“Old School Fitness Becomes New Trend”: Bartitsu and historical fencing featured in the Chicago Tribune

“Walking into the Forteza Fitness club in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood is like strolling into a cultural time machine,” begins John Owens’ new article and video feature for the Chicago Tribune. The video highlights the antagonisticathlon event that served as a “graduation” for the Bartitsu Club of Chicago’s introductory 6-week course as well as historical fencing action from members of the Chicago Swordplay Guild and demonstrations of some physical culture exercises.

The Bartitsu Club of Chicago

Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago offers regular, progressive training in the “lost martial art of Sherlock Holmes”.

History

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing and stick fighting into the “New Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. Promoted via exhibitions, magazine articles and challenge contests, Barton-Wright’s New Art was offered as a means by which ladies and gentlemen could beat street hooligans and ruffians at their own game.

Thus, the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London became the headquarters of a radical experiment in martial arts and fitness cross-training. It was also a place to see and be seen; famous actors and actresses, soldiers, athletes and aristocrats eagerly enrolled to learn the secrets of Bartitsu.

In early 1902, for reasons that remain a historical mystery, the London Bartitsu Club closed down. Barton-Wright’s art was almost forgotten thereafter, except for a single, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, wherein it was revealed as the method by which Sherlock Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fatal battle at Reichenbach Falls.

Our premise and approach

Bartitsu was abandoned as a work-in-progress one hundred and ten years ago, but what if Barton-Wright’s School of Arms had continued to thrive? In collaboration with other Bartitsu clubs and study groups throughout the world, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago is proud to pick up where he left off, reviving and continuing the experiment into the new millennium.

E.W. Barton-Wright recorded the basics of his “New Art” via lectures, interviews and detailed articles, which form the nucleus of “canonical Bartitsu”. These methods are practiced as a form of living history preservation and also as a common technical and tactical “language” among modern practitioners.

“Neo-Bartitsu” complements and augments the canon towards an evolving, creative revival as a system of recreational martial arts cross-training with a 19th century “twist”.

Our venue

Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts (4437 North Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640) is the ideal venue for reviving Bartitsu. Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Our classes

Bartitsu classes at Forteza run from 6.30-8.00 pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The price for the six-week introductory course (two classes per week) is $125.00.

A typical class includes calisthenic warm-ups, specialized movement drills, study of the canonical sequences and neo-Bartitsu “combat improvisation” training. Participants should wear comfortable exercise clothing and bring a change of shoes for the class.

Contact info@fortezafitness.com to book your place in the first ongoing Bartitsu course in Chicago.

Our instructor

New Zealand citizen and Chicago resident Tony Wolf is one of the founders of the international Bartitsu Society. A highly experienced martial arts instructor, he has taught Bartitsu intensives in England, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Canada and throughout the USA. Tony also edited the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005 and 2008) and co-produced/directed the feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes (2010).

The Oldest Gym in America?

Among the interests of the Bartitsu Society is the study of 19th century physical culture; the panoply of diverse exercise systems that were practiced in public and private gymnasia throughout Europe, North America and Australasia.  E.W. Barton-Wright commented that Bartitsu included a “system of physical culture which is as complete and thorough as the art of self defence”.

mansion-exterior-1

The Hegeler Carus mansion in LaSalle, Illinois, features an extremely rare surviving example of a 19th century gymnasium.  The Hegeler Carus gym remained virtually unchanged throughout the 20th century, and still contains numerous, some probably unique, items of exercise apparatus, including wooden dumbbells and Indian clubs, a “teeter ladder”, parallel bars and “Roman rings” suspended from the ceiling.  The gym also features a climbing pole that D.T. Suzuki used as a “meditation pole” during his long stay at the mansion.

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teeter-ladder

For information on the project towards restoring the Hegeler Carus mansion gymnasium as a living museum of physical culture, see the Turnhall Project PDF.  You will need to rotate the PDF into portrait orientation.