Bartitsu: An Eclectic Edwardian Martial Art

I was involved with this project, but it was the indefatigable Tony Wolf that took the editorial reins and turned a bunch of list talk into the amazing piece of publishing that became The Bartitsu Compendium. Instead of rehashing it all here, let me quote from the sale site:

The Bartitsu Compendium is a complete guide to the history, theory and practice of Bartitsu, an eclectic martial art founded by E.W. Barton-Wright in the year 1899. Bartitsu was a combination of four of the most effective self defence methods known at the time – jiujitsu, boxing, savate and stick fighting. The Compendium features over two hundred and seventy pages of original essays, rare vintage reprints and never-before-seen translations, illustrated with hundreds of fascinating photographs and sketches.

A lot of time, effort, and money went into primary research, obtaining rare original copies for quality scans, and authoring new material for this compendium. But probably the greatest thing about the project is that all the proceeds go towards purchasing a suitable gravesite memorial for E. W. Barton-Wright, buried in a pauper’s grave in the 1950s.

Therefore you can feel good about purchasing your copy here or by clicking on the book cover above.

Related links:

Bartitsu Forum– talk about all things bartitsu– a comprehensive resource including seminar updates

Savate in the United States in 1896

Here’s an article describing an attempt at introducing savate to the New York Athletic Club in 1896. To the best of my knowledge, it never gained much of a foothold in the NYAC. After all, Mike Donovan was the boxing instructor for decades and it is unlikely he would have cared to have competing pugilistic instruction at the club. On the other hand, savate was briefly fashionable in the 1890s U.S. and the NYAC did include at least one savate bout in their boxing programs earlier in 1893, so there must have been interest from at least some of the moneyed members of the NYAC.

The movements described in the article are familiar to boxe francaise practitioners today, although the descriptions can be difficult to follow because they are classified by the target area rather than the type of kick. The coup de pied bas, revers, chasse, and foutte all appear to be mentioned or at least listed by intended target.

The history is anachronistic, as savate was almost certainly less than a century old at this time (e.g., see Loudcher’s writings), but it’s still probably more accurate than the history section of most savate clubs websites and popular books. This article was originally printed in the Washington Post, June 14, 1896, p. 18.


Knowledge of Savate as a New Prize Ring Accomplishment


It Provides Unique Combinations of Feet and Hands and Is Especially Effective in Rough an Tumble Fighting-The Primary Rule In Learning Savate for Offensive and Defensive Purposes-Tripping the Kicker Up-The Coup de Flanc Kick

New York, June 12.

IF CERTAIN members of the swell New York Athletic Club have their way the fighter of the future will not only give upper cuts with his hands, but he will deliver straight jabs, half swings, cross counters, and knockout blows with this feet. These men who set the fashion in amateur athletics have lately taken up the French style of fighting, which, if not as deadly as the present prize-ring method, is much more picturesque and requires double the amount of agility for scientific work.

In Paris there are numerous academies where this science is taught. The art is known as “Savate,” which literally means old shoe. A century or two ago a ball or dance held by the lower classes usually wound up in a row. The same state of affairs exists today, but unlike the present custom of throwing beer glasses, empty beer kegs, or using blackjacks, knives, and revolvers, the French brawlers made use of their wooden shoes. A hearty kick delivered in the right place by a strong man booted with one of these wooden shoes did tremendous damage.

The efficacy of this kind of warfare was speedily discerned and it became part of the young Frenchman’s education to use his feet well. No self-respecting young lady would think of attending a dance with a young man who could not put up a good fight with his feet; otherwise she might be insulted and further humiliated by the fact that her escort had failed to kick the life out of her traducer. Naturally, there were some who excelled in the art to such an extent that they became instructors, and later on professors.

Useful Against Street Ruffians

Today there are scores upon scores of these professors in Paris and several of them in this city. The young American regards a kick in a fight as the rankest kind of foul play, but a Frenchman argues on the theory that when a man is attacked he should be qualified to use each and all of the weapons given him by nature without any show of partiality. The average Frenchman acquires a knowledge of the savate for the single purpose of defending himself against attack by street ruffians. He does not expect to make use of it on his friends or acquaintances, as that would be vulgar. The duello code covers that contingency.

