Review: “100 Years of Judo in Great Britain”, Volume 1

This review is specific to Volume 1 of a two-part series of books by the late judoka and historian Richard Bowen (1926-2005), whose extensive private collection of judo/jujitsu books and ephemera now forms the Bowen Collection at Bath University.

The “Reclaiming of its true spirit” subtitle is curious, in that aside from a few scattered editorial comments, the book does not actually address reclaiming judo’s “true spirit”. Rather, Volume 1 of 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain offers a very thorough history of the early 20th century personalities and politics of jujitsu and judo in the UK, with generous asides exploring Japanese martial arts in the USA and elsewhere during the same period.

Bowen was obviously a devoted and very careful scholar, with long-term access to rare archives, diaries etc. in addition to in-depth first-hand knowledge of the subject and many of its principal figures. Specific to Bartitsu, he performed pioneering research into the lives of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright, music hall challenge wrestlers Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi and strongman/jujitsu promoter William “Apollo” Bankier, amongst many other notables. 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain cites and offers extensive quotes from numerous c1900 newspaper articles, etc. that promise to open new doors for contemporary Bartitsu researchers. Also, students of Brazilian jujitsu/MMA history will be interested to read about Mitsuyo “Conde Koma” Maeda’s early experiences as a challenge wrestler in London.

Perhaps unavoidably, given that the book was published posthumously, some sections are obviously better polished than others. Frustratingly at times, there are no chapter headings, contents pages nor index, though there are almost 100 pages of carefully annotated end-notes. The proof-reading also leaves quite a lot to be desired. Ultimately, though, these are minor quibbles in comparison with the absolute wealth of knowledge and detail to be found in this book. It is a unique and very valuable contribution to martial arts scholarship.

“… 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

Today in history – “Jujitsu and Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence from the British Athletic Point of View”

One hundred and ten years ago today, E.W. Barton-Wright presented his seminal lecture, Jujitsu and Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence from the British Athletic Point of View for the Japan Society of London.

Although a significant event in the very early history of jujitsu in the Western world, Barton-Wright’s lecture had at least one precedent. Some ten years earlier, at the inaugural meeting of the Japan Society, the prominent Japanese banker and judoka, Mr. Tetsuro Shidachi, had delivered a similar lecture, entitled Jujitsu: The Ancient Art of Self Defence by Sleight of Body. Mr. Shidachi’s notes were subsequently developed into a popular article and may even have inspired Barton-Wright’s own training in Japan, which took place between 1895-98.

Before introducing Barton-Wright, the chairman, Mr. Arthur Diosy, paid formal homage to the late Queen Victoria, whose recent death was still being mourned throughout the British Commonwealth. He then referred to the previous lecture and noted that while Mr. Shidachi had concentrated especially on the moral and intellectual aspects of Japanese unarmed combat, Barton-Wright proposed to address it from the practical perspective of the British athlete.

The lecturer commenced with one of his most comprehensive descriptions of Bartitsu, explaining first that the word was simply a portmanteau of his own surname and of jujitsu, which he defined, curiously, as meaning “a fight to the last”. Bartitsu, he continued, implied “self defence in every form, and not in one particular branch”. He went on:

Under “Bar-titsu” I comprise 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 in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers. Judo and Ju-jitsu, 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 absolute immunity as against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, we 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 specially liable to bring about absolute collapse if scientifically attacked. The same remarks, of course, apply to the use of the foot or the stick. Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were 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.

He then proceeded into a thorough precis of judo and jujitsu, although it’s evident either that some of his definitions of Japanese terms were eccentric, or that the secretary, who was recording the lecture for posterity, became confused by the technical jargon.

After an accurate summary of judo as having been founded by Professor Kano and consisting of techniques of yielding rather than resisting, Barton-Wright was then recorded as having defined jujitsu as what we, today, would call submission wrestling. It is, perhaps, more likely that he meant to distinguish judo from jujitsu by noting that (circa 1900) the former discipline concentrated on throwing techniques, whereas certain schools of the latter were more focused on ne-waza grappling and restraint methods.

Barton-Wright noted that European wrestling champions, including “the Terrible Greek” (Antonio Pierri), had refused to wrestle with his Bartitsu Club champions, for fear of having their necks broken. This may not have been showman’s hyperbole; the practice of grappling to the point of submission via joint-locks or choke-holds was entirely novel in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and many members of the wrestling establishment criticised it as being barbaric.

