The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 in text, video and images

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture was a three-day conference and training seminar held in Chicago between September 7-9, 2012. The event was hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

Onwards to the Bartitsu School of Arms 2013 …

“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.

“Wrestling or Ju-jitsu?” (1914)


On the whole, catch-as-catch-can wrestling is not a sport to be recommended to amateur athletes. It is true that a knowledge of the chief holds and the appropriate counters and checks would be useful to a person engaged in an all-in street scrummage, though a more profitable investment of time and trouble against that emergency would be found in a study of the rudiments of la savate, with its bone-shattering kicks, all of which can be easily acquired by a football player.

Here it should be pointed out that a smattering of ju-jitsu, which is still a fashionable accomplishment, might be worse than useless against an able-bodied rough. Japanese wrestling, which is based on yielding a point in order to gain a greater advantage, must be thoroughly acquired — so thoroughly, indeed, that the well-balanced non-European physique of the Japanese athlete becomes your own private possession — if a knowledge of its subtleties is to be practically useful in an emergency. Instead of wasting time and energy on ground-wrestling, ju-jitsu, and the like, the able-bodied, able-minded person who is interested in the art of self-defence will be well advised to acquire the rudiments of wrestling in the Cumberland and Westmorland style, which, added to a fair knowledge of boxing, will enable him to hold his own against any type of street ruffian.

– E. B. Osborn, T.P.’s Weekly (1914)

19th century/Steampunk martial arts at CombatCon

A partial class list is now on-line for Combat Con Las Vegas.

There are four ways to look at the classes based on how you study Western Martial Arts. You can view the classes along with their short descriptions or you can look at the list via System/Style or via Weapon. Lastly, each instructor’s bio page lists their classes at the bottom.

The 19th century/Steampunk classes listed so far include Manly Arts of Self Defence (singlestick, pugilism and wrestling), Bartitsu: The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, Radellian Sabre, Victorian Cane, Singlestick and Repelling boarders against Sky Pirates.

From the organisers:

Nearly half of the classes are online right now and the organisers will be adding more soon, so be sure to check back often. Attendees will be able to choose between more intensive 2 hr classes or a variety of one hour classes. There’s a lot to do at Combat Con so choosing between the classes and the exciting Panels, Activities and Demonstrations will be difficult! Please go to the CombatCon website to register and to see a draft schedule layout under the WMA tab.

There are still many more classes coming, along with the list of Demonstrations, Panels and Activities. More details will appear on the CombatCon website soon.

Of course, there is also much to do in the evenings. After dinner there will be tournaments, free fencing, movies, games and that’s all without leaving the hotel After all, you’re in Las Vegas!

To celebrate the class list online there is a 10% discount until April 5th, so use WMA2011 in the Promo Box and get your registration in now!

Uyenishi vs. the Guardsman

An interesting snippet from the August 4th, 1905 edition of the Auckland Star, describing a contest between former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi and the wrestling champion of the Royal Horse Guards.

A tremendous struggle took place in the riding school at Windsor recently between Corporal Shoeingsmith Fraser, of the Royal Horse Guards (of which regiment he is champion wrestler), and Professor S. K. Uyenishi, the well-known instructor in the art of Japanese self-defence, of Golden Square, W.C. Mr Uyenishi, who has been appointed instructor in his art in the Aldershot Gymnasium, came over by motor-car from the famous camp to give a display.

On his request for an opponent from the audience, Corporal Fraser came forward amid loud applause. The little man certainly took on a stiff bargain, as the giant guardsman must have weighed nearly twice as much as he, but after a truly Titanic struggle he succeeded in hurling the soldier clean over his head on to the platform. Mr Uyenishi admitted that Fraser was the most difficult man he had ever had to deal with, and it must be confessed that the contest was a wonderful example of how futile the greatest strength is made to appear when pitted against the wonderful Japanese science. Two very interested spectators were Prince Alexander of Teck and Major-General Baden-Powell.

Armand Cherpillod

Bartitsu Club wrestling instructor Armand Cherpillod is featured in this circa 1901 postcard. “The Little Swiss” Cherpillod’s adventures in London are outlined in his autobiography La Vie d’une Champion, which is excerpted in the first volume of the Bartitsu Compendium.

Cherpillod’s post-Bartitsu Club career saw him compete (and/or perform) successfully as a professional wrestler throughout Europe. He also introduced the jiujitsu he had learned during his relatively short tenure at the Bartitsu Club to his native Switzerland, and wrote what was probably the first book on Japanese unarmed combat as self defence for women.

Jiujitsu: “not so much of a novelty” circa 1900?

I do not recognise a trip, throw or hold in the Japanese method which is not to be found in the Lancashire, Devonshire, Cumberland and Westmoreland, Greco-Roman or Catch-hold styles. Even the scissors-throw has been practiced by rongas and poachers since time immemorial, and is known among them as the ‘Salisbury Shake’. – Professor Andrew Newton

At the height of the early 1900s controversy surrounding the efficiency of Japanese unarmed combat, it was not uncommon for critics to suggest that jiujitsu was, in fact, nothing new at all; that similar or identical methods were already known in the Western world. Charles Charlemont, championing the cause of French kickboxing against the supposed novelties of jiujitsu, responded to a journalist’s question by remarking:

What do I think of this jiujitsu, which is attaining such excellent publicity? I think that it has been here in Europe for a long time. The proof is here.

