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“The Great Anglo-Japanese Tournament”: Bartitsu in Nottingham (March 1902)

The best evidence indicates that E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club in London closed down during the early months of 1902, for reasons that are still mysterious.  A recently-discovered series of advertisements from the Nottingham Evening Post, however,  indicate that all of the Club principals were involved in an elaborate “Anglo-Japanese Tournament” and martial arts display at the grand Mechanics Institute Hall in Nottingham during late March of that year.

Mechnics Hall 1

The Mechanics’ Institute Hall in Nottingham (shown to the left in this picture)

The Tournament was advertised as running over three nights, from March 24-26, and each evening’s entertainment commenced at 8.15 pm.  Tickets for the first two nights cost 10s. 6d. for reserved seats and 2s. 6d. for unreserved seats; reserved seats were also offered at half-price for members.

Mechanics Hall 2

The interior of the hall, circa 1898

The main event on all three nights was a wrestling contest for £50 between William Clark, who was advertised as the “Professional Champion Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestler of the South of England”, and Bartitsu Club wrestling and physical culture instructor Armand Cherpillod, who then weighed in at 11st 6lb.

A reviewer described their contest on the evening of March 23rd as being the most exciting of the night’s events.  It took Cherpillod over 20 minutes to pin Clark in the first round, but only 10 minutes in the second, deciding the contest in his favour.  The reviewer added that “the work of both was really splendid, and they were frequently applauded.”

The next event was described as a “Display and Bout of the Japanese Secret Art of Wrestling by the Two Light-Weight Japanese Champions, Uyenishi and Tani, who have never been defeated”.  A local reporter described their display as being “very engrossing”, and noted that jiujitsu resembled catch-as-catch-can wrestling, further describing their demonstration of “catch-holds, throws, and various ways of disengaging oneself when taken at a disadvantage”.

Also advertised was a “Display of Bartitsu method of defence with an ordinary Walking Stick” in which Bartitsu Instructor Pierre Vigny, “World’s Champion”, competed against a Mr. Marchant, who was an “(Amateur), Member and Pupil of the Bartitsu School of Arms”.  This contest unfortunately did not take place on March 23rd, apparently due to some necessary apparatus being misplaced in transit.

Next on the agenda were a three-round bouting display of savate by Instructor Pierre Vigny, billed as the “World’s Champion of the Savate” (no opponent specified) and a display of fancy (speed)ball punching by D. Meier, another Champion of the World in this specialty.   Meier’s display was also cancelled on March 23rd due to misplaced equipment.

Vigny’s billing as the savate world champion would have been very controversial, as in 1901 he had been challenged for claiming that title by the Parisian savateur Charles Charlemont, leading to an extremely vehement exchange of letters between Charlemont and Barton-Wright.

Adding further spice to the stew, the advertisements promised a prize of £20 to any Nottingham man who could defeat either of the Japanese champions or Armand Cherpillod.   No weights were barred, “although the Bartitsu men (Tani and Uyenishi) are only Light Weights”.

On the night of the 26th Chas. Green (“English Champion”) won £10 for staying on his feet for 15 minutes, though it is not clear who he was contesting against.  The next night, he agreed to fight again, staking his £10 prize against £20 that Cherpillod could not throw him twice within 20 minutes; there is no record of the results of that re-match.

Woolf Bendoff

On the 26th the three-round “savate vs. boxing” bout pitted Pierre Vigny against Woolf Bendoff, a heavyweight professional boxer, who was advertised as having “boxed for the largest stakes on record”, though his own record is not especially impressive.

On the last night, prices dropped to 5s for reserved seats, 2s 5d and 1s 6d, reserved seats still half-price for members.

 

 

Speculations on Bartitsu (kick)boxing

Update: since the following article was written, the Bartitsu Society has come across this 1901 interview with E.W. Barton-Wright that offers some more information on his conception of “Bartitsu kickboxing”.

E.W. Barton-Wright evidently felt that while both boxing and kicking had their places within Bartitsu, they required substantial modification for use in actual self defence. Unfortunately, he never detailed the nature of his modifications, which leaves this aspect of the Bartitsu curriculum open to speculation based on a set of cryptic hints. This article examines his comments on boxing and kicking and offers some educated guesses about their place in the repertoire.

