Captain Alfred Hutton writes about his friends at the London Bartitsu Club

Captain Alfred Hutton was among the instructors who taught various branches of “antagonistics” at E.W. Barton-Wright’s School of Arms in London circa 1900.  One of England’s most prominent and respected swordsmen, Hutton was also the president of the Amateur Fencing Association and a pioneering practitioner of revived Elizabethan era fencing with weapons such as the rapier and dagger.

Although Hutton’s specialties do not appear to have been formally included as aspects of Bartitsu, it’s evident that there a good deal of cross-training took place at the Bartitsu Club; for a complete account, see Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London.

In an article for The Press newspaper (8 February 1904, Page 10), Captain Hutton reminisced about some colourful characters and incidents from his long experience of fencing.  He also offered the following remarks upon his Bartitsu Club colleagues and their methods of antagonistics:

Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.

These anecdotes clearly demonstrate that Hutton took a keen practical interest in the classes offered by his fellow Bartitsu Club “professors”. He occasionally demonstrated the Vigny method of self defence with a walking stick during interviews, and he offered a somewhat more detailed account of the Vigny system in his book The Sword and the Centuries.  It was also in that book that he described the Bartitsu Club as being “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

As it turned out, Hutton did find use for some of the 80 “kata” he learned from Tani and Uyenishi, beginning when he penned a short monograph on Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys. A few years later, Hutton demonstrated a number of jujitsu “tricks” for a panel of doctors working in one of London’s psychiatric hospitals.  This was almost certainly the first time Asian martial arts had been applied towards the problem of humane self defence and restraint in a therapeutic environment.

“Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London”

During the final decades of the 19th century, a cabal of fencers and historians led by Captain Alfred Hutton and his colleague, the writer Egerton Castle, undertook a systematic study and practical revival of combat with long-outmoded weapons such as the rapier and dagger, sword and buckler and two-handed sword. Their efforts presaged the current revival of historical fencing, a rapidly growing movement that directly parallels the modern renaissance of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu.

The book Ancient Swordplay details the origins, colourful heyday and ultimate decline of this unusual late-Victorian revival movement. Highlights include reports on many historical fencing exhibitions throughout the 1880s and ’90s, Hutton’s and Castle’s work as theatrical fight choreographers (who paid strict attention to historical accuracy) and Hutton’s determined efforts to revolutionise military sabre fencing with an infusion of “ancient swordplay”, especially that of the Elizabethan English master, George Silver.

Of particular interest to Bartitsu enthusiasts, Ancient Swordplay includes a chapter on Captain Hutton’s collaborations with E.W. Barton-Wright. In his book The Sword and the Centuries (1902), Hutton was moved to note that “the fence of the case of rapiers, as of all the other Elizabethan weapons, is much in vogue at the present time at the Bartitsu Club, now the headquarters of ancient swordplay in this country.”

For all their efforts, though, the Hutton/Castle revival did not directly survive their own generation. The final chapters examine the reasons why, coming to a conclusion that may surprise modern readers, and attempt to trace their legacy into the following decades of the 20th century.

Including numerous rare illustrations and a foreword by author Neal Stephenson, Ancient Swordplay is available now from the Freelance Academy Press website or . For a thorough historical context and commentary, please also see the new article Renaissance Swordplay, Victorian-style on the Freelancer blog.

“I look forward to the debate, sir!”

Some of our readers may fondly recall the short-lived 1982 TV series Q.E.D., starring Sam Waterston as Professor Quentin Everhart (or Everett) Deverill, an eccentric American scientist/detective who solved mysteries in Edwardian London.

During the first episode, Professor Deverill infiltrates and exposes a hoax spiritualist seance, much in the manner of Harry Houdini, and also in the spirit of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s article which exposed the secrets behind various feats of apparently superhuman strength.

Fittingly enough, when the exposed hoaxer calls in some bully-boys to deal with Professor Deverill, the latter responds with a very Bartitsu-like combination of fisticuffs and jiujitsu …

The seance begins at 5.53 in the following clip.


