A safety critique of Steampunk umbrella fencing/dueling (or, “It’s all fun until someone loses an eye”)

Umbrella fencing, also known as umbrella dueling, is a sport or game that has been played at some steampunk gatherings in the UK and USA. The purpose of this article is to encourage umbrella fencers to enjoy this activity safely, in the light of many years of experience in martial arts, fencing and related areas.

Quoting the authors of a 1990 report on umbrella injuries, “We hope the fact that umbrella tips can easily become life-threatening objects will come to the attention of the general public so that similar cases may be avoided.”

A little history

The concept of umbrella fencing as a sport was first proposed in 1897 by satirist J.F. Sullivan, in his tongue-in-cheek article The Umbrella: A Misunderstood Weapon. The actual teaching of umbrella fencing as self-defence, however, has a pedigree extending back to the earliest years of the Victorian era, reaching a pinnacle in the first decade of the 20th century.

Ominously, 19th and 20th century newspaper archives contain numerous reports of serious injuries and even deaths reported as the result of umbrella thrusts, delivered both accidentally and deliberately.

Parasol dueling: no contact, no problem

For the sake of clarity, it’s necessary to distinguish umbrella fencing/dueling from parasol dueling. The latter, which also features at steampunk gatherings, is a strictly non-contact game, similar to “rock, paper, scissors”, in which players compete by performing various poses and flourishes with their parasols. Because it’s played without contact, parasol dueling is essentially safe.

Making contact

In umbrella fencing/dueling, on the other hand, players attempt to score points by making contact with their opponents. As such, it’s directly comparable to foil fencing, Bartitsu stick fighting and similar combat sports. Unfortunately, the fact that umbrella fencing is played in the fun, friendly context of a steampunk gathering doesn’t lessen the potential danger of thrusting a rigid, pointed object at another person.

There are currently two distinct steampunk umbrella fencing styles or rule-sets, alternately described as “umbrella fencing” and “umbrella dueling”.

It’s OK, I have a sieve

In the first variant, players must stand at a prescribed distance from each other, as delineated by markings on the floor or ground. They are equipped with small umbrellas and with sieves, which are held up in front of the players’ faces in the manner of fencing masks. Two small balls are balanced on the sieves, attached with short cords, and the object is for each player to attempt to knock the balls off his/her opponent’s sieve, while avoiding their attempts to do the same thing. Contact is made with the opponent’s umbrella, the sieve, or the balls themselves.

Even though deliberate contact with the opponent’s face and head is not allowed, accidental contact could still be extremely dangerous. A stray or redirected thrust could easily bypass the sieve, or an inexperienced player could inadvertently lower his/her sieve at exactly the wrong moment, as happens at 0.31 in the video above. Essentially, as fun, silly and ironic as it is, a hand-held sieve is not adequate protection for a game that involves thrusting and striking towards someone else’s head and face with a rigid, pointed object.  Whereas a light downward blow to the crown of the head would probably be harmless, a thrust accidentally entering the eye socket could cause horrific injuries.

The best way to keep the spirit of this game intact while ensuring safety will be to have the players wear fencing masks and reposition the balls so that they are balanced on the mask. A similar game is played at Renaissance Faires and is safe enough for young children to take part:

Even a sieve is better than nothing

The second variant (most commonly referred to as “umbrella dueling”) is played with full-size umbrellas. It involves no prescribed fighting distance and may include no protection at all, apart from a rule that any contact with the opponent’s head or face will be grounds for disqualification. Some players also wear steampunk goggles, whose actual protective value against umbrella thrusts is questionable. In any case, the object is to score a thrust with the tip of the umbrella against the opponent’s body.

This variant is essentially limited-target thrust fencing using umbrellas – which are actually heavier and more rigid than fencing foils, and are just as apt to cause serious and even life-threatening injuries if accidentally thrust into an opponent’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth or throat. The hands, unprotected by either padded gloves or guards on the umbrellas, are also extremely vulnerable.