The secretary appears to have become confused again in recording Barton-Wright’s definition of kata as “a form of wrestling … in which leverage and balance played the principal parts”. In fact, kata are specifically pre-arranged drills; they do usefully teach the skills of leverage and balance, but they do not comprise a form of wrestling in themselves.

Barton-Wright then noted that one reason for the strength of the Japanese wrestlers was that there was very little “animal power” in Japan, i.e., that horses and cattle were comparatively seldom employed as beasts of burden, so that a great deal of human muscular strength was necessarily developed via manual labour. More specific to his subject, he mentioned that it took three months to train the muscles of the neck to the point where they could resist strangling.

There followed a series of practical demonstrations of various jujitsu throws – Barton-Wright took care to reassure his audience that the demonstrators, K. Tani and S. Yamamoto, were not hurt in taking their falls – and then joint-locking techniques. Next was an exhibition of the famous “pole trick” in which the prone Yamamoto, with his hands bound behind his back, wriggled out from beneath a bamboo pole pressed across his throat by six men, while two more attempted to pin his legs to the floor and another two stood on him; a feat of jujitsu escapology that was to become a staple of public Bartitsu demonstrations.

For the finale, Barton-Wright himself demonstrated a series of throws and locks upon a volunteer from the audience, the 6’+ Lieutenant Douglas of the 7th Prussian Cuirassiers, who was a visitor to the Japan Club.

Replying to questions from the onlookers, Barton-Wright said that weight was of no consequence in jujitsu, noting that “leading English pugilists” had refused to try their strength with Tani, because they shared the Terrible Greek’s fear of getting their necks broken. In response to a query about catch-as-catch-can wrestling, he replied that it was effective “in uncivilized countries (against) unclothed men”, but that in civilized countries judo and jujitsu were superior means of self-defence. This was almost certainly a reference to the use of the gi jacket in effecting throws and strangling grips. Barton-Wright would later made the same point to wrestlers who complained about his jacketed submission wrestling rules, noting that if a man was attacked in the street, both himself and his assailant were likely to be wearing coats or jackets.

As to how this art of self-defence would avail in a struggle with a violent drunken man requiring six men to hold him down, Mr. Barton-Wright said that a “lock” could easily be put on a drunken man by which he could be escorted. At the Japanese ports, he said, burly sailors had been picked up by small Japanese policemen and thrown into the sea, the sailors saying that the police officers were “demons”. Both question and answer in this case were very likely inspired by an anecdote about an English sailor in a Japanese port town, related in Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 essay “The Edge of the East”. That essay had also been cited in a footnote to Shidachi’s lecture.

… the beauty of life penetrates (the sailor’s) being insensibly till he gets drunk, falls foul of the local policeman, smites him into the nearest canal, and disposes of the question of treaty revision with a hiccup. All the same, Jack says that he has a grievance against the policeman, who is paid a dollar for every strayed seaman he brings up to the Consular Courts for overstaying his leave, and so forth. Jack says that the little fellows deliberately hinder him from getting back to his ship, and then with devilish art and craft of wrestling tricks – “there are about a hundred of ’em, and they can throw you with every qualified one” – carry him to justice.
– Kipling, “The Edge of the East”

Although the details evidently changed in re-telling, the image of the small Japanese police officer manhandling the drunken English sailor seems to have penetrated the popular imagination of the time; the same anecdote would re-appear some six years later during the “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy in Health and Strength Magazine.

There followed a miscellany of questions; was jujitsu commonly taught in Japan? No, there were people who had lived there for thirty years and knew nothing of it. Barton-Wright further reported that the Japanese had been suspicious of him when he expressed an interest in the art, that he could not, initially, persuade anyone to return with him to England and display it in the music halls, and that he, himself, had not been taught its higher forms. It was never taught nor exhibited for money in Japan and Professor Kano taught judo for purely altruistic reasons.

Referring to the ethic of self control among combat athletes, Mr. G.C. Haite commented that forbearance was common among his friends who were boxers and wrestlers, so that the Japanese were not singular in that respect. Barton-Wright replied:

Things are different to this on the Continent. In some countries six or seven men think nothing of attacking one. There is a mental as well as a physical side to this training, which is never acquired without practice. 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 oneself.

The Chairman, Mr. Diosy, then proposed a vote of thanks to the lecturer, saying that “this wonderful art of self-defence, when used as it should be, in defending the weak against the strong, would be of great service in those countries where one would not find fair play.”

Mr. Haite seconded the Vote, which was carried by acclamation.

