“Boxing vs. the Savate” (1899)

A decidedly outraged British newspaper report on a controversial savate vs. boxing contest held in Paris on Oct. 19th, 1899. For insight into how this and other prominent savate exhibitions may have influenced Bartitsu, see “The tricks of other trades”; French boxing at the Alhambra (1898) and Speculations on Bartitsu (kick)boxing.

The boxing competition between Jerry Driscoll and M. Charlemont, which took place here yesterday, ended in a fiasco. Driscoll boxed in the English fashion, while Charlemont, wearing ordinary walking boots, used his hands and feet indifferently. The alleged sportsmen who organised this exhibition considered that it would decide the superiority of one style of boxing over the other, and it was surprising to hear them explain how, without the slightest doubt, Driscoll’s legs were to be broken by the first kick from his terrible adversary.

The fight took place in a riding school in the Rue Pergolese, and during six rounds Driscoll knocked his man all over the ring. In the seventh he received a foul kick in an extremely dangerous and sensitive spot, expressly forbidden by the rules, and was counted out.

Conditions of the Match

The conditions on which the encounter took place were that 4oz. gloves were to be used, the Frenchman being allowed to wear walking boots without nails. Ten two-minute rounds were to be fought, the intervals to be one minute. A competitor leaning on the ropes or lying on the ground for ten seconds was to be counted out. Another rule provided that no such blow as that which terminated the contest was to be given.

Both Charlemont and Driscoll were in good condition, but the Frenchman, though powerful, did not possess the physique of his opponent. He seemed, however, before operations began to be lighter and more graceful. One would have expected him to be quicker, but the sequel showed the contrary, and, indeed, its comparative slowness is one of the disadvantages of French boxing, which is almost useless for defensive purposes except to trained experts.

To be effective la savate exacts acrobatic qualities beyond the reach of the man in the street. That is why nobody can box in France, though kicking is taught in the Army. The result, as far as the soldiers are concerned, is that they learn to perform several spasmodic jumping-jack movements of the legs and arms of which they would never think in a fight. With the English system, on the contrary, after a few lessons a man can begin to take care of himself.

The Fight

Before the fight Driscoll was evidently at his ease, while Charlemont, who had never before found himself in these circumstances, was obviously nervous. Both were full of pluck and energy. When time was called for the first round the men circled cautiously round each other seeking for an opening. Driscoll’s tactics were to keep moving so as to avoid his adversary’s feet, and to rush in whenever an opportunity showed. Charlemont’s idea was to meet these rushes with kicks in the chest or in particular on the shins. Driscoll avoided many of these kicks with an agility that surprised the French onlookers, who were inclined to be rowdily hostile to the visitor, and even when they reached him he was nearly always able to get in a return.

One result of the fight has been completely to change the confidence of the French professors in the deadliness of the shin kick.

By the fifth round Charlemont looked a beaten man. He had received severe punishment, and his kicks had lost their force. He picked up somewhat in the sixth round, and also surprised Driscoll by changing his tactics and kicking at the pit of the stomach instead of the legs. Driscoll was staggered once or twice, but Charlemont was weakening, and at the end of the round he was seen to reel. He adopted the same tactics in the seventh round, but his foot passed between Driscoll’s legs, and the accident that terminated the fight was thus brought about. All the victim could do was to gasp out, “Oh, gentlemen, will you allow that?” and to limp, doubled up, to his chair.

The decision that Charlemont had won is inexplicable, and it is a curious comment on the organisation of the competition that the referee’s opinion was not even asked. Driscoll offered to renew the fight if he was given ten minutes to recover, and he was justly discontented at the decision being given against him on account of an accident not his fault. There were other unsatisfactory points. The intervals between the rounds were to be of one minute. In reality discussions arose on each occasion, prolonging the intervals for some minutes, which was manifestly to Charlemont’s advantage. The audience also expressed its opinions or howled advice at the competitors in a turbulent manner. In short, the whole affair was badly organised and as badly carried out. It would have astonished the frequenters of the “National Sports Club,” the professed model on which the show was based.

French Professor’s Opinion

Casteres, the well-known French professor of boxing, said of the fight to a representative of the Figaro: “I am still convinced of the superiority of the French method of boxing. But I must admit that these English beggars are better trained than we are. They have had a hundred fights in their lives, we not one. They know how to resist blows, which is one of the elementary principles of their training. We do not like blows. French boxing is intended to inflict blows, avoid those given, and not to receive any. Moreover, we are not fighters, there not being any in France. We are professors, which is entirely different.”