Click here if you wish to view GRAPHIC pictures of eye and nose injuries caused by impalement on umbrella points.

Again, accepting that players genuinely don’t intend to risk their opponent’s safety, this is still a very dangerous game. It’s hard for a novice fencer to accurately judge and control their own speed, power or aim.  The issue of aim is especially difficult in facing the unpredictable movements of an active opponent who may suddenly duck, trip or slip, lunge forward, etc., lowering his/her face into the space that was occupied by their torso an instant before.

It’s also far too easy for a thrust that is accurately aimed at the opponent’s body to be accidentally redirected into their face by the opponent’s own parry or bind (a defensive action in which one weapon pushes or presses the other).

A hidden danger

The type(s) of umbrellas used should also be considered from the safety point of view. Umbrellas with hollow steel, wooden, bamboo or hollow fiberglass shafts can all crack unexpectedly, leaving a jagged, dagger-like splinter projecting from the handle.

The same thing can (and does) happen even with actual fencing foils, which is why fencers wear jackets made of puncture-resistant fabric. The most dangerous scenario in this vein is when a weapon breaks on contact with the opponent’s weapon or body and then continues thrusting forward, allowing no time for anyone involved to realise the sudden danger, as in the tragic death of fencer Vladimir Smirnov in 1982.

According to this article, umbrella duelists at the Steampunk Symposium event in Cincinnati, Ohio used Unbreakable Umbrellas in their duels. Designed and manufactured for real self-defence, the Unbreakable Umbrella features a solid fiberglass shaft. It will not break, but its weight and rigidity are far greater than those of ordinary umbrellas, presenting an additional set of safety concerns. On the bright side, the article notes that future umbrella fencing competitors at this event will be required to wear protective vests and proper fencing masks.

Another useful safety feature will be to secure to the tip of the umbrella a strong rubber blunt, similar to those use on the ends of walking canes, enclosing a solid steel disc such as a suitably-sized coin.  By forming an impenetrable barrier between the pointed tip and the opponent’s body, this has the potential to mitigate stabbings into mere bruises; though again, fencing masks are also crucial.

In conclusion

Despite the signing of waivers and the issuing of safety warnings, it’s irresponsible for event organisers to allow umbrella fencing matches without proper protection. The playful, anarchic steampunk ethos should not extend into ignoring or laughing off serious safety concerns. Aside from the immediate physical dangers, a successful lawsuit could easily bring about the permanent end of an otherwise positive conference.

With a very small investment into basic safety equipment, however, umbrella fencing has the potential to continue as an enjoyably silly steampunk sport.

Bartitsu demonstrated at “The Friday Society” book launch

Members of the Riot A.C.T. stunt team demonstrated Bartitsu self defence techniques as part of the gala launch of author Adrienne Kress’ new book, The Friday Society.  The gala was held at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto and the book, a steampunk adventure story, is now available via Amazon.

Creating the Forteza Clubhouse

Click this link to see our spiffing video, info, rewards and more towards creating the Forteza Clubhouse – a steampunk/neo-Victorian lounge complete with library, art gallery and a multi-media learning center (and a secret passage entrance – shhh!)

The Clubhouse project has begun! Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts (the headquarters of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago) is creating the ultimate Bartitsu Club salon, and we’d really appreciate your help. Watch the video, check out the rather cool contributor rewards and, if you are so moved, help out. N.B. that the Indiegogo “share” tools make it very quick and easy to share the project page via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, or to embed or send the page info by email.

We’ll be offering regular updates over the next month and will also be inviting design and decor suggestions …

Bartitsu as a “steampunk martial art”

Steampunk applies post-modern artistic imagination to 19th century culture and technology, and vice-versa. There is an undeniable affinity between Steampunk and neo-Bartitsu, a martial art which is likewise inspired by (and experiments with) Victorian-era aesthetics and resources; both can be appreciated as aspects of the neo-Victorian movement.

