Early Days at the Bartitsu Club

Here are some clippings from that early period when E. W. Barton-Wright first opened the Bartitsu Club, those days prior to the import of his jujutsu experts. There are a couple of reasons I like these.

First, the issues of class (perhaps bigotry as well?) in Victorian society are readily acknowledged, but rarely felt by the modern reader. The first article slaps you in the face with the reality that things were different back then with its talk of “undesirables”, kind of like the culture shock you experience re-watching Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles now that it’s thirty-some years after its debut.

All three articles show why we’ve had spirited but friendly discussions on the Bartitsu Society Forum trying to figure out just exactly what bartitsu is. Is it just re-badged jujutsu? Some statements point that way, others add Vigny’s system of city la canne and/or savate, others imply that anything taught at the club is fair game to be called bartitsu.

So just within this series we see the first article stating that bartitsu is just “Japanese wrestling,” while the second includes that plus boxing, savate, la canne, and the use of the dagger. The 1902 illustration inset shows that savate is firmly an element of bartitsu, whereas the last article separates bartitsu out from those activities.

A last point, related the the previous, is that the use of the dagger is mentioned again, although the only other mention we’ve seen was a reference to Barton-Wright learning the stiletto from “recognized masters”. This is an as yet unreconstructed element of bartitsu simply because there is so little to go on.

As always, for all your bartitsu needs don’t forget to check Bartitsu.org.


(“Daily Mail” Special)

Very bronzed, and looking, if that were possible, in fitter athletic trim than ever, Mr. W. H. Grenfell, pattern and model of the English sporting gentleman, is back in town from Florida.

Already, under his stimulating influence, a new sport is developing. This is Bartitsu, the Japanese system of scientific wrestling, of which Mr. Barton-Wright has given such interesting demonstrations.

Mr. Grenfell has consented to become the president of the Bartitsu Club.

“The idea,” said Mr. Grenfell, to a “Daily Mail” representative, “is to establish an athletic class for people of good standing, and it seemed to us best to establish it in the form of a club, so as to be able to exclude undesirable persons. So members will be able to come themselves, and to send their children and the ladies of their family for instruction with every assurance that they will be running no risk of objectionable associations.”

“Is Bartitsu, then, a sport for women and children?”–”Oh, we are not going to confine ourselves to Japanese wrestling. Athletic exercises of many kinds and physical culture will be taught, but with this difference, that physical culture will be taught in a new form, which will make it interesting.”

“And this new art of self-defence?”–”Bartitsu; that will be taught as part of the general scheme of physical culture. And you know it is very desirable to teach people how to protect themselves against violence.”

“But does not the noble art of self-defence do that–the art of using the fists?”–”No. In the first place the violent ruffian is likely to be fairly proficient IN THE USE OF THE FISTS, and in the second place the stronger and heavier man has an overwhelming advantage in fist fighting.

“The great thing is to show people every possible form of attack to which they may be subjected, and to teach them how, by the application of scientific principles, every attack may be successfully met. Bartitsu teaches you how to overcome an opponent of superior weight by using his weight against himself, of throwing him by yielding instead of resisting, and of gripping him in various ways so as to put such a strain on his joints that however strong he may be he will be completely at your mercy. Then it teaches you how to fall so that the fact of being thrown will give you an advantage over the man who throws you.”

“It is a sort of physical counterpart, then, of the great financial art of making a fortune out of bankruptcy.”–”Then there are other means of self-defence which are useful. A lady I had the other day was, while riding her bicycle, attacked by a tramp. She was helpless against his superior strength. But there are ways of using a bending cane by which a lady might, if she has been taught the art, keep a molesting tramp at arm’s length. This will be taught as well as several other systems, all of which are not only useful but interesting to learn.”

