Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Tony Wolf’

In his ongoing effort to open the parlor room door to the vigorous martial arts (aka “antagonistics”) world of late Victorian London, our friend and author Tony Wolf has recently blogged offering not a glimpse into the Bartitsu Club of Barton-Wright, not in his words, but those of the ancient swordplay pioneer, Captain Alfred Hutton.

“Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.”

You can read more about Hutton’s thoughts, and how he later made use of Tani and Uyenishi’s lessons in Captain Hutton writes about his friends at the Bartitsu Club.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

t seems that Sherlock Holmes’ “forgotten” martial art is slowly, but steadily, seeping into the public consciousness!

While Tony Wolf has been busy writing about and documenting Bartitsu history for years, we told you recently about the newly formed Bartitsu Club of Chicago, his experiment in on-going, progressive training in both canonical and neo-bartitsu. The Bartitsu Club is not only the newest member of a growing, informal association of clubs and training groups around the world, but it has found an ideal home at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts. Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Only two months into its existence, and the club is already getting some good press. Click on the highlighted text to read the article Martial Arts, Victorian Style: Bartitsu at Forteza Fitness Brings Back the Lost Fighting Art of Sherlock Holmes, by New City journalist Kristen Micek. Another new article on the Bartitsu Club at Forteza Fitness is available here: Blast into the Past.

You can also watch a short video impression of the recent Open House held at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts, featuring demonstrations by the Chicago Swordplay Guild, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and the Asylum Stunt Team.

Meanwhile, Bartitsu is also doing well in its homeland of Britain. It was recently featured in a 3.5 minute segment on Britian’s popular TV magazine, The One Show. The show features an interview with Emelyne Godfrey and a Bartitsu fight scene choreographed by Ran Arthur Braun, performed by Braun, “One Show” co-host Gyles Brandreth and Ajay Jackson and Ashley Patricks:


Finally, but certainly not least, the “jujutsu suffragette” Edith Garrud is back in the news, a mere forty years after her death! Far more than just a “women’s rights” group, the suffragettes were a formidable fighting force – in more ways than one. The leaders of the fight for women’s votes had their own elite bodyguard, trained in jujitsu, to protect them from the police. The suffragettes and their role in the history of Edwardian antagonistics at large, and Bartitsu in particular is documented in Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, and you can both read more about Edith Garrud, who was the jujitsu and self defence trainer of the Suffragette Bodyguard society and see a humorous nod to these ladies from this presentation at last year’s Western Martial Arts Workshop:

All in all, it’s a fine time to be a bartitsuka!

Read Full Post »

lthough the pioneering work of Alfred Hutton and Egerton Castle is well-known to students of Historical European Martial Arts, far-fewer are aware of the expansive, and longer-lasting, efforts of their “spiritual heir”, George Dubois (1865 – 1934).

Dubois was a professional sculptor and Olympic athlete, who had studied savate and fencing since childhood, and became inspired by a display of “Ancient Swordplay” involving Hutton and Castle, which he saw in Brussels in 1894. By 1906, Dubois had become interested in the intellectual and physical challenges of reviving archaic systems of fence. His first project was the reconstruction of Roman gladiatorial combat between a retiarius (net and trident fighter) and a myrmillo (sword and shield fighter), to be demonstrated at an “ancient sports” festival in Tourcoing.

Myrmillion vs Retiarus – Dubois’ method of reconstructing gladiatorial combat prefigured the “living archaeology” movement by almost seven decades.

For the next several years, Dubois continued to combine his interests in the fine, performing and martial arts. In 1916 he produced a book, Comment se Defendre  presenting a notably realistic fusion of Japanese and French self-defence techniques, reminiscent of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu. His daughter, Mathilde, played the role of the defender in several of the book’s forty-eight instructional photographs.

Two years later, Dubois published his “Essai sur le traité d’escrime de Saint-Didier, publié en 1573,” a brief but insightful analysis of the rapier fencing text produced by the 16th century master-at-arms, Henri de Saint-Didier.

But it was rapier fencing was that truly inspired Dubois, how found the “doubled” art of rapier and dagger to be the height of fencing exercise; beneficial both in terms of physical culture, because it encouraged a more symmetrical muscular development, and also in terms of intellectual engagement. During this period he collaborated with another French fencing master, Albert Lacaze, who shared Dubois’ interest in historical fencing techniques.