Neo-Bartitsu describes the contemporary revival of a self defence system first promoted by its founder, a stalwart son of the British Empire named Edward William Barton-Wright, at the end of the 19th century.

Born in Bangalore, India in the year 1860, E.W. Barton-Wright was the third son in a large, moderately prosperous family. Following the middle-class fashion of the day, he matriculated in France and Germany and then set out to make his mark. His first attempt at a start-up business in the antimony smelting industry failed, and so he hit the road:

“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.” – Bartitsu: Its Exponent Interviewed (Pall Mall Gazette, September 5, 1901)

Barton-Wright said that he had studied “boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate (French kickboxing) and the use of the stiletto, under recognised masters”, further noting that he had refined his skills by “engaging ‘toughs’ until (he) was satisfied in their application”. Circa 1894, the evidently pugnacious Britisher steamshipped his way to Kobe, Japan, where he became among the very first Europeans to learn traditional Japanese martial arts – specifically, the Shinden Fudo Ryu (“School of the Immovable Heart”) method of jujutsu, under the venerable sensei Terajima Kuniichiro.

Returning to London in 1898, Barton-Wright found a city in the grip of three enthusiasms that played directly into his toughened hands. First was the trend towards “physical culture”, as post-Industrial Revolution Londoners found themselves willing and able to pay for the sort of bodily exercise that farm and village life had offered gratis to previous generations. Second was the fashionable interest in all things “Oriental”, especially Japanese, in origin, and third was the newspaper-fed moral panic surrounding the upsurge of “hooliganism”. Scarcely a day passed without the papers reporting some new street outrage perpetrated upon innocent members of the new London bourgeoisie.

Into this triple breach rode E.W. Barton-Wright upon his “New Art of Self Defence”, which he had named Bartitsu. He later defined the neologism as meaning “self defence in all its forms”; it was, in fact, an Anglo-Japanese portmanteau of his surname and the word “jujitsu”. Not satisfied with merely importing Asian martial arts to Europe, Barton-Wright conceived Bartitsu as what we today would think of as a mixed martial art; an experimental cross-training conglomerate of several different styles.

For its time, this was a truly radical innovation. The general rule in the West was towards an increasing specialisation of combat sports into facets; good old fisticuffs, numerous regional wrestling styles, various forms of fencing. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu deftly jabbed, flung and twisted them all together, with the aim of transforming those who could afford to pay into proper c1900 fighting machines.

He established the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture – prosaically, the Bartitsu Club – in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, and did a decent job of promoting his “New Art” via lectures, demonstrations and magazine articles. Members of the public attracted by Barton-Wright’s charisma and/or the sheer novelty of Bartitsu first had to submit their names for approval by a stern Committee of Gentlemen including Colonel G. Malcolm Fox and Captain Alfred Hutton. This vetting system served to weed out “undesirables” and may well have rather doomed the enterprise, as Barton-Wright appears to have overestimated the number of “desirable” Londoners who shared his passion for exotic arts of self defence.

Still, for a few years at the turn of the 20th century, the Bartitsu Club was a place to see and be seen. Members and supporters included politicians, soldiers, athletes, actors and aristocrats, both men and women, who were trained by a gallery of instructors from different points of the map. The young Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, newly arrived from Japan, trained their well-heeled clients in the mysterious skills of Japanese unarmed combat. Armand Cherpillod, a powerful wrestler from the Swiss village of St. Croix, taught grappling and exercise classes. Professor Pierre Vigny, formerly a soldier with the Second Regiment of French Artillery, offered training in savate and his own, unique method of self defence with a gentlemanly walking cane or ladylike parasol. Reporter Mary Nugent once described Barton-Wright’s instructors, or “champions”, illuminated by electric lights as they prowled tiger-like through the Club’s cavernous, white-tile-walled interior.

Bartitsu self defence with a walking stick (1901)

Cherpillod, Tani and Uyenishi were also put to work in music-hall challenge matches against local wrestling champions. All three enjoyed remarkable and consistent success, although Barton-Wright rather stacked the deck by requiring that the locals took on the Japanese fighters under jujitsu rules. Their bouts were always fought to the point of submission via joint-lock or strangle-hold, techniques that were old news to the jujitsuka but almost entirely novel to their opponents.