Reuters special service: “Ridiculously Unfair”

PARIS, Oct. 38.

Nothing could have been more ridiculously unfair than the manner in which the match between Jerry Driscoll and Charlemont was conducted.  Both umpires were Frenchmen, one of them being actually Charlemont’s father, while the other was a young man who showed himself utterly ignorant of an umpire’s duty. When Driscoll, completely doubled up with pain, had been carried out there was an indescribable uproar.  Amid shouts of “Vive la France “and “Fashoda,” the spectators rushed into the ring and kissed Charlemont, proclaiming him the victor.  A Frenchman who was present remarked: “France needs another twenty years’ sporting education before such contests can be fought between French-men and foreigners with any chance of the foreigners receiving fair play.”  The fight began at 2.50 and was over at three.  Charlemont secures 25,000fr.

“The victory of jiujitsu over French boxing” (1905)

From L’Illustration, No. 3271, November 4th, 1905.

The current fashion is undoubtedly towards Japan and, since the unexpected success that this small nation has won in the Far East, for everything Japanese that has the capacity to excite our interest. Thus, in sport, we discussed recently, and with some vivacity, the burning question of jiu-jitsu. Is jiu-jitsu (pronounced “djioudjitss”) a simple bluff, as once claimed by the most competent people? Or is it, on the contrary, the ideal of self-defence, as proclaimed by the few initiates of this new art?

The debate, which until now remained undecided, has finally been resolved. This is, at least, what seems to result of the match in Courbevoie on Thursday, Oct. 23, between Professor Re-Nie, jiu-jitsu instructor at the school in the Rue de Ponthieu, and master Dubois, representing the French antagonistic sports, who had issued a challenge to Re-Nie.

Master Dubois, who was once a sculptor not without talent, is also both a dangerous swordsman, a formidable boxer and a weightlifter of the first order: he is, in a word, the archetype of the athlete. His height is 1.68 m., weight 175 pounds. He was born in 1865.

Re-Nie, who is thirty-six years old, measures 1.65 m. and weighs 163 pounds. He learned jiu-jitsu in London under the Japanese masters Miyake and Kanaya. Although robust, he is significantly less vigorous than his opponent.

It was agreed that their combat, in which every action was allowed, should stop when one of the antagonists acknowledged defeat. It was quickly ended with the victory of jiu-jitsuan. Here is the summary report:

At the command “Come on!”, the two adversaries moved rapidly towards each other, stopping at a distance of about 2 meters apart and pausing for three or four seconds.

Dubois feinted a low kick with his right leg, which Re-Nie dodged. Dubois then executed a side kick with the same leg, but at the same time, with extraordinary agility, Re-Nie performed a cat-like leap towards Dubois and grabbed him round the waist. Dubois tried a hip check: Re-Nie, moving to the right of his opponent, placed his right hand on the abdomen of the latter, simultaneously compressing the lumbar muscles with the left hand and swinging a knee to Dubois’ right thigh.

Dubois reeled and fell back onto his shoulders; nevertheless Re-Nie stayed in contact, taking a grip that allowed him to seize Dubois’ right wrist. Re-Nie immediately dropped onto his back, to the left of Dubois, passing his left leg across Dubois’ throat; Re-Nie was now gripping Dubois’ forearm with both hands, Dubois’ arm passing between his two legs. A strong pressure exerted upon the wrist of Dubois threatened to dislocate his arm at the elbow, which was now cantilevered. Dubois resisted for a second, then cried for mercy.

The fight had lasted just 26 seconds, including 6 seconds for the engagement itself.

Things happened exactly as they would have in an unpremeditated encounter. The two adversaries were wearing street clothes with ordinary shoes; Georges Dubois had even kept on his hat and gloves. The ground, covered with gravel, was only slightly less hard than tarmac or asphalt would have been. Finally, the game was played outdoors, on the terrace of the new factory facilities at Védrine.

The result was perfectly clear. The representative of the French method did not exist before the representative of jiu-jitsu.