There are six times as many blows in the French styles as there are in the accepted form of fighting. Many unique combinations are made with the feet and hands, and for rough and tumble fighting it affords a system which is not to be beaten easily. A clever man at the savate can disable an adversary in short order. His leg can be broke, his neck dislocated, or his face smashed in at the will of a man of science.

The primary rule in learning savate and one of the most difficult to remember in the heat of combat is that the weight of the body must always rest on the foot furthest away from the opponent. The foot in front must be entirely free of all weight or other hindrance so that it can wave about in all directions like a flag in a gale of wind.

This rule is necessary both for offensive and defensive reasons. If the front foot is hampered by weight it cannot deliver a speedy kick. Moreover, as soon as the man you are fighting with sees that you are resting your weight on your forward foot he kicks it from under you and your countenance collides with the floor. This is necessarily sad. As the rapidity of the contest keeps the two men dancing about sometimes with one foot in front and just as often with the other foot forward it behooves the fighter to do a lot of thinking to always sustain his weight on the rear foot. When a beginner has thoroughly learned this rule half of the art has been acquired.

Raps Your Opponent’s Shins

The first kick to learn is the cow kick. This is simply a rap on the shin of your opponent as near to the knee as possible. Cleverly administered by a man of science, it will dislocate the joint and end then and there. More often it simply lames the leg. It is called the coup de savate, and is made with the toe aiming downward and outward. The parry for this kick is to raise the forward foot and bringing it back to the knee of the rear foot. Another way is to counter the kick by springing forward and getting inside the extended leg, and at the same time smash your opponent on the point of the jaw. Still another way is to spring back and endeavor to catch the extended foot with the hand, and then turn the luckless one upside down, so that his head will smash into the floor.

The coup de flanc is the next kick, and it is quite a fancy one. This kick should be so delivered that the heel will land on the human target instead of the toe. This is either a high or low kick, the point of attack being the face, chest, or side. It is a dangerous kick for a beginner to attempt, for in the event of a miscarriage it gives the other a splendid chance to end the combat. The kick is made by suddenly drawing up the knee of the fighting foot and then shooting it out in a half swing. The parry for the chest kick is to bring down both hands on the extended foot and endeavor to throw the kicker down. When the kick is aimed at the face, the parry is the reverse. The body is drawn back, and an effort is made with the hands to throw up the floor, so that the kicker will fall on the back of his head. For the side kick the parry is to throw the extended foot either to the left or the right with the arms.

Kicks Meant for the Face

The cross kick is capable of doing a lot of injury. The kicker makes a full half swing, usually with his left foot, and lands the heel of his shoe on the side of his opponent. The parry is to draw in the body, and bring both hands on the foot. Of course, a good grip on the kicker’s foot means that he is in for a nasty tumbler. There is a kick for the top of the head, a backward side-face kick, belt kick, a high body kick, the front side-face kick, and numerous others, all elaborations of the three principal kicks, that is the one for the shins, the one for the body, and the other for the head.

The professors of the art practice all day long kicking at imaginary things. Their accuracy is remarkable. With a side kick, as high as the head, they can knock the ashes off a cigar without injuring the fire. They never seem to lose their equilibrium, and always land with the weight of the rear foot, with the front foot swinging and ready for immediate action.

Dealing with Footpads

I came across this a number of years ago and found it amusing because you see the same discussions today with keyboard self-defense experts describing how they would dismantle hypothetical attackers with their favorite techniques.

This piece was originally printed in the April 28, 1900 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle (p.14). I added the emphasis (boldface) at the end because I like the way it underscores the reality that adrenaline is a factor in any confrontation.


It is surprising how much hindsight people have when it comes to dealing with a footpad, said John J. Dean yesterday. He met the mysterious lone highwayman Monday night, and promptly gave up $3.50 at the solicitation of the stranger. Since my experience became public, continued Mr. Deane, I have received enough advice to stock a bureau of information. Every man I meet tells me how he would have handled the bandit without coughing up any money. It is simply marvelous to learn how many ways I might have done up that footpad if I had only been provided with the information that arrived so long overdue. I will tell you some of the brilliant methods for dealing with a footpad, as suggested by my friends. Here is the list:

Hit him on the jaw.