Then, in early 1902, it all fell apart. Exactly why is the most enduring of the Bartitsu mysteries, but it probably comes down to the dichotomy between attaining massive popular recognition versus appealing to a tiny demographic of rich martial arts connoisseurs in the strictly class-conscious society of pre-WW1 London. The Club disbanded and the instructors went their own ways, some going on to train notables such as Edith Garrud, the self defence instructor for the Suffragette Bodyguard team.

E.W. Barton-Wright spent the remainder of his long life as a physical therapist and occasional investor in failed inventions. His therapeutic gadgets included electric light baths, heat rays, massage machines and the truly sinister-sounding “Nagelschmidt Apparatus”; he was occasionally sued and went bankrupt more than once.

Barton-Wright demonstrates his “blue light ray machine”, circa 1905.

E.W. Barton-Wright died in almost complete obscurity, at the age of 90, in 1951.

Bartitsu might well have been completely forgotten thereafter – a minor casualty of the cultural chaos engendered by the First World War – if not for a cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Empty House, revealing that Holmes had defeated his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, through the use of “baritsu”. It’s likely that the popular author, in searching for a deus ex machina device to bring Holmes back from the brink of the Reichenbach Falls, where Doyle left his readers hanging some nine years earlier, had simply copied the misspelling directly from a London Times article on Bartitsu.

In any case, by the time of Barton-Wright’s death almost no-one remembered what he had been up to at the turn of the century, which, of course, left generations of Sherlock Holmes aficionados wondering what on Earth Doyle had meant. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the very few scholars whose specialties combined Sherlock Holmes studies with martial arts history began to piece the story back together. At that stage, with the benefit of a hindsight encompassing Bruce Lee’s almost heretical blending of multiple fighting systems during the ’70s (Jeet Kune Do) and the modern phenomenon that is mixed martial arts, it became apparent that Barton-Wright’s experiments had simply been decades ahead of their time.

Neo-Bartitsu is an unusual case even in the fabulously obscure world of martial arts revivalism. Barton-Wright’s system was probably only ever half-baked; a flash in the pan idea, abandoned as a work in progress in 1902. So why attempt to reconstruct it? What’s the motivation, other than a sort of anachronistic nostalgia?

I think that the neo-Bartitsu revival is inspired by the same combination of curiosity and creativity that fuels the Steampunk movement. There are historical motifs that must be honoured as well as a liberal encouragement to fill in the blanks according to one’s own intuition. There is a also a common sense of picking up a baton set down over a hundred years ago; of continuing a work-in-progress, without, necessarily, any definite goal of completing that work.

Over the past several years there have been numerous Bartitsu classes and demonstrations at science fiction/Steampunk gatherings including V-Con, AnomalyCon, TeslaCon, SteamCon III, the World Steam Expo, StarFest, the Steam Century Mystery weekend and the San Francisco Edwardian Ball. The CombatCon event in Las Vegas features the interplay between 19th century “antagonistics” and Steampunk fiction as one of its major themes.

Here’s author Gail Carrington, creator of the popular Parasol Protectorate series, engaging in a bit of Bartitsu-inspired jackanapery with instructor and fellow steampunk author Terry Kroenung:

… Adrienne Kress, actress and author of the steampunk/girl power adventure novel The Friday Society, getting her Bartitsu on in Toronto (you can also watch her in action inthis video item by the Canadian InnerSPACE channel):

… and here’s Neal Stephenson assisting Tony Wolf in a Bartitsu demo. in Wisconsin:

John Reppion’s article, Baritsu, Bartitsu and the Jujitsuffragettes was featured in issue #6 of Steampunk Magazine.

In addition to providing music for the documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, top Steampunk band Abney Park has produced the song Victorian Vigilante, whose protagonist “brings his baritsu” to the task of taking down his nemesis.

