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
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.
This class will explore three essential combat principles of Bartitsu, the “gentlemanly art of self defence” founded by Edward William Barton-Wright in 1898. Barton-Wright defined these principles as:
(1) to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant; (2) to surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength; (3) if necessary to subject the joints of any part of his body … to strains which they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist.
He also noted that:
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.
Drawing from a selection of classical Bartitsu unarmed and walking-stick fighting set-plays, we will take up the challenge implied by Barton-Wright’s precepts of adaptability and improvisation, thereby continuing the “mixed martial arts” experiment that he began in late Victorian London.
Pre-requisites: this class is not suitable for beginners. Intermediate to advanced level martial arts training, preferably including skill in falling techniques, is required.
Equipment: a sturdy crook-handled walking stick or 36 inch dowel with any edges smoothed away; fencing mask or similar face/head protection.
The Bartitsu course was divided into two three-hour classes held on days 2 and 3 of the conference, and was well attended on both days (14 participants.)
We started with a precis discussion of E.W. Barton-Wright, the Bartitsu Club era and the Sherlock Holmes connection. The participants then proceeded into a fairly quick study of the three themes of alignment control, initiative control and adaptability, using as examples the left-lead off and counters from scientific boxing, the coup de pied bas and chasse bas kicks of savate and two canonical jiujitsu defence sequences. The rest of this session covered a representative sample of canonical Bartitsu walking cane defence sequences, focusing on the straight or ball-handled cane.
Day 2 began with a discussion of Edith Garrud and the “Jiujitsuffragettes”,
progressed into a selection of crook-handled cane defences and then into the “twist” and “segue” exercises, as detailed in Volume II of the Bartitsu Compendium, applied to many of the canonical sequences that had ben practiced up til then. The “defenders” were challenged to spontaneously adapt their set-play defences in response to their first intention being defeated by the “attacker”, leading towards controlled, self defence oriented sparring scenarios.
During this class I was honoured to be joined by Mark Donnelly who has been teaching Bartitsu in England for a number of years. Mark and I had never worked together before, and I am very happy to report that he is a great asset to the international Bartitsu community; an excellent instructor, historian and martial artist. He has recently moved to the US and I’m looking forward to more collaborations with him in the future.
This footage was recorded at the International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Conference in Michigan, USA, between July 12-15, 2007. It features a series of mostly canonical Bartitsu unarmed combat and cane demonstrations by myself, with Kirk Lawson assisting.
The theme of the seminar was to use a small selection of canonical and some neo-Bartitsu techniques and sequences to explore two major principles:
1) alignment control, or using your own weight and skeletal structure to disrupt the opponent’s balance and 2) initiative control, either by inviting a particular attack or by executing a pre-emptive attack to control the opponent’s options and movement.
Thus, we were primarily using these sequences as academic examples of certain technical and tactical options, rather than as self defence or competition sequences per se.
The defence between 00.56 and 01.00 is a neo-Bartitsu improvisation combining a number of techniques (palm-heels, a trachea grab, low stamping kick etc.) to reinforce the theme of controlling the opponent’s balance and skeletal alignment.
Thanks to Bartitsu Society member Chris Amendola for editing the footage.