Suddenly throw up his pistol hand with your left and give him your right in the bean basket.

While he is reaching out and is balancing on one foot give him a swift kick, overbalance him, follow it with a hard right, and he is yours.

As he reaches for the cash grab his hand and jerk him towards you, and then grab the pistol.

Trip him up.

Throw up your hands as if you were obeying him, and bring them down heavy on his hat. That smashes it over his eyes, and he is blind until he gets it off.

Why not refuse to do anything and just stand there like a stumbling-block? He will not dare to shoot, and pretty soon he will get frightened and run. Then you can keep him in sight and land him.

Always keep your right hand in your overcoat pocket, with the cocked revolver in your hand. When he jumps out and brings his gun to bear, just shoot through your pocket without moving a muscle.

Josh him, and take plenty of time, pretending not to be scared. If he thinks you are joking he will ease up, and then you can suddenly grab the gun and turn it on him.

The great thing is to keep cool and carefully note the man’s appearance. Give him what he asks for, and then never let him get out of sight. He is bound to get scared after he gets the plunder. All you have to do is to watch him, and pretty soon you will have the whole town to help you run him to earth. Then you will get your stuff back, and be none the worse for the experience.

There, concluded Mr. Deane. Just see how I could have handled that little footpad if I had only tried! I confess that while I was looking down the repulsive throat of his gun I did not know how easy it was to get out of the scrape.

Free (and legal!) Classic Martial Arts Movies Online

They are free and they are online, but I can’t recommend the site without caveat. LikeTelevision (“only better,” they say) is an online site that offers, among other films, such classics as Yojimbo, Rashomon, the Miyamoto Musashi trilogy, and Street Fighter.

Unfortunately, LikeTelevision is seeking subscribers for its full size high quality versions of films, i.e., those of a size you can actually watch on a TV. So while the free offerings are decent enough resolution, they are only of a size you can enjoy on a laptop or smaller screen. For example, no matter which computer I streamed Yojimbo or Street Fighter on, I couldn’t figure out a way to get the widescreen/letterbox aspect films (16:9) to appear any larger than about 4 inches by 2 inches. Full screen aspect films (4:3), such as Orson Welles’ The Third Man, appeared to be around 4 inches by 3 inches on my computers.

There were also advertisements displayed in the sidebar for the free versions, but a little manipulation with the Real Player display settings got rid of them easily. I would recommend using Real Player, because I did have problems trying to use alternatives. Lastly, the subscription model LikeTelevision uses is ridiculous, at those prices a viewer would be better off subscribing to Netflix or a similar service with better variety for less cost.

So, while the site definitely has its drawbacks, there is some classic free content that streams well on broadband connections and might pass the time if you’re on a laptop. Savvy viewers could probably even figure out a way to capture the content and convert it to enable viewing on a portable device as well.

Chinese-American Boxers Before 1900

After 1900, there are a number of reasonably well-known Chinese-American boxers that fought in the western boxing tradition including at least two with variations on the name Ah Wing. The handful of Chinese-American boxers that fought in the 19th century are so obscure as to be unknown. Unfortunately they tended to be unknown in their own time as well, and every time a Chinese American boxer received any press, he was billed as the “only” or “first” Chinese to fight in the western style. That trend continued for at least fifty years.

For all practical purposes, Chinese immigration to the U.S. did not begin until 1850 (in 1849 there were less than 100 Chinese in California, by 1876 there were 116,000 in the state). Once the California Gold Rush began in 1849, Chinese flooded into California, eventually resulting in a backlash against the Chinese population in the U.S.

Anti-chinese sentiment

Discoveries of gold in Australia and played-out mines in California caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket. Looking for someone to blame, rabble rousers marched, preaching their views on the “Chinese Question.” The Chinese Question was, of course, what to do about all the Chinese crowding America’s shores. The Chinese were an easy target because they stayed segregated initially by the language barrier and often their own choice. After all, most were present only as sojourners, and intended to return to China after saving enough money.

