The Bartitsu Club, 1899-1902

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.”

Vigny stickfighting in Bartitsu Club

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.

21 thoughts on “The Bartitsu Club, 1899-1902”

  1. sort of knuckles. Bartitsu is an early form of hybrid martial art intended for self defence while ultimate fighting as it is today is more of a freestyle combat sport. The difference between the two was even commented on by Bartitsu’s founder Edward Barton-Wright

  2. There are certainly similarities. We tend to use the term ‘Edwardian Jeet Kune Do’ as this is probably the closest modern equivalent. A hybrid of multiple styles designed for effectiveness at multiple ranges.

    Thanks for the comments guys!

  3. Hi there. Was just wondering what sort of ‘atire’ was worn by baritsu-ka, or even earlier by jujutsuka in Japan. Any ideas if it was remotely similar to todays dogi’s? See picture above of Japanese male wearing gi-like clothing but not sure from when it’s dated. Any replies appreciated and great site by the way. Have discovered that I live very close to where Barton-Wright is buried! (Kingston Cemetery)

  4. Hi Ben,

    specific info. is pretty scanty, but we gather that members of the Bartitsu Club wore short-sleeved jiujitsu gi jackets and knee-length pants for jiujitsu training and standard 19th century “physical culture” attire (t-shirts or tank-top shirts and tights or knee-length breeches and stockings) for boxing, savate and stick fighting practice.

    Cheers,

    Tony

  5. Greeting from Arizona, USA. This information is fascinating. Amazing that there was a true martial arts school teaching a variety of arts at such an early date. Thanks for the information.

  6. Hello from Ukraine, Odessa. Thanks for the info. I`m a President of Federation of assistance to development of Martial Arts in Ukraine. I really would develope Bartitsu within the limits of my federation. I will be very grateful for any helpful information on this kind of sports. Could you render me any assistance on development of primordially English kind of sports in Ukraine?

  7. hi , this style is very similar to the techniqes i teach my last 20 yrs i have been teaching wing chun and kali, i have adopted my 2 styles for todays needs , anyways looks great on film keep up the good work guys all the best for 2011 !!!

  8. HI,
    Brilliant to see Bartitsu getting a rebirth so to speak, My Jujutsu teacher from years ago was trained by a Pupil of Yukio Tani ,His name was Professor Alfred Morgan,all i know he was a Catch Master in the early 1900’s ,just wondered if he had any connection to Barton-Wright.
    I just finished a Ju-jitsu page on site where i go over Barton-Wrights introduction of the arts to the UK.
    Planning a specific page for the arts in the not to distant future ,but any help on Afred Morgan would be cool.
    Thanks

  9. Hi,

    sorry, but I’ve never come across the name Alfred Morgan in connection with Barton-Wright or Bartitsu. If he had been trained by a student of Tani’s, that would almost certainly have been well after the Bartitsu Club era.

  10. “Col. Fox” – [Colonel George Malcolm Fox] (1843–1918) was Inspector of the Gymnasia at Aldershot, (1890-1897) and Director of Physical Training at the Military School, Aldershot. He began his army career with the 100th Royal Canadians and served in Malta. He transferred to the 42nd Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) and was sent to Egypt, where he was wounded in the thigh at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir (1882). He had always been interested in physical training, fencing and boxing and organised many competitions in the army, and, while on sick leave, he was appointed Assistant Inspector of the Army Gymnasia at Aldershot; he was later promoted to Colonel. In 1890 he was appointed Inspector of the Gymnasia and, with the help of his second wife’s money, he expanded the army athletic grounds and gymnasia at Aldershot. His interest in swordsmanship led him to design swords for the British Army, and it is his reputation as a swordsman that leads to his inclusion in 1895 in the collection of Vanity Fair cartoons by Spy. In 1903 he was seconded to the Board Of Education to be their Chief Inspector of Physical Training. He was knighted in 1910. http://www.athletics-archive.com/books/amateurathleticassociationthecomingofagedinner.htm

  11. Colonel Fox also approved the Masiello system of sabre fencing for the British Army, making an enemy of Captain Alfred Hutton, who was a fierce critic of Maisello’s method. Later on they both served on the Bartitsu Club’s Board of Directors; we assume that they’d either buried the hatchet by then, or that the Board meetings were prickly affairs.

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