Finally, the Steam Fu discussion forum at Steampunk Empire frequently cites Bartitsu, and likewise, Steampunk (as it is related to martial arts) is a recurring topic on the venerable Bartitsu Forum, which is the primary venue for Bartitsu discussion online.

The Bartitsu Club of Chicago

Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago offers regular, progressive training in the “lost martial art of Sherlock Holmes”.


At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing and stick fighting into the “New Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. Promoted via exhibitions, magazine articles and challenge contests, Barton-Wright’s New Art was offered as a means by which ladies and gentlemen could beat street hooligans and ruffians at their own game.

Thus, the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London became the headquarters of a radical experiment in martial arts and fitness cross-training. It was also a place to see and be seen; famous actors and actresses, soldiers, athletes and aristocrats eagerly enrolled to learn the secrets of Bartitsu.

In early 1902, for reasons that remain a historical mystery, the London Bartitsu Club closed down. Barton-Wright’s art was almost forgotten thereafter, except for a single, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, wherein it was revealed as the method by which Sherlock Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fatal battle at Reichenbach Falls.

Our premise and approach

Bartitsu was abandoned as a work-in-progress one hundred and ten years ago, but what if Barton-Wright’s School of Arms had continued to thrive? In collaboration with other Bartitsu clubs and study groups throughout the world, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago is proud to pick up where he left off, reviving and continuing the experiment into the new millennium.

E.W. Barton-Wright recorded the basics of his “New Art” via lectures, interviews and detailed articles, which form the nucleus of “canonical Bartitsu”. These methods are practiced as a form of living history preservation and also as a common technical and tactical “language” among modern practitioners.

“Neo-Bartitsu” complements and augments the canon towards an evolving, creative revival as a system of recreational martial arts cross-training with a 19th century “twist”.

Our venue

Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts (4437 North Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640) is the ideal venue for reviving Bartitsu. Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Our classes

Bartitsu classes at Forteza run from 6.30-8.00 pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The price for the six-week introductory course (two classes per week) is $125.00.

A typical class includes calisthenic warm-ups, specialized movement drills, study of the canonical sequences and neo-Bartitsu “combat improvisation” training. Participants should wear comfortable exercise clothing and bring a change of shoes for the class.

Contact info@fortezafitness.com to book your place in the first ongoing Bartitsu course in Chicago.

Our instructor

New Zealand citizen and Chicago resident Tony Wolf is one of the founders of the international Bartitsu Society. A highly experienced martial arts instructor, he has taught Bartitsu intensives in England, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Canada and throughout the USA. Tony also edited the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005 and 2008) and co-produced/directed the feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes (2010).

The Bartitsu Club of New York City

Although Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright once announced plans to introduce his “New Art of Self Defence” to the United States, that was never to be. However, some of his articles for London magazines and newspaper reports on his activities were re-published in the USA, possibly inspiring something of the American self defence boom that took place during the first decade of the 20th century.

The modern Bartitsu revival is very much an international effort, with clubs and study groups about evenly spread between Europe and North America. One of the newest groups is the Bartitsu Club of New York City (you can “like” them on Facebook here), recently instrumental in hosting the very successful Antagonistics Weekend event with Bartitsu instructor Mark Donnelly (reviewed here).

Organised by the indefatigable Rachel Klingberg, the New York club meets monthly in Central Park. Lessons may include:

* Intros, warm-up with Victorian/Edwardian calisthetics, pugilism shadow boxing with attention to proper form and structure
* Savate kicks, coup de pied bas
* Vigny cane – footwork and posture, proper form and stances with solo movements, drills
* Safe falling, Ju Jutsu locks and defense against grabs, “How to Put a Troublesome Man Out of the Room”, grabs to wrists, coat lapels, etc.
* Parasol defense, bayonetting with parasol, locking with cane or parasol, drills from “Self Defence with a Parasol” 1901 article
* Basic fencing
* Cool-down and debriefing

Counting down to CombatCon …

A full list of CombatCon martial arts classes, demonstrations and panel discussions is now available online here.

