Bartitsu: 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.
Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club taught the ladies and gentlemen of London how to beat street ruffians at their own dastardly game. It was later written into the Sherlock Holmes stories as the method by which Holmes defeated Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.
Join instructor Tony Wolf in a one-day seminar exploring:
* The original or “canonical” armed and unarmed self defence sequences as presented by E.W. Barton-Wright
* The process of neo-Bartitsu revivalism; continuing Barton-Wright experiments in cross-training between circa 1900 boxing, jujitsu and self defense with a walking stick, umbrella or parasol, via “combat improv” games and exercises
* The fascinating and colorful history of Victorian-era street gangsters and pickpockets, the secret Suffragette Bodyguard Society, and more!
Tony Wolf will be teaching a theatrical Bartitsu seminar at the upcoming Winter Wonderland Workshop, to be held at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL (Jan. 4-6, 2013). The seminar will focus on Bartitsu as a style of fight choreography, drawing from E.W. Barton-Wright’s original system as well as neo-Bartitsu interpolations.
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.
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.
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.
On Saturday morning Tony taught a very successful 2-hour Bartitsu intro seminar that attracted about 45 participants. The seminar covered Bartitsu history in a ten-minute precis and based much of the rest of the training on the synergy exercises being developed at the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, very gradually incorporating boxing, kicking, canonical stick and jujitsu techniques/kata/set-plays, then developed that into segue drills, stressing the idea of “combat improvisation” in the face of the unexpected.
The seminar finished with a short description of the modern revival and the explanation of the non-hierarchical, open-source approach aroused spontaneous applause.
On Thursday, June 28th, a wall display commemorating Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright was unveiled as part of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library in London. The display consists of a large framed print of Sidney Paget’s illustration of Sherlock Holmes’ “baritsu” struggle with Professor Moriarty, and a companion print offering a summary of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu and its connection with the Holmes mythos. The display was designed by Tony Wolf and was donated to the Collection on behalf of the Bartitsu Society, towards the mission of memorialising Barton-Wright’s life and achievements.
Above:Emelyne Godfrey, author of the book Masculinity, Crime and Self Defence in Victorian Literature outside Marylebone Library.
Above: David Jones of the Sherlock Holmes Society strikes a pose inspired by Paget’s famous illustration. You can click on the picture to enlarge it and see the detail of the display.
Above: Bartitsu instructors James Marwood (left) and George Stokoe demonstrate the Bartitsu method of self defence with a walking stick as part of Mr. Marwood’s lecture/demonstration.
Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf (left) will be teaching an introductory class among the many attractions of CombatCon 2012 at the Tuscany Suites hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (July 6-8).
A confluence of Western martial arts with pop-culture entertainment genres (horror, pirates, science fiction, steampunk etc.), CombatCon offers a very wide assortment of hands-on classes, demonstrations, panel discussions and vendor’s booths. 19th century antagonistics were well-represented at last years’ convention, which also included a large “museum” room devoted to steampunk artifacts … who knows what else CombatCon 2012 has in store?
A short “video impression” of the June 22nd Bartitsu seminar at the new (and still under development) Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Ravenswood, Chicago.
Instructor Tony Wolf led a group of about thirty eager participants through a combination of canonical and neo-Bartitsu drills, concentrating on blending fisticuffs, jujitsu and walking stick defense according to E.W. Barton-Wright’s precept of adaptability:
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.
Also visible in the clip above are some items from the Forteza “gymuseum”, including original late-19th century posters, antique cast-iron dumbbells, wooden Indian clubs and an 1880s rowing machine.
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”.
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.
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).