… and drew from his library a copy of the book Clear Instructions on the Excellent Art of Wrestling (1674). The parallels between the method detailed in that book and jiujitsu were not lost on Bartitsu Club instructor Capt. Alfred Hutton, who included an escort technique from Clear Instructions in his monograph on Ju Jitsu for Schoolboys.

Similarly, Police Sergeant G.H. Wheeldon was to note:

I might say that with the exception of one throw, the whole of the throws in Ju-jutsu are to be found in the Cornish or the Cumberland and Westmoreland styles. Also the scissors-hold belongs to the catch-as-catch-can, and I can prove this by books published in 1826, many years before Japan opened her doors to other nations.

It’s true that nationalistic sentiment was rife during the Edwardian era and also that there are, in fact, many common techniques between traditional Japanese and English wrestling styles. It’s also true that some of the most vehement critics were evidently not aware of the full jiujitsu repertoire. Still, it’s intriguing to speculate about the parallel tradition of unorthodox fighting tricks hinted at in some of these comments.

As described in the 1913 book The Walled City: a Story of the Criminal Insane, by Edward Huntington Williams, there had apparently existed an un-named system of control and escort holds, clandestinely practiced among workers in American psychiatric hospitals and dating back to the mid-19th century:

None of these methods were countenanced by any of the officers in control of any institution; and, in truth, a large number of the officers never even suspected their existence, although the attendants sometimes used them under the very noses of their superior officers, without detection, or without injury to the patient. And when the much advertised Japanese jiu jitsu took the country by storm as a novelty a few years ago these veteran attendants had their little laugh all to themselves. It wasn’t so much of a novelty to them as to the generality of people.

Even earlier, self defence “tricks” far outside the rules of boxing and wrestling had frequently been appended to manuals on orthodox combat sports, or occasionally catalogued in books such as the Baron Charles de Berenger’s How to Protect Life and Property (1838). As the anonymous author of the article Tricks of Self Defence (1899) put it:

“There is a lot of talk about new methods of self-defence,” said an old sporting man, “but it seems to me that it is only an elaboration of what almost every man who followed the game in past days had to know or go under.

It’s entirely possible that some of the unusual techniques recorded in early 20th century jiujitsu manuals were remnants of this informal tradition, which likely comprised equal parts improvisation, word-of-mouth example and “gym wisdom” passed along by generations of athletes, street fighters and police trainers. In a sense, perhaps, Barton-Wright’s introduction of jiujitsu and development of Bartitsu offered a framework by which some of these tricks could be practiced and recorded.

“Master of Men: the Life’s Work of William Muldoon, Champion and Trainer of Champions”

“Master of Men” is an anthology of books, articles and essays about the remarkable Irish-American combat athlete and coach, William Muldoon. Muldoon learned the basics of wrestling as a soldier in the Civil War. After numerous adventures as one of “New York’s finest”, he left the police force to become one of the first American professional wrestlers, taking on all comers in rough and tumble saloon matches and working as an actor/stuntman on the Vaudeville stage.

In 1889, Muldoon’s radical training methods brought the out-of-shape, alcoholic bare-knuckle boxing champion John L. Sullivan back into form for his legendary title fight with Jake Kilrain. Muldoon later became the inaugural chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and a personal trainer for some of the richest and most powerful men in America. Includes 29 rare illustrations and a special bonus interview with Scott Burt of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame.

The 316 page book is available in print or e-formats from the Antagonistics Emporium, which also features a free instant preview.

“Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence” republished

Announcing Kirk Lawson‘s re-publication of Percy Longhurst’s “Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence” (1906) from a copy of the original located by Dr. Milo Thurston of the Linacre School of Defence. The re-published book is available in hard copy for US$9.28 or as a free PDF download from this site.

An early promoter of Japanese “Jiu-Jitsu” in the first decade of the 20th Century in England, Percy Longhurst studied under both Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi. He was familiar with, and possibly studied Bartitsu under E.W. Barton-Wright and stick-fighting under Pierre Vigny.

A prolific writer and accomplished amateur athlete, Longhurst quickly turned his skills to Self Defense and the “new,” mysterious, and glamorous foreign martial art of Jiu-Jitsu.

In 1906 he published the first edition of what was to become a celebrated and frequently reprinted manual: Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defense.

Combining Western and Japanese wrestling and self-defense methods, Longhurst’s manual was groundbreaking. Another innovation of this manual is a section specifically intended for ladies. This book is so dense with material, yet so easily understood and well put together, that it was revised and reprinted for decades, at least until the early 1950’s, and at least 11 editions.

This is one of the most important of the early Western self defense manuals due not only to its heavy emphasis on Jiu-Jitsu but its combination with other Western methods. It’s sure to please Western martial artist and early Jiu-Jitsu researchers alike.

Of all the early 20th century British self-defence instructors, Longhurst was the most sympathetic to E.W. Barton-Wright. “Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence” is truly the closest thing to a Bartitsu manual produced during the pre-War period and is an excellent supplementary resource to the Bartitsu Compendium, Volume II. Kirk Lawson’s re-publication is highly recommended to neo-Bartitsu enthusiasts.