A fight scene/Edwardian-era self defence demonstration from the upcoming play The Hooligan and the Lady by Pauleen Hayes, premiering on February 24th at BATS Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand. The play is based on a book entitled The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence LeMar, the World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl. Published in New Zealand in the year 1913, Life and Adventures is undoubtedly among the rarest and strangest self defence manuals ever written.
Florence “Flossie” LeMar was a pioneering advocate of jujitsu as self defence for women. She and her husband, professional wrestler and showman Joe Gardiner, toured vaudeville houses throughout New Zealand and Australia prior to and even during the First World War. Their signature act showed audiences how a Lady might fell a Hooligan in any number of ways, which are also explained and illustrated in Flossie’s book. The fight choreography shown above is verbatim from the book and was staged by Allan Henry, who also plays the Hooligan.
In addition to jujitsu lessons, Flossie’s book offered a great deal of feminist polemic and a series of very tall tales describing her hair-raising adventures as the “World’s Famous Jujitsu Girl”, taking on desperadoes including opium smugglers in Sydney, crooked gamblers in New York City and an English “lunatic” who believed he was a bear.
Though not without charm, Flossie’s stories have the sharp corners and hard edges typical of early 20th century dime novels. They are also undeniably theatrical and, in combination with an enactment of Flossie’s biography and her fierce feminism, should make for excellent edutainment on stage.
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.
Although Bartitsu slightly pre-dates Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting movement, both were original and novel products of their founders’ Edwardian ideals. Scouting quickly captured the international imagination and went on to become the most successful youth movement in the world, whereas Bartitsu had only a brief moment in the sun and was then all but forgotten throughout the 20th century.
One of E.W. Barton-Wright’s most historically significant achievements was his introduction of Japanese unarmed combat to the Western world. Whereas jiujitsu had occasionally been glossed in popular magazines and academic journals prior to 1898, it was Barton-Wright’s articles for Pearson’s Magazine, his public demonstrations and classes via the Bartitsu Club that began the pre-WW1 jiujitsu boom.
Circa 1906, as Baden-Powell was formulating the concepts and practices of his nascent youth movement, he was impressed by former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi‘s jiujitsu exhibition at Windsor Castle. Along with campfire lighting and first aid, jiujitsu was among the skills demonstrated during the final day of Baden-Powell’s initial, experimental Scout camp on Brownsea Island during August of 1907.
Shortly thereafter, the first set of Boy Scout merit badges were produced, intended to reward practical skill in any of a number of areas including one for “Master-at-Arms”. To qualify for this badge, a Scout was required to participate in one, two or three of the following sports – fencing with the foil, singlestick or quarterstaff, boxing, wrestling and jiujitsu.
Curiously, the Master-at-Arms badge appeared in the US Boy Scouts Association handbook in 1910, but was dropped the following year.
In 1912 Baden-Powell, who had recently returned to England after a world tour visiting Scouts in many different countries, offered these observations on the martial arts training he had witnessed in Japan:
I went and saw a lot of them at their daily practice of fencing with bamboo sticks and practicing jiu-jitsu to make themselves strong and active and good-tempered. I say good-tempered because it is very much like boxing; you have to take a good many hard knocks and take them smiling. If a fellow lost his temper at it, everybody would laugh at him and think him a fool. In jiu-jitsu they learn how to exercise and how to develop their muscles, how to catch hold of an enemy in many different ways so as to overpower him, how to throw him and, what is very important, how to fall easily if they get thrown themselves. I expect the Scouts of Japan, if they visit England later on, will be able to show us a thing or two in this line.
The Scottish physical education specialist W. Bruce Sutherland was, along with William and Edith Garrud, Percy Longhurst and W.H. Collingridge, among the second generation of European jiujitsu instructors. By circa 1915, as well as teaching classes for the Special Constables and the 17th Royal Scots Battalion, Sutherland advocated jiujitsu training for the Boy’s Brigade, the Cadet Corps, Junior Officers’ Training Corps and the 12th Company City of Edinburgh Boy Scouts:
Thus, Sutherland was probably among the first, if not literally the first instructors to teach jiujitsu to the Scouts. His contemporaries William Garrud and Percy Longhurst wrote simplified technical articles explaining jiujitsu “tricks” for young readers, and former Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton produced a monograph entitled Examples of Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys.
