t the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing, and stick fighting into a new martial art he termed bartitsu. This elegant discipline would have been forgotten save for a famous, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, in which Sherlock Holmes used its mysteries to save his life from the villainous Professor Moriarty:
When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went. With my face over the brink I saw him fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounced off, and splashed into the water.
Several years ago, director Guy Ritchie and actor Robert Downey, Jr. re-conceptualized the Great Detective as a Steampunk sleuth and man of action. Doyle fans have been divided on the interpretation, but one thing is certain, as martial artists themselves, Ritchie and Downey have given Holmes his fighting chops! Bartitsu, or “baritsu”, as Doyle penned it, gets screen time (seemingly faithfully) in the new Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, as can be seen in the teaser clip on YouTube .
We have yet to see the film, but rumor has it that the final confrontation between Holmes and the villainous Professor Moriarty is worth the price of admission. Of course, there is only one way to find out for certain…
One you’ve seen the Silver Screen depiction of “baritsu”, you may wish to find out more about the truth behind the fiction. In conjunction with the film’s American release this week, we are featuring Bartitsu: the Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, at 30% off of its regular price. A unique documentary relating the fascinating history, rediscovery and revival of Barton-Wright’s pioneering mixed martial art, this is a great present for martial artists, Holmes enthusiasts, or lovers of Victorian and Edwardian England.
Finally, if you are reading this blog, but somehow still don’t know what Bartitsu is, this interview with our colleague, Tony Wolf, ought to set things aright!