“The tricks of other trades”; French boxing at the Alhambra (1898)

Beginning in early November of 1898, Georges D’armoric presented a series of displays of la boxe Français at London’s Alhambra music hall. The Alhambra exhibitions are particularly interesting insofar as they reveal the sentiment of late-Victorian London audiences towards “exotic” arts of self defence, and in that they closely proceeded E.W. Barton-Wright’s efforts to popularise Bartitsu, which also included displays at the Alhambra.

D’armoric evidently intended his exhibitions to educate the British public as to the virtues of “fencing with four limbs” and stick fighting, both as gentlemanly athletic accomplishments and as practical means of self defence. Earlier that year, he had published a booklet entitled Les Boxeurs Français: Treatise-argumentative-on the French method of the Noble Art of Self Defence, which put forth his case in erudite terms.

Faced with the music hall-going public’s insatiable demand for novel entertainments, however, Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater’s promotion may have rather sabotaged D’armoric’s high-minded goals. Quoted in an article in the London Daily Mail of October 31, Slater said “the audience will go into fits of laughter, as the show is one of the funniest in the world”.

The Daily Mail article continued:

It is hardly likely that (D’armoric’s) efforts will meet with much success, and the main reason is that this really is the country of sportsmen who look upon men who kick as a degrading and cowardly set of curs. But for all that, they will go to the Alhambra to see “Les Boxeurs Francais”, just for the fun of the thing. Whether or not they will have much sympathy for the professors of the Chausson from “gay Paree” is quite a different matter.

The origins of the middle-class, urban Anglo-Saxon bias against kicking are obscure. Striking an opponent with the feet had long been banned by the conventions, if not literally the rules, of boxing. Neither the revised Rules of the London Prize Ring nor those dedicated to the Marquis of Queensberry specifically prohibited kicking, presumably because it was simply taken for granted that boxers would not kick. Certainly, late-Victorian literature makes much reference to the act of kicking an opponent as being “unmanly”, “brutal”, etc.

At least one British method of antagonistics had cultivated the art of kicking, though by 1898, the fearsomely weaponised shoes of rural Devonshire wrestlers, which had played merry havoc with their opponents’ shins in bloody purring contests throughout the first three-quarters on the 19th century, had become the stuff of folk memory. Even during their heyday, when chanced upon by literate urbanites who deigned to record these matches for posterity, the gory mess that was made of Devonshire wrestlers’ lower legs seem to have inspired greater revulsion than the “spout of claret” occasioned by a boxer’s stiff left lead-off or right cross-counter. Ultimately, it is likely that kicking fell out of fashion due to the same civilising impulse that eventually replaced bare-knuckle prize fighting with gloved boxing.

Whatever its cultural origins, by the 1890s the English resistance to kicking was entrenched enough to be remarked upon by several reviewers of the Alhambra exhibitions:

(…) the whole business appears too opposed to our insular ideas of boxing to excite any real interest in the performance.

(…) the British portion of the audience look on with amused toleration, which in the gallery sometimes finds voice in rough and ready criticism. Looked at as an exhibition of graceful agility, the show is a good one, but taken as a serious exposition of a means of self-defense, it seems scarcely worthy of the attention bestowed upon it.

There were also more technical objections:

Setting aside our insular prejudice against kicking, there remains the objection that in nine cases out of ten, despite the marvellous balancing power of these French boxers, the kicker, as soon as he raises his foot a certain distance from the ground, weakens his defense immeasurably. The comparative slowness of the action in striking with the foot, as compared with the fist, together with the fact that much of the force of the blow is spent in secondary movements, also militate against the punitive effects of the art. Nevertheless, the exhibition is an interesting one (…)

This context may help to explain Barton-Wright’s own comments on the kicking content of his Bartitsu curriculum. He took pains to distinguish the kicks practiced at the Bartitsu Club from “the French style”, but omitted to explain what the difference was; given his strong preference for self defence-oriented techniques, he may have preferred to concentrate on low kicks over the more gymnastic high kicking style that was displayed by D’armoric and his colleagues at the Alhambra.