At about this time in faraway New Zealand, a home-grown alternative to the Scouts’ sister movement, known as the Peace Scouts, was also training youngsters in jiujitsu along with camping. The N.Z. Peace Scouts, who eventually amalgamated with the Girl Guides, was perhaps the first national organisation to promote martial arts training for girls.
In 1923 H.G. Lang, a British police Superintendant stationed in India, produced a book entitled The Walking Stick Method of Self Defence. Lang’s stick fighting method was closely based on that of Pierre Vigny, who had been the chief instructor at the Bartitsu Club. Lang’s method was endorsed by several leaders of the Scouting movement in India and he included exercises specifically for the “Training of Organised Bodies”, such as Scout troupes. He even went so far as to suggest that the Scout’s traditional staff might be profitably replaced with a walking stick of the length advocated in his system.
Two years later the British Scouting Association produced a manual for the master-at-arms badge, setting out simplified instructions for singlestick, quarterstaff and foil fencing and well as boxing, wrestling and jiujitsu. Kirk Lawson has recently made available a facsimile copy of the 1925 manual, based on an original found by Robert Reinberger.
In many cases it seems that the stated requirements for achieving the Master-at-Arms badge did not quite keep up with the practical options available to most Scouts. Certainly, Scouting manuals continued to refer to singlestick and quarterstaff fencing long after those sports had largely faded from popularity, although anecdotal evidence suggests that some older Scoutmasters continued to teach them even into the 1970s.
Master-at-Arms badges (or equivalents) are still available in some national Scouting associations, but the requirements have changed according to local and national policies and social trends. The Health and Safety Guide of the present Boy Scouts of America organisation, for example, states that
“Boxing, karate, and related martial arts—except judo, aikido, and Tai Chi—are not authorized activities.
… presumably due to liability concerns. The Master-at-Arms badge was never re-instated within the American Scouting movement.
Previous screen incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective have often downplayed Sherlock Holmes’ talents as an athlete and combatant. However, according to the canon, the Great Detective was a skilled boxer, fencer and singlestick player, whose “knowledge of baritsu” famously saved his life in mortal combat with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. “Baritsu”, of course, is understood to have referred to the real martial art of Bartitsu.
“In the novels, the fights are often referred to off-stage; we will bring them on-stage,” explains co-screenwriter, Lionel Wigram.
Sixteen years ago I spent time in LA and whilst there swapped training with Eric Oram who I met through the Society of American Fight Directors. Eric practiced Wing Chun Kung Fu, which he studied with William Cheung, and I had the eclectic background that many fight directors have; I have studied a variety of eastern and western martial arts (in particular Aiki-jitsu and Classical Fencing) as well as stage combat.
Eric and I got on really well and had always spoken about working on a project together but despite a couple of near misses had yet to do so.
In the intervening years I’d established myself as a fight coordinator in the UK. Over time I managed to build a resume that included some big budget studio films.
Eric had continued to train and study Wing Chun becoming a Sifu (instructor) as well as one of that art’s pre-eminent practitioners. His Kwoon (school) was now well established and one of his students was Robert Downey Jr. Downey spoke to Eric about the possibility of using Wing Chun as the base of Sherlock’s fighting style. Eric didn’t know the film world in the UK and wasn’t sure he had the film experience for Holmes’ and the other fights. Also Warner Brothers would require someone with proven credits for such a gig, so Eric suggested bringing someone else on board and Downey, who I had met shortly after the release of Troy, said “well, what about your friend Richard?”
A couple of phone calls later I was on board … “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”.
T.W. – Were you a Sherlock Holmes fan before you started work on the movie?
R.R. – Yes, I was. I have read the complete works on a couple of occasions as well as individual stories. Of course I was familiar with the Rathbone and Brett interpretations as well as those paying homage, such as Gene Wilder’s in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, which includes a brilliant fight by William Hobbs.
T.W. – That was a great scene; it was one of the few prior movies to show Holmes as a skilled fighter as well as a master detective. So, what was your process of researching Victorian fighting styles in preparation for the movie?
