For your listening pleasure: “Eugen Sandow, Victorian Strongman” and “The Bare Fists of Boxing”

The Art of Manliness website presents a podcast interview with David Waller, author of the new biography The Perfect Man: the Muscular Life and Times of Eugen Sandow, Victorian Stongman.  Sandow was a near contemporary of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright’s, and the two men shared several commonalities as pioneers in different branches of physical culture.  Both made their names on the music hall stages of London at about the same time, both went on to found institutions promoting their own novel systems, and both were eventually buried in unmarked graves and thereafter largely forgotten.  Sandow, however, was by far the more celebrated figure, and was more successful than Barton-Wright at capitalising on his fame.

Also newly available to listen online is this BBC radio item on the history of bare-knuckle pugilism in England during the 19th century.  From the Bartitsu point of view, this item is particularly interesting as it describes the origins of the culture of British boxing with which Barton-Wright was, to some extent, competing via his introduction of Bartitsu in the late 1800s.

BWAHAHAHA

A tip of the hat to the Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Accurate Hoplology and Antagonistics (name explained here). A branch of the Seattle-based Lonin historical martial arts group inspired by E.W. Barton-Wright and by Captain Alfred Hutton, who taught both Elizabethan and contemporary (Victorian) fencing at the Bartitsu Club, BWAHAHAHA offers a comprehensive cross-training programme in 19th century physical culture as well as armed and unarmed antagonistics.

Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture: London 2011

A reminder that the 2011 Bartitsu School of Arms will be taking place in London, U.K. between August 26-28. This event will be the first opportunity in over one hundred years to study with multiple instructors from different countries towards the (re)development of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

The 2011 School of Arms teaching team includes James Marwood, Tony Wolf, Allen Reed, George Stokoe and Stefan Dieke.

Each day will begin with a team-taught warm-up session drawing from the Edwardian physical culture tradition. Inspired by the model of the original Bartitsu School of Arms (circa 1900), the teaching team is developing an innovative daily training programme including whole-group classes, small group circuit training/cross-training formats and “breakout” sessions covering areas of special interest. Each participant will leave with an enhanced appreciation for the depth and breadth of Barton-Wright’s “New Art”.

Participants are invited to meet for orientation and socialising on the evening of Friday, August 26th and to relax after training on Saturday over a meal at the Sherlock Holmes pub and restaurant. A second dinner at the Sherlock Holmes will be held on Sunday night, for those participants whose schedules allow it.

For all details and to book your place at this historic event, please see the 2011 Bartitsu School of Arms page.

We hope to see you in London!

“Master of Men: the Life’s Work of William Muldoon, Champion and Trainer of Champions”

“Master of Men” is an anthology of books, articles and essays about the remarkable Irish-American combat athlete and coach, William Muldoon. Muldoon learned the basics of wrestling as a soldier in the Civil War. After numerous adventures as one of “New York’s finest”, he left the police force to become one of the first American professional wrestlers, taking on all comers in rough and tumble saloon matches and working as an actor/stuntman on the Vaudeville stage.

In 1889, Muldoon’s radical training methods brought the out-of-shape, alcoholic bare-knuckle boxing champion John L. Sullivan back into form for his legendary title fight with Jake Kilrain. Muldoon later became the inaugural chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and a personal trainer for some of the richest and most powerful men in America. Includes 29 rare illustrations and a special bonus interview with Scott Burt of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame.

The 316 page book is available in print or e-formats from the Antagonistics Emporium, which also features a free instant preview.

William E. Steers and the Hilltop dojo

(With thanks to the late Richard Bowen as well as to John Bowen and Joe Svinth.)

William E. Steers is one of the “mystery men” of the early British jiujitsu scene. His name appears in connection with those of many more famous figures – London Budokwai principal Gunji Koizumi, judo founder Jigoro Kano, soldier/author/journalist E.J. Harrison and pioneering challenge wrestlers Mitsuyo Maeda, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.

Unfortunately, few biographical details are available, and those that are offer a scattershot impression of William Steers. We know that he was born circa 1857. Contemporary sources noted him as having been an auditor for the British Ministry of Munitions; he was also an “extraordinary scholar” and a member of the Society of Arts. By the age of forty he had evidently travelled widely in various capacities throughout the British Empire, possibly as far away as New Zealand.

In 1903 Steers set sail for Japan, where he befriended E.J. Harrison and began training in jiujitsu. Returning to London the following year, Steers joined the Golden Square dojo of former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi. There he made the acquaintance of Gunji Koizumi, who had recently arrived from Liverpool where he had been briefly affiliated with the highly dubious Kara Ashikaga School of Jiujitsu. During this period Steers may also have studied with Mitsuyo Maeda, a prominent competitor on the professional wrestling circuit.