Events and activities of special interest to Bartitsu/19th century “antagonistics” enthusiasts will include:

Manly Arts of Self Defense

In the late 19th Century certain activities were often classified as “manly arts”. This class will look at three of them: singlestick, pugilism and wrestling. The instructors will work together to show the similarities in a short presentation to begin. Then participants will choose between singlestick with Maestro Paul Macdonald, pugilism with Tim Ruzicki or wrestling with Ken Pfrenger. The class will culminate in a demonstration of these arts.

Class Length: 2 Hours

Instructors: Ken Pfrenger, Maestro Paul Macdonald, Tim Ruzicki

Bartitsu: The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes

In the year 1899, Edward William Barton-Wright founded Bartitsu as a process of cross-training between walking stick fighting, boxing, kicking and jiujitsu. It was the first eclectic self-defence system blending Asian and European combat styles, intended to beat hooligans and street gangsters at their own game.

This introductory class will focus on classical Bartitsu defenses against an unarmed attacker via the use of jiujitsu and stickfighting, with a look at “combat improvisation”.

Please bring a crook-handled walking stick or strong 36″ dowel, with any edges smoothed away.

Class Length: 1 Hour

Instructor: Tony Wolf

19th Century Defense Against Thugs

Demo by: Tom Badillo and the Botta Secreta Demo Team

Catch-as-catch-can wrestling

Demo by: Ken Pfrenger & Dan Kanagie

Sword Feats

Demo by: Maestro John Sullins

Radaellian sabre

Calling all duelists, airship pirates, mechanized cavalry troopers, and others fond of carrying a sabre, come learn to do more than pose with that fine weapon! In this class we will learn a simple set of actions that will serve you well in your adventures. We will learn attacks, defense, counter attacks, as well as a number of special actions to get you out of those sticky situations you keep finding yourself in.
Equipment- If you want to practice with full contact, then thick padded protection for the hand, torso, upper legs, groin, weapon arm, neck and shoulder protection, cup, chest protectors, are required. If you want to practice without contact then thick clothing is required. A curved sabre is highly recommended, a straight bladed weapon will not be able to do many of the actions we will be studying.

Class Length: 1 Hour

Instructor: Maestro John Sullins

1904 Singlestick

The year is 1904 and Singlestick is the fourth fencing weapon at the Games of the III Olympiad, held in St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America. We will explore this expression of the martial sport as we have researched its use during the late 1890’s through 1910. Here is a sample video of our recreation.

Fantasy: Calling all sky pirates and Airship captains . . .
We will explore singlestick as a safe training weapon for your crews to learn how to defend and protect their airship. The wooden waster called the singlestick was also used as a training weapon on board naval ships when the officers wished to train their crews against boarding actions. “No need to blunt the cutlasses, Captain, when we have these perfectly good singlesticks. Save the steel for the pirates” cried the Master of Arms on the Airship Kalakaua.


Full fencing kit is recommended: Mask, gorget, fencing jacket, chest protector, left and right handed gloves, shin and elbow pads, and personal male and female protective gear. Required equipment, Mask, padded jacket, glove for weapon hand.

Class Length: 1 Hour

Instructor: Tom Badillo

Speak softly and carry a big stick …

The stick has been used as a training tool for different weapons as well as a weapon in its own right.

Participants can choose to study Garrote Larense stick and Machete fighting of Venezuela with Professor Bruno Cruicchi, Stick fencing with Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez, Quarterstaff with Maestro Paul Macdonald or Bartitsu walking stick defence with Tony Wolf.

Class Length: 2 Hours

Instructors: Professor Bruno Cruicchi, Maestro Jeannette Acosta Martinez, Maestro Paul Macdonald, Tony Wolf

Creating your Steampunk universe

We will explore a process whereby an individual may construct their own personal storyline and context within the Steampunk world through story development, character creation, technological assessment, and the integration of actual places, people and wonders of the real world in which we live. The adventures of Major Vostok and the founding of the Pacifica Air Fleet will be used to illustrate how to create a niche for your character that fits into the surreal world of Steampunk fashion and technology.