Well, we think that no event of this kind could be allowed without protest from the adherents of French and English boxing. To hear them talk afterwards, master Dubois was not qualified to represent the sport of self-defence. We will not try to discuss this view; we will simply say that jiu-jitsu, which is already officially practiced by the students of West Point (the U.S. Saint-Cyr), the policemen of New York and London, etc., will, on the initiative of Mr. Lépine, be taught from next week to the inspectors of the Sûreté and officers of the research brigade. The extremely rapid defeat of a very strong, fit athlete by a man whose physical means were visibly less than his own demonstrated to the Prefect of Police that this jiu-jitsu is an interesting means of self-defense.

The term sport de voyou (“hooligan sport”) has been bandied about regarding both the encounter at Courbevoie and jiu-jitsu in general. This term, already excessive in the mouths of those who condemn boxing as being too brutal, is somewhat laughable when it is pronounced by the supporters of English or French boxing. Is it believed to be much more elegant to crush an opponent’s nose with a punch than to force submission by a clever arm-twist, you ask? Nothing is less certain. We would willingly share the same opinion as the two senior officers of artillery, who published in Berger-Levrault a translation of the book by Mr. Irving Hancock on jiu-jitsu and who consider the sport, as an art, extremely interesting.

Does this mean that we should ignore our old French boxing or even the classic wrestling so dear to our people in the South? By no means. If jiu-jitsu seems decidedly superior from the self-defence perspective, boxing and wrestling are nonetheless excellent for the development of athletic skill, strength and courage. Jiu-jitsu itself can not completely neglect boxing and must, in fact, know the capacity of the power of the boxer, whose tactic is to maintain a greater distance.

Let us add that jiu-jitsu is not, as it is generally believed (on the basis of erroneous information) to be incomplete, a mere collection of combat tricks. This method is actually a very original and comprehensive means of physical culture that begins with the education of children and continues into adolescence and manhood, without losing sight of the physical education of women. It was largely the teachings of jiu-jitsu that gave Japanese troops their wonderful endurance and admirable sobriety, and it can be said, without being accused of exaggeration, that jiu-jitsu has had its share in the triumph, so disturbing to Europeans, of the Far Eastern race.


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.

“The Best Self Defence” (1910)

Some sound advice in this article from the Australian Northern Star of November 25, 1910. The writer may well not have been aware of Bartitsu, which actually included each of his proposed “best methods of self defence.”

Although boxing is called “the noble art of self-defence,” there are forms of attack against which it would require the co-operation of other defensive arts. Man is a fighting animal, not because there is anything innately savage in his composition, but because he has to fight in order to hold his own in the struggle for existence. We may be the most peaceably inclined nation in the world, but because our neighbours are aggressive as the result of either ambitiousness or envy, we have to make warlike preparations against possible attack. As with the nation, so with the individual.

Mr. Citizen may be a most amiable gentleman. He may be strolling along, full of the utmost benignity and charity towards all mankind, when, from behind the shadow of a temporary lurking place, a murderous “footpad” rudely disturbs his peaceful meditations, by rushing out upon him, on robbery and violence bent! Much as he may, in the abstract, dislike inflicting injury upon a fellow being, our worthy burgher must disable his assailant or be left battered and plundered on the road side. The fittest of the two will survive.

Mr. Citizen may have a stout walking stick, and, thanks to a military training, may be able to use it dexterously, so that on recovering from the first-shock that the footpad’s rush has occasioned, he may elude an attempt to sandbag him, and then bring his weighty stick down heavily upon the unguarded head of the would-be robber, and thus render him hors de combat. Or the footpad may be trusting to his fistic and garrotting powers, and Mr. Citizen may have no walking-stick. So then it would be a case of a contest with nature’s weapons.

Footpads are notoriously what are known in the parlance of the ring as “foul” fighters. That is to say, they kick as well as hit, and are not particular about hitting only above the belt. Consequently, the citizen who finds himself set upon by one of this gang of criminals requires something more than a knowledge of the hits and guards that a rudimentary knowledge of boxing gives. Many a good boxer who suddenly found himself in holds with a wrestler would be at a disadvantage unless he had also a smattering of the science of wrestling, and, therefore, the art of self-defence (to be thorough) should take in not only a knowledge of how to hit, but also how to grapple and throw. While a Britisher has a leaning for boxing as a defensive art more than for wrestling, the fact is patent that not only does he want to know how to wrestle, should occasion require it, but he should know how to wield a walking stick, or an umbrella for defensive purposes.

