“Dodger” takes on the ne’er-do-wells of Dickensian London

Slightly pre-Bartitsu, but the alert and imaginative viewer may perceive echoes of Sherlock Holmes-style fight choreography in this excellent video trailer for Terry Pratchett’s new novel, Dodger.

The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 in text, video and images

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture was a three-day conference and training seminar held in Chicago between September 7-9, 2012. The event was hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio.

Day 1

Our band of stalwart adventurers met at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighburhood just before noon, embarking in a small but spirited convoy to La Salle, IL to tour the Hegeler Carus Mansion and its historic gymnasium – normally a two-hour trip. Unfortunately we were delayed by unusually heavy traffic leaving the city, but the Hegeler Carus Mansion staff were kind enough to delay the start of the 2.00 tour to accommodate us. En route, a nascent plan emerged to write a Bartitsu-themed “anthem”, perhaps in the style of a c1900 music hall song. We also met SoA instructor Allen Reed, who lives somewhat near La Salle, at the site.

The mansion tour was fascinating, particularly re. the Hegeler and Carus families’ close connections to events such as the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the spread of Zen Buddhism to the Western world and to the publishing industry via their in-house “Open Court” company. By special permission of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, instructor Tony Wolf was then able to lead an extended, “up close” tour of the famous 1876-vintage gymnasium, which he has been helping to research and re-assemble. Two Bartitsu Club of Chicago members were afterwards inspired to construct their own “teeter ladder” exercise apparatus, which would surely be a unique addition to the Forteza gymuseum; as far as we know, the original teeter ladder in the mansion’s gym is the only surviving example of its type.

Our return to Chicago was significantly delayed by extremely heavy traffic, due in part to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but we were just about able to get everyone fed and at the Lincoln Square Theatre in time for the beginning of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride.

The play is set during the late Victorian era and actually opens with the title character – a no-nonsense, Mary Poppinsish member of the Society of Lady Detectives – making adroit use of jujitsu and then her parasol to fend off various assailants. Further fight scenes showcased everything from smallsword fencing to pugilism in the context of an ostensible Jack the Ripper mystery, but in fact the mysteries to be solved were of a different and more personal nature. All ended happily for the heroines and the audience was left hoping for further adventures with the S.O.L.D.

Day 2

We began the first full training day with a tour of the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio and then a mini-lecture on Bartitsu history. Warm-ups began by simply walking around the space for orientation, then jogging, then jogging backwards, then jogging while throwing an antique leather medicine ball to and fro (nothing like it for breaking the ice).

We continued the warm-up with a series of synergy exercises stressing efficient whole-body movement, unbalancing tactics and elbow/hip alignment.

Next up was a set of two circuit training sessions in which small groups rotated between short classes taught by three instructors; Allen Reed teaching collar-and-elbow wrestling and jujitsu throws, Tony Wolf teaching fisticuffs and Mark Donnelly teaching cane techniques. These sessions were followed by some “integration” training, making the point that Bartitsu really comes to life when the various skills/styles are tested against each other and combined together.

After lunch we reconvened for longer, specialized classes with each instructor. Mark taught a session on umbrella/parasol defense via the “bayonet” grip; Forteza Fitness instructor Keith Jennings taught some catch wrestling holds, takedowns and reversals; Allen presented several canonical Bartitsu/jujitsu kata, and drills arising from opponent resistance; Tony taught “combat improvisation” based on various canonical unarmed and armed set-plays.

Then each instructor in turn was invited to contribute to a combat scenario beginning with cane fighting, segueing through boxing and throwing and ending up on the ground.

The last session of the day was devoted to informal “breakaway” groups and included some spirited cane sparring, pugilism drills, scenario-based cane techniques, free submission grappling and even some Bowie knife work. Serious points to those young enthusiasts who, after a very full day of Bartitsu training, still had enough energy to squeeze in a kettlebell session.

At 7.00 pm we met in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House – all dark green velvet, dark polished wood and maroon trimmings – and spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting before retiring gratefully, if not necessarily gracefully, to home and rest.

