An updated history of weaponised umbrellas

The release of Kingsman: the Secret Service promises to introduce a new generation of film-goers to the weaponised umbrella, a time-tested motif in anime, comic books, film, literature and television.  The bulletproof Kingsman umbrella comes equipped with all manner of gadgets, from a stunning projectile launcher to a TASER bola, as seen in this video:

However, while this fictional high-tech development in defensive bumbershootery is undoubtedly impressive, it is well worth noting that there has been a hundred-plus year history of attempts to weaponise the humble brolly in real life. These have included the development of martial arts techniques as well as the invention of actual, combat-augmented umbrellas.

As early as 1838, the Baron Charles de Berenger suggested several ingenious methods for using an umbrella in defence against highwaymen and ruffians, including simply shooting straight through it with a flintlock pistol:

In 1897, J.F. Sullivan proposed the umbrella as a misunderstood weapon in his tongue-in-cheek article for the Ludgate Monthy.

Only a few years later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright took the subject seriously in his two-part article series for Pearson’s Magazine, explaining the use of the umbrella and walking stick in self defence. The cane/umbrella were considered the first line of defence in the Bartitsu arsenal, which also included boxing, wrestling and jujitsu.

After the London Bartitsu Club closed under mysterious circumstances in 1902, instructors Pierre Vigny and his wife, who is known to us only as “Miss Sanderson”, continued to teach the use of umbrellas and parasols as defensive weapons. By 1908 the concept had made its way to the United States, being taught at the Philadelphia Institute of Physical Culture and featured in Popular Mechanics Magazine.

The remainder of the 20th century has seen the use of umbrellas as weapons of assassination:

… as well as numerous developments of the “umbrella sword” motif:

… and, of course, the Unbreakable Umbrella:

French news reports during mid-2011 suggested that the bodyguards of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy would soon be carrying a new defensive weapon – the Para Pactum umbrella. Reinforced with kevlar, the Para Pactum has apparently been tested against attack dogs and is also proof against knives, acid and thrown projectiles:

M. Vigny’s School of Self Defence (1904)

From the Daily News, May 27, 1904:

All good citizens will rejoice to learn that a new and efficacious method of abolishing those pests of the streets known as Hooligans has been discovered and put into practical application by a French gentleman named M. Pierre Vigny.

Some years ago the idea occurred to M. Vigny, who, it may be mentioned, has been fencing muster to a French crack cavalry regiment, that it would be possible to discover a system by which people could guard themselves against the cowardly methods of assault practised by the blackguards of the streets. M. Vigny accordingly proceeded to study the methods of Hooligans in the slums of London and Liverpool. When he acquired first-hand knowledge of their ways, he repaired to Paris, where he sought wisdom from the Thugs and Apaches, ruffians who assault pedestrians with sand-bags and life-preservers, and then, for the purpose of finishing his education, he spent considerable time amongst the ruffians of Rome and Naples, who are proficient in the use of the murderous stiletto, and completed his curriculum in the Bowery of New York and the slums of Chicago.

He thus became conversant with every device of the street ruffian, and, what is of more importance, he discovered how to protect himself effectively from every weapon, with the exception of firearms, they use, including loaded belts, sand-bags, bludgeons, knives and daggers, with the instrumentality of a humble walking stick!

For the purpose of imparting this art he has established a “School of Self Defence” in a street near Oxford-street, which is largely patronised by young aristocrats, city men, actors, and others whose pursuits necessitate their being out late. Ladies also receive instruction at this unique school in large numbers, and M. Vigny maintains that anyone who has mastered the system of self-defence with a walking-stick or umbrella, which he has inaugurated, is a match for at least half a dozen street ruffians armed with belts or knives!

“Philosophy of the walking stick” (1899)

This excerpt from the Liverpool Mercury (Friday 5th May, 1899) may be among the first news reports in English concerning Professor Pierre Vigny, who would thereafter become a key instructor at E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club in Soho.

Either a walking-stick or an umbrella is now considered an indispensable part of a gentleman’s attire, but few of those who carry these articles know how to use them effectively. Carlyle dealt with the philosophy of clothes in a ponderous volume, which few people have ever finished; but it has been left to Professor Pierre Vigny to illustrate in a practical manner the philosophy of the walking-stick.