Two years later, the Alhambra exhibition was cited in W.T.A. Beare’s article Antagonistics: A Comparison of Some Methods of Self Defence for Sandow’s Magazine. Perhaps this passage is revealing as to the curious bias shown by earlier reviewers, and which was subsequently repeated by British boxers and wrestlers provoked by Barton-Wright’s jujitsu challenge contests:

Even if not always openly expressed, there has generally been the inference conveyed by the promoters of these new methods that they are superior to our good old English system of fisticuffs; and such expertness and agility have been displayed by the demonstrators that there is little occasion for surprise if many people have arrived at the conclusion that here was something entirely new, something which would nonplus our professors of the “noble art,” and which, to be fully equipped for attack or defence, we should immediately proceed to at least assimilate and superimpose upon our ancient methods, even if we should not abandon these latter altogether.

Perhaps, given the traditional Anglo-French rivalries, the mere fact of difference was enough to conjure a reflexive antagonism, or an assumption of challenge, in the English audience. If so, then D’armoric’s exhibitions may have struck a cultural nerve as symbols of French militarism.

Beare, however, was fair-minded, and in reviewing both French boxing and Bartitsu as he had witnessed them on the Alhambra stage, he concluded:

If, however, I do not admit the superior excellence of this system of fighting to our English system, I am prepared to concede its value in some respects. Its practice must tend to strengthen the legs and to give a man great command over the movements of his body in almost any position; it will render him more agile, and an acquaintance with its main features will prepare him to resist attack in that form.

It is a maxim with many English trainers and instructors, no matter what the game may be, that it is best to specialise and confine attention to the one thing in hand. The running man must not walk, nor vice versa, and if he be a sprinter he must never run distances. The cricketer must not dally with lawn tennis of golf. The Rugby footballer must never play the Association game, and so-on. So, in boxing and wrestling – but the one system must be practised, for indulgence in other forms will vitiate the style, and render the man slow and tame.

Now, with these propositions I do not at all agree. I do not believe in specialism in sport, and much more does the fairly capable all-round athlete command my admiration than the expert in one form of sport or exercise who is a rank duffer in most others.

It must, of course, be conceded that when a man has set himself to attempt some particular feat, or is matched against others in some special form of contest, he should pay, in the later stages of his preparation, exclusive attention to that one thing; but the true athlete should possess a ground-work of all-round excellence, and should not specialise until he has developed all the powers of his body.

In this particular connection I say that an acquaintance with the various different styles of self-defence is of distinct value to the man who would be a good boxer. He cannot know too much, and, though he may not require to use all his tricks in an actual contest, yet the knowledge that he has reserves to call upon at need in the case of an unexpected attack will lend him increased confidence; and he is much less likely to be taken by surprise if he is already well-acquainted with the tricks of other trades.

E.W. Barton-Wright would have applauded.

E.W. Barton-Wright on “How to Pose as a Strong Man”

Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s article How to Pose as a Strong Man was first published in the January, 1899 edition of Pearson’s Magazine. Presented as an instruction manual of eleven parlour tricks for amateur entertainers, the article doubled as an expose of feats that had been made famous by vaudeville and music hall performers such as Lulu Hurst and Annie May Abbott.

Hurst, Abbott and their imitators claimed that they possessed a mysterious electrical or magnetic force that allowed them to overcome or resist the strength of large, strong men, often with the use of simple props such as chairs, pool cues, walking canes or umbrellas:

This report from the Fielding Star, 25 October 1899, is typical:

(Annie Abbott) is only a small person weighing 100 lbs and yet strong men were unable to lift her whenever she desired to offer resistance – a resistance which evidently was not mere physical strength, but a wonderful power which she possesses. On the other hand she was able to raise men with a mere touch of the hand. One of her most extraordinary feats was where seven men were piled on a chair and Miss Abbott raised the mass of humanity a few inches off the stage by a mere touch of the hand.

Experiments with boys were also extraordinary. A boy from the audience was asked to stand in the centre of the aisle, half way down the hall, and a gentleman in the audience was asked to lift him off his feet. Under ordinary circumstances this could easily have been done, but Miss Abbott exercised some unknown power over the boy and the gentleman was unable to lift him off his feet. Various other tests were given by Miss Abbott, and in all she successfully resisted the forces pitted against her, giving an astounding manifestation of some force other than that making up the ordinary phenomena of nature.

As an engineer with a background in martial arts training and an interest in both electrical technologies and showmanship, Barton-Wright was almost uniquely qualified to assess and explain these “tests”:

It must not be supposed that it is necessary to possess any unusual strength to pose as a strong man; indeed, in many strong men’s feats, strength plays a less important part than knack and trickery.

… (The Georgia Magnet) declared that it was solely owing to the fact that she possessed remarkable magnetic and electric powers that she was able to perform these feats. This, of course, was not the case, for anyone of average strength, who follows these instructions, will be able to perform them.

