M. Vigny’s School of Self Defence (1904)

From the Daily News, May 27, 1904:

All good citizens will rejoice to learn that a new and efficacious method of abolishing those pests of the streets known as Hooligans has been discovered and put into practical application by a French gentleman named M. Pierre Vigny.

Some years ago the idea occurred to M. Vigny, who, it may be mentioned, has been fencing muster to a French crack cavalry regiment, that it would be possible to discover a system by which people could guard themselves against the cowardly methods of assault practised by the blackguards of the streets. M. Vigny accordingly proceeded to study the methods of Hooligans in the slums of London and Liverpool. When he acquired first-hand knowledge of their ways, he repaired to Paris, where he sought wisdom from the Thugs and Apaches, ruffians who assault pedestrians with sand-bags and life-preservers, and then, for the purpose of finishing his education, he spent considerable time amongst the ruffians of Rome and Naples, who are proficient in the use of the murderous stiletto, and completed his curriculum in the Bowery of New York and the slums of Chicago.

He thus became conversant with every device of the street ruffian, and, what is of more importance, he discovered how to protect himself effectively from every weapon, with the exception of firearms, they use, including loaded belts, sand-bags, bludgeons, knives and daggers, with the instrumentality of a humble walking stick!

For the purpose of imparting this art he has established a “School of Self Defence” in a street near Oxford-street, which is largely patronised by young aristocrats, city men, actors, and others whose pursuits necessitate their being out late. Ladies also receive instruction at this unique school in large numbers, and M. Vigny maintains that anyone who has mastered the system of self-defence with a walking-stick or umbrella, which he has inaugurated, is a match for at least half a dozen street ruffians armed with belts or knives!

“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.

Upcoming Bartitsu stickfighting seminar in Wuppertal, Germany

On the 10th and 11th of March, Stefan Dieke of the Alte Kampfkunst historical European martial arts academy will be teaching a two day seminar on Bartitsu cane self defence, including:

– traditional 19th c. stick fencing
– canonical Bartitsu cane techniques – Pierre Vigny’s innovations
– Bartitsu Concepts: applying the concepts of the canonical material to non-canonical situations.

International guests are welcome! The seminar will be held bi-lingually in German & English.

Location: Alte Kampfkunst in Wuppertal, Germany

Cost: 130,- for two days.

Further information (in German) available here.

“A sphere of deadliness” – more action from Hammett’s “Nightmare Town”

Our second and final excerpt from Dashiell Hammett’s 1924 pulp classic, “Nightmare Town”, featuring hard-bitten adventurer Steve Threefall and his trademark weapon – an ebony fighting cane.

Men filled the doorway. An invisible gun roared and a piece of the ceiling flaked down. Steve spun his stick and charged the door. The light from the lamp behind him glittered and glowed on the whirling wood. The stick whipped backward and forward, from left to right, from right to left. It writhed like a live thing — seemed to fold upon its grasped middle as if spring-hinged with steel. Flashing half-circles merged into a sphere of deadliness. The rhythm of incessant thudding against flesh and clicking on bone became a tune that sang through the grunts of fighting men, the groans and oaths of stricken men. Steve and the girl went through the door.

Between moving arms and legs and bodies the cream of the Vauxhall showed. Men stood upon the automobile, using its height for vantage in the fight. Steve threw himself forward, swinging his stick against shin and thigh, toppling men from the machine. With his left hand he swept the girl around to his side. His body shook and rocked under the weight of blows from men who were packed too closely for any effectiveness except the smothering power of sheer weight.

His stick was suddenly gone from him. One instant he held and spun it; the next, he was holding up a clenched fist that was empty — the ebony had vanished as if in a puff of smoke. He swung the girl up over the car door, hammered her down into the car — jammed her down upon the legs of a man who stood there — heard a bone break, and saw the man go down. Hands gripped him everywhere; hands pounded him. He cried aloud with joy when he saw the girl, huddled on the floor of the car, working with ridiculously small hands at the car’s mechanism.

The machine began to move. Holding with his hands, he lashed both feet out behind. Got them back on the step. Struck over the girl’s head with a hand that had neither thought nor time to make a fist — struck stiff-fingered into a broad red face.

The car moved. One of the girl’s hands came up to grasp the wheel, holding the car straight along a street she could not see. A man fell on her. Steve pulled him off — tore pieces from him — tore hair and flesh. The car swerved, scraped a building; scraped one side clear of men. The hands that held Steve fell away from him, taking most of his clothing with them. He picked a man off the back of the seat, and pushed him down into the street that was flowing past them. Then he fell into the car beside the girl.

