and Driscoll were in good condition, but the Frenchman, though powerful, did not possess the physique of his opponent. He seemed, however, before operations began to be lighter and more graceful. One would have expected him to be quicker, but the sequel showed the contrary, and, indeed, its comparative slowness is one of the disadvantages of French boxing, which is almost useless for defensive purposes except to trained experts.

To be effective la savate exacts acrobatic qualities beyond the reach of the man in the street. That is why nobody can box in France, though kicking is taught in the Army. The result, as far as the soldiers are concerned, is that they learn to perform several spasmodic jumping-jack movements of the legs and arms of which they would never think in a fight. With the English system, on the contrary, after a few lessons a man can begin to take care of himself.

The Fight

Before the fight Driscoll was evidently at his ease, while Charlemont, who had never before found himself in these circumstances, was obviously nervous. Both were full of pluck and energy. When time was called for the first round the men circled cautiously round each other seeking for an opening. Driscoll’s tactics were to keep moving so as to avoid his adversary’s feet, and to rush in whenever an opportunity showed. Charlemont’s idea was to meet these rushes with kicks in the chest or in particular on the shins. Driscoll avoided many of these kicks with an agility that surprised the French onlookers, who were inclined to be rowdily hostile to the visitor, and even when they reached him he was nearly always able to get in a return.

One result of the fight has been completely to change the confidence of the French professors in the deadliness of the shin kick.

By the fifth round Charlemont looked a beaten man. He had received severe punishment, and his kicks had lost their force. He picked up somewhat in the sixth round, and also surprised Driscoll by changing his tactics and kicking at the pit of the stomach instead of the legs. Driscoll was staggered once or twice, but Charlemont was weakening, and at the end of the round he was seen to reel. He adopted the same tactics in the seventh round, but his foot passed between Driscoll’s legs, and the accident that terminated the fight was thus brought about. All the victim could do was to gasp out, “Oh, gentlemen, will you allow that?” and to limp, doubled up, to his chair.

The decision that Charlemont had won is inexplicable, and it is a curious comment on the organisation of the competition that the referee’s opinion was not even asked. Driscoll offered to renew the fight if he was given ten minutes to recover, and he was justly discontented at the decision being given against him on account of an accident not his fault. There were other unsatisfactory points. The intervals between the rounds were to be of one minute. In reality discussions arose on each occasion, prolonging the intervals for some minutes, which was manifestly to Charlemont’s advantage. The audience also expressed its opinions or howled advice at the competitors in a turbulent manner. In short, the whole affair was badly organised and as badly carried out. It would have astonished the frequenters of the “National Sports Club,” the professed model on which the show was based.

French Professor’s Opinion

Casteres, the well-known French professor of boxing, said of the fight to a representative of the Figaro: “I am still convinced of the superiority of the French method of boxing. But I must admit that these English beggars are better trained than we are. They have had a hundred fights in their lives, we not one. They know how to resist blows, which is one of the elementary principles of their training. We do not like blows. French boxing is intended to inflict blows, avoid those given, and not to receive any. Moreover, we are not fighters, there not being any in France. We are professors, which is entirely different.”

Reuters special service: “Ridiculously Unfair”

PARIS, Oct. 38.

Nothing could have been more ridiculously unfair than the manner in which the match between Jerry Driscoll and Charlemont was conducted.  Both umpires were Frenchmen, one of them being actually Charlemont’s father, while the other was a young man who showed himself utterly ignorant of an umpire’s duty. When Driscoll, completely doubled up with pain, had been carried out there was an indescribable uproar.  Amid shouts of “Vive la France “and “Fashoda,” the spectators rushed into the ring and kissed Charlemont, proclaiming him the victor.  A Frenchman who was present remarked: “France needs another twenty years’ sporting education before such contests can be fought between French-men and foreigners with any chance of the foreigners receiving fair play.”  The fight began at 2.50 and was over at three.  Charlemont secures 25,000fr.