The article explains the feats of the “Electric Girls” as demonstrations of trickery via subtle bio-mechanics and the power of suggestion, making clever use of leverage and the ideomotor effect. Some twenty years later, magician, escapologist and arch-skeptic Harry Houdini would also pick up on the relationship between martial arts techniques and those of the music hall charlatans …

… who gave the world of science a decided start about a generation ago.

The jiu jitsu of the Japanese is, in part, a development of the same principles, but here again much new material has been added, so that it deserves to be considered a new art.

– Harry Houdini, Miracle Mongers and their Methods, 1920

These feats are amusing to perform and can be useful in teaching skills of balance manipulation, but it is ironic that despite being thoroughly debunked over a hundred years ago, they are still sometimes exhibited as demonstrations of unexplained (para)physical power. A novel commercial twist may be seen in the “tests” associated with products such as wristbands or pendants claimed to be imbued with “frequencies” that improve balance, strength and flexibility:

Caveat emptor …

“… an athletic class for people of good standing …”

By mid-1899, E.W. Barton-Wright was busy attracting support for his novel venture; a Club dedicated to the instruction of physical culture and self defence. Late-Victorian London was already home to several athletic clubs, including the Inns of Court School of Arms and the German Gymnasium, in which gymnasts rubbed shoulders with fencers, boxers and wrestlers. Barton-Wright’s plan, however, was to focus the activities of his Club squarely on his “new art of self defence”, Bartitsu.

According to the custom of the day, he set about attracting influential “names”; people whose reputations and social standing would help to guarantee his Club’s propriety in the highly class-conscious London of the late 19th century.

“Fencing and Bartitsu at the Bath Club” in 1899. Captain Alfred Hutton and W.H. Grenfell demonstrate rapier and dagger fencing, while E.W. Barton-Wright displays Japanese unarmed combat.

During a series of popular demonstrations in which Barton-Wright’s “new art” was exhibited alongside Captain Alfred Hutton’s revival of historical fencing, the founder of Bartitsu became acquainted with both Hutton and the latter’s colleague, William Henry Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough. Both men were quickly drafted into helping to promote Barton-Wright’s Club. Hutton joined the venture both as a Committeeman, responsible for “vetting” the names of people applying to join the Club, and as an instructor, teaching his rejuvenated methods of antique fencing to members of London’s theatrical elite for use in stage combat.

Grenfell accepted the position of Bartitsu Club President, and enthusiastically described Barton-Wright’s vision for reporters. His comments are revealing, not only with regards the conception of Bartitsu as a martial art, but also of the differences between Victorian and contemporary ideas of what a “martial arts club” actually was:

“The idea,” said Mr. Grenfell, to a “Daily Mail” representative, “is to establish an athletic class for people of good standing, and it seemed to us best to establish it in the form of a club, so as to be able to exclude undesirable persons. So members will be able to come themselves, and to send their children and the ladies of their family for instruction with every assurance that they will be running no risk of objectionable associations.”

“Is Bartitsu, then, a sport for women and children?”

”Oh, we are not going to confine ourselves to Japanese wrestling. Athletic exercises of many kinds and physical culture will be taught, but with this difference, that physical culture will be taught in a new form, which will make it interesting.”

“And this new art of self-defence?”

”Bartitsu; that will be taught as part of the general scheme of physical culture. And you know it is very desirable to teach people how to protect themselves against violence.”

“But does not the noble art of self-defence do that – the art of using the fists?”

”No. In the first place the violent ruffian is likely to be fairly proficient in the use of the fists, and in the second place the stronger and heavier man has an overwhelming advantage in fist fighting. The great thing is to show people every possible form of attack to which they may be subjected, and to teach them how, by the application of scientific principles, every attack may be successfully met. Bartitsu teaches you how to overcome an opponent of superior weight by using his weight against himself, of throwing him by yielding instead of resisting, and of gripping him in various ways so as to put such a strain on his joints that however strong he may be he will be completely at your mercy. Then it teaches you how to fall so that the fact of being thrown will give you an advantage over the man who throws you.”

“It is a sort of physical counterpart, then, of the great financial art of making a fortune out of bankruptcy.”

”Then there are other means of self-defence which are useful. A lady I had the other day was, while riding her bicycle, attacked by a tramp. She was helpless against his superior strength. But there are ways of using a bending cane by which a lady might, if she has been taught the art, keep a molesting tramp at arm’s length. This will be taught as well as several other systems, all of which are not only useful but interesting to learn.”