Barton-Wright was fulsome in his praise of boxing, which was virtually synonymous with the idea of “self defence” in London at the turn of the 20th century. In introducing his radical cross-training concept of Bartitsu, however, he was also careful to point out that even “manly and efficacious” British fisticuffs might not be enough to cope with a determined street attacker who didn’t play by the rules:

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. - Barton-Wright, “Black and White Budget” magazine, December 1900

Taken at face value, this comment suggests that the forewarned but unarmed Bartitsu-trained defender would adopt a boxing guard and spar specifically in order to “sucker” their adversary into close quarters. At that point the defender would deploy jiujitsu as a sort of secret weapon. In fact, both of Barton-Wright’s “boxing” scenarios in that article proposed that an unarmed fight might begin with fisticuffs, but would end with jiujitsu:

Again, should it happen that the assailant is a better boxer than oneself, the knowledge of Japanese wrestling will enable one to close and throw him without any risk of getting hurt oneself. - Ibid.

He was less enthusiastic about French kickboxing. While acknowledging that kicking and countering kicks were important aspects of self defence training, he asserted that:

Another branch of Bartitsu is that in which the feet and hands are both employed, 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 … is quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it. - Ibid.

Another cryptic comment on the subject of kicking in self defence:

Mr. Barton-Wright does not profess to teach his pupils how to kick each other, but merely to know how to be able to return kicks with interest should one be attacked in this manner. - Ibid.

Later, an article in the Pall Mall Gazette also mentioned that the kicking methods adopted at the Bartitsu Club were “somewhat different from the accepted French method.”

In considering Barton-Wright’s comments on savate, it’s worth recalling the traditional Anglo-French rivalry and the middle-class London cultural bias against kicking in self defence as being “un-English”. Also, at a time of very intense nationalism, B-W’s idea that it was socially “permissible” for English gentlemen to learn these foreign skills was still relatively novel and probably not universally accepted. Perhaps B-W deliberately de-emphasised the kicking content of Bartitsu and distanced it from the French method in his articles and lectures as a gesture towards social respectability. Likewise, he may have been attempting to score points by suggesting that the Bartitsu Club was promoting a “new, improved” (even an Anglicised) version of savate.

Both Barton-Wright himself and Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny were primarily interested in teaching pragmatic self-defence, so it’s likely that neither of them had much time for the balletic, light-contact, high kicking style that was then becoming popular as a bourgeois exercise in Paris. If we take B-W’s comments on kicking literally, then presumably he was simply advocating generic street fighting kicks of no particular national origin.

Several months later, in a lecture for the Japan Society of London, he noted that:

Under Bartitsu is included boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking stick as a means of self-defence. Judo and jujitsu, which (are) secret styles of Japanese wrestling, (I) would call close play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, (one) 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 jiujitsu are not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but (are) only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters, it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot. – Barton-Wright, “Jiu jitsu and Judo: the Japanese Art of Self Defence from a British Athletic Point of View”, February 1901

And then:

Directly one (sees) a man, one ought to know whether he (is) a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in one’s self. - Ibid

This reads as if Barton-Wright was moving towards a more specifically integrated unarmed combat system, perhaps combining the defensive aspects of boxing and savate (guards, slips, parries etc.) with a limited range of punches and kicks. These would be transitional, counter-offensive actions between the preferred ranges of stick fighting and jiujitsu. Thus, again, the unarmed/disarmed Bartitsu practitioner might assume a boxing guard stance and defend/counter according to orthodox Anglo-French styles, but then segue into jiujitsu to actually bring the fight to a close.

Barton-Wright’s articles on “Self Defence with a Walking Stick” include several defence sequences that feature boxing punches and savate kicks, but in each case, the context is the Bartitsu-trained defender countering punching or kicking attacks with his trusty cane. The Black and White Budget article also featured a photograph of Vigny executing what looks like a waist-high front thrust or crescent kick. The implication is that students at the Bartitsu Club might have practiced the basic offensive techniques of boxing and savate partially in order to simulate the types of attacks they might face in the streets; to “role-play” as boxers and savateurs for training purposes.

Barton-Wright’s reference to “more numerous guards”, performed in a “slightly different style” to orthodox boxing, may be significant. It seems highly likely that he and Vigny would have discounted those techniques that relied upon either fighter wearing boxing gloves. If so, they may have been inspired by the older, pre-Queensberry Rules versions of pugilism and savate, which were designed for bare-knuckle fighting and did include a diverse range of guards. Also, Bartitsu defences against unarmed striking attacks were not restricted by the rules of boxing; the counter-attack might be a kick, a punch, a jiujitsu atemi strike, a throw and/or a submission technique.

While the most dangerous stick and jiujitsu techniques could not be fully applied in safe training, via recreational (kick)boxing the Bartitsu practitioner could still attain the sense of timing, distance, contact and unpredictability that can only be honed by unrehearsed sparring.

Due to the speculative nature of canonical Bartitsu (kick)boxing, Bartitsu revivalists tend to take an eclectic approach to their kicking and punching curricula, drawing from various late 19th and early 20th century sources.

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]

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