Circa 1909, Steers commissioned the design and construction of an extraordinary house in the Surrey Downs. As it was built atop one of the highest hills in the Tandridge district, near the town of Caterham, Steers named his new home “Hilltop”.

Created by the architectural firm of Parker and Unwin, Hilltop featured a unique blending of Japanese aesthetics with those of the then-burgeoning English Arts and Crafts movement. According to an article in The Craftsman journal of 1910:

By a life spent in close study of the characters and customs of many nations, perhaps more especially of the Japanese, he has gained that breadth of outlook which much travel alone can give, and has come to feel that we have much to learn from the older civilizations of the East, civilizations which on the other hand, we of the West are beginning to mar.

It’s likely that the gi-wearing figure standing in the doorway in the following picture is Steers himself:

The interior of the house featured a graceful combination of Asian and European motifs:

 

However, by far the most unusual feature of Hilltop was its gymnasium, which melded the typical features of an Edwardian physical culture studio with those of a Japanese martial arts dojo.

Quoting the architect:

… when Mr. Steers came to settle in England it was his wish to do this in a home and among surroundings which would make it possible for him to practice and demonstrate to others what he had come to believe in. His position being as follows:—that it is everyone’s first duty to society and to himself or herself to be always in the most perfect health possible. He even goes so far as to say that few of us are justified in being ill, and would put no duty before that of keeping in perfect health, claiming that only when this has been accomplished are we capable of our best in any sphere, and that it is our duty never to give anything short of our best.

Believing in the physical and perhaps even greater mental alertness and agility resulting from the practice of the Japanese art of self-defense, jiujitsu, he would have it taught in our schools and colleges, to our military, naval and police forces. He holds that its practice gives a physical, mental and moral self-reliance which nothing else can.

One of the principal rooms of his house had therefore to be so planned as to give ample facilities for the practice of this art, while at the same time it was not to be spoiled for the many other uses to which it might be put. On the accompanying plans this room is called the gymnasium. It is worthy of careful study from both decorator and athlete.

It was not possible to secure quite as much sunshine in this room as could have been wished, partly owing to considerations for its privacy and partly to the necessary position for the living room. The gymnasium, however, gets all the northeast, east and southeast sun there may be, that is the morning sun, and its use as a gymnasium is almost entirely in the morning. The front of this room being composed of rolling shutters and large opening windows through which one enters onto an exercising lawn, terminating in an open-air swimming bath, necessitated extreme privacy and therefore an aspect away from the road which runs by the south end of the house. The room is carried to the full height of the house—that is, two stories—so, when the rolling shutters, together with the French windows on either side of them and the row of windows above are all open, as is almost always the case, the room is a very high one with practically one side open; in fact, it becomes a three-walled room. This sense of openness and airiness may be experienced which would be unobtainable in a less lofty room, even though as open in front. The floor, like a dancing floor, is carried on springs, and is covered with Japanese reed mats two inches thick. A dressing room and bath are connected with the gymnasium.

In summer, with mattresses thrown down at night upon the reed mats and the front thrown open, this room becomes one of the most delightful sleeping apartments imaginable. The Japanese custom of having no apartments set aside exclusively for sleeping in is one that Mr. Steers holds we might well adopt. Is it not possible that in some of our smaller houses we could frequently with advantage so adapt the furniture in some of the rooms in which part of our daily occupations are performed, that by simply throwing down mattresses and bedclothes when night comes we could sleep quite comfortably? Some claim that it is unhealthy to sleep at night in a room used in the daytime; surely this idea belongs to the days when it was customary to keep all windows closed. In these days when we all appreciate the hygienic value of fresh air and no longer open windows merely to “air the room,” but live with the windows open day and night, this claim can have no significance.

The decoration of the gymnasium was undertaken by Mr. Hugh Wallis of Altrincham. He was asked to go to Caterham, to stand in the middle of the room and imagine he was standing in a green glade or clearing in a forest, then to paint on the rough plaster of the walls the vistas among the trees, their foliage, boles, stems and branches, glimpses of sky and distant landscape, and in the foreground, characteristic woodland flowers in the grass. When the artist reached Caterham, however, the spirit of the delightful Surrey scenery surrounding him took so great a hold of the imagination that he had perforce to reproduce it in his delightfully decorative style. The vistas between the trees widened out and became filled with glimpses of distant country, broadening finally into wide peaceful scenes in the luxuriant Surrey countryside.