“And who are with you in the movement?”–”Lord Alwyne Compton, M.P., is chairman of the club company, and with him as directors are a number of gentlemen whose names you will know in connection with sport–Lord Arthur Cecil, Mr. Bertram Astley, Mr. W. Moresby Chinnery, Captain Hutton, Mr. Stobart, Mr. Montagu Sweet, and Mr. Barton-Wright, who will be managing director.”
1899-06-13 London Daily Mail

Ladies Night at the Bath Club: A Varied Entertainment

A curious and amusing entertainment was given last Saturday by the Bath Club at their premises in Dover Street, Piccadilly, the occasion being the ladies night. Swordsmanship, swimming, and bartitsu were the special features. The last-named item is, as was demonstrated by Mr. E. W. Barton Wirght, a branch of the art of self-defence entirely new to England. It comes from Japan. It embodies all the best and most practical points in boxing, la savatte, the use of the dagger and of the walking-sticks, combined with a most scientific and secret style of Japanese wrestling. It also comprises the art of falling so as to reduce all risk of being hurt when thrown, and to land upon one’s feet facing the enemy, and also the art of putting “locks” on one’s opponent-that is subjecting different parts of his body to strains which he cannot possibly resist.

The Bartitsu Club

A new club, the “Bartitsu,” which means the art of self-defense, is being formed in London. “It will be a sports club,” explains its organizer, “where men and women, boys and girls, can be instructed in fencing, sabre play, la savate, boxing, and bartitsu.” One special feature will be the instruction of members, especially lady members in the art of defending themselves with a walking stick. The promoter of the “Bartitsu club” is going to Japan to secure instructors in certain styles of Japanese wrestling, which he says is the most perfect form of self-defense and one that can be acquired by women as equally as men.
1899-08-11 The Daily Iowa Capital

Guarding the Mongoose

Archie Moore4b
I love these photos. This one above and the similar one on the front page show Archie “The Old Mongoose” Moore (1913-1998) in L.A. in 1982 teaching boxing tips to some kids. It must be incredible to be taught by one of the greatest light heavyweight champions ever.

With a career of more than 200 fights and well over 100 knockouts (the most KOs of any fighter), Moore had a longevity in a tough sport: Moore’s first professional fight was in 1938 and his last in 1963. He didn’t get a chance at a title until he was 39, becoming the oldest boxer to take the light heavyweight title, but even so he held onto it longer than any other in history.

Part of Moore’s longevity was due to his incredible defense, which relied heavily on his cross arm style. The cross arm defense (known also as the dracula, safety block, cross arm guard, double guard, or sometimes called variations on the peek-a-boo or Philly shell/Philly crab) is performed by placing the arms horizontally in front of the body, roughly at the solar plexus and neck or chin level.

The cross arm defense is very effective against flurries of straight punches and some hooks, but critics say it’s not very good against uppercuts and keeps the arms out of position for quick counter punching. Moore would disagree about the uppercuts, and has stated that his defense was better against uppercuts than the Cus D’Amato peek-a-boo, and really, who is going to argue with his results. The cross arm defense is said to be suited for tough fighters and can also be used offensively to push an opponent into a corner or against the ropes.

Moore liked to use the cross arm defense because it frustrated his opponents and threw them off their game. Or, as Rocky Marciano once said about trying to hit Archie Moore, “he’s all gloves, arms and elbows.” Keep in mind that Moore was very fluid, transitioning in and out of the defense and using much upper body movement rather than standing static and covering up with the cross arm.

Other modern boxers that have used the cross arm defense include Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman. Foreman was trained at different times by Moore and used the cross arm more during his later comeback than in his early career.

While Moore is rightly recognized as the cross arm defense king, looking backwards into martial arts history can usually uncover someone doing something similar, and boxing’s cross arm defense is no exception.

Thomas Inch’s Boxing and Physical Culture (late 1940s) shows the cross arm and some other peek-a-boo variations used by famous boxers. Inch labels the cross arm as a guard used by Tommy Burns (1881-1955). Burns had retired from boxing when Moore was a child, so there is no question that Burns’ use preceded Moore’s.

