“Chinese fighting: part of a gentleman’s education” (1845)

For some time prior to the introduction of Bartitsu in London, Western travellers offered reports on the curious fighting skills they had encountered in Asia. Published in the year 1845, this cartoon from the French magazine Le Charivari may be among the earliest graphical depictions of Chinese martial arts in Western media.

The caption reads:

Young Chinese in Beijing’s high society do not cultivate only the art of the hunting horn, they learn also to give … punches and booted kicks to the pit of the stomach. This talent is called savate and it is cultivated with the greatest success by all those who wish to gain a good footing in society.

Science fiction author Neal Stephenson on Bartitsu

Popular science fiction author Neal Stephenson‘s comments on Bartitsu, from a recent interview with the UK Daily Telegraph:

“So we’d mostly been doing longsword, in my little group,” says Stephenson. Ropes of muscle on his forearms attest to this, as do the pictures online of a Stephenson-designed spring-loaded practice sword that flexes on impact to soften a blow. “But we became interested in cane-fighting, which was taught in London a hundred years ago or so as part of this school of Bartitsu, founded by EW Barton-Wright, a railway engineer who’d picked up ju-jitsu in Japan. And he brought in a Swiss guy called Vigny who’d taken informal methods of walking-stick-fu and codified them into a system called la canne: he taught the part of the curriculum which involved fighting with walking sticks.”

No way, I say.

“Yeah. There’s a whole curriculum over fighting with bicycles. Pictures of an Edwardian lady in a floor-length dress and a huge hat with flowers, riding primly down a country lane, and when a ruffian comes out she uses some trick with the bicycle to flatten him and rides off. It’s great stuff. The bicycles we’re not sure how to approach, but we’ve created a little assembly line to make rattan canes, with a knob on the end. But there’s, you know, how to use a bicycle pump as a weapon. How to defend yourself with a parasol. Crazy.”