R.R. – I went to my library and took both Captain Alfred Hutton’s and Egerton Castle’s books off the shelf (1). I dug out videotape of French Cane, which was in my archive along with notes on fighting with an umbrella (I had been given an impromptu class years ago after fencing in a competition with the Metropolitan Police).
In addition, I was already familiar with your work in the area of Bartitsu and had a copy of the Bartitsu Compendium, which I re-read.
T.W. – That leads us to the next question; can you talk us through your original concepts for the fight scenes as they were described in the script?
R.R. – This film wasn’t one where all the fights were laid out in advance and remained fixed. Indeed, like something from Holmes’ casebook, there was a lot of investigation to find the martial methodology and style for Holmes, Watson and the other characters that fought. This was due to trying to get in step with the contemporary aesthetic of the film, Guy’s way of working, how Downey and Law saw their characters, the evolving nature of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, script revisions, etc, etc.
As the overall narrative of the film relies upon there being a close bond between Watson and Holmes, it seemed to me essential that, in addition to it being in the text, we realize that partnership in a physical, unspoken way that the audience would recognize.
I knew we wanted to use the fights involving Holmes & Watson to establish them as a team. It was important that they be pro-active in doing the right thing, taking the fighting to the bad guys but enjoying the physical (culture) and relishing the adrenaline rush.
The principal places for this were in the opening sequence in the Crypt, the fight at Reardon’s digs and the fight in the “Sewer”. In all of these we wanted to utilize them as a team either fighting side by side or combining to overcome the obstacles before them.
T.W. – What about that big showdown between Holmes and Blackwood at the end?
R.R. – The final fight, on Tower Bridge, remained fairly fixed in concept all the way through. Having seen Holmes best everyone he fought he now comes face to face with the main antagonist of the piece and they go at it. I had to show elements of Holmes reacting to the danger, working out what he would do to counter the threat whilst getting the device that all were after at that point in the narrative. All whilst on a partially built Tower Bridge that is 200 feet up. In actuality it was 30 feet, in front of a green screen.
T.W.– The fact that Doyle’s “baritsu” is not Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu must have offered considerable artistic license. Was there any particular relationship between the movie’s fictional baritsu and the historical Bartitsu?
R.R. – Bartitsu, as you are acutely aware, is a mixed martial art involving boxing, ju-jitsu, savate, stickfighting and swordplay that was popular at the turn of the 20th century. In developing our Holmes combat style we wanted to use a neo-Bartitsu that was in keeping with the film’s contemporary aesthetic. To do this we chose to utilize the Chinese boxing that Downey practices as the foundation and also incorporate swordplay and elements of Brazilian ju-jitsu, which Ritchie practices. (2)
In this film Holmes only meets Moriarty fleetingly so if we were to introduce a form of Bartitsu it needed to be without the aid of Moriarty and within the structure of this ‘introductory’ episode of Sherlock Holmes.
Bartitsu for him was a starting point, and like any good martial artist, he continued to explore crossover points and philosophies between various martial arts. Whilst there is nothing in the script to indicate it, we followed the premise that in addition to Bartitsu, Holmes had a book or manual of Chinese Boxing and that he chose to test that system in a very pragmatic and practical manner by participating in bare-knuckle fights.
T.W. – Shades of E.W. Barton-Wright encouraging his students to cross-train between all the different styles taught at the Bartitsu Club.
So I’m gathering that the movie “baritsu” was a combination of various influences, choreographed with a contemporary edge?
R.R. – The film is competing with modern action films, such as Bourne and Bond, for an audience and I knew that with the creative and fight teams we had, our movie Bartitsu would be a modern interpretation. However, I wanted to capture the flavour of Victorian Bartitsu so I focused on the fighting ranges. I believed that if we could use the cane, foot, fist and grappling ranges then we would be able to create something that worked for both the contemporary and Victorian aesthetics.
This premise enabled us to construct fights, particularly the “Punch Bowl” fight, that demonstrate Holmes utilising various martial aspects and how, when under pressure, he was able to focus his mind, body and spirit to overcome a problem.