When Professor Lewis wrote his The New Science: Weaponless Defence (1906), his friend Tommy Burns agreed to pose for the boxing illustrations in the book. Prof. Lewis can be seen demonstrating the safety block with Tommy Burns punching at right.
Lewis safety block

But Burns was not the first to demonstrate the guard, as Gus Ruhlin (1872-1912) demonstrated it in Professor Donovan’s The Art of Boxing and Self-Defense (1902). There it is called the “double guard” and Donovan directs that “this should be rarely used; and is only really necessary when your opponent brings both hands to play simultaneously or in rapid succession.” RUHLINSo while some similarities exist between boxing then and now, those directions make it clear that differences exist as well. Ruhlin was undoubtedly not the first to use the guard, but his may be one of the earliest illustrations we’ll find.

So that’s the cross arm defense which Moore made famous; next time you’re boxing you might want to give it a try if you’re getting overwhelmed by straight flurries and see if it works for you.

For more about Archie Moore and his record, see http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/amoore.htm

Those Archie Moore photographs with the kids are from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library.

Quarterstaff vs. Rapiers: Peeke’s Three to One

The tale of Richard Peeke, an English sailor captured during a raid on Spanish coastal towns in 1625, was popular during his own time, but showed renewed interest during the Victorian era for Peeke’s display of manly virtue. Today, the tale is often told honoring the efficacy of the traditional quarterstaff, which, common weapon though it may have been, was adroitly used by Peeke against three Spanish swordsmen wielding rapiers and daggers.

Agrippa rapier daggerCamillo Aggrippa: Trattato di Scientia d’Arme (1553)

A rapier, and especially a rapier and dagger, could quickly ruin anyone’s day. A three to four foot length of steel with a sharp point and two cutting edges, not to mention the supporting dagger for parrying and stabbing, could leave a combatant leaking blood quicker than one can say “en garde.”

However, the humble quarterstaff was deadly in its own right, and a favorite of the contemporaneous English Masters of Defence, such as George Silver and Joseph Swetnam. Both, in fact, would likely have been pleased but not surprised at Peeke’s exploits.

Silver, calling it the short staffe, said a single staff wielder “has advantage against two sword and daggers, or two rapiers, poniards and gauntlets [because] the distance appertaining to the staff man, either to keep or break, stands upon the moving of one large space always at the most, both for his offense or safety [whereas] the other two…have always four paces at the least; therein they fall too great in number with their feet, and too short in distance to offend the staff man.”

Silver goes on to elucidate how, because of the superior reach of the staff, the two swordsmen must circle at the rate of twenty feet for every foot of pivot the staff man takes, and gives the principles for effective use against two swordsman.

Swetnam high guardThe Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence
Joseph Swetnam (1617)

Swetnam liked the staff over other pole weapons because it was not as top-heavy, and therefore it could be used to feint against a hook or halberd, whose response “will so over-carrie him by reason of the weight, that hee cannot command him nimbly backe againe.”

Ultimately, Swetnam counts skill more important than choice of weapon: “yet I must needes confesse, there is great oddes in the Staffe, if the Staffe-man bee verie skillful, but otherwise the Rapier and Dagger hath the oddes being furnished with skill.”

Note the hand positioning in the Swetnam woodcut: butt and quarter up, rather than the equal thirds portrayed in Robin Hood movies; the thirds positioning is half-staffing and came into vogue primarily as a safe bouting method and as stage technique. Swetnam mentions the half-staffe in passing, but finds that the hands “are in danger of every blow that cometh.”

Richard Peeke’s Tale

Peeke’s tale is fascinating as a vignette of the larger events surrounding his own experience. For a century surrounding Peeke’s exploits, Spain and England were rivals, friends, or enemies depending upon the economic and political climate of any one time; part of this period is referred to as the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604). In the back-and-forth, the Spanish Armada had attacked England in 1588 and was beaten back by English fireships and devastated by North Atlantic storms (during this period of sail, storms and disease accounted for a much greater number of deaths than enemy action).

