The Martial Arts of Bartitsu

With his wide repertoire of self defence systems and his professional background as an engineer, Barton-Wright was well-placed to analyse, critique and combine the various arts at his disposal. He recognised that no one method was sufficient to cope with every possible exigency of self defence, and so intended for the Bartitsu practitioner to be well-rounded, able to shift between different skills and styles as the moment required.

Bartitsu therefore resolves itself into this: if one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play – with fists – the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field … the art of walking-stick defence is taught for a variety of purposes. It may be used safely against an opponent armed with a dagger – in which case the latter has no chance at all – against a quarterstaff, against kicking, boxing, etc. (Barton-Wright, 1902)

Bartitsu was conceptually divided into a series of four ranges, those of the stick, the foot, the fist, and of close-combat. Practitioners were encouraged to become familiar with the four major martial arts taught at the Club, each of which corresponded with one of the four ranges, and to develop enough proficiency that they could use any one style against the other if need be.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, they must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick. Judo and jujitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but were only to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it was absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.” (Barton-Wright, 1902)

The greatest emphasis was placed upon Vigny stick fighting and an eclectic combination of ko-ryu jiujitsu and possibly some Kodokan judo, with boxing and savate used to bridge the gap between the preferred ranges of stick-play and grappling.

Vigny Stick Fighting

Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting art utilised a variety of types of canes and even umbrellas, but was optimised for a specially designed “self defence walking stick”, made of polished malacca cane – similar to rattan – tipped with a silver ball handle. His implicit critique of the style of canne fencing taught in most of the established French stick fighting academies was that, in borrowing most of their techniques verbatim from sabre fencing, they left the lead hand exposed to attack. One of the crucial differences between a sword and a stick was that the latter weapon lacks a hand guard.

The street-oriented Vigny system took this into account, offering a range of guards in which position and distance from the opponent protected the weapon wielding hand. The Vigny style also included a wide range of strikes, thrusts, disarming techniques, throws, the use of the stick as a bayonet in double-handed attacks, etc.

The key principle of Vigny’s art can be defined as “control the initiative”, either by invitation or by executing a pre-emptive strike to control the opponent’s movements and anticipate their reactions.

Boxing and Savate

Barton-Wright was well aware of the advantages of reach, and also of the likelihood that no-holds-barred combat was likely to enter grappling range. In designing Bartitsu he allowed for all contingencies, realising that a determined or lucky opponent might penetrate the stick fighting range and disarm the defender, or indeed that the defender might not have a stick or umbrella handy at the moment of truth. Under these circumstances the Bartitsuka was to resort to savate and boxing defences in the first instance.

As taught at the Bartitsu Club, both skills were modified to make them better applicable to actual street fighting:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, and which is an adaptation of boxing and Savate. The guards are done in a slightly different style from boxing, being much more numerous as well. The use of the feet is also done quite differently from the French Savate. This latter, Mr. Barton-Wright explained, is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it. (“The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club”. Black and White Budget magazine, 29-12-1900)

Jiujitsu and Judo

Barton-Wright defined the guiding tactics of Bartitsu as:

(1)to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant; (2) to surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength; (3) if necessary to subject the joints of any part of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strain which they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist. (Barton-Wright, 1899)

His own jiujitsu training was mostly in kata-based ko-ryu forms of the art. While in Kobe he had studied at the dojo of the Shinden Fudo Ryu, alongside a Dutch anthropologist, Dr. Herman ten Kate, who was another of the very first Europeans known to have studied the Japanese martial arts. Their instructor was named Terajima Kuniichiro and he was a student of Yata Onseisai; apparently, this branch of the Shinden Fudo Ryu was not related to the school of that name currently associated with the Bujinkan lineage. Barton-Wright also mentioned that he had taken some lessons with Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo.

Barton-Wright’s first articles on Bartitsu presented a selection of ko-ryu paired kata, making frequent use of atemi-waza (striking techniques such as uraken, the back fist strike, as well as headbutts and pressure-point attacks). Most of his throwing techniques involved either tripping the opponent, twisting his head and neck or manipulating his elbow joint; notably absent are the variety of hip and shoulder throws that came to characterise judo.

There is little doubt that when Uyenishi and Tani arrived in London to teach at the Bartitsu Club and to compete in prize fights as professional music hall wrestlers, they began to steer the jiujitsu curriculum towards competitive jiujitsu. Their own books on these subjects, Tani’s “Game of Jujitsu” and Uyenishi’s “Text-book of Jujutsu as Practiced in Japan”, were entirely devoted to sporting applications of the art. However, the books published by their own students, such as William Garrud’s “Complete Jujutsuan” and W. Bruce Sutherland’s “Jiujitsu Self Defence” demonstrate that they also taught the full complement of more combative, self defence oriented techniques.

{Originally written by Tony Wolf 26/10/06]

32 thoughts on “The Martial Arts of Bartitsu”

  1. I’ve never heard of Bartitsu before, but after reading this, it sounds like a form of mixed martial arts…perhaps even more effective since they use weapons.

    Do you have any links to videos about Bartitsu?

  2. Hi, could someone please explain me about bartitsu fighting style, I mean I have trained kickboxing and mma and the style in bartitsu interests me because of the stance and the form in which one punches and kicks differs from what I have learned, and if its effectiveness is more suitable in different places.

