Who's Who in
Bartitsu is an eclectic
martial art and self defence method originally developed in England
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1898, Edward William
Barton-Wright, a British engineer who had been building railways in
Japan, returned to England and announced the formation of a "New Art of
Self Defence". This art, he claimed, combined the best elements of a
range of fighting styles into a unified whole, which he had named
Bartitsu. The word was a portmanteau of his own surname and of "jiujitsu".
As detailed in a series of articles Barton-Wright produced for Pearson's
Magazine between 1899 and 1904, Bartitsu was largely drawn from the
Shinden Fudo, Tenjin-Shinyo, Fusen and Daito Ryu schools of koryu
("classical") jujutsu and from Kodokan judo. The art also incorporated
combat techniques from British boxing, Swiss schwingen, French savate,
and a defensive stick fighting style that had been developed by
Professeur Pierre Vigny of Switzerland.
Between 1899 and 1903,
Barton-Wright set about publicising his art through magazine articles,
interviews and a series of demonstrations or "assaults at arms" at
various London venues. He established a school called the Bartitsu
Academy of Arms and Phyical Culture, also known as the Bartitsu Club,
which was located at #67b Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho. In an article for
Sandow's Magazine published in 1902, journalist Mary Nugent described
the Bartitsu Club as "... a huge subterranean hall, all glittering,
white-tiled walls, and electric light, with 'champions' prowling around
it like tigers."
Via correspondence with Professor Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan
Judo, and other contacts in Japan, Barton-Wright arranged for Japanese
jujutsu practitioners Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi to travel to
London and serve as instructors at the Bartitsu Club. Swiss
master-at-arms Pierre Vigny and wrestler Armand Cherpillod were also
employed as teachers at the Club. As well as teaching well-to-do
Londoners, their duties included performing demonstrations and competing
in challenge matches against fighters representing other combat styles.
In addition, the Club became the headquarters for a group of fencing
antiquarians led by Egerton Castle and Captain Alfred Hutton, and it
served as their base for experimenting with historical fencing
techniques, which they taught to members of London's acting elite for
use in stage combat.
Bartitsu Club membership included Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, who was later
to achieve notoriety as one of the few adult male survivors of the
sinking of the RMS Titanic, as well as Captain F.C. Laing of the 12th
Bengal Infantry, who subsequently wrote an article on Bartitsu stick
fighting techniques which was published in the Journal of the United
Service Institution of India.
Barton-Wright later reported that, during this period, he had challenged
and defeated seven larger men within three minutes as part of a Bartitsu
demonstration he gave at St. James's Hall. He said this feat earned him
a membership in the prestigious Bath Club and also a Royal Command to
appear before Edward, Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, Barton-Wright then
suffered an injury to his hand, due either to a fight in a Kentish
country lane or a bicycling accident, which prevented him from appearing
before the Prince.
It is unclear whether
Barton-Wright ever devised a formal curriculum for Bartitsu as a self
defence method. He encouraged members of the Bartitsu Club to study each
of the four major hand-to-hand combat styles taught at the Club, with
the goal of mastering each style well enough that they could be used
against the others if needed. This process was similar to the modern
concept of cross-training.
Based on Barton-Wright's writings upon this subject, contemporary
researchers believe that Bartitsu placed greatest emphasis upon the
Vigny cane fighting system at the striking range and upon jujutsu (and,
secondarily, the "all-in" style of European wrestling) at the grappling
range. Savate and boxing methods were used to segue between these two
ranges, or as a means of first response should the defender not be armed
with a walking stick. Barton-Wright also modified the techniques of both
boxing and savate for self defence purposes, as distinct from academic
training and sporting competition.
According to interviewer Mary Nugent, Barton-Wright instituted an
unusual pedagogical system whereby students were first required to
attend private training sessions before being allowed to join class
groups. It is currently believed that both private and group classes
included pre-arranged exercises, especially for use in rehearsing those
techniques that were too dangerous to be performed at full speed or
contact, as well as free-sparring and fencing bouts.
Many Bartitsu self defence techniques and sequences were recorded by
Barton-Wright himself in his series of articles for Pearson's Magazine.
The specific details of other Bartitsu stick fighting training drills
were recorded in Captain Laing's article.
Despite his enthusiasm,
Barton-Wright seems to have been a mediocre promoter and the fame of his
associates and their jujutsu quickly eclipsed that of Bartitsu. By 1903,
the Bartitsu Club had closed its doors for the last time; subsequent
speculation had it that both the enrollment fee and the tuition fees had
been too high.
Most of Barton-Wright's assistants, including jujutsuka Yukio Tani and
Sadekazu Uyenishi and Swiss self defence expert Pierre Vigny,
established their own self defence and combat sports gymnasia in London.
After breaking with Barton-Wright, purportedly due to an argument and a
fight, Tani also continued his work as a professional music-hall
wrestler under the shrewd management of William Bankier, a strength
performer and magazine publisher who went by the stage name of "Apollo".
Although Barton-Wright may have continued to develop and teach his
martial art at least until the 1920s, it never again returned to
prominence. Bartitsu might 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".
Doyle mis-spelled the name of the art; this error, in addition to the
anachronism of portraying Bartitsu in a story set several years before
the art had actually been invented, was enough to intrigue and confuse
Holmesian scholars for most of the next century.
E.W. Barton-Wright spent the rest of his career working as a physical
therapist specialising in innovative (and sometimes controversial) forms
of heat, light, and radiation therapy. In 1950, Barton-Wright was
interviewed for an article appearing in the Budokwai newsletter, and
later that year he was presented to the audience at a Budokwai gathering
in London. He died in 1951, at the age of 90, and was buried in what the
late martial arts historian Richard Bowen described as being "a pauper's
In many ways, E.W.
Barton-Wright was a man ahead of his time. He was among the first
Europeans known to have studied the Japanese martial arts, and was
almost certainly the first to have taught them in Europe, the
Commonwealth of Nations or the Americas.
Bartitsu was probably the first martial art to have deliberately
combined Asian and European fighting styles towards addressing the
problems of civilian/urban self-defence in an "unarmed society". In
this, Barton-Wright anticipated Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do approach by
over seventy years. Barton-Wright's philosophy of pragmatic eclecticism
was taken up by other early 20th century European self-defence
specialists, including Percy Longhurst, George Dubois and Jean-Joseph
Renaud, all of whom had studied with former Bartitsu Club instructors.
A similar philosophy was later to be embraced by Bill Underwood, William
E. Fairbairn and others charged with developing close combat systems for
use by Allied troops during the Second World War. Underwood had actually
studied jujutsu with Yukio Tani and another jujutsuka, Taro Miyake, in
London during the first decade of the 20th century. The systems founded
by Underwood, Fairbairn, and their contemporaries became the basis for
most military and police close-combat training throughout the Western
world during the 20th century.
E.W. Barton-Wright is also remembered as a pioneering promoter of mixed
martial arts or MMA contests, in which experts in different fighting
styles compete under common rules. Barton-Wright's champions, including
Yukio Tani and Swiss schwingen wrestler Armand Cherpillod, enjoyed
considerable success in these contests, which anticipated the MMA
phenomenon of the 1990s by a hundred years.
The Bartitsu Club was the first school of its type in Europe to offer
specialised classes in women's self defence, a practice taken up after
the Club's demise by students of Yukio Tani and Sadekazu Uyenishi
including Edith Garrud and Emily Watts. Mrs. Garrud established her own
jiujitsu dojo (school) in London and also taught the art to members of
the militant Suffragette movement, establishing an early association
between self defence training and the political philosophy of feminism.