“Baritzu” in Australia (1906)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous rendering of Bartitsu as “baritsu” is now understood to have been due to a simple mistake. It’s most likely that Doyle, searching for an exotic way to explain how Sherlock Holmes had flung Professor Moriarty from the brink of Reichenbach Falls, had copied the word “baritsu” verbatim from a London Times newspaper review of a Bartitsu exhibition, which had made the same spelling error. At roughly the same time that The Adventure of the Empty House was published, E.W. Barton-Wright’s London Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time, thus prematurely ending Barton-Wright’s innovative martial arts experiments.

It would probably, therefore, have nonplussed both Doyle and Barton-Wright to learn that something called “Baritzu” would be practiced five years later by members of the Australian Armed Services.

Between June and December of 1902, soldiers of B Company (10th Australian Infantry Regiment) including Privates Marshall, Emery, Weeks and Verner, performed a series of “Baritzu” demonstrations alongside displays of Indian club swinging, bayonet fighting and sabre fencing. All of these items (apart from the mysterious Baritzu) were typical of military Assault at Arms exhibitions, in which various soldierly feats and skills were performed as public entertainment, often in aid of charitable causes.

In a preamble to one of their first Baritzu exhibitions, a Mr. W.B. Wilkinson addressed the audience and explained Baritzu by means of an almost verbatim quote from Barton-Wright’s 1899 article, The New Art of Self Defence:

He said that Baritzu, or the new self-defence, was composed of 300 methods of attack and counter-attack. This system had been devised with the purpose of rendering a person absolutely secure against any method of attack. It was not intended to take the place of boxing, fencing, wrestling, or any other recognised forms of attack and defence. It was claimed for it, however, that it comprised all the best points of these methods, and that it would be of inestimable advantage when occasions arose where neither boxing, wrestling, nor any of the known modes of resistance was of avail. The system had been carefully and scientifically planned; its principle might be summed up in a sound knowledge of balance and leverage, as applied to human anatomy.

Applying Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation would seem to be that a member of B Company had come across or saved a copy of Barton-Wright’s article, and that the Company used that as the inspiration for their novel Baritzu demonstrations. If so, then Marshall, Emery, Weeks and Verner must have been among the first Bartitsu revivalists, active only five years after the actual art had, for most practical purposes, ceased to exist. It’s diverting to imagine them poring over Barton-Wright’s articles, much as Bartitsu revivalists do today.

It’s even more diverting to speculate as to how the art came to be known to B Company as Baritzu. Barton-Wright’s first article for Pearson’s Magazine (quoted above by Mr. Wilkinson) had not actually referred to Bartitsu by name; the word was, however, used in the introduction to the second article. Doyle’s “baritsu” had, of course, gained some pop-culture currency by 1906. Perhaps the simplest explanation here is that there was a confusion between Bartitsu – the real, but then all-but-extinct self defence method – and baritsu – the entirely fictional fighting style of Sherlock Holmes – by soldiers who were vaguely aware of the connection but even less particular than Doyle was about spelling.

A very peculiar case of life imitating (martial) art ..

“The Georgia Wonder Meets the Great Japanese Wrestler”

Lulu Hurst, also known variously as the “Little Georgia Wonder” and as the “Georgia Magnet”, was a music hall sensation during the mid-late 19th century. Claiming to possess a supernatural power of electrical or magnetic force, but in fact skilfully exploiting subtle principles of physics, anatomy and the ideomotor effect, the apparently frail “Magnet” was often matched against heavyweight strongmen, boxers and wrestlers in carefully controlled “tests” using simple props such as pool cues, wooden chairs and umbrellas. The results were often both spectacular and amusing to the “Magnet’s” many fans.

Later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright was to produce a written expose of the “magnetic act”, including many of the feats first popularised by Lulu Hurst.

There follows an account of one of the “Georgia Magnet’s” New York performances, pitting her skills against the strength of sumo wrestler Sorakichi Matsuda (misspelled as Matsada in the report):

There was the usual overflowing, shouting crowd in the Brooklyn Theater last night, and the cues and canes and chairs, with the fifteen or twenty assorted men who martyred themselves for the cause of science, went waltzing across the floor with the customary mad dance. The usual exciting scenes with wrecked umbrellas, canes and cues took place until the feature of the evening was introduced, the struggle over the chair by the Georgia Wonder and the celebrated Japanese wrestler, Matsada.

The Oriental Orlando struggled and tugged, and did his level best, while Lulu, calm and smiling, dashed the Japanese around the stage amid the shouts and plaudits of an excited house. The audience went wild in their wrought up enthusiasm over this wonderful and exciting scene.