The port of Cadiz in Spain was a favorite target of the English, as it was home port for Spain’s treasure fleet, and periodic raids on the port often disrupted Spain’s economy.

Peeke had just returned from another sea voyage, wherein an English force sought out Algeria-based pirates preying on English merchant ships. Barbary privateers, operating out of Algiers, preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping. The Barbary pirates enslaved captured sailors and passengers and often raided coastal towns capturing slaves to be sold in North Africa. Between 1609 and 1616, at least 466 British vessels were captured. England’s King James I sent a punitive expedition to Algiers in 1621, which fired some Algierian ships in port, failed to follow up its advantage, then was driven away. It returned back to England with all its ships and a loss of only 8 men, but little gain for its leaders or sailors. In retaliation, Barbary pirates captured the cargo and crew from 35 English merchant ships over the following months.

Peeke gained little from his adventure in Algiers, but promptly signed on for a raid on Cadiz that set sail October 8, 1625; that raid being another campaign that suffered from a lack of leadership. The fleet, around 100 ships carrying some 10,000 soldiers, arrived at Cadiz on October 22, 1625. After a fierce attack by the Dutch ships and a few English, the fort at Puntal surrendered once the Earl of Essex landed his troops.

I seeing him make speedily and fiercely at me with his drawn weapon, suddenly whipped out mine, wrapping my cloak about mine arm. Five or six skirmishes we had; and for a pretty while, fought off and on.

On October 24th, while the soldiers landed to march to the bridge to the mainland to block the supply route, Peeke went ashore and, finding some fellow English with oranges and lemons, resolved to pick some himself. While on his sojourn, he was spotted by the Spanish and attacked by a noble on horseback:

He survives the encounter by whipping his cloak at the horses eyes, causing the horse to shy, whereupon Peeke drags off the Spaniard who begs for mercy. Unfortunately for Peeke, a group of Spanish musketeers shows up and he is taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, the attacking English marched toward the bridge of Suazzo, which connects the island to the mainland, but failed to bring food or water ashore. Therefore, upon camping in an abandoned house with a wine cellar along the march, the small army turned into a drunken mob, disobeying orders to desist, arguing, and even firing shots at one another. Eventually the commander ordered the men to return to the ships and they went in search of a rich Spanish fleet arriving from the West Indes; the Spanish fleet was never found and the commander ordered the fleet to return to England three weeks later after running out of supplies at sea.

Peek discusses his capture, but it was when he was dragged into the town of Xerez before his Spanish noble captors that his famous exploits occurred. During the course of an open interrogation, a bystander comments that Englishmen are hens; Peeke replies that if the English are hens, then the Spanish are chickens. Peeke is then offered a duel with a Spaniard at rapier and dagger:

After we had played some reasonable good time, I disarmed him, as thus. I caught his rapier betwixt the bars of my poniard and there held it, till I closed with him; and tripping up his heels, I took his weapons out of his hands.
Agrippa heelCamillo Aggrippa: Trattato di Scientia d’Arme (1553)

After that display, he is asked if he dares fight another, and initially begs off, concerned about the easily offended Spanish nature. However, upon being pushed to bout, he acknowledges that he’ll fight all comers if allowed the use of a quarterstaff.

Ever practical in the 17th century, a Spaniard removed the screw holding the head on a halberd and Peeke was armed with the quarterstaff substitute. To Peeke’s advantage, the butt end had either an iron spike or metal ferrule.

A first Spaniard steps up for the challenge, says Peeke, “then a second, armed as before, presents himself. I demanded, ‘If there would come no more?’ The Dukes asked, ‘How many I desired?’ I told them, ‘Any number under six.’”