  3. Hi Malau,

    You’re right, the punches and kicks are different to those you are probably used to. The punches are from the older Scientific Boxing style which generally calls for vertical fists and straight punches. The kicks are from Savate. You can find a lot more info at the mailing list, or via the DVD Tony mentioned above.

  4. It is true that Armand Cherpillod ran Schwingen classes at the Bartitsu Academy, however we don’t know that this was ever included in the Bartitsu “syllabus”. Certainly Cherpillod was a key member of the club and there some interesting accounts of his cross-training with Yukio Tani.

  5. Estoy interesado en el tema, apasionado buscando informacion y libros, pero en mi ciudad Mendoza Argentina no hay donde practicarlo, yo podria conseguir gente interesada pero debería manejarlo muy bien yo para enseñarlo. En argentina se practica?

  6. Hola Enzo,

    No sé de ningún Bartitsu maestros en la Argentina. Si usted lee Inglés, usted debe obtener los libros Bartitsu Compendio y usarlas para desarrollar un plan de estudios.

  7. Hi,Could l ask do you run any seminars in the UK on the cane elements of Bartitsu , if so could pleases let me know dates and venues for 2011.with thanks Kevin Garwood

  8. Kevin,

    James Marwood, who co-moderates this site, teaches regular classes in modern Bartitsu.

    If you’re in London or able to travel, we are currently planning a major Bartitsu conference there in April of next year.

  9. Hi, I have been interested in Bartitsu since I started training in the martial arts a few years agoand I teach the students of the old priory Judo club in York which (in part) was founded by Gunji Koizumi whom was associated with William Barton-Wright. I was hoping, maybe to exchange training weekends?

  10. Hello

    I live outside U.K. and am completely uninitiated in any martial arts, although I have been thinking of learning one for quite some time. While doing some research on what I should start with, I came upon this page and was immediately hooked.

    Should I learn certain other martial arts before trying on Bartitsu? And is there a book, DVD, or any other resource that might help me along?

  11. Hi,

    the consensus is that it’s extremely difficult to accurately learn any martial art solely via books or DVDs. I’d certainly recommend studying with a qualified instructor in the first instance; the styles most directly applicable to Bartitsu (and reasonably likely to be widely available) would include judo, any of the various traditional forms of jiujitsu, (kick)boxing and Filipino stick fighting. The aim would be to develop the skills of co-ordination, “tactical instincts” etc. that you could eventually transfer into learning Bartitsu if that still took your fancy.

    If you’re interested in Bartitsu generally then I recommend the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium, which cover a wide range of historical and technical information.

  12. Dear friend

    I´m an accepted student of Shinden Fudo Ryu (not the Bujinkan´s Shinden Fudo Ryu)and feel interest about the genealogy of Bartitsu. Do you have information about the name of the kata Mr. Burton studied in Shinden Fudo Ryu? There are more than eight different schools in japan with the same name. It´s difficult but I´d love to find a link between my school and yours. Thank you

  13. I’m afraid that we don’t know the names of any of the kata Barton-Wright studied in Kobe. His teacher’s name was Terajima Kunnichiro (who may also have been known as Kunino Ichiro), himself a student of Yata Onseisai. The Shinden Fudo Ryu in question may have originally been known as Shinden Jigan Ryu or Shinden Jigen Ryu.

    For what it’s worth, Barton-Wright recorded a number of apparently ko-ryu self defence sequences in his article series, “The New Art of Self Defence”, which are available here: http://www.sirwilliamhope.org/Library/Bartitsu/newart/new_art.htm . Do you recognise any of the kata from your own lineage?

  14. Hello, I writing a research paper about Bartitsu and would appreciate it if you could send me the resource of this article. Thank you!

  15. The main sources were Barton-Wright’s articles “The New Art of Self Defence” and “Self Defence with a Walking Stick”, which are both available online; and the article “The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club”, which is reproduced in volume 1 of the Bartitsu Compendium.

  16. Hi,Please could you help me. My 16 yearold son has been intrested in Bartitsu for some time. and I was wondering if you have any advice, or classes in the Derby, Derbyshire, uk area.. As he would like to train,

    thanks Regards
    Michelle.

  17. This is kind of a long story, but basically, we tentatively identified Barton-Wright’s demo partner as Eguchi Shihan back in 2003, then contacted some Kyushin Ryu representatives to try to confirm one way or the other. At that time, they were not able to confirm or deny apart from agreeing that the man partnering Barton-Wright somewhat resembled Eguchi as he was pictured in the famous Dai Nippon Butokukai photograph. Since then, we’ve also asked various martial arts historians in Japan and elsewhere, and the most conclusive answer is “it looks a bit like Eguchi”.

    I think it’s likely that the Wikipedia article on Kyushin Ryu is *assuming* that Eguchi Shinhan is pictured in Barton-Wright’s articles, but if there was any definite proof, we’d be very interested to see it.

  18. Barton-Wright never detailed the kicking content of Bartitsu other than offering some clues and hints – see http://www.bartitsu.org/index.php/2010/07/speculations-on-bartitsu-kickboxing/ and http://www.bartitsu.org/index.php/2011/10/bartitsu-its-exponent-interviewed-1901/ . On that basis, the general assumption is that it was restricted to a few basic low kicks.

    N.B. that the Bartitsu revival, as distinct from the original art, is an international phenomenon and that every club develops its own protocols and training methods. Some modern Bartitsu enthusiasts have backgrounds in savate; others draw the kicking content from purring (the rough and ready old Northern English kicking sport) or from Asian styles.

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