Pistols exploded behind them. From a house a little ahead a bitter-voiced rifle emptied itself at them, sieving a mudguard. Then the desert — white and smooth as a gigantic hospital bed — was around them. Whatever pursuit there had been was left far behind.

Presently the girl slowed down, stopped.

“Are you all right?” Steve asked.

“Yes; but you’re — ”

“All in one piece,” he assured her. “Let me take the wheel.”

“No! No!” she protested. “You’re bleeding. You’re — ”

“No! No!” he mocked her. “We’d better keep going until we hit something. We’re not far enough from Izzard yet to call ourselves safe.”

He was afraid that if she tried to patch him up he would fall apart in her hands. He felt like that.

She started the car, and they went on. A great sleepiness came to him. What a fight! What a fight!

Cane fighting seminar in Wuppertal, Germany

Instructor Stefan Dieke will be holding a seminar on the Vigny method of stick fighting on December 17th & 18th.

Topics:

* Vigny’s stick fighting concepts
* representative canonical techniques
* exploring variations
* similarities and differences between a cane and a singlestick and how this affects fighting techniques
* fundamental singlestick exercises and their adoptions for the cane
* abstract exercises building up fundamental skills

Venue: the Alte Kampfkunst historical martial arts school, Paradestr. 57 a
42107 Wuppertal, Germany

Fee: 130 Euro per participant

Details: (sorry, in German only) or contact info@alte-kampfkunst.de

International guests are welcome! The seminar can be held bilingually in German and English.

“… the value of the ordinary walking-stick ..” (1901)

An interesting snippet from a review of one of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu exhibitions at London’s Tivoli Theatre during August 1901.

After a jiujitsu demonstration …

… Mr Barton-Wright, to whose initiative the present interesting exhibition in town is due, shows by his pupils the value of the ordinary walking-stick as a means of self defence against the man who attacks with any weapon other than a firearm. The ordinary Malacca cane, quite unused to responsibilities of any sort, becomes suddenly endowed with a most valuable gift, and in the grip of a well-trained man, saves his head and hands from a weapon of tenfold weight. It is not too much to say that no man can afford to neglect such a simple precaution against sudden attack …

– The Music Hall and Theatre Review, 23 August, 1901

“Schools where men are taught to defend themselves against the attacks of street rowdies”

From the New York Tribune, August 30, 1903:

ART OF STICK DEFENCE.

A Ready Means of Warding Off Felonious Assaults.

In the crowded city as well as at the lonely crossroads a man never knows when he may be called upon to defend himself. However vigilant may be the police, however strong the windows of his house, one is never absolutely secure from thug or burglar. However regular nay be his habits, however restrained his desires, still there are emergencies which may keep a citizen out until the “owl” hours or call him into unfrequented byways.

Street gangs never seemed bolder than at the present time, and their attacks upon law-abiding citizens are of frequent occurrence. The majority limit their operations to the tenement house districts, but now and then they appear where least expected. Such was the case in the alleged attack upon David Lamar’s coachman in Long Branch by “Monk” Eastman and some other members of his notorious East Side gang.

When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick. A revolver is likely to harm him more than to help. As soon as a man reaches for his weapon, his adversary has the right to shoot, and the accomplished criminal is almost sure to have his weapon ready first. The stick is the better weapon, because it is quicker. It is in one’s hand already. It is always “loaded.”

In such a crisis the first blow counts. At such a time neither endurance nor strength is as important as quickness. There is only one round, and in most instances there is only one blow. The man who gives it first, and gives it right, is the victor. One does not need to be an experienced boxer or wrestler, for his adversary on such occasions is not likely to observe the Marquis of Queensberry rules or the laws of the Greco-Roman school of wrestling. Foul means are fair at such times.

In the city of London the crime of the highwayman and burglar has increased to such an extent that many schools have sprung up in the great English metropolis where one may learn the art of stick defence. These schools have proved popular, and many of the professional fencing and boxing masters have included courses in which the pupil is taught to handle the stick. The instruction is simple, and contrasts in a striking degree with the complicated science of fencing. Neither is it anything like the old art of handling the singlestick, where two men armed with sticks parry with each other for an opening to administer a blow.

Stick defence differs from all these manly exercises in this essential — it is not a pastime between sportsmen; it is a quick and safe method of knocking out a thug.

Many a busy New Yorker, however, would never learn the art of stick defence, even though he believed it would some day save his life, if he had to go to a gymnasium or a fencing school to learn it. “I simply haven’t the time,” such a man would say.