Day 3

The final day of the School of Arms began with an orientation and quick Bartitsu history lesson for the four new (Sunday only) participants. We started the warm-up with forward and backward jogging and medicine ball tossing, then rotated through whole-group exercises/balance games taught by Mark Donnelly, Allen Reed and Tony Wolf, including iterations of wrist wrestling, stick wrestling, stand-off and finger-fencing.

Next we cycled through two circuit training rounds of small group mini-lessons (roughly 15 minutes each), in which Mark concentrated on cane work, Allen on jujitsu throws and Tony on integrating standing grappling with fisticuffs and low kicking.

After lunch each of the instructors taught a longer, 45 minute class for the whole group. Mark focused on the technical and tactical dynamics of parrying and countering with the cane. Allen taught applications of two canonical jujitsu kata vs multiple opponents and Tony gave a session on spontaneously combining three canonical kata/set-plays (two jujitsu, one cane) in response to opponent resistance.

We then set up for the Antagonisticathlon, which proved to be by far the roughest and wildest rendition of that event yet. The combination of stirring Sherlock Holmes and Steampunk music via the PA system and the presence of an audience fed into a quite extraordinary mixture of hard fighting and surreal Victorianesque humour. It was a sight to see.

After the warm-downs, the School of Arms ended on a high note, with thanks to our hosts at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts for providing the perfect venue for this event, to the instructors and to the brave souls who volunteered as ruffians in the Antagonisticathlon. We then passed out participation certificates and posed for group photos before retiring to O’Shaughnessy’s for drinks and farewells.

Special thanks to the members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago who volunteered to host and chauffeur out-of-towners, the staff at the Hegeler Carus Mansion and to all the participants, some of whom had traveled considerable distances for the event.

Onwards to the Bartitsu School of Arms 2013 …

Review: the Empire – Broughton Pugilism Gloves

Disclosure – the Weapon Store forwarded samples of this product for review purposes.

As the practice of “revived” Western martial arts becomes better established, an increasing number of manufacturers are developing professionally-produced training equipment specific to this niche market.  So it is that the U.K.-based Weapon Store has introduced its Empire line of equipment for the practice of historical fencing and pugilism.

The Broughton pugilism gloves are appropriately named for prize fighter Jack Broughton, the English champion pugilist circa 1734-1740. Broughton’s innovations included formulating a set of seven rules for the prize ring as well as a codified system of scientific defence including the skill of “hitting away” (striking on the retreat).  Broughton is also credited with the development of the first boxing gloves, called “mufflers”, designed to “effectually secure (his students) from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses.”

The Empire – Broughton gloves are very conveniently packaged in a drawstring bag of calico or similar material, which also includes a pair of natural-fibre handwraps and a printed page of information about Jack Broughton’s boxing career.  The right-out-of-the-box impression is that a great deal of thought and care has been put into the aesthetics of the whole package; although this type of glove is a modern invention, the natural materials and colours of the bag and handwraps and the tan-coloured leather of the gloves themselves are all plausibly “old school” and “old world”.  This is a thoughtful touch for practitioners of historic martial arts, who may otherwise have to make do with less aesthetically appropriate equipment.

As with any new leather product, a “breaking in” period is required.  Although comfortable over open or semi-clenched hands, the gloves are initially stiff enough that forming a tight fist is difficult.  After stretching and absorbing sweat during several training sessions, they conform to a functional semi-clenched shape and the leather naturally darkens, which further enhances their aesthetic appeal.

Specific to Bartitsu training via the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, the Broughton gloves have thus far held up admirably to bag-work, pad-work, light sparring and jujitsu/wrestling/free-grappling drills (including wrist locks). The smooth leather piping offers no risk of abrading other trainees’ skin during serious grappling. After four months of regular weekly training sessions, the stitching and padding are holding up well.

