The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume One:
History and the Canonical Syllabus

Journal of Manly Arts
June 2006

LULU Press, 2005, edited by Tony Wolf -
Review by Emelyne Godfrey

Bartitsu CompendiumIn 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 multi-talented man.

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 for Bartitsu.

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 in 1918.

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!

June 2006