Bartitsu – The English Martial Art of Gentlemen

Bartitsu – The English martial art of gentlemen

Bartitsu – The English martial art of gentlemen. Long before the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was even thought of, back in the day, there was Bartitsu, a creation of Edward William Barton-Wright.

Bartitsu was probably the first instance of what we know today as mixed martial arts. Barton combined various elements of boxing, ju-jitsu, cane fighting, and French kick boxing in order to create a self-defense system that could be used by discerning gentlemen on the mean streets of Edwardian London. It grew to such popularity that even Sherlock Holmes was practicing bartitsu in his mysterious adventures.

While bartitsu largely died out in the early 20th Century, E.W. Barton left a legacy in the field of martial arts. What follows is a brief history of bartitsu as well as a guide to get you started on Bartitsu – The English martial art of gentlemen.

The History of Bartitsu

Bartitsu was created by William Barton-Wright, an English railroad engineer. Barton’s work as an engineer took him to Japan for three years where he was introduced to ju-jitsu. He studied the art at the school of Jigoro Kano. Barton must have been excited about what he learned as when he returned to England, he quit his career in engineering and opened up a martial arts school where he taught ju-jitsu.

In 1899, Barton wrote an article in the London based publication, Pearson’s Magazine, entitled “A New Art of Self Defense.” In it he set out his system of self-defense that he called “bartitsu,” an obvious melding of his name and ju-jitsu. While bartitsu was based mainly on ju-jitsu, Barton explained in his article that the system included boxing, kickboxing, and stick fighting.

Barton opened a school called the Bartitsu Club. He brought in some of the best martial arts teachers from around the world to teach at his new school. Among these were Japanese instructors K. Tani, S. Yamamoto, and Yukio Tani as well as Pierre Vigny and Armand Cherpillod.

The popularity of bartitsu in England was widespread. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even had Sherlock Holmes practicing “baritsu” (a misspelling of bartitsu) in The Adventure of the Empty House. Because Conan Doyle misspelled bartitsu, scholars of Sherlock Holmes were confused for years by the reference.

Bartitsu declined in popularity as rapidly as it had ascended. By 1903, the Bartitsu Club closed and most of its instructors established their own self-defense schools in London. Barton continued to develop and teach bartitsu until the 1920s. Because of the lack of interest in his martial art, Barton spent the rest of his career as a physical therapist. He died in 1951 at the age of 90.

The Martial Arts Used in Bartitsu

Bartitsu – The English martial art of gentlemen. Bartitsu was a mix of several marital arts. Here are several of them.

Boxing. The boxing style implemented by Barton was the style used by Golden Age fisticuffers of the time. Unlike the modern style, boxers during the 19th and early 20th century maintained a stiff and upright stance. Usually the lead hand was extended, with the rear forearm “barring the mark” or covering their chest area.

Ju-Jitsu. It’s obvious bartitsu borrowed its name from the Japanese fighting style of ju-jitsu. During the late 19th century, ju-jitsu had become a popular sport among Westerners. In fact, President Teddy Roosevelt was a practitioner of the martial art. Barton brought in famous Japanese ju-jitsu instructors or jujtsukas K. Tani, S. Yamamonto, and Yukio Tani. In a March 1899 issue of Pearson’s Magazine, Barton summarized ju-jitsu in three principles:

1 – To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant.
2 – To surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength.
3 – If necessary, to subject the joints of any parts of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strains that they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist.

Savate. Savate (pronounced savat) is a French kickboxing system developed from street fighting sailors in the port of Marseilles during the 19th century. Sailors in Marseilles had to develop a way to fight that didn’t involve closed fists because they were considered deadly weapons and carried legal penalties if used. Thus, savate consisted of different kicks, open handed slaps, and grappling.

Stick Fighting. Also known as “la canne,” stick fighting was another French martial art. Barton brought in Pierre Vigny, a Swiss master-at-arms, to teach stick fighting. Because many upper-class Englishman carried canes and umbrellas, Vigny modified the traditional form of stick fighting to better implement these instruments. His system was simple and efficient, and it lent itself to defending oneself in an altercation in the streets. Strikes to the face, head, neck, wrists, knees, and shins were used to eliminate the threat of an attacker.

Defensive Bartitsu Moves

Using a cloak or overcoat to defend yourself. Using your cloak or overcoat is an effective defensive tool, even when an attacker is brandishing a knife. While walking in the street, wear your overcoat draped over your shoulders without passing your arms through the sleeves. In your assailant attacks, take your right hand and grab the left collar of your coat and, in one sweeping motion, shroud your opponent’s head with the coat. Your attacker will be surprised and momentarily blind, which gives you plenty of time to punch him in the gut or give him several to the head.

You can also choose to slip behind your opponent while you have the coat over his head, grab his ankle with your left hand, and simultaneously push his back so that he falls forward on his face. From here you can put your opponent in an appropriate ju-jitsu hold until the police come.