After some brief exchanges (“the rapier men traversed their ground; I, mine. Dangerous thrusts were put in, and with dangerous hazard avoided. Shouts echoed to heaven to encourage the Spaniards”) Peeke landed a blow to the head of one of the swordsmen with the metal butt end of his staff. The woodcut from the cover (see below) shows the status at that point, with the fallen swordsman at bottom right, and Peeke at center facing the two remaining Spaniards with rapier and daggers.

Peeke made short work of the remaining two swordsmen: “within a few bouts after, to disarm the other two; causing the one of them to fly into the army of soldiers then present, and the other for refuge fled behind the bench” and awaited his fate from the nobles.

Rather than being killed, Peeke was rewarded for his bravery, being freed and eventually presented to the king. Upon his return to England, Peeke published the tract below that contains the account of his adventures. Shortly after, the play Dick of Devonshire was penned based on Peeke’s exploits.

Click on woodcut below to read Peeke’s Three to One (1626)

Note:for ease of reading, the original typography and spelling is not retained; this was transcribed from a Victorian source

Peeke cover

Carnival of Martial Arts #5 is on the March!

Go check it out at Mokuren Dojo where Pat was kind enough to host it this month. He did a special theme issue on “Warriors of Peace and Justice” and received a nice response.

There are many quality posts, but here are a few that caught my eye:

Patrick Parker included an older Nonviolent self defense that matched this month’s theme. I love the photo he links to, check it out!

Chris also hopped into the wayback machine to post his thoughts on Conflict Resolution: A Casualty of Non-Violent Martial Arts. Pretty amusing in that he immediately takes a shot at any art that doesn’t free spar as being “inadvertently harmless.” I found myself nodding my head in agreement at first, but then I began to think of exceptions, such as some forms of silat, combatives, etc.

Dave Shevitz posted on Jury Duty and Ki Tests, which I thought was an interesting look into the deliberation room through an aiki filter.

I found some common ground with Eric Frey this time after reading his How to Spot a Punch Coming a Mile Away post. I once had an excellent boxe-francaise instructor that I finally had to agree to disagree with because I simply refused to focus on my opponent eyes when kickboxing.

The next Carnival (#6) will be hosted by Black Belt Mama so be sure and get your submittal in by February 23. Submit your post here

Jujutsu Suffragettes

The day before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday seems an opportune time to recall the suffragettes now that the U.S. has a woman and an African-American as top contenders for the presidency. [FN1]. It is incredible to think that only 80 or so years ago women in the U.S. and U.K. did not enjoy the same voting rights as men. I quite literally cannot imagine that anyone in either country today thinks the same, and yet it was so recent that some of our older population undoubtedly can recall living in that period.

The right to vote was hard-fought, in some cases quite literally with fists and weapons. Here are a couple photos from “Black Friday.” On November 18, 1910, in response to the Prime Minister quashing a women’s voter bill, 300 suffragettes marched on the House of Commons. In a public relations disaster for the government, police were caught on film assaulting unarmed women attempting to march past. Here are some images from that day (click for larger size):

Black Friday1Black Friday2

Militant suffragettes eventually upped the physical level of their own campaigns and smashed shop windows, burned and even bombed on occasion. When caught and imprisoned, they went on hunger strikes which led to forced feeding through nasal tubes, yet another government public relations disaster.

Edith Garrud, wife of William Garrud, taught jujutsu to the Woman’s Social and Political Union “bodyguard” and used her school as a hideout when the heat was on from the police. William Garrud was well-known as a health and strength and self-defense instructor and owned his own gymnasium before he became associated with the Tani/Miyake school in London in the early 1900s. After Edith and William were divorced (or perhaps before, during, and after), William also taught jujutsu to his paramours.

The following is one of my favorite illustrations, and followed quickly on the heels of the publication of a series of photographs showing Edith Garrud tossing around a police officer:

The Suffragette That Knew Jiu-Jitsu

I didn’t write much here because others have written better and at length on the subject, so see:

Damsel v. Desperado

The Evolution of Women’s Judo 1900-1945

Ju-Jutsu as a Husband-Tamer: A Suffragette Play with a Moral

Tony Wolf’s article, “Edith Garrud’s Dojo” in the Bartitsu Compendium.

