The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume One:
History and the Canonical Syllabus
Journal of Manly Arts
LULU Press, 2005, edited by Tony Wolf - http://www.lulu.com/content/138834
Review by Emelyne Godfrey
In 1903's 'The
Adventure of the Empty House', Sherlock Holmes revealed to Dr Watson in
that he had overcome his greatest enemy via the martial art of
'baritsu'. What the good doctor was actually attempting to describe was
the martial art of 'Bartitsu', a curious hybrid of boxing, la savate
and jujitsu. Invented by engineer and Orientalist Edward William
Barton-Wright C.E., M.J.S. (1860 - 1951), this system made its first
appearance in Pearson's Magazine in 1899 and was described as 'a class
of self-defence designed to meet every possible kind of attack, whether
armed or otherwise'.
Bartitsu was performed in music halls across Britain in the early years
of the twentieth century and even had a royal following. After the end
of the Golden Age of Bartitsu, Barton-Wright himself became a forgotten
figure; however, his ventures changed the face of martial arts in
Britain and abroad while Bartitsu was, itself, a physical
representation of the ideals of the Edwardian era.
The Bartitsu Compendium is the culmination of a project that began on
the EJMAS website, and which has now grown into a rich collection of
literature, brought together here as tribute to a remarkably
The Compendium is divided into three sections, including a history of
Bartitsu, a guide to the principles behind the techniques, and
reproductions of Barton-Wright's original articles which appeared in
Pearson's and Health and Strength magazines in the early years of the
twentieth century. All of these sections sport a goodly number of
illustrations and photographs, some serious, others instructive while
still others, such as those from the 1901 article Self-Protection on a
Bicycle are amusing and entertaining.
Tony Wolf introduces the Compendium by examining the development of
physical culture in the wake of the industrial revolution. This essay
shows how international conflicts inspired the development of military
training in the form of the Gymkhana and Assault at Arms while
nineteenth-century urban crime panics created the need for systematised
forms of self-defence for civilian use. In this invaluable
introduction, Wolf offers a lucid and comprehensive description of
various fighting styles of the period, including those of wrestling,
boxing, quarter-staff, purring (shin-kicking) and bayonet
fencing. He also provides a study of the way in which forces at
work, both in Britain and on the Continent, led to the redefinition of
sport and combat as a 'wholesome athletic activity'. The stage was set
The first, and largest, section juxtaposes modern scholarship with
writing of the time. This symbolises the aim of the Compendium, namely
to interact with the past, both intellectually and even physically.
Graham Noble's portrayal of Barton-Wright's assistant, jiujitsu
practitioner Yukio Tani, is set against the memoirs of Tani's
contemporary, Gunji Koizumi, while images from Pearson's Magazine
appear alongside photographs of a modern interpretation of Bartitsu
that was performed at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds in 2005.
We learn more about the way that Barton-Wright influenced, and was
influenced by, the work of his contemporaries. Barton-Wright brought
Yukio Tani over from Japan in order to demonstrate Bartitsu to London
society. Tani was later to break away from Barton-Wright and under the
supervision of show business promoter William Bankier ('Apollo'), he
became a successful music hall wrestler and a star in his own right.
Tani set up his own dojo in London's Oxford Street and subsequently
taught students at the Budokwai judo school, founded by Gunji Koizumi
Barton-Wright's 'Self-defence with a Walking-stick' was inspired by the
work of the Swiss martial artist Pierre Vigny. This dashing maitre
d'armes was an instructor at Barton-Wright's Bartitsu Club before he,
like Tani, set up his own school in London. Another Swiss celebrity was
the wrestling champion Armand Cherpillod, who learnt jujitsu at
Barton-Wright's school and subsequently brought the art to Switzerland.
His Meine Selbsthilfe Jiu Jitsu fuer Damen was one of the first jujitsu
manuals for women. Indeed, the Compendium shows that it was not just
men who were influential in the world of physical culture. Two women,
Mrs Emily Rodger Watts and Mrs Edith Garrud, not only taught classes in
jiujitsu but also wrote on the subject. Mrs Garrud was herself
involved in training Gertrude Harding's Bodyguard corps, which
protected Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst from arrest by the
police under the Cat and Mouse Act.
In 'Bartitsu Basics', Tony Wolf takes the reader through Bartitsu
footwork and technique, from the Ready Stance (hachiji-dachi) through
to various falling and fighting techniques and offers pragmatic advice
on the application of Bartitsu. He notes that 'the Bartitsuka
should be able to judge the appropriate levels of applied force, both
in controlled training and in an actual assault situation, adjusting
their response to the level of perceived threat'. When performed, it
becomes apparent that Bartitsu was more than a method of self-defence.
The movements themselves are swift, graceful and highly controlled.
Bartitsu was a martial 'art', in every sense of the word.
The Bartitsu Compendium is a timely publication, coinciding with the
dramatisation of Peter Hilton's play Edith Garrud's Dojo by the Lady
Cavaliers Theatre Company and with the publication of Bartitsu
enthusiast Will Thomas' detective novels, which feature a protagonist
named Cyrus Barker who is partly inspired by Barton-Wright himself. The
publication also co-incides with a growing academic fascination with
the themes of crime, violence and recovery. Indeed, given the wealth of
sources, both primary and secondary, the Compendium is a veritable
contribution to scholarship. And this is only the first volume!