The Chinese benevolent societies, such as the Six Companies, lobbied long and unsuccessfully for better treatment under the law, but anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant. Even so, some Chinese in America lived, worked, and owned property outside Chinatown ghettos, and generally interacted more than others.

Queen Chinatown Poster

One area where language is no barrier to successful interaction, even today, is in the fight ring. Boxing speaks its own language and quite a few Chinese in America and Chinese-Americans have learned to speak it fluently over the last 150 years.

The First
Of them, the earliest known pugilist was California boxer Ah Bung in 1871. Unfortunately, other than his existence and that he resided in San Francisco (along with the other quarter of the Chinese population in the U.S.) nothing more is known about Ah Bung, other than that his name was a source of amusement. Some newspapermen found it an apt name for a pugilist because “bung” could mean both the stopper in a cask itself or the act of hammering in the stopper.

Battling Laundry Workers
It was in Philadelphia that the headlines were next captured with “A Prize Fight Between Chinamen” in early 1883. Neither of the men involved were professional fighters, but they had a feud brewing and forty spectators were drawn to see the encounter.

Loo Hing was a laundry washer and Hi Sing Foon an ironer in another laundry. Hi Sing Foon had recently arrived from San Francisco with a reputation as a “bad man” and within a month had confirmed that reputation by branding Hing with a hot iron. Hing pressed charges (I couldn’t resist) but Foon produced unscrupulous witnesses to testify that Hing had absently sat down on a hot iron in Foon’s hand. Foon was therefore acquitted.

Understandably chagrined at the results of the trial, Hing sought revenge for his mistreatment. While delivering laundry to Clarke’s boxing gym, Hing proposed to do Red Mooney’s laundry in exchange for lessons in the fistic art. Accepting the proposition, Mooney began giving Hing western-style boxing lessons twice weekly.

Not one to miss a chance for promotion, Mooney contacted fellow sport Dan Reilly who, after informing Foon of Hing’s preparations, offered similar boxing instruction for Foon if he agreed to fight Hing in a bout. Foon refused the instruction, but agreed to fight a boxing match with Reilly as his second.

Mooney and Reilly drew forty spectators (seven of whom were Chinese) at $2 a head into a second floor back room lit by coa-oil lamps; the winner was to receive a share of the gate receipts. The boxers wore hard gloves, which back then were often little more than regular leather gloves, and rarely weighed more than a few ounces. For costume, they both stripped to their blue linen trousers. There was no ring, but men held up barrel staves to keep the spectators out of the way of the combatants.

Like most Chinese of the time, both men wore their hair in queues, and in a common streetfight among Chinese in America, the combatants normally grabbed their opponent’s queue with their left hand, and pummeled their face with the right. For this match, Hing specifically banned hair pulling, hitting below the belt, and scratching, prohibitions to which Foon agreed, and the match was afoot.

Hing brought his arms up in in the prizefighter’s guard and Foon awkwardly mirrored his position. Hing nailed Foon with a straight left that rocked him and followed up with two more punches. Foon shrugged it off and rushed Hing, showering Foon with wild punches before they clinched and fell, thereby ending the round according to prizefight rules.

Unfortunately, poor Hing was probably hindered more than helped by his brief couple weeks of boxing instruction. He was likely in that awkward phase where whatever natural method of fighting with which he was accustomed was being supplanted by the not-yet-learned beginner’s movements in boxing. Foon, on the other hand, judging by the fight descriptions, either knew a bit of Chinese boxing or was just more at home in a rough and tumble.

Hing did his best work at range, ducking and creating distance; Foon ruled the infighting and the grappling component and usually ended up on top when they went down. Both were gassed and bloody by the fourth round and by the fifth Hing had given up on his newfound science and reverted to swinging for the fences.