For the same reason he has long wished to be a boxer, and secretly envied the splendid muscles of the athletes he sees at the beach when be goes down there for a Sunday swim. Neither does he know anything about wrestling or many another manly sport which would not only befriend him in an hour of need, but, best of all, build up his physique and enable him to work harder and longer, and yet feel far less weary when he leaves his office at night.

Stick defence, however, can be learned at home more easily, perhaps, than any other art of self-defence, and after a few general rules are mastered the beginner may learn how to apply them in many effective ways. He must first of all have a roommate or some other good friend who is willing to play the “thug” and to be “knocked out” some half hundred times. In imagination the “thug’s” arms will be broken, his wrists and ankles dislocated and his neck twisted.

The thug who is of Anglo-Saxon origin generally makes his assault with his fists. If he doesn’t he pulls a pistol. His most common first attack is to strike his purposed victim in the face with his left hand, and to hold back his right ready for a blow in the stomach. Nine times out of ten such a ruffian overwhelms his man and even an experienced boxer may fail to thwart such an assault. But the man with a stick, should he handle himself right, ought not only to withstand his enemy, but break his arm.

As soon as the stick man sees what his assailant is up to he clutches his enemy’s left hand with his own, and with his right, holding his stick and guarding his stomach at the same time, he cracks the thug’s arm in the crazy bone, at the elbow. At the same time he strikes he twists the arm inward, so as to make the pain of the blow still more acute. If the stick man wants to strike hard enough he can break a thug’s arm in this way.

Should one find it impossible to use this device in withstanding a left-handed attack, there is another way which proves almost as effective.

As the thug rushes for his man the stick man grasps his cane at the small end with his left hand, and with his right he clutches it near the handle. His hands are near enough together, however, so that his right elbow is at an angle of 90 degrees, and with this protruding elbow he wards off the swing of the thug’s left arm. At the same time he thrusts the handle of his cane under the chin of his foe and topples him over on his back. In case „of a right-handed attack, the man with a stick meets it in the same fashion, but with opposite hands.

Unless the sight of a pistol’s muzzle unnerves him, the man with a cane is able to dispose „of the thug who pulls a gun easier than if he used only his fists. If the pistol puller is left handed, an upward blow of the cane is best, for it knocks the weapon high into the air, and does not swerve the barrel sidewise, (in which case) the bullet is likely to reach the heart of the intended victim.

But in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the gun is in the right hand, and the stick man need only drop to his knees and at the same time strike his would-be murderer a sharp sidewise crack on the knuckles to disarm him.

As the Anglo-Saxon uses his lists, so the Italian and Spaniard have recourse to the knife. Unless such a thug is left-handed, he strikes with his right hand, and he is met by the stick man in much the same way as a left-handed fist blow is averted by the thrust of the cane’s handle under the chin. The stick man, however, holds his arms differently. He now bends his left elbow to avert the stab and shield his vitals.

As a general thing the thrust of a cane under the chin partially strangles a thug and so disconcerts him that he drops the blade from his hand. Should the ruffian use his left hand, the man with a stick grasps his weapon with his right hand around its small end and his left about its centre, and with his right elbow shielding his breast he gives the strangling thrust into his enemy’s neck.

The German also has his way of holding up a pedestrian. In the gymnasium or the army he has been trained in the use of the broadsword, or even as a peasant boy he has had his “schlagen” matches with his playmates. So when a Teuton who has settled in the New World descends to deeds of violence, he generally uses a stick. His fate, however, at the hands of the master of stick defence is likely to be as instantaneous as that of the Anglo-Saxon or Italian.

In meeting this kind of enemy an umbrella or cane with a hooked handle is the best weapon. The stick man catches the cane of his foe, hooks his assailant around the neck and then jerks his head forward. At the same time he raises his knee so that the face of the thus strikes against it with great force. This treatment makes a man see so many stars that he invariably drops his cane and thus surrenders himself to the mercy of his victor.

Some thugs have a way of coming up on victims from behind and disconcerting them with a kick. The stick man who knows the tactics of thugs is prepared for this kind of assault. As soon as he suspects what is to occur he wheels on his heel and hooks the thug by the foot with the handle of his cane or umbrella. This is sure to send the ruffian over backward on to his back.

Another way is to dodge the kick, and crack the upraised leg with a stick over the knee. Such a blow will break a man’s leg if it be administered hard enough.

Tactics which might supplement those of the London stick men have been Introduced into the United States Navy. They are trick catches which are for the most part based on the Japanese system of wrestling. A sailor renders an assailant powerless simply by twisting his muscles the wrong way. It is called the leverage system, for the reason that it tends to pry a victim’s joints apart by using the bones as levers one against another. Should a New Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time.