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 …

“Game of Shadows” fight scenes

Commentary on the fight choreography is available in The Substance of Style: a Review of the Martial Arts Action in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”.

Review: the Empire – Broughton Pugilism Gloves

Disclosure – the Weapon Store forwarded samples of this product for review purposes.

As the practice of “revived” Western martial arts becomes better established, an increasing number of manufacturers are developing professionally-produced training equipment specific to this niche market.  So it is that the U.K.-based Weapon Store has introduced its Empire line of equipment for the practice of historical fencing and pugilism.

The Broughton pugilism gloves are appropriately named for prize fighter Jack Broughton, the English champion pugilist circa 1734-1740. Broughton’s innovations included formulating a set of seven rules for the prize ring as well as a codified system of scientific defence including the skill of “hitting away” (striking on the retreat).  Broughton is also credited with the development of the first boxing gloves, called “mufflers”, designed to “effectually secure (his students) from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses.”

The Empire – Broughton gloves are very conveniently packaged in a drawstring bag of calico or similar material, which also includes a pair of natural-fibre handwraps and a printed page of information about Jack Broughton’s boxing career.  The right-out-of-the-box impression is that a great deal of thought and care has been put into the aesthetics of the whole package; although this type of glove is a modern invention, the natural materials and colours of the bag and handwraps and the tan-coloured leather of the gloves themselves are all plausibly “old school” and “old world”.  This is a thoughtful touch for practitioners of historic martial arts, who may otherwise have to make do with less aesthetically appropriate equipment.

As with any new leather product, a “breaking in” period is required.  Although comfortable over open or semi-clenched hands, the gloves are initially stiff enough that forming a tight fist is difficult.  After stretching and absorbing sweat during several training sessions, they conform to a functional semi-clenched shape and the leather naturally darkens, which further enhances their aesthetic appeal.

Specific to Bartitsu training via the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, the Broughton gloves have thus far held up admirably to bag-work, pad-work, light sparring and jujitsu/wrestling/free-grappling drills (including wrist locks). The smooth leather piping offers no risk of abrading other trainees’ skin during serious grappling. After four months of regular weekly training sessions, the stitching and padding are holding up well.

Refreshingly, the gloves offer enough mobility to comfortably grip the thick cloth of judo/jujitsu gi jackets, and do not significantly interfere with dexterity even during Indian club manipulation exercises (which is, obviously, above and beyond their brief). Similarly, although the Broughton gloves are not intended for weapon fighting, they have also demonstrated value in safely absorbing incidental impact and eliminating abrasions to the covered portions of the hand during semi-improvised sick fighting drills.

The Weapon Store plans to bring out two further gloves designed for historic pugilism and related skills; the “Molyneux”, a 16 oz. heavy duty boxing glove, and the “Barton-Wright”, a very simple protector with a completely open hand to allow full freedom of movement while still offering a degree of protection when striking with the closed fist.

Eugen Sandow on “Boxing vs. Ju-jitsu” (Daily News, 1907)


Despite E. W. Barton-Wright’s advocacy of a rational melding of various “antagonistics” for purposes of self defence (a theme that was later championed by some others),  the years 1906/7 saw a “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy play out in the pages of British sporting magazines.  The controversy is detailed in the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium.

The substance of that debate included both the questions of “who would win” in a contest between a boxer and a jujitsuka, and also which of the two styles was a better method of self defence training. Barton-Wright might have replied that it did not have to be a question of either/or.

The following short article attributed to the famous strongman and entrepreneur Eugen Sandow is a typical contribution to the debate, mingling nationalistic sentiment with fighting savvy.  As did several other contributors, Sandow hints at having knowledge of “trials” pitting the two styles against each other, which evidently took place in private; a true “jujitsu vs. boxing” match would have been considered “brawling in a public place” under Edwardian English law.

