2011: the Bartitsu year in review

January – Emelyne Godfrey’s book Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature hits the shelves.  Bartitsu is given a shout-out in a new television superhero series, The Cape.  We also receive our first glimpse of “baritsu” action from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Bartitsu demos and seminars are offered in Pilot Point, Alaska and in Spino d’Adda, Italy.  We help vote for female jujitsu pioneer Edith Garrud to be commemorated with a street plaque.

FebruaryAlex Kiermayer presents a well-received Bartitsu seminar at the annual Dreynevent historical martial arts conference in Vienna.  Chris Amendola‘s Bartitsu classes get underway again in Houston and Robert Reinberger makes a copy of William Garrud’s Combined Self Defence available online.  Wellington, New Zealand hosts the world premiere of a new play, The Hooligan and the Lady, a dramatised biography of Edwardian-era jujitsu and self defence advocate Florence LeMar.

March – We receive a green light to proceed with the memorial wall display at Westminster Library.  Jujitsu pioneer Edith Garrud gathers enough votes to be among the historical figures to be honoured with a street plaque in the London borough of Islington.  Announcement of three separate media projects based on the premise that Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini teamed up as detectives.  March 27th heralds the long-awaited release of the feature-length documentary, Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.  Terry Kroenung and friends perform a Bartitsu demo. at the Anomalycon steampunk event in Denver.

April – Bartitsu instructor Stefan Dieke is interviewed by reporter Nico Rau for a story on Bartitsu featured on Germany’s DRadio Wissen.   Instructor Allen Reed teaches a Bartitsu seminar at the Oklahoma Steampunk Exhibition.

May – Instructor Tom Badillo teaches a Bartitsu seminar at the Gaslight Gathering in San Diego.  Ran Braun teaches a baritsu-inspired seminar for the Red Crow Stunt Team in Reggio Emilia, Italy and Mark Donnelly offers three classes at the Steampunk World’s Fair convention in New Jersey.  The first ever Bartitsu lecture and demonstration is offered in Zagreb, Croatia.

June – A new Bartitsu study group is formed in Battersea, London. Allen Reed offers a class and demonstration at the 1900 Chautauqua at Rockford, Illinois.  A new interview with Bartitsu Forum founder and novelist Will Thomas appears online.  An extensive article on Bartitsu is featured in the German magazine, Schwert & Klinge.  The Bartitsu Club of Tallahassee, Florida creates a new web page.

July – The new trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows promises a great deal of exciting baritsu action.  Publication of the book 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain, written by the late scholar of British judo and Bartitsu history, Richard Bowen.  Mark Donnelly teaches a seminar for a recently founded  Bartitsu study group, the Bartitsu Club of New York City. Tony Wolf teaches Bartitsu seminars and presents a public screening of the Lost Martial Art documentary at CombatCon (Las Vegas, Nevada).

AugustBartitsu fight scenes are featured in the Mercury Player Theatre’s production, You’ve Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery10th anniversary of the Bartitsu Society’s official online communication venue, the Bartitsu Forum.  The 1st annual international Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture conference is held in London – a resounding success!

September – Bartitsu receives an extensive write-up in Holland’s Volkskrant newspaper.  The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes DVD becomes available via Amazon.com.  At the 2011 WMAW Western martial arts conference (Racine, Wisconsin), instructor Tony Wolf offers Bartitsu seminars and a demonstration as part of a 19th century style Assault at Arms display.

OctoberPhil Crawley commences a new antagonistics course via the Black Boar Swordsmanship School in Fife, Scotland.  A new interview with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright is discovered.  A second trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is released.

NovemberAllen Reed teaches Bartitsu at the TeslaCon steampunk event in Madison, Wisconsin.  The  Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Accurate Hoplology and Antagonistics (Seattle, Washington) goes public.

December – DVDs of Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes go on sale via the Freelance Academy Press, coinciding with the long-awaited release of Game of Shadows, which does indeed include plenty of baritsu actionAnnouncement of a new Western martial arts and physical culture school (Chicago, IL), to feature Bartitsu instruction from Tony Wolf.  Phil Crawley releases his new translation of Emile Andre’s  The Art of Self Defence in the Street With or Without Weapons.

 

In memoriam:  We record the sad passings of classical savate master Roger Lafond and American martial arts pioneer and author Robert W. Smith.  May they rest in peace.

The substance of style: a review of the martial arts action in “Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows”

Due warning: this review contains minor plot spoilers.

A Game of Shadows is afoot all over Europe in the blockbuster sequel to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 hit movie, Sherlock Holmes. The plot is very loosely based on events described (and, significantly, implied) in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Final Problem, in which Sherlock Holmes famously confronts his arch-nemesis, the diabolical criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty.

Since many other critics have already offered thorough reviews of the film as a whole, and since this is Bartitsu.org, this commentary will focus specifically on the movie’s martial arts content; Holmes’ fictional “baritsu” fighting style being taken as an analogue of E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu. For full disclosure, the Bartitsu Society donated copies of both volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium to the production team for the 2009 movie.