There is also a brief militant suffragette section with illustrations at the University of Glasgow Special Collections Women’s Suffrage page, which saved me scanning a hardcopy of the illustration above.

FN1. I know there has been discussion of who has been the most disadvantaged, women or African-Americans, but I’m trying to avoid that in this context. For that, Steven Barnes for one has brought up the discussion on his blog here and here. As far as voting, African-Americans technically gained the right in the U.S. in 1870 with the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women received the right only in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. On the other hand, African-Americans were often disenfranchised based on (mainly southern) state laws requiring poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of “good character,” and disqualification for “crimes of moral turpitude.” So the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s may be a better point to begin counting. Even now, gerrymandering is still regularly fought in court and if you were a black voter in Florida during the 2000 election you might be wondering how much things have really changed in the last forty years.

A Third Fatality for Modern Mixed Martial Arts

The latest unfortunate death in Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”), that of Sam Vasquez, has again raised questions concerning the sport’s safety. MMA fans, promoters, blogger, and other commentors went on the offensive and made sure that their spin described the fatality as the first death during a “sanctioned” MMA bout. With the addition of that single word, previous deaths in modern MMA are summarily forgotten. I happen to think that not only do the deceased fighters deserve better, but that in the long run it does a disservice to the sport.

Here I’m defining “modern MMA” as anything occurring after the 1993 debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”). Not only because that promotion became the driving force behind MMA’s current popularity, but because earlier fatalities may or may not have much relevance to the sport in its current incarnation. In other words, events today are roughly similar due to a common agreement on exactly what the sport of MMA is and how it should take place. Looking at older MMA fatalities includes problems of documentation and interpretation beyond the scope of this post.

For example, look at the difficulty figuring out exactly what happened in the most famous MMA death to ever occur, that of Arrichion, which is still being discussed millennia later. I also have no doubt that there have been vale tudo deaths, but until someone who knows Portuguese spends a lot of time in Brazil doing interviews and reading old papers, we can’t know for sure. More recently, but still pre-modern MMA as I have defined it, there was the death of fifteen year old Alfred Castro Herrera in 1981. He was participating in “full contact” in Tijuana Mexico, which was described as “boxing mixed with karate and judo” in the St. Louis Globe Democrat (April 15, 1981). Was that MMA? Sounds like it, but maybe it was some Mexican wrestling hybrid, or maybe it was all stand-up striking. For the sake of consistency, I’m using the first UFC as the starting date.

Incidentally, the Herrera death was pulled from EJMAS.com. Joseph Svinth has added a separate MMA fatality section to his excellent resource Death Under the Spotlight: The Manuel Velazquez Boxing Fatality Collection Go to the MMA fatalities to see the listings of known recent MMA deaths. The deaths prior to Vasquez are there and include Douglas Dedge’s fight in the Ukraine and Lee’s in Korea.

The reports on Lee are sketchy, but it appears that he may have died from a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Dedge is less clear, but there are numerous reports that he had been experiencing dizziness and blackouts in training. See Sherdog.com, which discusses those reports and gives a more balanced presentation than the earlier Guardian article cited at EJMAS. Judging by the video of the end of the Dedge fight, the Guardian made up its description of the fight wholesale. In fact, other than Dedge being either outclassed, tired, or both, it appears little different from any U.S. sanctioned bout, including a closely watching referee and prompt medical attention. While there are mandatory medical screenings before sanctioned events, it is questionable whether Dedge’s medical issues would have been discovered, because he obviously was avoiding diagnosis of the problem.