During the “Punch Bowl” fight Holmes sees Irene Adler and tries to concede the fight in order to pursue her. McMurdo (his opponent) rejects Holmes’ offered handshake and spits at him. This moment gave us the trigger to show Holmes’ intellectual clarity of purpose reflected in a physical way that would establish a key character element how Holmes lives.
On occasion we hear Holmes’ inner thoughts as he determines how he will defeat his opponent, what the physical repercussions of each blow will be and how long they will be out of action as a result of them.
T.W. – It’s an interesting device, making the audience privy to Holmes’ battle plan as it’s formulated a split-second before he goes into action. We don’t often get that sort of clinical detail in a movie fight scene. It’s also illuminating as to Holmes’ character.
R.R. – In his defeat of McMurdo, at the “Punch Bowl”, we wanted to have Holmes do enough to win but also to harness his anger at McMurdo’s behavior and teach him an important lesson about life without crossing over into being vindictive.
The practicalities of this meant we needed to make this ‘pre-visualized’ part of the fight extremely visceral. The way in which Ritchie planned to film the scene (with a high speed Phantom camera) meant we would see each impact as the strikes landed, so we had to plan for robust physical contact.
We constructed a fight that had Holmes block the blows coming at him and deliver a number of precise, hard, blows that would have the viewer wince in recognized pain.
The challenge then was ensuring we had the right performer as McMurdo. A British stunt performer, Dave Garrick, was cast in the role and he did a terrific job, throwing punches at Downey only to have them blocked and a sharp crisp counter-strike hit him. It was a very tough physical day for both he and Downey as although not full out, the blocks and strikes were real.
T.W. – I hope viewers will spare a thought for Mr. Garrick, then!
R.R. – While this visceral, dynamic fight, which gives us our first proper look at this action aspect of Holmes, involved only two people in performance, it was the product of collaboration from a fight team that included myself, Eric Oram (fight consultant), Franklin Henson (stunt coordinator), Dave Garrick and the erudite input of Robert Downey Jr. and Guy Ritchie.
T.W. -That’s good to hear. People sometimes don’t appreciate the degree to which movie action scenes are collaborations between specialists.
How were the actors and stunt performers trained for their roles?
R.R. – We had “Fight Club”, where in addition to rehearsals for specific scenes there were Wing Chun sessions, swordplay and, on occasion, ju-jitsu with Guy.
Robert trains most days either in the gym and/or practicing Wing Chun. In addition he had fight rehearsals on a regular basis. Jude Law and Mark Strong also work out on a regular basis.
They had fight rehearsals with me and these were structured around what was coming up next, so they peaked in their fight training just as we were scheduled to film each scene.
T.W. – Finally, I have to ask – what was it like working on an action film in which both the director and lead actor are martial arts enthusiasts?
R.R. – A team full of martial artists and creative artists! It was a wonderful, brilliant and occasionally frustrating time. We all had something positive to contribute and all were able to demonstrate what we meant.
The obvious hazard with such a situation is that you have “too many chefs and not enough Indians”.
In this instance, though, I believe it worked as we were all working to the same end. As with any new work situation, there is a period of adjustment at the beginning as you figure out the particular work dynamic, but fairly quickly we got to a place where we could and would be able to amend and change choreography according to any changing circumstance or script change that came up at the 11th hour.
We played and explored from the first day of rehearsals to the last day of shooting. Always allowing for improvement or suggestion. One of my favourite memories is Downey saying after I demonstrated the final fight on Tower Bridge “It’s brilliant, perfect” … and then adding with a wry smile, “let’s change it!”
(1) – Captain Hutton was an instructor at E.W. Barton-Wright’s martial arts school in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, where he taught foil, epee and sabre fencing. Hutton’s students included actors and soldiers, who he trained in the skills of Elizabethan-era fencing. In 1901 he described the Bartitsu Club as being “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.
(2) – Although the resemblance is probably co-incidental, many of the techniques of Wing Chun kung fu are notably similar to those of late 19th century “gentlemanly fisticuffs”. Both styles feature erect fighting stances, vertical fist punches and an emphasis upon protecting the central line of the body. The newaza (ground grappling) of Brazilian ju-jitsu closely resembles that of the eclectic “British ju-jitsu” that arose before the First World War.