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.