According to British judo historian Richard Bowen, Steers shared Hilltop with fellow jujitsuka E. H. Nelson, who had helped to organise their teacher Sadakazu Uyenishi’s “Text-Book of Ju-Jitsu”. Strangely, however, Steers was only to occupy Hilltop for a few years. In 1911 he sold the property and the following year he returned to Japan, where he enrolled at the Kodokan in Tokyo and became a student of Jigoro Kano’s. Kano later described Steers as having been the most earnest foreign student he had ever taught. At the age of fifty-five Steers was awarded the black belt rank in Kodokan judo, being only the second Westerner ever to achieve that rank.

Re-settling in London, Steers continued to display an almost evangelical zeal for judo, most especially for its emphasis on both moral and physical fitness. In 1918, at the age of sixty-one, he gave a speech entitled “A Perfect Manhood, or, Judo of the Kodokwan”. During the lecture he advocated free tuition in judo for almost every English citizen and performed a demonstration of “hand-throws, waist-throws, leg-throws, and lateral and frontal sutemi – a sacrifice for a gain.” This event aroused huge enthusiasm within the newly-founded London Budokwai, whose members sent copies of the text to many hundreds of politicians and educational institutions. Unfortunately, nothing came of their efforts.

Steers became Budokwai member number 52 and went on to become the clubs’ first honourary secretary. He was responsible for introducing his friend E.J. Harrison to the club, and later, the prominent American martial artist and scholar Robert W. Smith.

Steers’ most historically significant accomplishment, though, was that he was instrumental in forging ties between the London Budokwai and the Kodokan. In 1920 the Budokwai hosted a visit by Professor Kano and 4th-dan instructor Aida Hikochi, and thereafter the club officially took up the study of judo. Both former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and Gunji Koizumi were accredited Kodokan 2nd-dan black belts, with Tani becoming the Budokwai’s first professional teacher. This shift marked the end of the era of eclectic “British jiujitsu” begun in 1898 by E.W. Barton-Wright, and the beginning of the formal development of judo in the UK.

William E. Steers died in his early 70s during the year 1930.

The martial athletics of Diana Watts

Even before Edith Garrud began teaching jiujitsu classes for the women and children of London, Emily Diana Watts was pioneering the way for female martial arts instructors in the Western world. This post looks at her extraordinary career as a martial athlete and physical culture innovator.

Born into a wealthy family in the year 1867, Watts developed an early enthusiasm for the “strenuous life” and in 1903 she began studying jiujitsu with former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi and his associate, Akitaro Ono. By 1906 she was teaching basic classes herself at Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge. That was also the year in which she published “The Fine Art of Jujutsu“, a handsomely produced manual that was notable as being the first book in the English language to detail a number of Kodokan judo techniques.

Watts continued to study and teach jiujitsu but also found herself drawn to physical culture in the broader sense. By the beginning of the First World War she had become passionately engaged in the task of reviving classical Greek exercises via the close study of ancient statuary and artwork.

In 1914 she presented her new system in a book entitled “The Renaissance of the Greek Ideal“, writing as “Diana Watts”. Although academics criticised her fashionably romantic view of classical Greece, pointing out that many of the translations she used to illustrate her points were themselves inaccurate, the book was generally very well received. On its strength, Watts was invited to join both the French Institut Marey and the American Institute of Archeology.

Her presentations put a new spin on both the fad for “Grecian” dance (exemplified by Isadora Duncan) and the traditional Victorian poses plastique. In displays of the latter type, athletes, often almost nude with their faces and bodies powdered with white makeup, would assume postures evocative of famous works of classical statuary. This form of visual theatre had been popularised by the famous strongman Eugen Sandow at the turn of the 20th century.

Rather than holding frozen postures, however, Diana Watts would demonstrate her interpretations of the athletic techniques portrayed by the statues. These included actions such as drawing a bow, hurling a discus or throwing an opponent in wrestling.

Here is a video montage of some of the exercises from “Renaissance of the Greek Ideal”, re-animated from the cinematographic photographs that illustrated the original book:

Diana Watts physical culture from Tony Wolf on Vimeo.

