An updated history of weaponised umbrellas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and, of course, the Unbreakable Umbrella:

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

The game is afoot … and the DVD is on sale!

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing, and stick fighting into a new martial art he termed Bartitsu. This elegant discipline would have been forgotten save for a famous, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Sherlock Holmes used its mysteries to defeat the villainous Professor Moriarty.

Several years ago, director Guy Ritchie and actor Robert Downey, Jr. re-conceptualized the Great Detective as a Steampunk sleuth and man of action. Doyle fans have been divided on the interpretation, but one thing is certain, as martial artists themselves, Ritchie and Downey have given Holmes his fighting chops! Bartitsu, or “baritsu”, as Doyle penned it, gets plenty of screen time in the new Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, as can be seen in this teaser clip.

In conjunction with the film’s release this week, the Freelance Academy Press is featuring Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes at 30% off of its regular price. A unique documentary relating the fascinating history, rediscovery and revival of Barton-Wright’s pioneering mixed martial art, this is a great present for martial artists, Holmes enthusiasts, or lovers of Victorian and Edwardian England.

More information on the Game of Shadows/documentary DVD tie-in is available at the Freelancer blog.

More “baritsu” action in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Amidst intrigue and explosions, the Great Detective exhibits some deft atemi-waza (striking techniques), a nonchalant disarm against a pistol-wielding enemy and a picture-perfect combat combination with a tightly-furled umbrella in this new trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (opening December 2011).