After six years of recording his exploits, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown tired of the Great Detective and decided the only way he could be truly free of the character was to kill him off in The Final Problem. Doyle’s intention was to send Holmes out in a blaze of glory so magnificent that his fans would be more than satisfied. This however did not prove to be the case.
In 1903, after a decade of pressure from Sherlockians the world over, Doyle finally acquiesced and Sherlock Holmes was resurrected in The Adventure of the Empty House. Reports of the Great Detective’s demise had been greatly exaggerated it turned out – Holmes had merely pretended to have toppled over the Reichenbach Falls in an effort to escape would-be assassins. But how did he do it? Struggling for his life, grappling with his arch enemy Professor Moriarty at the edge of a precipice, what was it that saved Holmes from certain death?
“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, bounded off, and splashed into the water.”
However, as exciting and dynamic as the preceding passage might be, it should be pointed out that Doyle (or arguably Dr. Watson who is the author within the tale) was incorrect on at least two points. Firstly, though published in 1903, The Adventure of the Empty House is set in 1893, yet the martial art referred to in the text was not actually developed until the late 1890s. Secondly, it is not “baritsu” but Bartitsu.
There can be little doubt that Arthur Conan Doyle would have read The New Art of Self Defence: How a Man May Defend Himself Against Every Form of Attack which caused quite a sensation when it was published in Pearson’s Magazine in March 1899. Evidently the article made some impression upon the Scotsman – though not quite enough to allow him to remember the correct spelling of the art in question. Its author, Mr. Edward William Barton-Wright, was every inch the Victorian gentleman: born in 1860 in Bangalore, the son of a British mechanical engineer and Locomotive Superintendent, he was educated in Europe and went on to travel the world as a civil engineer and surveyor. It was while on these travels in the early 1890s that Barton-Wright found himself living in Japan. There, in his spare time, he studied several different styles of Jujitsu including Shinden Fudo Ryu (“immovable teachings transmitted by the Gods”) and Judo (“the gentle way”). By combining these techniques and further incorporating aspects of Pierre Vigny’s walking stick defence system, English pugilism and French kickboxing, Edward soon formulated his own mixed martial art which he dubbed Bartitsu – a portmanteau of his own surname and Jujitsu.
Having left Japan and arrived in London in 1898 Barton-Wright found himself in a rather unique position. Crime was rife in the post industrial revolution cities of Europe and its colonies, and the contemporary newspapers’ reporting of muggings, garrotting, chloroforming, beatings, and the like were sensationalist to say the least. So severe was the media hysteria that the humorous magazine Punch (1841 – 1992) satirised the over-the-top reporting of other publications by running mock advertisements for items such as the Patent Antigarotte Collar (“warranted to withstand the grip of the most muscular ruffian in the metropolis […] highly polished and elegantly studded with the sharpest spikes”). In reality, sword canes, pistols, knuckle dusters and other concealed weapons were being carried by an increasing proportion of the population, all in the name of self defence. People were desperate for a way to protect themselves from the thugs and “roughs” who roamed the streets and Edward Barton-Wright, it seemed, had the solution.
The Bartitsu Club opened its doors on London’s Shaftsbury Avenue in 1899 offering classes taught by Japanese Jujitsu masters, French walking-stick fighters, Swiss wrestlers, English fencing champions and much more besides. There was even an “electrotherapy” clinic where members received health and fitness enhancing treatments from electronic apparatus of Barton-Wright’s own design. Many of those who taught at the club also became students of the other disciplines in accordance with the eclectic ethos of Bartitsu. Barton-Wright’s model for the business was that of a Victorian gentleman’s club, meaning that prospective members were voted on by a committee before being allowed to join. Once accepted, new members were required to take private lessons before they would be allowed to participate in group classes. Whilst this system may have been quite ideal for keeping out the “riff-raff” it did not prove to be a very sound business model, and in 1902 The Bartitsu Club closed its doors for the last time.
