From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia


Bartitsu was a short-lived experiment in creating a mixed martial art system, notable because it was it was the first recorded MMA system to incorporate elements of Asian and European fighting styles. The art was founded in London, England in the year 1899.

Founder Edward William Barton-Wright was a railway surveyor and engineer who had spent several years working in Japan, where he also studied jujitsu and judo at three dojo: a Shinden-Fudo Ryu school in Kobe, a Tenjin-Shinyo Ryu school in Yokohama and at Jigoro Kano's Kodokan institute in Tokyo. Returning to London in 1898, he wrote a series of illustrated magazine articles promoting a "New Art of Self Defence" which he called Bartitsu, a portmanteau of his own name and of jujitsu.

In 1901 Barton-Wright established the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, also known as the Bartitsu Club, which was located at 67b Shaftesbury Avenue in London's Soho district.

Although initially based on a combination of Japanese close-combat systems, by 1902 Bartitsu also included training in scientific boxing, French savate and stick fighting. Barton-Wright employed a number of instructors to teach their specialties at the Bartitsu Club, including Yukio Tani and Sadekazu Uyenishi (jujitsu), Pierre Vigny (savate and stick fighting) and Armand Cherpillod (wrestling). Most of the Bartitsu Club instructors also entered mixed-styles tournaments and challenge contests, with Tani, Uyenishi and Cherpillod enjoying great success.

The Bartitsu Club was also one of the first martial arts schools to offer specialized women's self defense classes and was the headquarters of a project to revive various antiquated forms of fencing such as the use of the two-handed sword and the rapier and dagger.

Despite Barton-Wright's enthusiasm and the victories of the Bartitsu Club instructors, the Club had closed by the year 1904. Subsequent speculation had it that the enrollment fees had been too high. The instructors went their separate ways and Bartitsu itself almost vanishes from the historical record after 1905, with the exception of a mention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Empty House", in which Holmes explained to Dr, Watson that he had defeated his enemy Professor Moriarty by using "baritsu, or Japanese wrestling".

Recent history

In 1998, the late martial arts historian Richard Bowen discovered copies of Barton-Wright's original magazine articles in the archives of the British Library and had them published online via the EJMAS (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences) website.

In 2002, the Bartitsu Society was formed as an international association of martial artists and history enthusiasts eager to research Barton-Wright's life and pioneering endeavors in the martial arts. The Society also undertook to revive Bartitsu at the practical level, with individual members offering seminars in both canonical (i.e., circa 1900) and neo- (personalized, modern) forms of Bartitsu.

In 2005, the Bartitsu Society published a book, "The Bartitsu Compendium", with all profits going towards building a gravestone for E.W. Barton-Wright, who had died penniless in the year 1950 and had been buried in an unmarked grave.

Techniques and Training

Bartitsu circa 1900

Comparatively little is known about the specific training methods employed at the Bartitsu Club, except that it evidently followed the common model of combining pre-set drills with various forms of sparring.

According to an interview published in 1902, Barton-Wright had instituted the unusual practice of insisting that students attend private lessons before joining in group training sessions.

Barton-Wright proposed a series of four ranges of combat (stick fighting, kicking, punching and grappling) and encouraged members of the Bartitsu Club to train in the four major systems taught at the Club, each of which corresponded to a particular range. He favored stick fighting and jujitsu, with modified savate and boxing being used to bridge the gap between these two ranges, or as a means of first response if the defender was not armed with a walking stick.

In a sense, Bartitsu can be considered as the art of using jujitsu against boxing and savate, of using boxing against jujitsu and savate, etc. Barton-Wright's ideal was that a Bartitsuka would be well-versed enough in each of the component arts to be able to use them against each other as required. Thus, Bartitsu was effectively an approach to cross-training, geared primarily towards self defense but including a sporting dimension, rather than a codified style in its own right.

The Vigny method of stick fighting employed two fundamental strategies of controlling the initiative of the fight; the pre-emptive strike and the invitation. The Vigny method was best employed with the "Vigny self defense walking stick", a tough rattan stick tipped with a heavy silver knob. Typical targets included the head, throat, knees/shins and wrists with single-handed strikes, and the ribcage with double-handed "bayonet" strikes. The Vigny method was also notable for including a number of tripping and throwing techniques.

Barton-Wright noted that he had modified both savate and boxing to make them better applicable to street fighting, but it is not known how he adapted these methods. It is speculated, for example, that Bartitsu boxing would have eliminated any techniques that relied on either fighter wearing gloves, and that Bartitsu kicking would have been to the low line (knees and shins) rather than the more gymnastic high kicking common in sporting/academic savate during the early 1900s.

As incorporated into Bartitsu, judo and jujitsu were a combination of ko-ryu ("old school") methods including atemi-waza (striking techniques such as punches and head-butts) and leg-locks as well as the more common tripping, throwing, holding and ground-fighting techniques.

Bartitsu today

Contemporary neo-Bartitsu styles draw techniques and training methods from the canonical material detailed by Barton-Wright in his magazine articles, and also from the numerous books, articles and essays produced by former Bartitsu Club instructors and their students between 1904 and the early 1920s.

Contemporary training in both canonical and neo-Bartitsu is generally offered via short-term seminars and consists of calisthenic warm-ups based on c1900 "physical culture" exercises followed by drilling in a selection of basic scientific boxing, savate, jujitsu and Vigny canne fighting techniques. Depending on the length and focus of the seminar, participants are then shown a series of drills in combining the various techniques together spontaneously, against various attacks, either for competitive or self-defense purposes. The canonical Bartitsu sequences are often used as points of reference during this process.

Ranks and Progression

There is no formal ranking system in Bartitsu, but the Bartitsu Society recognizes a limited number of practitioners as being qualified instructors based on previous martial arts experience and demonstrated commitment to the art.

Links/Resources - the Bartitsu Society website, including a link to the Bartitsu Forum discussion group - "The New Art of Self-defence: How a Man May Defend Himself against Every Form of Attack," by E.W. Barton-Wright, Pearson's Magazine, March 1899, v. 7, pp. 268-275 - part two of the above article - "Self-defence with a Walking Stick," by E.W. Barton-Wright, Pearson's Magazine, February 1901, v. 11, pp. 130-139. - "The Master of Bartitsu," by Graham Noble, Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 1999, v. 8:2, pp. 50-61

Sources - Wolf, Tony (ed.) The Bartitsu Compendium. Lulu Publications, 2005.