Refreshingly, the gloves offer enough mobility to comfortably grip the thick cloth of judo/jujitsu gi jackets, and do not significantly interfere with dexterity even during Indian club manipulation exercises (which is, obviously, above and beyond their brief). Similarly, although the Broughton gloves are not intended for weapon fighting, they have also demonstrated value in safely absorbing incidental impact and eliminating abrasions to the covered portions of the hand during semi-improvised sick fighting drills.

The Weapon Store plans to bring out two further gloves designed for historic pugilism and related skills; the “Molyneux”, a 16 oz. heavy duty boxing glove, and the “Barton-Wright”, a very simple protector with a completely open hand to allow full freedom of movement while still offering a degree of protection when striking with the closed fist.

19th century antagonistics at the 2012 Victorian Heritage Festival

19th century pugilism, fencing and other “manly arts of self defence” will be on display at the upcoming Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival (Washington, March 23-25).

Click here to read an article featuring Tim Ruzicki (pictured left above), one of the senior revivalists of classic pugilism, who will be demonstrating his skills at the festival.

Classic pugilism gloves now available

Announcing the new Empire – Broughton pugilism gloves, the first commercially manufactured gloves specifically designed with classical (“bare-knuckle”) pugilism in mind.

The gloves were named for Jack Broughton, the English champion pugilist circa 1734-1740. Broughton’s innovations included formulating a set of seven rules for the prize ring as well as a codified system of scientific defence including the skill of “hitting away” (striking on the retreat). Fittingly, Broughton is also credited with the development of the first boxing gloves, called “mufflers”, designed to “”effectually secure (his students) from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses.”

Go to the Weapon Store website for technical and ordering information.

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.

An interview with Kirk Lawson

A revised and updated edition of Kirk Lawson‘s book Banned from Boxing: The Forgotten Grappling Techniques of Classic Pugilism is now available from this site.

What was your original motivation to write “Banned from Boxing”?

More than a decade ago I started working with Ken Pfrenger, a noted martial researcher in his own right, and he introduced me to old school boxing. He called it “Classic Pugilism” to differentiate it from modern boxing. Ken introduced me to strikes that aren’t used any longer in modern boxing and other elements including, surprisingly enough to me, grappling. Oh, I was familiar with blending boxing and grappling; MMA was in full swing by then, but the idea that grappling had been included, then was removed, and now was making its way back in captivated me. What’s more, so few people knew that grappling had been such an important part of boxing. Sure, there were a few people who had read some of the antique manuals, but the vast majority of both boxers and more traditional martial artists (read: “Asian stylists”) had no idea and, indeed, would sometimes scoff at the suggestion.

I recall similar reactions when awareness of historical fencing first started to penetrate into other martial spheres.

As I became more familiar with the work of bygone pugilists I became more and more convinced that their style of boxing needed to be remembered in the modern era. In particular the grappling, because, well, to be honest, that is what held my attention. Though I suppose I justified it by telling myself that the grappling was the largest, perhaps the most important, chunk of what had been forgotten. While true, I just simply had developed a minor obsession with the material.

Additionally, I hoped to address the lack of a solid naming convention for these old techniques. One of the advantages of doing modern Judo, for instance, is that a given technique has the same name in Ohio, California, Germany, and Japan and has for the last century. Not so with the old pugilistic grappling. Often I would find 2 or 3 old authors agree on a name, but then there would be 1 or 2 others who would show the same technique in the illustrations but call it something else. So I hoped to be able to apply common, consistent names.

How have your readers responded to the first edition?

The response has been far greater and more positive than I ever could have guessed. I always knew that antique boxing techniques would be somewhat niche but the interest seems to have broken stylistic boundaries.

That’s usually a good thing.

Many readers look on the material as a historic curiosity but, because they love historic curiosities, they read the material anyway, even though they don’t believe the “antiquated” material to have much modern application. On the other hand there are a whole series of different modern martial artists who have interest and express that they feel the material is applicable, either directly or indirectly, to their studies. These range from modern boxers interested in expanding their repertoire, MMA fans looking for something a bit different from the other guys, Asian stylist interested in martial arts in general, and the growing Western Martial Arts community looking for historic accuracy.