Then Matsada and four helpers clinging to the chair could not force it to the floor, and when the almond-eyed son of the East came back to his box he was heated, tired, panting and exhausted, while his fair antagonist was apparently as cool and fresh as ever.

ISMAC Bartitsu 2010

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent in any particular position, as the system embraces every possible eventuality, and your defence and counter attack must be entirely based upon the tactics of your opponent. – E.W. Barton-Wright, 1899

Barton-Wright’s precept of adaptability was the central theme of the Bartitsu intensive held at the 2010 International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention between September 3-6. The Bartitsu course comprised three two-hour long classes, commencing at 9.00 each morning of the event, and was taught by Tony Wolf.

Day 1 began with a precis of Bartitsu history and then moved into biomechanics exercises, concentrating on the image of the standing human body as an isosceles triangle and exploring the limits of triangular stability. Participants started with solo movements and then experimented with various pushing and pulling techniques to de-stabilise their partners, following Barton-Wright’s first and second principles; “to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant” and “to surprise him before he has a chance to use his strength”.

These exercises were then extended into a basic boxing sequence (parry left lead off, counter with left and straight right combination) in which slow “pressing” contact was made, then adding in a low chopping kick to either the lead or rear ankle/shin. To this sequence was then added the third principle of “straining joints” via leverage against the head and neck, elbows etc., with the choice of joint lock or de-stabilising hold depending on the partner’s physical position following the punches and the kick.

Day 2 commenced with a recap of the (kick)boxing work and then segued into a selection of the canonical Bartitsu stickfighting sequences. Again, the emphasis was on freely applying Barton-Wright’s “three principles” in response to the opponent’s spontaneous defensive and/or counter-offensive actions, as a “bridge” between set-plays and free sparring.

Day 3 also began with a brief (kick)boxing based review, followed by a close examination of two of the canonical jiujitsu paired kata from the tactical and dynamic points of view. The classical set-plays were then “twisted” on the assumption that the opponent muscled through or otherwise interrupted the set sequence of events, the defender’s challenge being to ride with the interruption and spontaneously apply the imbalancing, surprise and joint-locking principles to regain the initiative. There was a digression at one point into a specific newaza (ground grappling) submission lock as an example of maintaining control should the thrown opponent pull the defender down with them.

The mystery of the “Japanised Englishman”

Pieter M.C. Toepoel was, in a sense, the E.W. Barton-Wright of the Netherlands. A boxing and physical culture teacher and something of a free-thinker, attracted to novelties, Toepoel was the first man to teach Japanese martial arts in Holland. He eventually developed a Bartitsu-like method combining boxing, jiujitsu and even self defence with a walking stick.

In his 1910 book Het origineele jujutsu, Toepoel recalled that:

…in 1899 I read in an English Magazine about an international system of self defence which had used amongst others a couple of pins from jiujitsu.

This is obviously a reference to E.W. Barton-Wright’s Pearsons Magazine articles on Bartitsu. Thus inspired, Toepoel made his way to London and possibly Paris and seems to have picked up an eclectic jiujitsu education. His book name-drops former Bartitsu Club instructors Sadakazu Uyenishi and Yukio Tani as well as Koyama, Miyami, Re-nie (Ernest Regnier, who pioneered jiujitsu in Paris), Okashi, Saito and Apollo (strongman William Bankier, who became Tani’s manager after the Bartitsu Club era), but does not identify Toepoel’s (main?) instructor in the art.

Most puzzlingly, Toepoel refers to learning jiujitsu upon the thin carpet of a shabby old London boxing club, and described his teacher – introduced to him by some boxing acquaintances – as a “Japanised Englishman” who had trained daily for seven years with Taro Miyake. Toepoel further notes that they would stop practicing when others entered the club, implying that this was a security precaution so that others would not “steal” their techniques; he was also apparently made to promise that he would never teach jiujitsu himself in the UK.

This is all very curious; who was the “Japanised Englishman”, and why all the secrecy?

