Seeing as I have bartitsu on the brain lately after the Chicago seminar, I thought that modern-day bartitsukas, who generally must start their own club in order to practice the art, may want a look at this 1902 Health and Strength article about starting a physical culture club. The advice is probably still mostly relevant, and could apply to any gym, martial arts club, or other society.
It may even offer insight to some of the decisions made when Barton-Wright formed his own club (“most landlords will require a person to guarantee the rent, but you will surely come across some good-natured friend to do this, and as a slight return you can make him president or vice-president of the Club”). For specific advice about starting a local Bartitsu Club, see the Bartitsu Society page.
How to Form a Physical Culture Club
BY DOUGLAS HUME (Late Hon. Sec. and Hon. Treas. of the London Central Weight-Lifting Club.)
ONLY those who have been connected financially with clubs or schools of this kind, or succeeded in starting one themselves, can ever be in a position to discuss this subject with any degree of experience; a great deal of thought, time, and persistence is needed, accompanied with a certain amount of cold cash. Then, if one has sufficient time and plenty of friends, the chief difficulties of forming a School or Club will not be too hard to surmount.
That there is a great opening for such places of pure amusement and exercise is obvious, especially when one takes a walk through any of the main streets of London and the adjacent suburbs. One can then encounter during a propitious evening a few thousand young men, all walking, for the most part, with an aimless look on their faces, absolutely at the very best doing nothing whatever. You will then recognise that the material you have at hand is practically inexhaustible. With judicious advertising, and started on up-to-date lines, any Club or School of Physical Culture ought to flourish from the start. But it requires people to come forward and make the start, and until then these youths one meets will still continue to pursue their present aimless occupation in their spare time. Now, I am positive that any man with plenty of friends can make a successful Club if the spare time he has is always certain.
Let us start and cover the chief and vital points needed in the construction of such a Club, and how it can best be formed. The first movement is to lay the matter before your friends. If you can call a meeting, and possess, or can hire, a room for the occasion, so much the better; if not, you must talk to each one individually. After interesting them in the matter, ask their help, and in nine cases out of ten it will not be refusal. Your friends can render most valuable assistance-assistance which cannot be bought-as this, of course, depends entirely on your own individuality. Perhaps some of your friends will subscribe the necessary cash, others can do their little best by collecting their weights, for nearly every on has a pair of dumb-bells knocking about somewhere, and sometimes heavy weights as well. If your friends really do help in a practical manner besides talking and arguing, you will in a short time be able to have at your disposal quite a respectable weight of dumbbells. A search must be made for a basement or a room on the ground, with a lavatory and dressing room, and a proper place to wash or have a sponge down. It is quite true that large basements can be had for a low rental in side streets and small thoroughfares, but it is absolutely necessary to have the Club in a well-known road, certainly the main street in a suburban district; it would be fatal to have the Club up some side street, the address being one of the most important facts to consider. Well, suppose we are able to get a nice basement in the High-street for, say, £7 a quarter, it will be necessary to, if possible, lay this fact before your friends at a meeting, and get some of them to guarantee a part of such rent. You will find that some of them will volunteer a bit in this direction, and will thus relieve you of a part of the responsibility. Of course, most landlords will require a person to guarantee the rent, but you will surely come across some good-natured friend to do this, and as a slight return you can make him president or vice-president of the Club. The rent should be paid at the end of each quarter, such rent to commence from the time the place was opened as a school or club. See that this agreement is in order, and that your friend who guarantees the rent has it in his possession. This is only a matter of business, and would have to be done in any case. Your friends must be prepared to pay any small deficiency in the rent the first quarter, but after that there ought to be no support needed financially from any other source than the funds of the club and school.
In choosing or locating a proper basement, the searcher must bear in mind the fact that the ceiling must be fairly lofty, so that in weight-lifting one of the ends of the bar-bell does not touch the top, also that there is some small room opening out of the big room to serve the purpose of a dressing-room, etc., whilst an easily accessible lavatory is also necessary. Then, if the basement is under some shop, the searcher must remember that the Club will be open after the shop has closed for the night, and consequently must see that there is an exit from the place independent of the shop. Also, he must bear in mind that ventilation is a necessity and that there must be a large window, to let in the air when required, as a basement filled with people is apt to get rather hot and close if the ventilation is imperfect.