London Daily Mail, 1899-06-13 (with thanks to Jason Couch of martialhistory.com).

June of 1899 appears to have been a formative period in the development of Bartitsu. Some elements were already in place and some were still fluid. It’s clear from Grenfell’s comments that jiujitsu was intended to play a key role, that novelty and diversity were considered to be “selling points” and that Barton-Wright was already considering the use of the walking stick as a means of self defence, though he may not have settled on Pierre Vigny’s method at that stage.

Ironically, as it was to transpire, the aura of middle-upper class exclusivity the Club’s promoters were aiming for may ultimately have helped to doom the enterprise. Despite “Health and Strength” journalist Mary Nugent’s description of the Bartitsu Club as “a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light” (1901), pictures taken inside the Club suggest a rather utilitarian basement space that might not have appealed to their “desirable” clientele:

It’s also not unlikely that the promoters had simply over-estimated the number of wealthy, respectable Londoners who shared their zeal for exotic self defence systems. Still, for a few years around the turn of the 20th century, Barton-Wright’s Club was the headquarters of a groundbreaking experiment that anticipated many modern trends in the martial arts.

Professors of self defence

I resolved on putting myself into the hands of some professor of self-defence, who whilst he knocked me about for his amusement, and worked me into a state of complete exhaustion for my improvement in condition as for his own benefit in pocket, should teach me that noble science …

– The works of G.J. Whyte-Melville, Volume 7 (1899)

Although the term “professor of self defence” sounds odd to modern ears, attuned to associate professorship with formal academia, professors of that subject (and of boxing, physical culture, etc.) were common at the time E.W. Barton-Wright opened his Bartitsu School of Arms in London. In fact, Barton-Wright himself was referred to as a professor of self defence by reporter Mary Nugent, in her December 1901 article “Barton-Wright and his Japanese Wrestlers”.

Typically, a professor of self defence circa 1900 was a combat athlete in his post-competitive years, when and if they turned to teaching their skills. In some cases, such as that of Bartitsu School instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi, the term was used to describe still-active competitors who also worked as self defence teachers. Never, apparently, a “rank” to be awarded, antagonistic professorship was simply an honourific title, equivalent to the Japanese sensei or the modern English coach.

… the services of Professor Sandow, Captain Alfred Hutton, Mr Eustace Miles, Mr Fry, and a professional boxer (could) be commandeered, with some capable doctor to assist them. Perhaps, also, some professor of jiu jitsu would be useful, and these distinguished persons could then safely be left to devise a new and improved ‘battel.’

– Chambers’s Journal (1906)

Professorship has also been retained, or has evolved into a specific rank in some contemporary martial arts, including Gracie jiu-jitsu, capoeira and kenpo as well as various Filipino martial arts. Curiously, one of the few similar instances of the original implications having survived in modern English is that of traditional Punch and Judy puppeteers, who are customarily called professors.

Although the implications of the word “professor” became increasingly specialised in 20th and 21st century English, and are commonly understood to refer to formal academic rank, the Merriam Webster dictionary offers several definitions:

1: one that professes, avows, or declares
2: a) a faculty member of the highest academic rank at an institution of higher education
b) a teacher at a university, college, or sometimes secondary school
c) one that teaches or professes special knowledge of an art, sport, or occupation requiring skill

Defence Against “Hooligans”: Bartitsu Methods in London (1901)

An article by “S.L.B.” from “The Sketch”, April 10, 1901:

Last year, a very interesting exhibition of self defence was given at St. James’s Hall, and was the subject of prolonged discussion by many of the people present. Mr. Edward Barton-Wright, who gave the demonstration, was honoured with an invitation to repeat it before the Prince of Wales, but he met with a bicycle accident and the exhibition became impossible. It may be that the style of self-defence introduced to public notice would have failed to attract attention by reason of its novelty alone, but Mr. Barton-Wright had not mastered it without the firm intent to give it a fair chance before the public. He proceeded to found a Club at 67b, Shaftesbury Avenue, where physical culture may be studied under Professors of all nationalities, some of the best of the world’s athletes and sportsmen being engaged as instructors. To-day the work is in full swing, stimulated by the uprising of the “hooligan”.