With the remarks of Sir Ralph Littler at the Middlesex Sessions this week on the lapse in public favor of the “noble art” I am in cordial sympathy. The art of boxing as an accomplishment amongst the men of this country is undoubtedly upon the wane.  I am very sorry to see this, for the resort to fisticuffs as a method of self-defence or offence when circumstances call for such measures is a sound, healthy, and, all things considered, most satisfactory one. I ascribe this decline in popular favor to the growing habit of “looking on” is preference to “taking part,” which nowadays seems to pervade all branches of athletics. Attendances at boxing events were never larger than to-day, but I suppose also there never was a time when, proportionately, fewer men were able to use the “mittens.”

Perhaps the worst phase of the subject is that the average Briton has during the last two or three years been losing his respect for the national pastime owing to the popularity of the Japanese ju-jitsu, which receives a veneration that it certainly does not merit when compared with boxing.   A good knowledge of boxing is a more practical attainment than the admittedly clever Japanese method.  Because small exponents of ju-jitsu have overcome great exponents of wrestling, it has assumed a distorted magnitude in the eyes of the man in the street.  In such trials as I have knowledge of between ju-jitsu and boxing the latter has had a distinct ad vantage.  The more this is known the setter.

I think it is very important that the British form of self-defence should be encouraged for many reasons.  Boxing is good for men because it teaches the lesson of giving and taking minor hurts generously.  Experience in the sport gives a man a feeling of self-reliance and power amongst his fellows that leads to a magnanimous self-restraint in attacking a weaker opponent. Even amongst the worst class of men, a set-to with the fists must surely be preferable to the stealthy stab with a knife or blow from the back with a loaded belt or sandbag.

19th century antagonistics at the 2012 Victorian Heritage Festival

19th century pugilism, fencing and other “manly arts of self defence” will be on display at the upcoming Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival (Washington, March 23-25).

Click here to read an article featuring Tim Ruzicki (pictured left above), one of the senior revivalists of classic pugilism, who will be demonstrating his skills at the festival.

Classic pugilism gloves now available

Announcing the new Empire – Broughton pugilism gloves, the first commercially manufactured gloves specifically designed with classical (“bare-knuckle”) pugilism in mind.

The gloves were named for Jack Broughton, the English champion pugilist circa 1734-1740. Broughton’s innovations included formulating a set of seven rules for the prize ring as well as a codified system of scientific defence including the skill of “hitting away” (striking on the retreat). Fittingly, Broughton is also credited with the development of the first boxing gloves, called “mufflers”, designed to “”effectually secure (his students) from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses.”

Go to the Weapon Store website for technical and ordering information.

For your listening pleasure: “Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman” and “The Bare Fists of Boxing”

The Art of Manliness website presents a podcast interview with David Waller, author of the new biography The Perfect Man: the Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Stongman.  Sandow was a near contemporary of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s, and the two men shared several commonalities as pioneers in different branches of physical culture.  Both made their names on the music hall stages of London at about the same time, both went on to found institutions promoting their own novel systems, and both were eventually buried in unmarked graves and thereafter largely forgotten.  Sandow, however, was by far the more celebrated figure, and was more successful than Barton-Wright at capitalising on his fame.

Also newly available to listen online is this BBC radio item on the history of bare-knuckle pugilism in England during the 19th century.  From the Bartitsu point of view, this item is particularly interesting as it describes the origins of the culture of British boxing with which Barton-Wright was, to some extent, competing via his introduction of Bartitsu in the late 1800s.


A tip of the hat to the Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Accurate Hoplology and Antagonistics (name explained here). A branch of the Seattle-based Lonin historical martial arts group inspired by E.W. Barton-Wright and by Captain Alfred Hutton, who taught both Elizabethan and contemporary (Victorian) fencing at the Bartitsu Club, BWAHAHAHA offers a comprehensive cross-training programme in 19th century physical culture as well as armed and unarmed antagonistics.

“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.