Maybe the most effective way of escaping or warding of threatened danger would be to “run for it,” if the opposing forces are too numerous, but we are taking the case where this discretion that is said to be the better part of valour cannot be resorted to, and a man has to stand and fight it out in a corner, with one or two assailants. A stroke across the shins is a most effective way of disabling an assailant, and a good single-stick player could effectively deal with any aggressor by such a means in very short order.

Footpads are not generally courteous and chivalrous Claude Duvals, and a favorite mode of attack with them is the use of the boot. Opposed to the citizen possessing a knowledge of the art of the Japanese Ju-Jitsu or the French method of fighting with the feet, the thief wildly letting fly his boots would promptly be stood on his head. Such methods of attack are practised in Ju-Jitsu, the science of Ju-Jitsu being in brief how to defend oneself from attack when deprived of any weapon. Once a Britisher gets a man on the ground his instinct is to let him up again, but with the Japanese that is just the stage of the combat at which the fun really begins. The Japanese practise so that, even though they may be underneath in the fall, they contrive to turn the table on the “top dog.” We Britishers are apt to decry Ju-Jitsu because of the severity of some of the holds and methods invoked, forgetful that it is intended for defensive purposes in mortal combat. The fact that the London police have been instructed in Ju-Jitsu holds shows that there is a lot in it for the man who would know how to take care of himself in an emergency where his life may be hanging the balance.

The garotte, or the grip of the Indian thug, in the ordinary strangling-hold, for which there are several effective stops, and these apparently deadly modes of attack upon citizens can he guarded against in a fairly simple way if the citizen, in his youth will only set about learning how. But our fancy runs so much with the direction of our national pastimes that the very essential sport of wrestling is relegated to the background. Wrestling does not rank second, to boxing as a defensive art. and as such deserves every encouragement. The reason for this unimportant position it occupies in public estimation lies to some extent in the fact that wrestling matches are easily “faked” and several big matches have occurred in which the public felt that the combatants were not triers. But, quite apart from wrestling as a method of entertaining sporting patrons, its value as an exercise and one likely to stand a man in good stead at some time in his life, cannot be gainsaid.

“Bartitsu: Its Exponent Interviewed” (1901)

The following interview with Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette of 5 September 1901, during the height of the Bartitsu Club era.


One of our contributors lately called on Mr. Barton-Wright in his well-appointed gymnasium in Shaftesbury Avenue, when the following conversation took place:

What is the word Bartitsu? – It is a compound word, made up of parts of my own name, and of the Japanese Ju-jitsu, which means fighting to the last.

What do you claim for your system? – It teaches a man to defend himself effectively without firearms or any other weapons than a stick or umbrella, against the attack or another, perhaps much stronger or heavier than himself.

How does it differ from the usual fencing or boxing? – The fencing and boxing generally taught in schools-of-arms is too academic. Although it trains the eye to a certain extent, it is of little use except as a game played with persons who will observe the rules. Most of the hits in (single)stick or sabre play are taken up by the hilt, which a man is not very likely to take out with him on his walks. The head, too, which is a part which an assailant who means business would naturally go for, is so well protected that the learner gets careless of exposing it.

And the boxing? – The same objection. The amateur is seldom taught how to hit really hard, which is what you must do in a row. Nor is he protected against the savate, which would certainly be used on him by foreign ruffians, or the cowardly kicks often given by the English Hooligan. A little knowledge of boxing is really rather a disadvantage to (the defender) if his assailant happens to be skilled at it, because (the assailant) will will know exactly how his victim is likely to hit and guard.

And you can teach any one to protect himself against all this? – Certainly. The walking-stick play we will show you directly. As to boxing, we have guards which are not at all like the guards taught in schools, and which will make the assailant hurt his own hand and arm very seriously. So we teach a savate not at all like the French savate, but much more deadly, and which, if properly used, will smash the opponent’s ankle or even his ribs. Even if it be not used, it is very useful in teaching the pupil to keep his feet, which are almost as important in a scrimmage as his head.

Anything else? – My own experience is that the biggest man in a fight generally tries to close. By the grips or clutches I can teach, the biggest man can be seized and made powerless in a few seconds.