The “sanctioned event” spin assumes that the existence of athletic commissions and regulatory bodies are a necessity in putting on a safe fight, but safe fights regularly take place in states without commissions. Similarly, there are few, if any, boxing deaths in non-commissioned states. Obviously more boxing matches take place in commissioned states, but the point is that the promoter is probably more important to the safety of a bout than a regulatory body. MMA’s track record is not much different, as the UK and Japan have both held a significant number of unsanctioned shows without deaths and few serious injuries.

Commissions with weak enforcement may be worse than having no commission at all. In a non-regulated state or territory, coaches and fighters know to judge a promoter on his/her merits and past events. The presence of an athletic commission may grant a false sense of confidence if the commission fails to strongly enforce its own rules. An unscrupulous promoter in such a state ignoring proper safety precautions or lining up mismatches is worse than a good promoter in a non-sanctioned area. A good promoter in a state with a good commission would be the best of both worlds.

Based on the very few MMA deaths that have occurred, Joe Svinth pointed out in correspondence the same thing I had noticed, which is that there appeared to be two potential risk factors when looking at the three deaths in modern MMA. Those factors are the age of the participant and the length of time since the participant’s last fight.

The age correlation is shown in the Velazquez Collection with boxers; older boxers are at a higher risk than younger. See, e.g., Harris, C. Harris, DiRusso, S., Sullivan, T., and Benzil, D.L. (2004, May) Mortality risk after head injury increases at 30 years, Journal of American College of Surgeons 198:5, pp. 852-853. It is likely that the risk of mortality in MMA also increases slowly with the age of the fighter once they pass 30.

Also, a long layoff between fights likely increases the potential risk of mortality. However, this may be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, as fighting too frequently in boxing also raises the risk of injury and mortality.

On the other hand, as Joe Svinth pointed out, both of those conclusions are drawn from a pretty small MMA pool and might be best considered a working hypothesis.

Lastly, although it would be difficult to quantify, it stands to reason that risk of serious injury increases when inexperienced fighters are mismatched against those significantly more experience.

A separate point to be drawn from the recent attention is the clear need for proper health care and disability insurance. Mandatory health, life, and disability insurance may be a good place to start. Boxing has a high incidence of career-affecting hand, head, and eye injuries. Because MMA has a higher incidence of striking injuries due to the lighter and smaller gloves and the allowance f elbows (see, e.g., Gregory Bledsoe, et al., “Incidence of injury in professional Mixed Martial Arts competition,” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (July 2006) 5, pp. 136-142, which can be downloaded here), it is even more important that MMA fighters are sufficiently covered.

I think distinguishing MMA deaths based on “sanctioned” versus non-sanctioned bouts serves little purpose. MMA is a sport, and just like any other sport, it will experience future deaths. Instead of trying to define away past deaths, let’s move forward MMA safety while remembering those who have lost their lives in the sport they love.

On the Mat-and Off by Hjalmar Lundin (1937)

A new reprint is now available that offers a nice counter balance to Fall Guys because it deals with wrestling in the days leading to that transition to complete entertainment rather than after.

Lundin arrived in the U.S. in 1893 and was touring as a strongman by 1894. For decades following, he toured the U.S. and other countries as an exceptional wrestler. Lundin documents his associations with the most famous wrestlers of his time, such as Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch, Mitsuyo Maeda (Konde Koma), Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Tom Jenkins, George Hackenschmidt, Jim Londos, and many others.

Lundin describes the differences between the “shooting” matches and the “works” that came later. He tells who could wrestle and who couldn’t, and discusses everyone from Olympians to those who made their living purely as entertainers in the rasslin’ ring.

Included is Lundin’s account of his defeat of Mitsuyo Maeda, the man responsible for Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Unfortunately, the cover photo renders poorly on the sale site, but it actually looks fine, more like is seen here.

Fire Sale and Free Book Downloads

I recently marked down all of the print reprints to cut-rate prices. I also enabled free downloads for electronic versions as well [Update- downloads are now cheap, with some available online by clicking “REPRINTS” at top right].

