Here’s a short blog post for the Guardian: Pedaling Through the Night on the Dunwich Dynamo. In a sentence, around 2,000 cyclists on everything from road bikes to tandems show up at a pub in Hackney around 8 pm and ride through the night, unsupported, about 120 miles on mostly dark country roads to Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast. Here’s more info from Southwark Cyclists. It’s the furthest I’ve ever cycled, and it was an amazing, beautiful, challenging ride. I managed it in 13 and a half hours or so.
There’s the obvious question: why? I think probably it is an objectively ridiculous thing to do, but then again so is almost all sport. You’ve got to get this ball in that hole over there, but you can’t walk over and drop it in — you have to start here and use these sticks and try to hit it in. Almost all sporting endeavors are weird like this, it’s just that you’re more used to them than long distance cycling.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Bartitsu is called many things: the West’s first mixed martial art, the fighting style of Sherlock Holmes, the Victorian gentleman’s martial art. It was assembled from boxing, savate, cane fighting and jiu jitsu by Edward William Barton-Wright and taught in London around the start of the twentieth century. It then more or less vanished. Barton-Wright left some detailed instructions and photos behind, and lately game enthusiasts have resurrected the style. For more have a look at the Bartitsu Society’s site or Tony Wolf’s indispensable The Bartitsu Compendium.
Some friends from the UCL Jitsu Club and I got together to demonstrate a little bartitsu at the Idler Garden Party last weekend — an afternoon of diversions against the backdrop of Fenton House in Hampstead. It was an enormous amount of fun. We had the slightly weird but pleasant experience of drinking gin, listening to a ukulele lesson, hearing a philosophy lecture, and throwing each other around in the grass — not in that order.
Some of the movements in bartitsu are instantly recognizable to people who do martial arts today, but other techniques, if you’ll pardon the pun, throw us a little — ‘Why did Barton-Wright do it that way?’ we wonder. But of course, he was nearer the Japanese source than we are now, so we pay attention to his way of doing things. It’s a little like martial arts archaeology, and so far it’s been hugely rewarding.