On Wednesday night, in the Salle Bertrand, Warwick-street, London, he gave an exhibition of what can be done with it as a weapon of defence as well as ornament, and gained the applause of an audience which comprised many of the best foilists and escrimeurs in London. In his hands the baton became a veritable poem, and showed a capability of development undreamt of by most people, whose chief use of either cane or umbrella is to whirl it in the hand like a windmill, to the imminent danger of their neighbours.

M. Vigny walks in with a stout oak stick, looking like a countryman on his first visit to London, who does not know much about anything. A gang of sharpers surround him as easy prey, and are considerably surprised when the cudgel falls on their heads with a force and dexterity which put them to flight. The same thing happened when M. Vigny was armed with only an elegant, neatly-folded umbrella. In fact, the possibilities of defence with even a fragile stick were shown to be unbounded.

In addition to this display, which was both clever and brilliant, M. Vigny gave exhibitions of his skill with foils, single-stick, sabres, duelling-swords, French and English boxing, and club-swinging, his opponents comprising such experts as Staff – sergeant Betts, Mr. John Jenkinson, Professor Anastasie, M. Felix Bertrand, Mr. Egerton Castle, Professor Danguy, Professor Perkins, and others. The “assault” was undoubtedly one of the best seen in London for a long time.

A short history of weaponised umbrellas

Recent news reports from France suggest that the bodyguards of president Nicolas Sarkozy will soon be carrying a new defensive weapon – the Para Pactum umbrella. Reinforced with kevlar, the Para Pactum has apparently been tested against attack dogs and is also proof against knives, acid and thrown projectiles: video here.

While this high-tech development in defensive bumbershootery is undoubtedly impressive, it is also simply the most recent in a hundred-plus year history of attempts to weaponise the humble brolly.

As early as 1838, the Baron Charles de Berenger suggested several ingenious methods for using an umbrella in defence against highwaymen and ruffians:

In 1897, J.F. Sullivan proposed the umbrella as a misunderstood weapon in his tongue-in-cheek article for the Ludgate Monthy.

Only a few years later, Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright took the subject seriously in his two-part article series for Pearson’s Magazine, explaining the use of the umbrella and walking stick in self defence. The cane/umbrella were considered the first line of defence in the Bartitsu arsenal, which also included boxing, wrestling and jujitsu.

After the London Bartitsu Club closed under mysterious circumstances in 1902, instructors Pierre Vigny and his wife, who is known to us only as “Miss Sanderson”, continued to teach the use of umbrellas and parasols as defensive weapons. By 1908 the concept had made its way to the United States, being taught at the Philadelphia Institute of Physical Culture and featured in Popular Mechanics Magazine.

The remainder of the 20th century has seen the use of umbrellas as weapons of assassination:

… as well as numerous developments of the “umbrella sword” motif:

… and, of course, the Unbreakable Umbrella:

Finally, see this page at TVTropes.org for a comprehensive list of weaponised umbrellas in anime, comic books, film, literature and television.

“The Umbrella as a Weapon of Defence” (1908)

From Popular Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 10 Issues 1-12:

In one of the women’s fencing schools of Paris instruction in the art of attack and defense with foils has been discontinued and umbrellas instituted.

The first lesson the pupils learn in this up-to-date means of defense from attack on the streets is to baffle the watchfulness of the aggressor by skillful blows. The most simple and at the same time most effective, consists in applying a flat stroke of the umbrella upon his headgear. Surprised by this stroke and perhaps blinded by the rim of the hat, he has not the time nor the presence of mind to seize the umbrella. The lunges which follow such a blow are not only effective, but dangerous. The first is known as the “Hors de Combat” blow. Seizing her umbrella near the handle with one hand and near the point with the other and advancing a step with the body well forward, the point if well directed against the center of the aggressor’s neck will drop him to the ground senseless and probably badly hurt. The same blow aimed at the pit of the stomach will probably send the recipient to the hospital and perhaps cripple him for life.