In his early days, Mr. Barton-Wright was an engineer, and his duties took him into strange lands and among ill-disposed people. He had to go slowly, and to learn that the knowledge of boxing under the Queensberry rules, his sole accomplishment then among the arts of self-defence, is of little or no use against men who attack their opponents with feet as well as hands, from below the belt as well as above it, from the back as well as face-to-face, and with bludgeons, life-preservers, knives and other persuasive weapons. The straightforward stroke that, catching the ruffian upon the “point” or “mark”, disables him from further attempts, is of little or no good when it cannot be delivered, and in every city he visited the young engineer found more and more to learn.

Soon he was seized with the bright idea of combining the self-defence of all nations into a system that, when properly acquired, should enable a man to defy anything but firearms or a sudden stab in the dark.

The chief point to bear in mind was that an adequate system of defence must be able to meet any form of attack; the man who endeavours to disable you by kicking you in the stomach is entitled to as much respect and consideration as he who strives to garrote you, or to try the relative resisting powers of a loaded stick and your skull.

The Bartitsu Club, through its Professors, over whom Mr. Barton-Wright keeps an admonishing eye, guarantees you against all danger. In one corner is M. Vigny, the World’s Champion with the single-stick: the Champion who is the acknowledged master of savate trains his pupils in another. He could kill you and twenty like
you if he so desired in the interval between breakfast and lunch – but, as a matter of fact, he never does. He leads you gently on with gloves and single-stick, through the mazes of the arts, until, at last, with your trained eye and supple muscles, no unskilled brute force can put you out, literally or metaphorically.

In another part of the Club are more Champions, this time from far Japan, where self-defence is taken far more seriously than here. The Champion Wrestler of Osaka, or one of the shining lights among the trainers for the Tokio police, dressed in the picturesque garb of his corner of the Far East, will teach you once more of how little you know of the muscles that keep you perpendicular, and of the startling effects of sudden leverage properly applied. The Japanese Champions are terribly strong and powerful; at a private rehearsal of their work, given some two months ago on the Alhambra stage, I saw a little Jap. who is about five feet nothing in height and eight stone in weight, do just what he liked with a strong North of England wrestler more than six feet high, broad, muscular and confident. The little one ended by putting his opponent gently on his back, and the big one looked as if he did not know how it was done.

There is no form of grip that the Japanese jujitsu work does not meet and foil, and in Japan a policeman learns the jujitsu wrestling as part of his equipment for active service. One of the Club trainers was professionally engaged to teach the police in Japan before he came to England to serve under Mr. Barton-Wright.

When you have mastered the various branches of the work done at the Club, which includes a system of physical drill taught by another Champion, this time from Switzerland, the world is before you, even though a “Hooligan” be behind you. You are not only safe from attack, you can do just what you like with the attacking party. He is as helpless in your well-trained hands as a railway-engine in the hands of its driver. The “Hooligan” does not understand the principles on which he works; you do, and, if it pleases you to make his machinery ineffective for further assaults upon unoffending citizens, you can do so in a way that cannot be believed until it is seen. No part of South London need have terrors for you; Menilmontant, La Vilette and the shadier side of the Bois are as safe for you in Paris as the Place de l’Opera. I find myself wishing that the Bartitsu Club had been in Shaftesbury Avenue as recently as some five or six years ago, when shortly after midnight the slums of Soho would send forth ruffians at whose approach wise men sought the light.

The work of the Club makes a strong appeal to Englishmen, because they are naturally of an adventurous disposition and have a great aversion to the use of any but natural weapons of defence in the brawls that they are bound to encounter now and again. There is a keen pleasure in being able to turn the tables on a man who tries to assault us suddenly and by means that he relies upon to give him an unfair advantage. I am well assured that a few of Mr. Barton-Wright’s pupils sent into a district infested by “Hooligans” would do more to bring about law and order than a dozen casual arrests followed by committal with hard labour, with or without the “cat”. And there is an element of sport in the Bartitsu method that should appeal to any “Hooligan” with a sense of humour.

“An Englishman’s discretion …”

Jujutsu can not escape the mania of would-be inventions and discoveries. In the formation of the various schools of defence, undoubtedly there has been much eclectic work done. Several methods of attack and defense are borrowed from various schools and then combined into one. It is probable that some schools distinguish themselves mainly by name.

(Footnote) – Barton-Wright did this, although not by Japanese, but by an Englishman’s discretion; the Shinden Fudo school (style), at which I, as well as he learned in Kobe with Terajima, he called “Bartitsu” in the United Kingdom.