If you sow this knowledge broadcast it might be bad for the police. – Yes; but it cannot be picked up without a regular course of instruction, or merely by seeing the tricks. Moreover, this is a club with a committee of gentlemen, among whom are Lord Alwyne Compton, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, and others, and no-one is taught here unless we are satisfied that he is not likely to make bad use of his knowledge.

It must have taken you some time to work out all this? – Yes, but it was in great measure a matter of necessity. As a mining engineer in all parts of the world, I have often had to deal with very unscrupulous fighters, and, being a light man, I had to protect myself with something else than my fists.

Mr. Barton-Wright then gave our contributor a demonstration of his method. His fencing-master, M. Pierre Vigny, stripped to the waist and without any other weapon than an ordinary walking-stick, will allow you to attack him with singlestick, sabre, knife or any other short weapon without your being able to touch him, he taking all blows on what fencers call the forte of his stick. He will at the same time reply on your head, and knuckles; while, if he is given a stick with the ordinary crook handle, he will catch you by the arm, leg or back of the neck, inflicting in nearly every case a nasty fall. He has also a guard in boxing on which you will hurt your own arm without getting within his distance, while he can kick you on the chin, in the wind, or on the ankle. As to the usual brutal kick of the London rough, his guard for it (not difficult to learn) will cause the rough to break his own leg, and the harder he kicks the worse it will be for him.

Mr. Barton-Wright himself shows you wrestling tricks, by which, by merely taking hold of a man’s hand, you have him at your mercy, and can throw him on the ground or lead him about as you wish, the principle being, apparently, that you set your muscles and joints against your opponent’s in such a way that the more he struggles, the more he hurts himself.

A couple decidedly bad to beat.

In memoriam: Roger Lafond (1913-2011)

We regret to announce the death of savate and la canne master Roger Lafond on April 8th, 2011. He was 97 years old.

Roger Lafond’s martial arts and combat sports lineage can be traced back to the early origins of la boxe Française as an organised system of self defence, via his father and grandfather, who were both named Eugene, through E. Quillier, the Leclerc brothers and to Charles and Hubert Lecour.

During the Second World War, M. Lafond served five years as a prisoner of war, instructing his fellow prisoners in French martial arts. He refused to teach the enemy officers and guards, protesting that this would be fraternisation.

After the War he was instrumental in the revival of la boxe Française in Paris. He established numerous clubs and, in 1955, created his own unique blend of French and Japanese martial arts, which he referred to as la Panache. In the late 1960s he was among the trainers for the cast of the popular British television spy series, The Avengers.

As recently as two years ago, Maitre Lafond was still teaching students at his Parisian school. He was featured on several martial arts-themed documentary series, including an episode of The Human Weapon.

His funeral was held in his home town of Le Perreux sur Marne.

“The tricks of other trades”; French boxing at the Alhambra (1898)

Beginning in early November of 1898, Georges D’armoric presented a series of displays of la boxe Français at London’s Alhambra music hall. The Alhambra exhibitions are particularly interesting insofar as they reveal the sentiment of late-Victorian London audiences towards “exotic” arts of self defence, and in that they closely proceeded E.W. Barton-Wright’s efforts to popularise Bartitsu, which also included displays at the Alhambra.

D’armoric evidently intended his exhibitions to educate the British public as to the virtues of “fencing with four limbs” and stick fighting, both as gentlemanly athletic accomplishments and as practical means of self defence. Earlier that year, he had published a booklet entitled Les Boxeurs Français: Treatise-argumentative-on the French method of the Noble Art of Self Defence, which put forth his case in erudite terms.

Faced with the music hall-going public’s insatiable demand for novel entertainments, however, Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater’s promotion may have rather sabotaged D’armoric’s high-minded goals. Quoted in an article in the London Daily Mail of October 31, Slater said “the audience will go into fits of laughter, as the show is one of the funniest in the world”.

The Daily Mail article continued:

It is hardly likely that (D’armoric’s) efforts will meet with much success, and the main reason is that this really is the country of sportsmen who look upon men who kick as a degrading and cowardly set of curs. But for all that, they will go to the Alhambra to see “Les Boxeurs Francais”, just for the fun of the thing. Whether or not they will have much sympathy for the professors of the Chausson from “gay Paree” is quite a different matter.