In 1925 Dubois published a further work on rapier and dagger fencing. Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere is particularly interesting by way of contrast to L’Escrime au Theatre, which had been published some fifteen years earlier. Dague et Rapiere was not a book of stage combat techniques, but rather presented an innovative system of competitive fencing with double weapons.

 Introducing his own work, Dubois explains that:

 “Employing Fifteenth and Sixteenth century fencing terms creates something of a complication for the modern reader. A didactic book should present all of its explanations as clearly as possible. Therefore I shall employ, in this essay on ancient fencing, terms that are familiar to masters-at-arms and to their students at the foil and epee, using the classical grammar of the modern French school.

“Moreover, I would appreciate it if the reader would adopt my conviction – based on studies within the historical oeuvre – that even if the terms employed by the old Masters are not the same ones that we use today, then the methods that they described are as our own; they taught many of the same skills, since the guard of the sword was furnished with transverse branches that we all utilise scientifically.”

Thus, in Dague et Rapiere, Dubois presented a historically-inspired double-weapon fencing system intended to complement the classical foil and epee fencing of his own era. He wrote that the system was based soundly upon the mutual study, by himself and Master Lacaze, of their collective fencing libraries, which included the works of Thibault, Capo Ferro and Fabris.  Rather than a strict revival of ancient swordplay, it was a modern system adapting historical practice to the contemporary art. In several respects it is very much the type of manual that Captain Hutton might have produced on this subject, had he been inclined to popularize “ancient swordplay” beyond his own small clique.

For those interested in a glimpse of Dubois’ “modern rapier” in practice, in October of 1927, the Pathe film company recorded an outdoor training session in the method of double-weapon fencing described in Dague et Rapiere. The footage was then edited into a silent newsreel item entitled Fence and Keep Fit!”, which runs for a little over three minutes.

A second film clip from 1934, records a visit to Salle Lacaze by the famous Italian fencer Aldo Nadi, and shows students engaged in rapier and dagger training, and in the final shot shows Nadi decisively winning a fast epee and dagger bout:

That same year, George Dubois died at the age of sixty-nine. Through his books and essays, historical fencing displays and theatrical fight choreography, he had been at the cente of the escrime ancienne movement for three decades. It was largely through his efforts, and latterly those of his colleague, Master Albert Lacaze, that the work begun by Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle and their peers was perpetuated into the new century, and in isolated pockets, such as the Salle Lacaze, has continued to the present day, creating its own living tradition of “modern rapier and dagger”.

You can read more about Dubois and the French HEMA movement in Tony Wolf’s Ancient Swordplay. For Francophones, we are pleased to celebrate this early pioneer by making his Cemment du Defendre,  Le Point d’ Honneur et le Duel, and Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere freely available as downloadable PDFs on the Freelance website.

Read Full Post »

n late Victorian England, swordsmanship experienced a unique revival, even as the sword was being rendered useless on the battlefield. The precise origins are murky, but likely began with the Romantic movement of the later 18th century, which created a new interest in medievalism, and captured the popular imagination when Sir Walter Scott published Ivanhoe in 1819. Throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries there were a series of “Grand Tournaments” – often lavish medieval spectacles and festivals, often featuring jousting competitions.

An Assault at Arms: the Islington Tournament (1880)

How serious most of these efforts were is hard to say, but they, in turn, were one of the influences on the Assaults-at-Arms, displays of skill-at-arms performed as public entertainment. Originally conceived by the military as a way to exhibit fencing, horsemanship and athletics, civilian counterparts soon followed. Many of these events combined competition with showmanship; some were strictly competitive and others little more than farce.

(For a deeper look at the tradition of the Grand Tournaments and the Assaults-at-Arms, see A Grand Assault-at-Arms” Tournaments and Combative Exhibitions in Victorian England at the Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences.)

Yet, by the 19th century, fencing was becoming an endangered species in England. While romantic adventure novels, and the exploits of real explorer-swordsmen like Sir Richard Francis Burton captured the imagination, it did not fill fencing salles. As a pastime or sport, fencing had never had the same popularity as boxing, and was perceived by many Englishmen as “elitist” and “Frenchified”. With the sword’s prominence as the soldier’s sidearm swiftly being supplanted by the revolver, by the 1880s the future of the art of the sword looked rather grim.