Have you seen interest from any unexpected quarters?

Quite surprising to me is interest coming from the direction of Steampunk enthusiasts who are also looking for historically accurate material to give their hobby an additional dimension and new flavor.

What is new in the second edition?

While the second edition is an evolution of the first, it’s not just a series of spelling corrections and slightly updated photographs. Since I published the first edition, I have continued to read and republish other antique boxing manuals and kept coming across great new material and illustrations which I was dying to add to the book. After collecting and organizing the new material, I ended up with 60 or 70 individual notes ranging from “re-write this paragraph” to specific authors’ advice on specific techniques like Owen Swift’s advice on the Cross-Buttock or Shaw’s break for Front Chancery. In the end I had updated 11 of the chapters, added 19 completely new historic illustrations, and a half dozen or so new sources.

Freshest in my mind, and perhaps most intriguing to some, is new material in the chapter “Pull the Hair, Poke the Eye, Oh My!” Here I added material which is best termed “Pressure Point Attacks” in historic boxing. It kind of surprised me the first time I saw these sort of attacks in the antique manuals, but there they were. It’s not a large section but I expect it to be the most attention grabbing.

Finally, as a Bartitsu instructor yourself, how would you say the material in “Banned from Boxing” can be relevant to Bartitsu, or neo-Bartitsu?

Well, it’s obviously all speculation and informed guesswork. However, this material blends historic boxing and grappling in a way similar to what we think Barton-Wright was teaching. With that in mind, the material in “Banned from Boxing” can easily act as a bridge between the historic “striking” material and grappling. The old boxers had a specific skill set and a long tradition of mixing the two within the confines of their sport so I think there’s a lot that we can glean from what they were doing and move it forward into the speculative neo-Bartitsu context.

19th century/Steampunk martial arts at CombatCon

A partial class list is now on-line for Combat Con Las Vegas.

There are four ways to look at the classes based on how you study Western Martial Arts. You can view the classes along with their short descriptions or you can look at the list via System/Style or via Weapon. Lastly, each instructor’s bio page lists their classes at the bottom.

The 19th century/Steampunk classes listed so far include Manly Arts of Self Defence (singlestick, pugilism and wrestling), Bartitsu: The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, Radellian Sabre, Victorian Cane, Singlestick and Repelling boarders against Sky Pirates.

From the organisers:

Nearly half of the classes are online right now and the organisers will be adding more soon, so be sure to check back often. Attendees will be able to choose between more intensive 2 hr classes or a variety of one hour classes. There’s a lot to do at Combat Con so choosing between the classes and the exciting Panels, Activities and Demonstrations will be difficult! Please go to the CombatCon website to register and to see a draft schedule layout under the WMA tab.

There are still many more classes coming, along with the list of Demonstrations, Panels and Activities. More details will appear on the CombatCon website soon.

Of course, there is also much to do in the evenings. After dinner there will be tournaments, free fencing, movies, games and that’s all without leaving the hotel After all, you’re in Las Vegas!

To celebrate the class list online there is a 10% discount until April 5th, so use WMA2011 in the Promo Box and get your registration in now!

Neo-Bartitsu event in Pfarrkirchen

On October 9th and 10th the Pfarrkirchen branch of the Ochs historical fencing association hosted a “challenge tournament” followed by a neo-Bartitsu seminar.

Opening the neo-Bartitsu session, Andy Damms gave a lesson on English pugilism, covering history, basic punches with an emphasis on straight punching and the falling step, followed by simple defenses and then the throws typical of bare-knuckle pugilism.

After the lunch break the seminar continued with savate low line kicks and their respective evasive motions, then basic wrist locks and defence in special situations. The latter included the defender being punched while leaning against a wall, the defender being on the ground while the opponent is standing and drills for facing multiple opponents, taught by Alex Kiermeyer.