The Bartitsu Legacy

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.

Military And Civilian Close-Combat Training in The Post-Bartitsu Era

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]

22 thoughts on “The Bartitsu Legacy”

  1. I have been curious about this for many years, precisely because of the mentions in first, Sherlock Holmes, and then in Doc Savage. I think it’s fascinating, and a good thing that various ‘forgotten’ fighting arts are being rediscovered and developed all over again. Bartitsu seems to be the latest, though I also have noted with interest the revival of Pankration over the last several years.

    It’s good to know that Doyle didn’t make it up, and to have a basic idea what it was he wanted to describe. At the time, of course, it wasn’t the accepted style to have intricate descriptions of fighting scenes.

  2. Hi Robert,

    thanks for your comment.

    To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the practical revival of Bartitsu is that Barton-Wright’s art was (by force of circumstance at least as much as by design) a “work in progress” at the time the original Bartitsu Club closed down. Thus, much of the redevelopment consists of experiments with the “raw material” recorded in Barton-Wright’s articles, as well as the in books and articles written by his associates and by the second generation of self defence instructors within the “Bartitsu lineage”.

  3. Hey there,
    over the years I took interest in various close combat systems and as such also came upon Bruce Fairbairn and the like. Because of that interest in martial arts and the love for the era of the old times of 1890-1920 I really would like to get a closer look at Bartitsu.
    Is there any form of newer books (the mentioned one by Dubois goes around for 150 Euros for a used book…) or even a chance to train it in germany (where I’m living)?

  4. Hi PengPeng, thanks for commenting.

    I think your best best would be the Society’s 2 Compendia, available via Lulu. The first covers the canonical material, the stuff we know came from B-W and his students. The second looks at the wider context and lays the foundation for further exploration of the Bartitsu concept.

  5. Hi

    I have been looking for something like this for some time. Please can you tell me if there are any clubs in Cheshire or the NW of england? Also is there any books / dvd I can buy. This style almost begs the question was this the first “oriental” martial art introduced to the UK?

    Sorry a bag of questions there but this is my shortlist…

    Many Thanks

    Mike

  6. Hi Mike,

    it’s very early days for the Bartitsu revival and there are very few clubs or on-going courses in this style – see http://www.bartitsu.org/index.php/2009/01/is-bartitsu-practiced-today/ . James Marwood, my co-moderator on this site, is a Bartitsu instructor based in England, so he would be best to answer that question.

    The Bartitsu Society has produced two comprehensive books, volumes I and II of the Bartitsu Compendium – they are linked to in the text box at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

    Yes, the jiujitsu component of Bartitsu was the first Asian martial art to be taught in the UK.

    You might consider joining the Bartitsu Forum email list to discuss these sorts of things in greater depth.

    Cheers,

    Tony

  7. Hi Mike,

    As Tony mentioned, most of the information you need is in the right hand bar of the site. As for groups in Cheshire or the NW, I’m afraid not. The closest is probably the Yorkshire based SSS, who sometimes study Bartitsu as well as classical fencing. You can find more at their site.

  8. Hi,

    I currently reside in Sheffield and would very much like to know if there are any Bartitsu tutors or groups in the area; do you perchance know of any?

    D.

  9. Very interesting, thank you!

    Prof. Re-Nie was a Parisian wrestler called Ernest Regnier, who studied jujitsu under Tani in London around 1905. He returned to Paris and fought under the name Re-nie and has some spectacular success. One notable example was a ‘Savate vs Jujitsu’ match against a famed savateur called George Dubois. Regnier parried the first blow, a low kick and the fight went to the ground. 30 seconds in Regnier won with a classic straight arm-bar. Not a million miles from what we saw in the early MMA fights.

  10. Hi Gordon,

    thanks for the link. I think that the article probably dates no later than WW1, most likely circa 1907. Regnier’s “moment in the sun” was quite brief, and AFAIK he had largely retired by the 1920s.

    Cheers,

    Tony

  11. Hola, pido disculpas por que no se ingles, soy jose y vivo en Girona (spain) soy instructor de defensa personal y practicante de esgrima antigua (DESTREZA ESPAÑOLA), quisiera saber si hay algun grupo que trabaje bartitsu por España , y de no haber que es lo que me imagino, sin hay algun libro o tratado que se pueda trabajar de manera autodidacta.

    SALUDOS JOSE.

  12. Regarding the statement “No-one knows why Doyle mis-spelled the name of the art”, I wonder whether it was simply that “Baritsu” could easily be taken for a genuine Japanese word (in transliteration) whilst “Bartitsu” could not (as far as I know, the “r” sound in Japanese is always followed by a vowel).

  13. Philip, you’re right about Japanese phonetics. The most prosaic explanation is that Doyle may simply have saved a copy of a 1901 London Times article which had likewise misspelled Bartitsu as baritsu, and referred to that when it came time to resurrect Sherlock Holmes.

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