Toepoel refers to both Tani’s Oxford Street school and to Uyenishi’s Golden Square dojo, which would seem to date his training in London to the period of roughly 1904-1909. By that time, there were several books and numerous articles available on jiujitsu, not to mention two full-time schools and several rather marginal ones. Although Japanese wrestling was hardly being taught on every street corner, it was quite widely available and it’s odd that a jiujitsu teacher at that time would have been quite so secretive.

Taro Miyake arrived in London in 1905, so it would seem to be impossible that any English jiujitsuka could have trained with him for seven years prior to 1910, unless that person had begun studying with Miyake in Japan.

On the face of it, and assuming that Pieter Toepoel was above adding in a bit of spurious detail for the sake of drama, there were only a few jiujitsu practitioners in London at that time who could conceivably have been described as “Japanised Englishmen”. Our candidates include:

E.W. Barton-Wright, who does not seem to have impressed anyone else as being “Japanised”, but who had spent three years in Japan and apparently spoke Japanese tolerably well.

William Garrud, who was teaching his own classes (in person and by correspondence) by 1905, but Garrud was possibly even less “Japanised” than was Barton-Wright.

“Professor Vernon-Smith”, who advertised jiujitsu classes at his Anglo-Japanese Institute of Self Defence (3 Vernon Place, Bloomsbury Square). The latter school seems to have employed Sadakazu Uyenishi as well as “a staff of expert instructors teaching gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, fencing, la savate etc.”; very little else is known about it, or about Vernon-Smith.

William E. Steers, a passionate Japanophile who travelled to Japan in 1903, studied jiujitsu there with fellow expatriate Englishman E.J. Harrison and returned to London in 1904, where he began training at Sadakazu Uyenishi’s school. Later, circa May 1912, Steers went back to Japan and studied judo with founder Jigoro Kano, who described him as being “the most earnest foreign student I have ever had”.

On the face of it, W.E. Steers seems to be the best candidate. The dates roughly match up and Steers’ huge enthusiasm for all things Japanese might well have led to his being characterised as a “Japanised Englishman”. The detail of Toepoel’s instructor training for seven years with Taro Miyake is still puzzling, in that Miyake was affiliated with Tani’s Oxford Street school, while Steers was enrolled at Uyenishi’s dojo at Golden Square. However, it is reported that Steers did study judo with the famous Mitsuyo Maeda from the year 1907, when the latter first arrived in London.

Shifting into pure speculation; assuming that W.E. Steers was Pieter Toepoel’s jiujitsu teacher, why would there have been such secrecy surrounding their lessons? Perhaps Steers felt that he was not really qualified to teach the art; I have found no other records of him as an instructor, though he was active and influential at the administrative level during the early years of the London Budokwai. As he was not a teacher in any official sense, though, Steers would presumably not have been concerned about Toepoel as a potential commercial rival, so why would he have required that the latter promise never to teach jiujitsu in the UK?

Also, Steers was evidently quite a wealthy man, so a shabby, thinly-carpeted boxing school seems an odd choice for a training venue, unless, again, Toepoel’s lessons were being “hidden” for some reason.

Research is ongoing …

Speculations on Bartitsu (kick)boxing

Update: since the following article was written, the Bartitsu Society has come across this 1901 interview with E.W. Barton-Wright that offers some more information on his conception of “Bartitsu kickboxing”.

E.W. Barton-Wright evidently felt that while both boxing and kicking had their places within Bartitsu, they required substantial modification for use in actual self defence. Unfortunately, he never detailed the nature of his modifications, which leaves this aspect of the Bartitsu curriculum open to speculation based on a set of cryptic hints. This article examines his comments on boxing and kicking and offers some educated guesses about their place in the repertoire.

Barton-Wright was fulsome in his praise of boxing, which was virtually synonymous with the idea of “self defence” in London at the turn of the 20th century. In introducing his radical cross-training concept of Bartitsu, however, he was also careful to point out that even “manly and efficacious” British fisticuffs might not be enough to cope with a determined street attacker who didn’t play by the rules:

If one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field. – Barton-Wright, “Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900

Taken at face value, this comment suggests that the forewarned but unarmed Bartitsu-trained defender would adopt a boxing guard and spar specifically in order to “sucker” their adversary into close quarters. At that point the defender would deploy jiujitsu as a sort of secret weapon. In fact, both of Barton-Wright’s “boxing” scenarios in that article proposed that an unarmed fight might begin with fisticuffs, but would end with jiujitsu:

Again, should it happen that the assailant is a better boxer than oneself, the knowledge of Japanese wrestling will enable one to close and throw him without any risk of getting hurt oneself. – Ibid.