After the rent question has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion and the basement cleaned, the light question must be tackled. Electric light is preferable, and probably one of your friends will understand this matter, and fix up the fittings himself which will save some of the expense. Some seats will be required for placing at the end of the room. The next item is the apparatus. This will consist of the dumbbells, say, a dozen pairs, which you may be successful in collecting from your friends. Perhaps you may be able to get a larger quantity than this, although 12 pairs will be doubtless sufficient. The rubber exercisers to be placed on the walls will have to be bought, also a large thick fibre mat made of cocoa matting for weight-lifting, hand balancing, etc. There will be a few sundries required, such as towels, brushes, etc., including books on Physical Culture, etc.: also some pictures to hang up, and other little things difficult to think of in a moment, but each sooner or later needed by the members.
The subscription is an important subject, and one that ought to be very carefully considered. The writers idea is this: that such a place should be a school and club combined. The subscription for the club being, say, 7s. 6d. a quarter, the school subscription should be 1s. per week, or at the rate of so much for a dozen lessons. Some of the visitors would not care to go through a course, but simply pop in when passing and do a little work if inclined. Others would require a course of lessons, and consequently the subscription would have to suit two classes, the school fees being, of course, higher than the club. In this event there would be stated days and hours for lessons, and the rest for club nights. The subscription for the club ought to be paid every quarter. In the writer’s opinion this is the best way, as people will not be worried for their subscriptions monthly, while, on the other hand, a six months’ subscription is too much. Although people’s opinions differ in this respect, it will be better to follow the experience of some one who has tied both ways. Of course, if a visitor, very lush with cash, pays two or three quarters in advance, it is very nice, and certainly not to be refused. The subscription of an honorary member should be fixed at about a guinea per annum. The subscriptions should, of course, be paid in advance.
Now, with regard to the weight-lifting part of the school, this is, of course, a very expensive item, as it would cost a great deal of money to buy a proper range of weights. Here again the assistance of your friends must be asked. Some of them may have weight-lifters, and would be willing to send them down to the club. As the school and club prospers so can extra weights be added until at last there is a decent range of dumb-bells and barbells.
The writer is of the opinion that if a man has plenty of fiends willing to join as soon as the place is opened, and pa down their entrance fee, and, say, 7s. 6d., as the first quarter’s subscription in advance, not more than a five pound note will be needed out of his own pocket, at the very most, to meet the first expenses of fitting the place up. Then he has three months to get sufficient members to enable him to meet the ten and light bill, without even counting on his friends who joined when the school and club was first opened.
At he start the club and school cold be opened every other day, say, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, from 6 or 7 o’clock up till 10 or half past.
Some striking picture of a muscular strong man, accompanied by a picture of a skeleton, hung up in a frame outside the basement would attract people passing, and get the place known, This would not cost much, and might prove a better way of advertising than to distribute bills and put advertisements in the papers.
The man who started such a school and club should be one that could give plenty of time, whose daily vocation would not hinder him from turning up pretty regularly each evening the school and club was open for teaching, etc. In time, if things went well, a paid instructor could be obtained.
If the basement will hold 30 members there is no need to restrict the membership to 30, for you must bear in mind that, as a rule, not more than a third will ever tum up together, so that many more than the actual number the basement will hold can easily be taken without overcrowding.
There is, of course, a great deal of small detail which cannot well be touched on in this article. It requires a lot of perseverance to start a club and school of Physical Culture, but in doing so one can be encouraged by the fact that he is helping in the great Physical Culture movement now being made by this magazine, and that, although he can only hope to tap an almost imperceptible portion of England’s youth, yet he will have helped to raise the standard of the present and coming generation.
I am sure the editor of this magazine will always help, whenever in his power, any efforts in starting a Physical Culture School. Look at the school opened by this magazine. There are no very costly fittings there, no smoking lounge or expensive apparatus, yet the school is a huge success. Be encouraged by the result shown, and do not think that this school has filled up a gap which up to now has never been bridged.