Using a hat to defend yourself. A hat can also be used to distract or temporarily blind an attacker. When an attacker gets near you, take off your hat with a sweeping motion, and burrow your opponent’s face into it. Either make a blow to his stomach or take him down to the ground to put him in a submission hold.

A hat can also be used as a shield to defend yourself from punches or attacks from knives. Holding the hat firmly by the brim in your left hand, hold the hat away from your body to the side. If an attacker makes a thrust at you with a knife, catch the blow with your hat and make a blow to the attacker’s face with your free hand.

Using a hat to defend yourself

Offensive Bartitsu Moves

Bartitsu – The English martial art of gentlemen. As mentioned, bartitsu is a mix of several martial arts. Here is a brief description and explanation on how to perform a few useful moves from these martial arts.

Basic Cane Fighting Techniques

The jab. The jab can be performed with either the point or the butt of the cane. Using the point is more effective and will cause greater amounts of pain. Perform the jab by quickly stabbing your opponent and retracting your hand quickly. The quickness of the jab makes it a difficult move to defend.

The thrust. The thrust is similar to the jab in that you use a stabbing motion. It differs from the jab because it’s delivered over a longer distance and requires full extension of the arm. Standing in an attack position, quickly lunge forward, and extend the tip of the cane towards your attacker. For added impact, put as much of your body weight behind the thrust as you can.

Cuts. Cuts can be performed either high or low, in up, down, right, or left directions. A cut is performed with a chopping motion. Downward cuts are probably the strongest motion and are also the most difficult to defend.

cane or stick fighting

Interesting Facts About Bartitsu You may Not Know

The Creator Named Bartitsu After Himself. When first introducing his new form of martial arts to the public through articles he wrote for Pearson’s Magazine, William Barton-Wright introduced the term bartitsu which was a combination of “Barton” and “ju-jitsu.” While this fighting style relied on a combination of several different fighting styles, its main focus was on techniques found in ju-jitsu.

Barton Created an Official Bartitsu Club. After his articles became widespread throughout England, Barton started the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, or better known as just the Bartitsu Club. Has added to his team experienced teachers from around Europe and Japan to help him teach this new English martial art to the many people in London who came to club in hopes of learning self-defense. However, the price of admission to this club was very high, so only wealthy individuals in London were able to attend.

Sherlock Holmes Practiced Bartitsu. Bartitsu quickly gained traction as an English martial art and became very popular throughout the country. In fact, it was so popular that even Sherlock Holmes claimed to have studied the fighting style in The Adventure of the Empty House, stating “I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”

However, how much knowledge Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, had on bartitsu is questionable since it is misspelled as “baritsu.” While this typo puzzled literary scholars for many years, its presence in the book is often considered the main reason bartitsu is still remembered today.

Everyday Items Were Used as Weapons. With bartitsu, no blades, staffs, nunchakus, or familiar weapons of any sort are necessary. Rather, a simple umbrella or cane will do. With the help of a Swiss master-at-arms named Pierre Vigny, a modified form of stick fighting was added to the English martial arts to allow Englishman to use items they normally carried to strike attackers. In his published articles, Barton also describes how to use other items such as cloaks, overcoats, or hats to defend oneself.

Bartitsu Wasn’t Just for Gentleman. Men weren’t the only ones to take an interest in bartitsu. The style was also promoted as a good form of self-defense for women and many women were admitted into the Bartitsu Club. One of the most well-known female students of this martial arts was Edith Garrud. Bartitsu was her introduction to martial arts; she later went on to study ju-jitsu and use techniques from both arts to aid the Suffragette movement.

Bartitsu’s Heyday Only Lasted 4 Years. Unfortunately, bartitsu’s quickly gained popularity didn’t last long. The Bartitsu Club closed in 1902 and some of the teachers who worked there went on to open their own schools. Barton tried to revive bartitsu on more than one occasion but was unsuccessful in doing do. He continued developing the martial art until the 1920s when he decided to switch to a career as a physical therapist.

It’s Making a Comeback! With the public’s interest in Sherlock Holmes and steampunk, many more people throughout the world have become interested in bartitsu and learned the martial art for themselves. An international association called the Bartitsu Society spent much time researching Barton’s original articles and further developing the style. Now, there are books, movies, and documentaries on the topic.


Although a very interesting style of martial arts, Bartitsu – The English martial art of gentlemen, I’m sure after reading this you can quickly figure out why bartitsu died out. Mainly as it was devised utilizing the dress attire of Edwardian England as weapons, namely, hat, cloak, umbrella and cane.

You could say this was the original `Street self-defense` but very outdated in the modern world we live in as this dress attire is not something we see nowadays out on the streets.

That being said, bartitsu is still practiced nowadays, but a more modern and practical version of the original.

Author: Nigel Taylor

I`m Nigel Taylor – originally from England – owner of The Backyard Gym in Round Rock Texas. We specialize in personal training, kickboxing cardio and self-defense. With over 25 years experience as a personal trainer, I know what works! From weight loss to bulking up to toning up, I can help you get your desired look and achieve your fitness goals. I can also offer you the privacy of a 100% private personal training studio in which to enjoy and get the most out of your workouts.