The origins of the middle-class, urban Anglo-Saxon bias against kicking are obscure. Striking an opponent with the feet had long been banned by the conventions, if not literally the rules, of boxing. Neither the revised Rules of the London Prize Ring nor those dedicated to the Marquis of Queensberry specifically prohibited kicking, presumably because it was simply taken for granted that boxers would not kick. Certainly, late-Victorian literature makes much reference to the act of kicking an opponent as being “unmanly”, “brutal”, etc.

At least one British method of antagonistics had cultivated the art of kicking, though by 1898, the fearsomely weaponised shoes of rural Devonshire wrestlers, which had played merry havoc with their opponents’ shins in bloody purring contests throughout the first three-quarters on the 19th century, had become the stuff of folk memory. Even during their heyday, when chanced upon by literate urbanites who deigned to record these matches for posterity, the gory mess that was made of Devonshire wrestlers’ lower legs seem to have inspired greater revulsion than the “spout of claret” occasioned by a boxer’s stiff left lead-off or right cross-counter. Ultimately, it is likely that kicking fell out of fashion due to the same civilising impulse that eventually replaced bare-knuckle prize fighting with gloved boxing.

Whatever its cultural origins, by the 1890s the English resistance to kicking was entrenched enough to be remarked upon by several reviewers of the Alhambra exhibitions:

(…) the whole business appears too opposed to our insular ideas of boxing to excite any real interest in the performance.

(…) the British portion of the audience look on with amused toleration, which in the gallery sometimes finds voice in rough and ready criticism. Looked at as an exhibition of graceful agility, the show is a good one, but taken as a serious exposition of a means of self-defense, it seems scarcely worthy of the attention bestowed upon it.

There were also more technical objections:

Setting aside our insular prejudice against kicking, there remains the objection that in nine cases out of ten, despite the marvellous balancing power of these French boxers, the kicker, as soon as he raises his foot a certain distance from the ground, weakens his defense immeasurably. The comparative slowness of the action in striking with the foot, as compared with the fist, together with the fact that much of the force of the blow is spent in secondary movements, also militate against the punitive effects of the art. Nevertheless, the exhibition is an interesting one (…)

This context may help to explain Barton-Wright’s own comments on the kicking content of his Bartitsu curriculum. He took pains to distinguish the kicks practiced at the Bartitsu Club from “the French style”, but omitted to explain what the difference was; given his strong preference for self defence-oriented techniques, he may have preferred to concentrate on low kicks over the more gymnastic high kicking style that was displayed by D’armoric and his colleagues at the Alhambra.

Two years later, the Alhambra exhibition was cited in W.T.A. Beare’s article Antagonistics: A Comparison of Some Methods of Self Defence for Sandow’s Magazine. Perhaps this passage is revealing as to the curious bias shown by earlier reviewers, and which was subsequently repeated by British boxers and wrestlers provoked by Barton-Wright’s jujitsu challenge contests:

Even if not always openly expressed, there has generally been the inference conveyed by the promoters of these new methods that they are superior to our good old English system of fisticuffs; and such expertness and agility have been displayed by the demonstrators that there is little occasion for surprise if many people have arrived at the conclusion that here was something entirely new, something which would nonplus our professors of the “noble art,” and which, to be fully equipped for attack or defence, we should immediately proceed to at least assimilate and superimpose upon our ancient methods, even if we should not abandon these latter altogether.

Perhaps, given the traditional Anglo-French rivalries, the mere fact of difference was enough to conjure a reflexive antagonism, or an assumption of challenge, in the English audience. If so, then D’armoric’s exhibitions may have struck a cultural nerve as symbols of French militarism.

Beare, however, was fair-minded, and in reviewing both French boxing and Bartitsu as he had witnessed them on the Alhambra stage, he concluded:

If, however, I do not admit the superior excellence of this system of fighting to our English system, I am prepared to concede its value in some respects. Its practice must tend to strengthen the legs and to give a man great command over the movements of his body in almost any position; it will render him more agile, and an acquaintance with its main features will prepare him to resist attack in that form.

It is a maxim with many English trainers and instructors, no matter what the game may be, that it is best to specialise and confine attention to the one thing in hand. The running man must not walk, nor vice versa, and if he be a sprinter he must never run distances. The cricketer must not dally with lawn tennis of golf. The Rugby footballer must never play the Association game, and so-on. So, in boxing and wrestling – but the one system must be practised, for indulgence in other forms will vitiate the style, and render the man slow and tame.