The school, whose basics I learned under Terajima Kunichiro, is called Shinden Fudo Ryu, which freely translates as, “Divine School of the Unshakable Heart”.

My teacher was first taught in the art of Ju Jutsu by Yata Onseisai, in Shimagawara in Miyako (Kyoto), now almost 50 years ago. I already pointed out that Bartitsu is nothing else than Shinden Fudo Ryu.

These passages are quoted from the article “Jujutsu, de Zachte Kunst”, originally published in issue # 69 of a Dutch journal, “De Gids”, in the year 1905. The author, Herman ten Kate (1858-1931) had met E.W. Barton-Wright on a steamship between Batavia and Singapore, and both men trained at the same Shinden Fudo Ryu dojo in Kobe circa 1896. Incidentally, this was apparently not the same SFR that is today associated with the Bujinkan lineage.

Ten Kate subsequently read Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence” articles, which had been published in Pearson’s Magazine in March and April of 1899. In the introduction to his second article, Barton-Wright had written:

Readers of the March Number will remember that I described therein a few of the three hundred methods of attack and counter attack that comprise my New Art of Self-Defence, to which I have given the name – “Bartitsu.”

It’s evident from Ten Kate’s article that he had taken some umbrage at this, apparently concluding that Barton-Wright was an opportunist who had simply appropriated Shinden Fudo Ryu jiujitsu and then had the gall to re-name it after himself.

This strongly suggests that Ten Kate had not seen any of the subsequent articles written by and about Barton-Wright in the English media. Those articles clearly demonstrate that Bartitsu was, in fact, intended as an eclectic combination of several different martial arts and combat sports, including jiujitsu as well as other methods:

Bartitsu has been devised with a view to impart to peacefully disposed men the science of defending themselves against ruffians or bullies, and comprises not only boxing but also the use of the stick, feet, and a very tricky and clever style of Japanese wrestling, in which weight and strength play only a very minor part.

(“The Bartitsu Club”, article in “Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900)

When he spoke of Bar-titsu, he therefore meant real self-defence in every form, and not in one particular branch. Under “Bar-titsu” he comprised 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 in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers. Ju-do and Ju-jitsu, which were secret styles of Japanese wrestling, he would call close-play as applied to self-defence.

(“Ju-jitsu and Ju-do” – lecture by B-W for the Japan Society of London, published in “Transactions of the Japan Society,” 1902, v. 5, pp. 261-264.)

In the hundred-odd years since Ten Kate wrote his article for De Gids, the same false conclusion has been reached by a number of jiujitsu-oriented researchers. For example, Ralph Judson’s 1958 article The Mystery of Baritsu likewise missed the significance of Bartitsu as an eclectic, cross-cultural martial art, describing it simply as “a number of selected methods of ju-jutsu, adapted to European needs and costume”.

Simultaneously, throughout the early and mid-20th century, Barton-Wright was marginalised in the introductions to books on judo, which typically credited him with having introduced Japanese martial arts to England and with having been Yukio Tani’s manager, but failed to acknowledge Bartitsu as having been more than a re-branded jiujitsu. The same misapprehension occasionally appears in current Internet forum discussions about Barton-Wright and Bartitsu.

It was not until the post-Jeet Kune Do 1990s, when Richard Bowen and then Graham Noble began to look deeper into the history, that the full significance of Bartitsu as an “Edwardian MMA” began to emerge. By devising a form of martial arts cross-training between Asian and European fighting styles, Barton-Wright had actually anticipated, by about seven decades, what is arguably the single defining characteristic of the modern international martial arts movement.

Credit where it is due …

Self Defence with a Walking Stick (animated)

Pierre Vigny and E.W. Barton-Wright demonstrate a selection of canonical Bartitsu stick fighting sequences from Barton-Wright’s classic Pearson’s Magazine article, “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” (1900).

Animated GIFs courtesy of Facsimile Magazine.

No. 1.—The Guard by Distance—How to Avoid any Risk of being Hit on the Fingers, Arm, or Body by Retiring out of the Hitting Range of your Adversary, but at the same time Keeping Him within the Hitting Range of your Own Stick.

No. 4 — How to Defend Yourself, without Running any Risk of being Hurt, if you are Carrying only a Small Switch in your Hand, and are Threatened by a Man with a very Strong Stick.

No. 8 — One of the Safest Plans of Defence for a Tall Man to Adopt, who has not much Confidence in his own Quickness and Knowledge of Stick-play, when Opposed to a Shorter and more Competent Opponent.