The physical base for Barton-Wright’s revolution of the self defence milieu was his Bartitsu Club, more formally known as the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, which was located at 67b Shaftesbury Avenue, in London’s Soho district. In several respects, the Club seems to have been the first example of the modern commercial martial arts school in the Western world. It was a well-appointed establishment, according to journalist Mary Nugent, who interviewed Barton-Wright for Health and Strength magazine in 1901. Miss Nugent, who seems to have been quite taken with Barton-Wright, described the Club as “a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions’ prowling around it like tigers.”
These “champions” included an impressive roster of self defence specialists gathered from around the world. From Switzerland came Pierre Vigny, a highly experienced master-at-arms and innovator in self defence instruction, teaching the skills of la boxe Francaise (French kickboxing or savate) and his own idiosyncratic method of la canne (walking-stick fighting). Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi introduced their students to the mysteries of jiujitsu. A Swiss all-in wrestler named Armand Cherpillod ran classes in Svingen (traditional Swiss wrestling). In addition to these worthies, the Club was home to a cabal of fencer/historians led by Egerton Castle and Captain Alfred Hutton, who were devoted to re-constructing the ancient arts of fencing with the rapier and dagger and two-handed sword, and who also taught stage fencing classes to some of London’s acting elite.
Two other jiujitsuka, one of them Tani’s older brother, had taught at the club for a short time during 1899, but returned to Japan after deciding that it was improper to promote their art through public exhibitions and prize fights.
Other than the arts of self defence, Barton-Wright’s great passion lay in the field of electro-therapy. After being cured of an unidentified ailment by some electrotherapists in Berlin, he went to considerable expense in importing an impressive battery of electro-therapeutic devices such as the Nagelschmidt Apparatus, Ultra-Violet Ray Lamps, Light Baths and Thermo Penetration Machines. These and many other gadgets were duly installed in a clinic attached to the Bartitsu Club.
The Club was reported to have attracted a number of prominent Londoners as board members and as students. Notable amongst them was Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, an Olympic fencer, who was later to receive some notoriety as one of the very few male passengers to have survived the sinking of the Titanic. It was alleged that he had bribed sailors in the lifeboats not to rescue others still in the sea, although his defence was that he was grateful to them and was trying to reward their courage. In happier times, though, he was to have been found learning the all-in style of wrestling from Armand Cherpillod on the mats of the Bartitsu Club.
Another notable affiliate was the prominent athlete and politician William Henry Grenfell, the First Baron Desborough. Grenfell was a fencer, big game hunter, mountaineer and rower, who served for some time as the president of the Bartitsu Club.
Military men were also well-represented in the Bartitsu Club membership, including Captain F.C. Laing of the 12th Bengal Lancers and Captains Stenson Cooke and F.H. Whittow of the London Rifle Brigade.
As well as classes for the general public, there was a certain amount of learning exchange between the instructors at the Club. Barton-Wright took it upon himself to teach boxing to Tani, although he later reported that the jiujitsuka had little aptitude for the sport. He also encouraged Tani and Uyenishi to coach Cherpillod in jiujitsu, in exchange for lessons in Swiss wrestling, so that they might all be better equipped to fight in freestyle challenge matches. Cherpillod was most impressed with jiujitsu but found that his Japanese colleagues were reticent about teaching him their more advanced tricks. He then adopted the tactic of feigning horror at their “barbaric” style, until one of the jiujitsuka agreed to simply wrestle with him in a freestyle match, which Cherpillod won. The learning exchange continued on a cautious basis, but Cherpillod knew that Tani and Uyenishi were still withholding their more advanced techniques from him.
Meanwhile, Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny seem to have enjoyed a period of collaboration. Both men shared a similar self defence philosophy, and while Vigny was the younger man by about seven years, and Barton-Wright’s employee, he was actually the more experienced self defence instructor. Vigny’s walking stick combat system, as depicted by Barton-Wright in his magazine articles, seems to have come to incorporate some jiujitsu-based techniques, presumably due to his time spent teaching at the Bartitsu Club.
The Club itself was initially established on the model of a Victorian gentlemen’s club, prospective members being voted on by a committee of prominent persons including Colonel Sir George Malcolm Fox, formerly in charge of the British Army’s physical training programme, and Captain Alfred Hutton, who also taught both modern and historical fencing at the Club. Once admitted, members of the Bartitsu Club were required to attend a series of private lessons before being allowed to join in the group classes. The latter were run according to a type of circuit training model, with small groups of students rotating between specialist instructors.