The founder of Bartitsu was born on November the 8th of the year 1860 in Bangalore, India. His name at birth was Edward William Wright. His mother, Jessie, was of Scottish descent and his Northumbrian father, William, was a prominent railway engineer. As Edward Wright was growing up he travelled to many different countries, receiving both a traditional education and a chance to explore various martial arts. In his early 30s he legally changed his name to Edward William Barton-Wright.
As he was to explain to Budokwai founder Gunji Koizumi:
I have always been interested in the arts of self-defence and I learned various methods including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters, and by engaging toughs I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application. (Koizumi, 1950).
While working in Japan, Barton-Wright had studied two different jiujitsu ryu (schools): the Shinden-Fudo Ryu under sensei Terajima Kuniichiro in Kobe and Kodokan Jiujitsu, possibly with Kano Jigoro, in Tokyo.
By the time he returned to England from Japan in 1898, he was a man of the world, an enthusiastic entrepreneur ready to make his mark by combining all of the martial arts that he had been exposed to into a single, unified whole. Although initially focussing on jiujitsu, which had been exhibited once or twice before in England but never taught there, Barton-Wright’s vision was broader than any one method:
Bartitsu has been devised with a view to impart to peacefully disposed men the science of defending themselves against ruffians or bullies, and comprises not only boxing but also the use of the stick, feet, and a very tricky and clever style of Japanese wrestling, in which weight and strength play only a very minor part. (Barton-Wright, 1902)
Bartitsu’s cultural origins can be traced to three primary popular trends of the 1890s. These include the media-fed panic concerning street violence, both “at home” and abroad; the public fascination with Asian (especially Japanese) culture, and the fad of Physical Culture and a means of developing both moral and corporal fitness.
The Gentlemanly Art Of Self Defence
Bartitsu was geared specifically towards the problems of self defence in an urban, industrialised society, and was promoted to the middle and upper classes at a time when the bourgeoisie of Europe were becoming increasingly alarmed about their own safety. The phenomenon of street gangsterism was receiving wide publicity through the newspapers, which had recently discovered that sensational stories about sport and violence attracted a greater readership than did political reportage.
Lurid articles detailed the latest atrocities of the Apaches, the feared street-fighters of the notorious Montmartre district in Paris, as well as the exploits of Hooligans, Cornermen, Scuttlers, and other gangsters prowling the streets of London, Dublin, Liverpool and Manchester. Even further afield, Larrikins prowled the back alleys of Sydney and Auckland, and the ethnic gang warfare of New York City was the stuff of legend.
Riding the crest of this wave, Barton-Wright promoted Bartitsu as an alternative to living in fear, both at home and while travelling abroad. It was specifically designed as a gentlemanly art of self defence. Historian Emelyne Godfrey notes:
Bartitsu was self-defence for the connoisseur, enabling the gentleman to reassert his physical presence on the street in a manner that was not only artful but aesthetically appealing. Barton-Wright’s martial art invited the gentleman to test his physical and mental skills, rather than simply purchasing one of the many weapons available. (Godfrey, 2005)
On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the “Black Ships” of the United States Navy had forced the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa. Over the next fifty years, Japanese culture became increasingly available to the Western World and Barton-Wright’s martial art was introduced at a time of almost unprecedented public interest and enthusiasm for all things Japanese.
One of his most significant Bartitsu presentations was to the members of the Japan Society of London, which had grown out of a meeting of the International Congress of Orientalists held in London on September 9, 1891.
The charter of the Japan Society was “the encouragement of Japanese studies and for the purpose of bringing together all those in the United Kingdom and throughout the world who are interested in Japanese matters”. After Barton-Wright’s lecture and demonstration the Chairman, Mr. Diosy, said that:
This wonderful art of self-defence, when used as it should be, in defending the weak against the strong, would be of great service in those countries where one would not find fair play (Lecture on “Jiujitsu and Judo”, delivered to the Japan Society of London # 20, Hanover Square, London, February 13, 1901)
The third major influence upon Bartitsu was the increasing European enthusiasm for what had become known as “Physical Culture”.
One social consequence of the Industrial Revolution had been the perception of a steady decline in the physical condition of Britain’s increasingly sedentary middle and upper classes. This co-incided with an emerging re-definition of “sport” as a wholesome athletic activity that could be pursued by amateurs, as opposed to the gambling culture of prize-fighting, horse-racing and womanising.
This combination also led to the establishment of urban gymnasia to correct corpulency and other ailments associated with the sedentary lifestyle. By the late 1800s, a large number of competing systems of calisthenic, weightlifting and other forms of exercise had become available to the public.
Scientific boxing, along with quarterstaff play and the arts of singlestick, sabre, foil and bayonet fencing were all enthusiastically embraced by students at the salles d’armes and gymnasia that flourished in major English cities towards the end of the 1800s. Notable examples in London included the Young Men’s Christian Association, the German Gymnasium and the Inns of Court School of Arms. In these gymnasia, amateur boxers rubbed shoulders with fencers in a range of styles, wrestlers and other enthusiasts of the manly arts.
The largely middle-class physical culture phenomenon included a wide variety of exercise systems, more or less dependent upon Indian clubs, dumb-bells, rope and pulley exercisers, pommel horses, gymnastic equipment and elaborate weight-lifting apparatus. Many of these exercises found their way into the curricula of contemporary martial arts and combat sports academies and eventually also into public display via civilian Assaults at Arms, which were often arranged as fund raisers by amateur athletic clubs.
In promoting Bartitsu, Barton-Wright often noted the physical benefits to be accrued by regular practice of the art:
Besides being a most useful and practical accomplishment, this new art of self-defence with a walking-stick is to be recommended as a most exhilarating and graceful exercise. (“Self-defence with a Walking-stick (Part 2)” E.W. Barton-Wright, Pearson’s Magazine, 11, February 1901, 195-204.)
Bartitsu also comprises a system of physical culture which is as complete and thorough as the art of self defence. (“The Latest Fashionable Pastime: The Bartitsu Club”. Black and White Budget magazine, 29-12-1900)
[Originally written by Tony Wolf 15/01/07]