When Sadakazu Uyenishi eventually returned to Japan in 1908, teaching at the Piccadilly Circus school was taken over by husband and wife team William and Edith Garrud (with the former schooling men and the latter instructing women and children). William Garrud went on to pen The Complete Jujitsuan (published in 1914) which remained the standard English reference on the art for many years. Edith’s fame however was altogether more controversial. A series of photographs published in the London Sketch in July of 1910 depicted Mrs.Garrud escaping from the hold of a male attacker and using the art of jujitsu to gain an advantage, ultimately twisting his arm up his back and forcing him into an awkward crouch. Though it was by now accepted that many women across the country were practicing martial arts, the fact that the gentleman in the photographs happened to be dressed in a police officer’s uniform gave the piece a somewhat more political slant as did the caption which read “Mrs Garrud, a well-known Suffragette, demonstrates the methods of jujitsu she has taught the W.S.P.U. ‘bodyguard’”. The W.S.P.U (Women’s Social and Political Union), founded in October of 1903 by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst at their family home in Manchester, was by 1910 the leading militant organisation campaigning for Women’s suffrage in the UK. The ‘bodyguard’ mentioned in the caption was comprised of solely of women who were sworn to physically protect Suffragettes during their public protests should they erupt into violence. Mrs. Garrud wrote an article, also published in July 1910, which appeared in the periodical Health & Strength under the title Damsel v. Desperado. The opening paragraph of the piece read as follows:
“In proportion as the Suffragettes increase in number and in power, so also do the JU-JUTSUFFRAGETTES. (I believe it was Health & Strength who first coined that latter phrase.) The daily papers, by their witticisms, smart or otherwise, at the expense of the Suffragette who goes in for ju-jutsu in order that she may foil her supposed natural enemy, the man in blue [e.g., police constables attempting to stop violent women’s rights demonstrations], has certainly helped to popularise that mode of self-defence we owe to the Japanese amongst our women, whether they clamour for the vote or not.”
Punch was one such paper which responded to the phenomenon of Ju-Jutsuffragettes with characteristic irreverence. In response to the London Sketch piece they published a cartoon showing a young lady – complete with Votes for Women placard – intimidating a crowd of uniformed policemen, two of whom had already been hurled over some nearby railings. The caption beneath the image read “The Suffragette That Knew Jui-Jitsu – The Arrest”.
Unfortunately for Edward Barton-Wright, after the demise of The Bartitsu Club, public interest in his own mixed martial art was soon eclipsed by an enthusiasm for Jujitsu itself. Though undoubtedly responsible for the martial arts craze which swept across the UK and much of the Western world during the early 1900s, Barton-Wright was soon watching from the sidelines as others grew wealthy. Edward is thought to have continued teaching Bartitsu up until the 1920s when, struggling to find paying students, he eventually changed his career. Committing fully to his inventing, Barton-Wright soon established “electrotherapy” clinics around London where ailing customers were treated with Thermo-Penetration Machines, Ultra-Violet Ray Lamps and other curious contraptions. The clinics were not hugely lucrative however and, when Edward eventually passed away in 1951, lack of proper funds saw him buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
In 2001 the Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences began re-publishing some of Barton-Wright’s (now out of copyright) articles online. Interest in the long lost art of Bartitsu quickly grew, and soon a group of online enthusiasts calling themselves The Bartitsu Society began searching libraries and newspaper archives for further information on “The New Art of Self Defence”. Today The Bartitsu Society (www.bartitsu.org) draws a clear distinction between what they term “Canonical Bartitsu” – the art as described in material contemporary with the life and times of its creator – and “Neo-Bartitsu” – the art as it may theoretically have developed since its foundation had the public maintained their interest. As well as organising demonstrations, workshops and meetings the world over, the society succeeded in 2007 in locating the spot where Barton-Wright was buried. The grave site is in Kingston Cemetery in Surrey, roughly ten miles from central London. The Bartitsu Society has produced two books The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume I: History and Canonical Syllabus (2005) and Volume II: Antagonistics (2008), proceeds from which will go towards the erection of a monument dedicated to the memory and the legacy of Mr. Edward William Barton-Wright. Perhaps the inscription could read “In memory of the man who saved the life of Sherlock Holmes”.
As a little bonus, here’s some fantastic footage from the 1930s of May Whitley – a wonderfully poshly spoken female Jiu Jitsu instructor – kicking arse (more of that to be found on YouTube).
“The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes” edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W. W. Norton & Company), 2005.
“The Cane Mutiny” by Anton Krause – The Chap #41, Oct/Nov 2008.
This article is taken from John Reppion’s collection STEAMPUNK SALMAGUNDI and was originally published in SteamPunk Magazine #6, 2008.