Now, with these propositions I do not at all agree. I do not believe in specialism in sport, and much more does the fairly capable all-round athlete command my admiration than the expert in one form of sport or exercise who is a rank duffer in most others.

It must, of course, be conceded that when a man has set himself to attempt some particular feat, or is matched against others in some special form of contest, he should pay, in the later stages of his preparation, exclusive attention to that one thing; but the true athlete should possess a ground-work of all-round excellence, and should not specialise until he has developed all the powers of his body.

In this particular connection I say that an acquaintance with the various different styles of self-defence is of distinct value to the man who would be a good boxer. He cannot know too much, and, though he may not require to use all his tricks in an actual contest, yet the knowledge that he has reserves to call upon at need in the case of an unexpected attack will lend him increased confidence; and he is much less likely to be taken by surprise if he is already well-acquainted with the tricks of other trades.

E.W. Barton-Wright would have applauded.

International Concourse in the Arts of Self Defence (1902)

A pictorial report on a Bartitsu Club exhibition from Caras y caretas (1902)

The Spanish text reads:

International Concourse in the Arts of Self Defence

On the 23rd of November was held in the School of Arms in London an interesting tournament and demonstration of the various self defence methods that have been adapted into the “Bartitsu” system which has, as with many other Japanese trends, been adopted easily in Europe.

The Japanese champions were there along with wrestlers and boxers from Britain and from the European continent. Part of what one might describe as a match of over-riding interest was an encounter between a professional wrestler who represented the Cornish and Devonshire style and a champion of Osaka (Japan) named Uyenishi. The Japanese wrestler won each of the three rounds of this contest.

A professional boxer contended against the school’s champion of the French savate, and the result was indecisive. Several of the competitors explained aspects of the Bartitsu system, and through their exhibitions much interest was sown in the employment of the walking stick as a defensive weapon.

Our pictures reproduce the main scenes of this interesting tournament in which, overall, the Japanese dominated, and if partially, in some of the European exercises, failed, they were not truly defeated since with the methods of their own country they were victorious against all attempts to dominate them.

A battle royale

A cartoon from the Libertarian political satire blog lampoonthesystem.com stages the rivalry between France and England as a savate vs. Bartitsu battle royale.

This is the second time in over a hundred years that humourists have referenced Bartitsu to make a political point. In a 1904 article poking fun at the customs of hereditary peerage for Punch’s Almanack, writer, war-games enthusiast and fervent socialist H.G. Wells wrote:

Next in importance to pronunciation and recitation in building up the mental and moral equipment of our ideal Duke, I would place the handling of toy soldiers, with this proviso, that every army corps should be provided with a section of cyclist volunteers. At the age of ten the Duke should himself be instructed in the use of the bicycle (preferably a Bantam), the Mauser pistol, and the Bartitsu method of self-defence, a mode of fighting rendered indispensable by the Anglo-Japanese alliance.

Speculations on Bartitsu (kick)boxing

Update: since the following article was written, the Bartitsu Society has come across this 1901 interview with E.W. Barton-Wright that offers some more information on his conception of “Bartitsu kickboxing”.

E.W. Barton-Wright evidently felt that while both boxing and kicking had their places within Bartitsu, they required substantial modification for use in actual self defence. Unfortunately, he never detailed the nature of his modifications, which leaves this aspect of the Bartitsu curriculum open to speculation based on a set of cryptic hints. This article examines his comments on boxing and kicking and offers some educated guesses about their place in the repertoire.

Barton-Wright was fulsome in his praise of boxing, which was virtually synonymous with the idea of “self defence” in London at the turn of the 20th century. In introducing his radical cross-training concept of Bartitsu, however, he was also careful to point out that even “manly and efficacious” British fisticuffs might not be enough to cope with a determined street attacker who didn’t play by the rules:

If one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field. – Barton-Wright, “Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900

Taken at face value, this comment suggests that the forewarned but unarmed Bartitsu-trained defender would adopt a boxing guard and spar specifically in order to “sucker” their adversary into close quarters. At that point the defender would deploy jiujitsu as a sort of secret weapon. In fact, both of Barton-Wright’s “boxing” scenarios in that article proposed that an unarmed fight might begin with fisticuffs, but would end with jiujitsu:

Again, should it happen that the assailant is a better boxer than oneself, the knowledge of Japanese wrestling will enable one to close and throw him without any risk of getting hurt oneself. – Ibid.

