The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes
The name “Bartitsu” might well have been completely forgotten if not for a chance mention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. In the Adventure of the Empty House (1903), Holmes explained that he had escaped the clutches of his enemy Professor Moriarty through his knowledge of “baritsu, or Japanese wrestling”.
No-one knows why Doyle mis-spelled the name of the art; he may have been concerned about a copyright infringement, or may have simply have mis-remembered or mis-heard the term. It is also possible that he was simply quoting a London Times article from the previous year, which had been titled “Japanese wrestling at the Tivoli” and which had likewise misspelled Bartitsu as “baritsu”. The cryptic reference was enough to intrigue Holmesian scholars for the best part of the next century, and their various efforts to identify “the martial art of Sherlock Holmes” included bujutsu, sumo and (close, but no cigar) judo. Meanwhile, “baritsu” took on a life of its own, and it was duly recorded that other fictional heroes, including Doc Savage and the Shadow, had been initiated into its mysteries.
Women’s self defence classes and the Jiujitsuffragettes
One of the most enduring aspects of Barton-Wright’s legacy was the concept of specialised self defence classes for women. Female students were admitted to the Bartitsu Club from the outset, and although it seems to have been felt that boxing was not suitable for womens’ self defence, savate, Vigny stick fighting and especially jiujitsu were all touted as practical and effective methods by which Edwardian-era women could take their defence into their own hands. This was something of a revolutionary idea, co-incident with the increasing acceptance of women participating in sports such as bicycling, fencing and “physical culture” in general.
Indeed, one of the most prominent jiujitsu instructors in London during the years following the demise of the Bartitsu Club was Edith Garrud, who owned her own dojo and specialised in teaching women and children. Mrs. Garrud was also a sympathiser with the Suffragette cause, campaigning for the right of women to vote in general elections, and her dojo actually became a safehouse for radical suffragettes engaged in civil disobedience in the streets of London.
According to Antonia Raeburn, the author of Militant Suffragettes:
At six o’clock another contingent made an assault on shops in Regent Street, and fifteen minutes later Oxford Street was attacked. Mrs. Garrud’s jiujitsu school was just off Oxford Street in Argyle place and six of her Sufragette pupils were taking part in the stone throwing. [..]
Mrs. Garrud’s gymnasium was one of the bolt holes after the raid. She had taken up some of the floor-boards and covered over the gaps with heavy tatami mats.
“They came back to the school because it was easy. They came straight in and turned those mats up. I made them strip off their outside clothes and give me their bags with their stones and any other missiles they had left over. All went under the floor-boards and back went the mats. They were all in their jiu-jitsu coats working on the mats, when bang, bang, bang on the door. Six policemen! I looked very thunderstuck and wanted to know what was the matter. “Well, can’t we come in ?” said one of the policemen. I said : “No I’m sorry, but I’ve got six ladies here having a jiu-jitsu lesson. I don’t expect gentlemen to come in here.” He said : “Are they pupils ?” I said : “Yes, pupils.” So, it ended up by one old man coming in and having a look round. He didn’t see anything, only the girls busy working, and out he went again.” (Raeburn, 1974)
Edith Garrud was also clandestinely involved in the training of “the Bodyguard”, a secret society of women who were sworn to physically protect Suffragette leaders during their public protest rallies, which were often violently disrupted by conservative Londoners and by the police. The very public participation of the suffragettes in jujitsu training established an early association between martial arts and the political philosophy of feminism.
Although Barton-Wright’s martial art was sidelined, a similar philosophy of pragmatic eclecticism was taken up by other early 20th century European self-defence specialists, including Percy Longhurst in England and George Dubois and Jean-Joseph Renaud in France. All three went on to devise their own eclectic self defence methods, combining boxing, jiujitsu, savate and walking-stick fighting.
A former wrestler and boxer, Longhurst’s first exposure to Bartitsu had been in 1901, trying conclusions twice with the Japanese jiujitsuka when they appeared at the Tivoli theatre, and he had been favourably impressed with their skill and art. Later, he was one of a group of four London-based jiujitsu instructors who broke away from the established order and formed their own organisation, known as the British Jiujitsu Society. His book on Jiujitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence (1906) and series of pamphlets on Combined Self Defence followed in the Bartitsu tradition, incorporating a wide range of techniques from both Asian and European martial arts and combat sports.
On the other side of the Channel, the flame was borne by George Dubois, an expert fencer and savateur who had lost a 1906 challenge match to a wrestler/jiujitsuka named Ernest Regnier, who fought under the name Re-Nie. Dubois went on to learn the Japanese art himself and to publish a book called Comment se Defendre, expounding a notably realistic fusion of Japanese, English and French combat styles.
Dubois’ contemporary Jean-Joseph Renaud was a prolific author with a long-standing interest in the arts of self defence, and his four hundred and twenty page book on Defence dans la Rue (“Defence in the Street”), published in 1912, became something of a classic work on this subject. His comments on realistic self defence, as opposed to the academic exercises and sporting conventions often passed off as practicality, demonstrate that some things have not changed greatly over the past hundred years:
The professors do not seem – for the most part – to recall that practical reality to which their lessons should correspond; they are teaching an excellent form of physical exercise rather than “how to fight when you have to”.
This book will make an effort to explain:
1 – Precisely to those”virtuosos” of boxing, shooting, cane, jiujitsu, etc, those dimensions of their sports when are most practical when applied to a serious confrontation.
2 – To those people who cannot spare a little time to devote to training, a certain number of simple and secure methods of defence
The “virtuosos” in question are often found to be out of their element when engaged, not in a sparring match or fencing bout, but in a true combat.
Those habituated to the conventions of the school or the ring find themselves disoriented before the manner of improvised battle employed by their adversary; it is a new experience; they hesitate, strike badly, too quickly, too far or too near, and especially find that they cannot employ the strikes that they know.
Nothing is more dangerous, for example, than to attempt to kick at punching range, and vice-versa.
Happier still, if they should not have occassion to test one of these incredible “fantasies” that work so well … in demonstrations and in books (Renaud, 1912)
A similar philosophy was later to be embraced by Bill Underwood, William E. Fairbairn and others, who were charged with developing close combat systems for use by troops during the First and Second World Wars. Underwood had actually studied jiujitsu with Tani Yukio and another jiujitsuka, Miyake Taro, in London during the first decade of the 20th century. These systems became the basis for most military and police close-combat training throughout the Western world.
[Originally written by Tony Wolf 15/02/07]