Panel will include: Chris Villa and Tadao Tomomatsu.

Panel Length: 1 Hour

Film festival screening: Bartitsu – The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes

A documentary shot in Switzerland, Italy, the USA, and the UK that reveals the fascinating history, rediscovery and modern revival of the original mixed martial art, Bartitsu.

Theory and Practice of the Navaja

The instructional objective of the Theory and Practice of the Navaja workshop is to provide participants with a practical overview of the cultural knife arts of Andalusian Spain. The weapon that will be focused on is the navaja sevillana, a folding clasp-knife whose blade is believed to be the inspiration for the bowie knife that evolved in the American Southwest (a region originally populated by Spanish colonists).

Participants will be exposed to a hands-on familiarity with a dozen variations of Spanish fighting knives, including navajas (clasp-knives), puñales (stiletti), and salvavirgo (chastity knives). They will also learn the tactical rudiments of tirar la navaja, the methods of knife-play that evolved in Spain, including grips, guards, basic attacks, basic counter, and dexterity drills.

NOTE: Practice navajas will be provided for the class. There will also be trainers and navaja books available for purchase.

Victorian cane

Class Length: 1 Hour

As the ratio of police officer to general population of Victorian London was about 6000 to 1, it was wise for a Victorian of station to carry some sort of weapon for protection. Carrying a sword was no longer in fashion so, his or her walking stick or cane or parasol, a very common fashion accessory was the de facto choice of weapon.

“The stick is an excellent weapon, and in the hands of a good spadroon swordsman especially, wherefore I have frequently urged you to extend you fencing lessons . . . to spadroon . . . a straight sword, lighter than a Highland broadsword, and made to cut and thrust . . . fencing with a spadroon is a combination of Highland broadsword practice with that of a small sword.” Baron de Berenger page 57 – Defensive Gymnastics.


We will be exploring the tactical and strategic concepts and tactics for personal defense from the book Defensive Gymnastics by Lt. Col. Charles Random, the Baron de Berenger. This work was published in 1832, three years before Victoria was crowned Queen.

Present day:

How we, in the 21st century, can benefit from these early 19th discussions of situational awareness and fundamentals of personal defense.

One example: from page 47: “Wanton Assaults, either to gratify vulgar insolence, or to lead to a quarrel, perhaps to facilitate robbery, are practiced mostly under the guile of assumed intoxication. When you see a fellow staggering towards you whether really drunk or pretending inebriety, give him all the room you can; take no notice of anything he may say or do, not stop even to look but proceed on as if you had not even seen him.“


A simple cane or hook/crook cane that will with stand impact of cutting drills.

Class Length: 1 Hour

Instructor: Tom Badillo

Report on Bartitsu classes at the Steampunk World’s Fair

Instructor Mark Donnelly demonstrates self defence with a walking stick.

Thanks to Rachel Klingberg for this detailed report on Mark Donnelly’s three Bartitsu classes at the recent Steampunk World’s Fair conference in New Jersey.

Antagonistics: Bartitsu seminar in New York City

Announcing the Antagonistics Weekend, a two-day long Bartitsu seminar with Professor Mark Donnelly in New York City:

Learn to fight like Sherlock Holmes! London’s Bartitsu Club was all the rage in 1899, but only recently has this lost martial art been rediscovered. Learn the “gentlemanly art of self-defense” at workshops taught by Professor Mark Donnelly, a world-renowned expert on historical combat.

Be part of history at Bartitsu’s NYC debut!

* Learn to use a walking stick, parasol, jacket, and other accessories for protection
* No martial arts experience required.
* A study in self-defense and in history.


Saturday and Sunday, July 23-24, 2011
1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
34 West 28th Street
Fifth Floor
New York, NY 10001

Check out the NYCSteampunk website for further information!