He was less enthusiastic about French kickboxing. While acknowledging that kicking and countering kicks were important aspects of self defence training, he asserted that:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate. This latter … is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it. – Ibid.

Another cryptic comment on the subject of kicking in self defence:

Mr. Barton-Wright does not profess to teach his pupils how to kick each other, but merely to know how to be able to return kicks with interest should one be attacked in this manner. – Ibid.

Later, an article in the Pall Mall Gazette also mentioned that the kicking methods adopted at the Bartitsu Club were “somewhat different from the accepted French method.”

In considering Barton-Wright’s comments on savate, it’s worth recalling the traditional Anglo-French rivalry and the middle-class London cultural bias against kicking in self defence as being “un-English”. Also, at a time of very intense nationalism, B-W’s idea that it was socially “permissible” for English gentlemen to learn these foreign skills was still relatively novel and probably not universally accepted. Perhaps B-W deliberately de-emphasised the kicking content of Bartitsu and distanced it from the French method in his articles and lectures as a gesture towards social respectability. Likewise, he may have been attempting to score points by suggesting that the Bartitsu Club was promoting a “new, improved” (even an Anglicised) version of savate.

Both Barton-Wright himself and Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny were primarily interested in teaching pragmatic self-defence, so it’s likely that neither of them had much time for the balletic, light-contact, high kicking style that was then becoming popular as a bourgeois exercise in Paris. If we take B-W’s comments on kicking literally, then presumably he was simply advocating generic street fighting kicks of no particular national origin.

Several months later, in a lecture for the Japan Society of London, he noted that:

Under Bartitsu is included 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. Judo and jujitsu, which (are) secret styles of Japanese wrestling, (I) would call close play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, (one) must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick … judo and jiujitsu are not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but (are) only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters, it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot. – Barton-Wright, “Jiu jitsu and Judo: the Japanese Art of Self Defence from a British Athletic Point of View”, February 1901

And then:

Directly one (sees) a man, one ought to know whether he (is) a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in one’s self. – Ibid

This reads as if Barton-Wright was moving towards a more specifically integrated unarmed combat system, perhaps combining the defensive aspects of boxing and savate (guards, slips, parries etc.) with a limited range of punches and kicks. These would be transitional, counter-offensive actions between the preferred ranges of stick fighting and jiujitsu. Thus, again, the unarmed/disarmed Bartitsu practitioner might assume a boxing guard stance and defend/counter according to orthodox Anglo-French styles, but then segue into jiujitsu to actually bring the fight to a close.

Barton-Wright’s articles on “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” include several defence sequences that feature boxing punches and savate kicks, but in each case, the context is the Bartitsu-trained defender countering punching or kicking attacks with his trusty cane. The Black and White Budget article also featured a photograph of Vigny executing what looks like a waist-high front thrust or crescent kick. The implication is that students at the Bartitsu Club might have practiced the basic offensive techniques of boxing and savate partially in order to simulate the types of attacks they might face in the streets; to “role-play” as boxers and savateurs for training purposes.

Barton-Wright’s reference to “more numerous guards”, performed in a “slightly different style” to orthodox boxing, may be significant. It seems highly likely that he and Vigny would have discounted those techniques that relied upon either fighter wearing boxing gloves. If so, they may have been inspired by the older, pre-Queensberry Rules versions of pugilism and savate, which were designed for bare-knuckle fighting and did include a diverse range of guards. Also, Bartitsu defences against unarmed striking attacks were not restricted by the rules of boxing; the counter-attack might be a kick, a punch, a jiujitsu atemi strike, a throw and/or a submission technique.

While the most dangerous stick and jiujitsu techniques could not be fully applied in safe training, via recreational (kick)boxing the Bartitsu practitioner could still attain the sense of timing, distance, contact and unpredictability that can only be honed by unrehearsed sparring.

Due to the speculative nature of canonical Bartitsu (kick)boxing, Bartitsu revivalists tend to take an eclectic approach to their kicking and punching curricula, drawing from various late 19th and early 20th century sources.