Game of Shadows offers no less than five significant hand-to-hand fight sequences, three being especially elaborate. All are expertly choreographed by a team led by fight director Richard Ryan (see our exclusive interview with Richard here). Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as an excellent combatant with a tachypsychic ability to virtually meditate in the midst of chaos. Holmes is never made to seem invulnerable, however; he takes plenty of damage during the course of the story. The fight scenes are also exceptionally well shot and edited for maximum impact and enjoyment; it really helps when the director (Ritchie) is also a martial arts enthusiast (Brazilian jujitsu and judo), with an enthusiast’s eye for technical detail.

Robert Downey, Jr. (Sherlock Holmes) is himself a passionate student of the martial arts, specifically Wing Chun kung fu. Stylistically, there is comparatively little to call between Wing Chun and the transitional London Prize Ring/early Queensberry Rules method of English boxing, which was likely what Conan Doyle had in mind for Holmes and which was incorporated into Bartitsu by Barton-Wright. Both styles emphasise linear punching with vertical fists and protecting the central line of the body via skillful defence, including both percussive blocks and deflective parries. The two styles are so technically similar that it has even been speculated that Wing Chun may have been influenced by bare-knuckle boxing via European travellers visiting China – an intriguing, but unprovable theory.

Holmes’ “baritsu” pugilism strikes a nice balance between Asian and European fisticuffs; his defence is more mobile than is typical of pure Wing Chun, including numerous ducks, while his strikes are more diverse than was legal in British boxing, including nukite (spear-hand) and tegatana (knife-hand) blows as well as orthodox punches. His tactic of distracting opponents with thrown objects, established in the first movie and reminiscent of Barton-Wright’s overcoat trick, makes a welcome return.

There is also considerable stylistic cross-over between the low kicks of Asian martial arts and those of savate, or la boxe Française, the French method of kickboxing. Although savate is never mentioned in the Holmes canon, it is absolutely plausible that that the polymathic detective should be familiar with this method of foot-fighting, which was widely popular in France during the late 19th century and had even been exhibited in London several times. It is worth noting that E.W. Barton-Wright carefully distinguished the style of kicking taught at his school from the orthodox techniques of la boxe Française. This is assumed to have been a reaction against the stylised, academic/gymnastic style that was then popular in middle-class Parisian salles de savate.

In Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes makes frequent use of low kicks blended with fisticuffs, including swinging/chopping kicks (the coups de pied bas of savate) to the shin against two separate opponents and stamping front thrust kicks to the thighs of various other enemies. At least once, he also employs a skipping side kick (savate’s chasse median) to spectacular effect. Both pugilism (augmented by atemi-waza) and kicking are featured especially in the movie’s first fight sequence, in which Holmes is accosted by a group of four hired gangsters.

Perhaps the most overt stylistic nod to Bartitsu per se, however, takes place during the movie’s longest action set-piece, a furiously kinetic brawl (primarily) between Holmes and an acrobatic Cossack assassin, which rages throughout, out of and then back into an opulent and rather decadent gentlemen’s club. Even the athletic Holmes is just barely able to keep up with the Cossack’s parkourian agility, but the Great Detective’s triumph is assured by his inventive, high-impact close-combat via crook-handled umbrella, blended with wrenching jujitsu throws, locks and takedowns – the combined effect very strongly reminiscent of Barton-Wright’s classic essays on The New Art of Self Defence and Self Defence with a Walking Stick.

Each of the film’s fight sequences highlights Holmes’ idiosyncratic melding of techniques from different fighting styles and his astounding powers of combative improvisation, both, again, aspects of Barton-Wright’s ideal of Bartitsu as a method of cross-training. On the subject of improvisation, Barton-Wright noted:

It is quite unnecessary to try and get your opponent into any particular position, as this system embraces every possible eventuality and your defence and counter-attack must be based entirely upon the actions of your opponent.

Several critics have complained that Holmes’ unique perceptive ability, which approaches a kind of psychic precognition, is over-used in this film. Dubbed “Holmes-o-vision” by Guy Ritchie and memorably debuted in the 2009 original, this cinematic device is, in fact, used three times during fight sequences, but is twice cleverly subverted in surprising and gratifying ways.

Finally, the less said about Holmes’ inevitable confrontation with the suavely menacing Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) at Reichenbach Falls, the better; not because it’s anything less than superb, but because it would be churlish to even begin to give that game away. Suffice it to say that it’s not what you expect …

In all, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows simultaneously offers a terrific cinematic rendition of Holmes’ “baritsu” and, within the conventions of action choreography, a genuinely plausible representation of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu.

Bravo!

Early reviews for “Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes”

Reviews are coming in for the new documentary (available here) and they are good …

Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes reveals an exciting world of Victorian ruffians, garroting panics, militant suffragettes, and physical culture, as well as the colorful life of Bartitsu’s founder Edward Barton-Wright … music by the steampunk band Abney Park creates a moody atmosphere of Victorian danger, excitement, and heroics. Through interviews, re-enactment, archival images, and contemporary footage of neo-Bartitsu students, the “lost” martial art is brought to life.

Rachel Klingberg: read the full review here.

Here’s the problem – what to do when you love a good punch up, but public brawling is incompatible with your image as an amenable, if damp-stained, man of letters? The answer is “Bartitsu,” a nineteenth-century martial art developed specifically to transform the upright classes into killing machines, and whose unusual history has been revealed in an excellent new documentary …

Andrew McConnell Stott: read the full review here.

Sleek and engaging … fascinating … a superbly watchable piece of martial arts history …

Bullshido.net martial arts movie reviews: read the full review here.