He was less enthusiastic about French kickboxing. While acknowledging that kicking and countering kicks were important aspects of self defence training, he asserted that:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate. This latter … is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it. – Ibid.

Another cryptic comment on the subject of kicking in self defence:

Mr. Barton-Wright does not profess to teach his pupils how to kick each other, but merely to know how to be able to return kicks with interest should one be attacked in this manner. – Ibid.

Later, an article in the Pall Mall Gazette also mentioned that the kicking methods adopted at the Bartitsu Club were “somewhat different from the accepted French method.”

In considering Barton-Wright’s comments on savate, it’s worth recalling the traditional Anglo-French rivalry and the middle-class London cultural bias against kicking in self defence as being “un-English”. Also, at a time of very intense nationalism, B-W’s idea that it was socially “permissible” for English gentlemen to learn these foreign skills was still relatively novel and probably not universally accepted. Perhaps B-W deliberately de-emphasised the kicking content of Bartitsu and distanced it from the French method in his articles and lectures as a gesture towards social respectability. Likewise, he may have been attempting to score points by suggesting that the Bartitsu Club was promoting a “new, improved” (even an Anglicised) version of savate.

Both Barton-Wright himself and Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny were primarily interested in teaching pragmatic self-defence, so it’s likely that neither of them had much time for the balletic, light-contact, high kicking style that was then becoming popular as a bourgeois exercise in Paris. If we take B-W’s comments on kicking literally, then presumably he was simply advocating generic street fighting kicks of no particular national origin.

Several months later, in a lecture for the Japan Society of London, he noted that:

Under Bartitsu is included boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking stick as a means of self-defence. Judo and jujitsu, which (are) secret styles of Japanese wrestling, (I) would call close play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, (one) must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick … judo and jiujitsu are not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but (are) only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters, it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot. – Barton-Wright, “Jiu jitsu and Judo: the Japanese Art of Self Defence from a British Athletic Point of View”, February 1901

And then:

Directly one (sees) a man, one ought to know whether he (is) a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in one’s self. – Ibid

This reads as if Barton-Wright was moving towards a more specifically integrated unarmed combat system, perhaps combining the defensive aspects of boxing and savate (guards, slips, parries etc.) with a limited range of punches and kicks. These would be transitional, counter-offensive actions between the preferred ranges of stick fighting and jiujitsu. Thus, again, the unarmed/disarmed Bartitsu practitioner might assume a boxing guard stance and defend/counter according to orthodox Anglo-French styles, but then segue into jiujitsu to actually bring the fight to a close.

Barton-Wright’s articles on “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” include several defence sequences that feature boxing punches and savate kicks, but in each case, the context is the Bartitsu-trained defender countering punching or kicking attacks with his trusty cane. The Black and White Budget article also featured a photograph of Vigny executing what looks like a waist-high front thrust or crescent kick. The implication is that students at the Bartitsu Club might have practiced the basic offensive techniques of boxing and savate partially in order to simulate the types of attacks they might face in the streets; to “role-play” as boxers and savateurs for training purposes.

Barton-Wright’s reference to “more numerous guards”, performed in a “slightly different style” to orthodox boxing, may be significant. It seems highly likely that he and Vigny would have discounted those techniques that relied upon either fighter wearing boxing gloves. If so, they may have been inspired by the older, pre-Queensberry Rules versions of pugilism and savate, which were designed for bare-knuckle fighting and did include a diverse range of guards. Also, Bartitsu defences against unarmed striking attacks were not restricted by the rules of boxing; the counter-attack might be a kick, a punch, a jiujitsu atemi strike, a throw and/or a submission technique.

While the most dangerous stick and jiujitsu techniques could not be fully applied in safe training, via recreational (kick)boxing the Bartitsu practitioner could still attain the sense of timing, distance, contact and unpredictability that can only be honed by unrehearsed sparring.

Due to the speculative nature of canonical Bartitsu (kick)boxing, Bartitsu revivalists tend to take an eclectic approach to their kicking and punching curricula, drawing from various late 19th and early 20th century sources.