Several critics noted the “suspicious” resemblance between Watts’ “ancient Greek” exercises and those of the Japanese martial arts. In her own words:

In selecting and systematising different series of sequential movements which shall be perfectly natural, one turns instinctively to those needed in imaginary attack and defence, not only on account of the great variety of these positions, but because of the rapidity with which they must be performed. The origin, then, of all physical training is war. Among primitive peoples, it was necessary to be always on guard against sudden attacks. For this reason, during times of peace, they practised at first a sort of mimic war, which gradually developed into a sport. The Greeks ascribed the invention of wrestling to mythical persons such as Palaestra, the daughter of Hermes, and to Theseus is given the honour of having been the first to reduce the sport to a game, with well-defined rules, and thus to have made an art of wrestling; whereas before his time it consisted of the most brutal fighting, in which the strength and weight of the adversary alone decided the victory.

In the mimic battles of the Spartans, they frequently lost eyes and ears, which tortures they accepted as the necessary sacrifice in return for the indomitable fortitude which they acquired.

At a later date, the system adopted by the Athenians had for aim beauty of form and line, and grace of movement, and no competitor was awarded a prize unless his performance had been gracefully as well as effectively achieved. Contest by wrestling was divided into two branches by the ancient Greeks. The first was the “Pale Orthe,” the upright wrestling. The second was called “Halendesis” or “Kylisis,” in which the athlete wrestled with his adversary on the ground. The “Pale Orthe” was the only kind of wrestling practised in Homeric times, and also later on in the National Games of the Greeks. The rules provided that on the fall of an athlete his adversary should allow him to rise and resume the contest if he wished, but if he fell three times, the victory was decided in favour of the other. There were also preparatory exercises called “Analeinemata,” exercises which were looked upon as of the greatest importance, since through them alone could the athlete acquire that tense elasticity of muscle necessary for the extreme rapidity required in actual wrestling.

It is, then, natural to suppose that the preparatory movements represented as nearly as possible the actual positions taken in wrestling, so that by continued practice the pupil might arrive at the unhesitating certainty and precision needed in the varied changes of position of real contest.

Antique Art gives many examples of this extraordinarily rapid form of wrestling by tripping. It appeared many centuries later among the Chinese, brought back probably through their intercourse with the Persians. The form of wrestling called Jujutsu, practised by the Japanese of the present day, is, I am convinced, a survival of the “Pale Orthe” of the Greeks. The collection of tracings on page 39, taken from Professor Krause’s book “Hellenika Gymnastik und Agonistik,” show the close resemblance of some of the Japanese throws used in Jujutsu, to those of the Greeks.


No. 1, especially, is identical with the Koshinage shoulder throw, in which the thrower drops on his knees after having hoisted his opponent upon his shoulder. This throw can be given standing or kneeling, but the latter position is much more disastrous to the victim. No. 2 is obviously the Koshinage hip-throw, as used in Jujutsu at the present day, and No. 4 has a very close resemblance to the Japanese “Shimoku,” the position of the attacker’s left hand being the only essential difference, while he is practically erect, instead of crouching on bent knees.

The “Pale Orthe” was introduced into Japan by a Chinaman about the third or fourth century, under the name of “Jujutsu,” and remained a jealously-guarded secret known to and practised by the Samurai nobles alone, until comparatively a few years ago—in 1860, I think—when the general public were allowed to learn. With the strange liking of the Chinese for all that represents the grotesque in movement, they neglected, and eventually completely lost, all the grace and beauty esteemed by the Greeks as indispensable, and retained only the dramatic and practical sides of wrestling, the genuine self-defence, which, among the Greeks, was subordinated to beauty.

It is, then, upon the preparatory movements that I place such immense importance, and it was during the study of all the rapid changes of position in this “Pale Orthe,” which demand such exquisite balance, that I found for myself the Law of Balance in movement, the application of which allows of the greatest rapidity and force with the least expenditure of energy. This law, as I have said, requires the centre of gravity of a moving body to be kept exactly and continuously over its base, an impossible achievement except under the condition of Tension already described.

As explained in “The Renaissance of the Greek Ideal”, her training system went well beyond simple public performance, comprising a detailed method of physical, mental and even spiritual development based on the principles of balance and dynamic tension. It was also promoted as an aid to longevity, turning the tide of middle age and restoring youthful poise and energy.

Diana Watts spent many years touring on the international lecture circuit, sometimes in collaboration with other artists and researchers inspired by classical antiquity. Her personal wealth allowed her to fund these tours and to lecture free of charge, and by the 1940s she had circled the world five times, meeting Mahatma Gandhi and befriending George Bernard Shaw among other notables. She had homes in England, Italy and in Canada and was famous enough to have been written in to several novels and short stories as a sort of archetype of the eccentric physical culture enthusiast.

Watts’ system evidently worked for her, as she lived until 1968, passing away at the age of 101. Perhaps her training system is due for a revival.

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.