In an effort to recapture the public’s fascination with swordplay, Captain Alfred Hutton and Egerton Castle, both devoted fencers and amateur historians, led a systematic study and reconstruction of combat with all the weapons of the Elizabethan arsenal – the elegant rapier, deadly sword and buckler, and the massive two-handed sword. In a world without the Internet, digital reproduction or inter-library loan, as men of means they had the resources and education to locate – and – read old fencing texts, and the martial training to begin interpreting them. Finding a sympathetic host in the enigmatic Edward Barton-Wright, whose Bartitsu Club would become the center of their efforts, these two men launched the revival of  “ancient swordplay” in England.  Throughout the waning decades of the 19th century, and into the early years of the 20th, their work found practical expression in classes, exhibitions, academic lectures and theatrical combat, for audiences as diverse as school children, soldiers and the Prince of Wales.

Alfred Hutton also had a practical – and political – motivation in drawing public attention to Elizabethan swordplay. Military instruction in swordsmanship had long been based on the French system, which Hutton found artificially academic, and ill-suited to fighting out of the salle against Berbers, Zulu and Indians, all of whom were well-versed in their own methods of sword and spear combat. Never a blushing violet, Hutton lobbied for a new system of swordplay, invigorated by traditional English backsword practice. In 1899 he demonstrated what such a system might look like, when he published Cold Steel, a curriculum for his own system of sabre fencing, combining the Italian sabre school with that of the English backsword. Not only did Cold Steel make use of 18th c English backsword, but Hutton also included lessons on the great stick, the dagger (or un-mounted bayonet) and defense against the same. The latter two subjects were not of his own devising, but rather were taken directly from the instructions of Achille Marozzo’s Opera Nova (1536).

When Hutton’s student, Capt. Cyrill Matthey, published The Complete Works of George Silver in 1899, he noted bitterly that “I suggest sword-fighting is not taught, and it ought to be.” His solution? A return to the practical, combative approach of George Silver, most especially his use of grips. Like his teacher, Matthey was calling for a radical reversion to a method of swordsmanship not seen in 150 years. Like Hutton, his appeals were not heeded.

Although Hutton and Matthey’s efforts to change British military swordsmanship failed, the entire matter was soon made irrelevant – the sword’s days on the battlefield were numbered in years, not decades. But it was their interest in the applicability of historical swordplay to practical, modern swordsmanship that brought Silver’s unpublished Brief Instructions Vpo My Paradoxes of Defence from obscurity into print, which in turn would become one of the first texts to be studied diligently by the second historical swordsmanship revival in the late 20th century.

A Lecture on Fencing - 1891

In 1892, Hutton published a slim volume of fight sequences with the two-handed sword, sword and buckler, rapier, rapier and dagger and smallsword, called Old Swordplay. His audience was clearly the theater, and while the sequences he describes show some relationship to the manuscripts they draw from, they lack the practical martiality of his sabre and stick instructions in Cold Steel. This was because the historical sequences served a very different purpose; to inform actors and directors as to the flavor of historical swordplay; not to turn them into historical swordsmen, per se. Here, Hutton and Castle had great success – until his death, Hutton would continue to stage fights on the London stage, and receive rave reviews for the realism of his fights; being amongst the first fight directors to insist upon correct weapons, armour and technique for the play’s setting. Although this may seem obvious or passe to modern readers, for London theater audiences of the 1890s, this was the first time that the great Tybalt -Romeo duel had rung to the clash of real rapiers and daggers, rather than flimsy foils.

Yet for all of their efforts and public acclaim, Hutton and Castle did not establish a tradition of historical swordsmanship that survived their own generation. Instead, their books and essays were largely forgotten until the second revival of ancient swordplay in the late 20th century. Today’s researchers now often view these early efforts with a cavalier or dismissive eye. In Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Swordplay in Victorian England,  Tony Wolf, 19th c martial arts scholar, theatrical fight director, and reviver and instructor of the “lost” fighting art of Bartitsu, reexamines Hutton and Castle’s work, both through their own words and those of their enthusiasts, students and critics alike. Tony has unearthed a bevy of rare newspaper illustrations, photographs, play bills and bookplates, many of which can be found in the book’s gallery, and which help fill in the picture of the English revival, and its place in what came both before and after. Every student of historical European martial arts, especially those who believe they know what Castle, Hutton and their circle thought and taught will be in for more than one surprise:

  • A tradition of Medieval fests and swordsmanship – some of very dubious derivation – had already become popular throughout Europe and Canada;
  • Nearly a generation before Hutton and Castle, Maestro Gregorio Villaamil had already attempted to save La Verdadera Destreza from extinction by reconstructing earlier methods;
  • Castle’s views on medieval fencing evolved considerably over the years, and the dismissal of “the rough, untutored swordsmanship” written by a 26 year old prodigy did not reflect those of the mature man;
  • If Hutton and Castle had a true “heir” it was not an Englishman, but rather Maitre George Dubois, whose reconstruction of Gladiatorial combat prefigured the field of “Living Archaeology” by over 60 years, and whose syncretic system of modern rapier and dagger fencing would survive into the late 20th century;
  • Although the Ancient Swordplay movement failed to survive its founders, they would have considered it to have served its purpose – the preservation of modern fencing.