Rounds six through ten were back and forth, but in the seventh Foon managed to kick Hing in the eye. Hing called foul, but the referee disallowed it, deciding that a kick with a bare foot was not a foul. Then in the eleventh, Foon, gaining his second wind, blasted Hing with a flurry of punches and struck Hing on the top of the head with what may have been a hammerfist (“[Foon] made one tremendous effort, raised his hand high over his head, and brought it down like a pile driver on top of his opponent’s head”), consequently putting Hing down.

Mooney pushed Hing out for the twelfth, but he had finally had enough and sat down on the floor, refusing to continue. The seconds said that both men had wanted to quit a half dozen times each during the match, but had been afraid of being mobbed by the disappointed spectators, which would likely have been the result in that era if they had quit. Hing, again failing to gain the satisfaction he sought, was helped out by his friends while Foon collected his winnings and strolled out with his own happier comrades.

The Contender
In August 1891 Lee Bin Nam, billed as a “noted Chinese pugilist,” passed through Baltimore on his way to San Fransisco from New York. Little more is known about Nam, other than he was about 5’8, 200 lbs., and claimed that he was planning to challenge John L. Sullivan.

Nam spent his time in Baltimore visiting with Ting Yong Moar, the local “mason” leader, and Wong Chin Woo, a visiting New York newspaperman. “Mason” in that context could have meant almost anything: a benevolent organization, trade group, general fraternal order, secret society, or fighting tong.

The Last of the Century
The last Chinese-American boxer of the 19th century was Li Hung Foy, who was matched to fight first Brooklyn boxer Harry Fisher for twenty rounds in early May 1899, and then Tom Williams in Fairview, New York later that month. It is unknown if either bout ever took place.

The pre-1900 bouts were preliminaries in one sense, because it was not until early 1900 when Ah Wing entered the boxing field and became the first Chinese-American to make a career in western boxing. Perhaps one day we will know more about these earlier pioneers who made the first inroads into the field.

Primary sources consulted include:

New York Times, 2-18-1883
Washington Post, 2-19-1883
Washington Post 7-25-1886
Middletown Daily Times, 8-1-1891
The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 8-1-1891
National Police Gazette, 5-6-1899
The Sandusky Star, 5-25-1899

Mystery: Did Black Belt Ever Publish This Article?

I had an interesting email exchange the other day. The foremost researcher on H2H/Combatives instructor Dermot “Pat” O’Neill sent an image of page 10 from the January 1967 issue of Black Belt magazine. Here is the page (click on the image to open up to full size):

Black Belt January 1967 p. 10

As you can see, Black Belt announces that the U.S. Marine Corps is going to drop its judo based combatives program and replace it with a system based on Chinese boxing. In the announcement, Black Belt finishes with “We will carry the full story.” So everyone is thinking O’Neill (if you’ve seen the film “Devil’s Brigade,” the combatives instructor is based on him) and the hunt is on for what promises to be a fascinating article.

I google a bit, and, as with many things, I wind up on eBay looking for a February 1967 copy of Black Belt, reasoning that the page was a teaser for the next month’s issue. The first seller was in Thailand training and couldn’t get to his issue to check if the story was in there, but the next seller had a copy and was willing to check for me.

Unfortunately, the article was not in the February 1967 issue. The seller, an extremely kind man with the seller id Bloop68, went to the trouble of pulling all the 1967 issues and checking for the article. No luck, but please check out his store because he could not have been more helpful for something that would have amounted to maybe a $15 sale (it was obvious he was checking because that’s the kind of person he was, not just because I was a potential sale).

One of the EJMAS editors pointed out that the story would have went to print sometime in mid-1966 and hit the newsstands in fall 1966 considering Black Belt’s lead time, but a quick search of the online historical newspapers was fruitless.

So, the mystery remains: Did Black Belt ever actually publish the article? If anyone knows anything relevant, or you just want to chime in, please contact us! You can leave a comment here or contact us privately through the Contact Us page.

For more on O’Neill online see Cestari & Grasso’s biographical summary here. For an excellent print resource see Brown, Steve.”Dermot O’Neill: One of the 20th Century’s Most Overlooked Combatives Pioneers.” Journal Of Asian Martial Arts, 12:3, pp. 18-31 (2003).