But what this look into a world of top hats and rapiers best shows is that the modern view of the Victorian revivalists as earnest but misguided amateur scholars is both unfair, and a bit arrogant. Instead, they are revealed as the inventors of a systematic study and practice of lost fighting arts that has only been exceeded in recent years, worthy of being celebrated as the true pioneers in the field.

With Ancient Swordplay, we are very pleased to bring the old boys (and girls! wait until you read about the swordswoman-actress-suffragette-role-reverser Esme Beringer!) back into the limelight, and in the weeks to come we will be uploading a number of images and manuscripts that couldn’t make it into the book. Keep watching this space!

Read Full Post »

After our last blog post, we had intended to post a review of the fictional bartitsu appearing in the new Sherlock Holmes film, but it turns out that  bartitsuka Tony Wolf has beat us to the punch, literally, in his The Substance of Style: A review of the martial arts action in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows:

http://www.bartitsu.org/index.php/2011/12/the-substance-of-style-a-review-of-the-martial-arts-action-in-sherlock-holmes-a-game-of-shadows/

and besides its fictionalized depictions, there is some big news in the bartitsu  and HES world. As many of you may know, Barton-Wright’s “Bartitsu Club” was a martial arts and physical culture studio which not only brought together the best of 19th century fitness and fighting arts, but served as a home for Alfred Hutton’s “Ancient Swordplay” circle – the first sustained effort at recreating the extinct martial arts of Europe. In his discussion of bartitsu on the Freelance website, Tony stated:

“Eventually, someone is going to bite the bullet and open a fully-fledged Edwardian-style martial arts and physical culture studio. “

We can say with absolutely assurety that when he made that statement, Tony had no idea that his interviewer, Freelance’s own president, Gregory Mele, would be the one biting that bullet, or that Tony himself would be coming along for the ride. And yet, not even a year later, we can proudly say that just such a studio is about to open its doors! Well, since Tony already scooped us once, why don’t we let him do so again:

A 5000 square foot Western martial arts and fitness training center is currently under construction on the border of Chicago’s Ravenswood and Buena Park neighbourhoods. Patterned after a circa 1900 physical culture studio, it features high timber ceiling, a hardwood floor and brick walls, which will be decorated with large historical prints featuring swordsmen and combat athletes in training.

The new gym will include my collection of antique physical culture apparatus, including Indian clubs, medicine balls, iron dumbbells, an 1880s rowing machine and wall-mounted weightlifting machine, pull-up bar and climbing ropes, forming a “gymuseum” for old-school physical culture training. Functional replicas of other classic training equipment and a Western martial arts store may be added in the future.

The complex will also include an upstairs library/meeting/lounge area reminiscent of a Victorian era private gentlemen’s club, with comfortable chairs and couches, a gallery of antique antagonistics images and books on all manner of Western martial arts and related topics. Basically, it will be an athletic club in the traditional sense, a place to socialise, relax and learn as well as to train.

Beginning in February, the school will be running multiple tracks in:

Historical fencing – Fiore de Liberi’s Armizare system, including two-handed sword, dagger and unarmed combat, as well as Renaissance-era rapier and Bolognese fencing
Fighting Fit – a CrossFit type exercise program geared towards martial arts/combat sports training
Modern self defence
19th century “antagonistics” – classical sabre, bowie knife, catch wrestling and both canonical and neo-Bartitsu

There will also be a full program of special-interest public seminars and intensive courses, starting with a Bartitsu seminar scheduled for January 22nd. The seminar will roll through immediately into a progressive, experimental course of 12 introductory Bartitsu classes over the following six weeks, between 6.30 and 8.00 pm each Tuesday and Thursday evening.

All going according to plan, the new school will have a web presence from early January.

(From: Art of Manliness)

Historical Swordsmanship and the Manly Arts are afoot in the Windy City!

Read Full Post »

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…

Snapshot of the FAP BlogOne 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!

Read Full Post »