Please note that the downloads are optimized for printing, rather than reading online, but it should still be a good experience. I don’t know offhand how some of the current ebook readers will handle the more graphics-intensive downloads, but if it’s a problem, print it out on a good printer and you’ll have a nice read.

I had originally hoped that the sale of reprints would subsidize the purchase of future rare books to reprint in turn, but the time and cost of making a reprint compared to the miniscule return is simply not worth it.

Therefore, I cut the paperback reprints prices and enabled free downloads in order to better disseminate this information, which was the goal to begin with.

Click here or on the reprints tab at the top of the page to see all available titles.

Bartitsu FAQ

This is the Frequently Asked Questions post Tony Wolf publishes every now and again for the benefit of new members to the Bartitsu Forum. I thought this would be a good introduction and a good time to spread the word because work is now underway on Volume II of the Bartitsu Compendium.


Q – What is Bartitsu?

A – An eclectic martial art founded in the late 19th century by E.W. Barton-Wright. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartitsu for the basics, http://www.bartitsu.org for a more thorough summary and buy the Bartitsu Compendium for the whole story. The Bartitsu Forum message archives, Files and Photos sections are also full of information and the best place to get involved.

Q – What is the Bartitsu Society?

A – An informal, international community of Bartitsu enthusiasts who communicate via this email list. Since 2002 we have been active in the research and restoration of Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”. Our major project to date has been the publication of the Bartitsu Compendium in 2005 and our major interests include:

* the early history of European jiujitsu

* the eclectic Japanese/European self defence methods developed between 1899 and the early 1920s, and the lives of their founders and practitioners

* street gangsterism, the suffragette movement, “physical culture” exercise programmes and other Victorian and Edwardian-era social phenomena, as related to the martial arts

Q – What is the difference between canonical Bartitsu and neo-Bartitsu?

A – Canonical Bartitsu refers to “Bartitsu as we know it was”; the specific self defence techniques and sequences demonstrated by E.W. Barton-Wright and his colleagues between 1899-1904. Today, canonical Bartitsu is practiced as a mark of respect for Barton-Wright and as a form of living history martial arts training. It also serves as a common technical and tactical “language” amongst contemporary Bartitsuka.

Neo-Bartitsu refers to “Bartitsu as it might have been” and to “Bartitsu as it can be today”; to modern, individualised interpretations of the art, potentially including sport, self defence and performance applications. We are currently developing the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium to provide resources towards neo-Bartitsu. In any case, we hope that neo-Bartitsu forms will hold to the spirit and feel of the c1900 methods.

Q – What is the Barton-Wright memorial project?

A – E.W. Barton-Wright died penniless in 1951, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” in Kingston Cemetery, Surrey, England. In 2006, Bartitsu Forum member Phil Giles discovered the exact location of B-W’s grave-site. All proceeds from sales of the Compendium and Kirk Lawson’s Bartitsu DVD have been dedicated to creating a suitable memorial for B-W as a pioneering martial arts innovator. We have nearly reached our target figure!

Q – How can I get involved?

A – Easy! Post your questions, ideas and comments to the Bartitsu Forum (and by all means, an introductory post will be welcome). The Forum is an active and notably positive venue for communication on all matters Bartitsuvian.

The Chopper: The Pugilist’s Backfist

The backfist, and by that I mean the direct backfist, not the spinning one, often gets a bad rap. Many view it as a technique that is useful for TKD practitioners to get a quick point in tournaments, but one that has little value otherwise. Boxers and kickboxers are particularly skeptical of its effectiveness because there is little point in throwing a backfist with gloved hands when you could throw a jab instead.

However, it may surprise some readers that the backfist, once called “the chopper,” was a common technique in western pugilism for a few hundred years. By pugilism, I’m referring specifically to bare knuckle boxing rather than the modern gloved boxing that took over at the end of the 19th century.

Daniel Mendoza, active primarily in the late 18th century, has long been associated with the chopper. As a smallish man in a dangerous sport with no weight classes, Mendoza relied on quickness, a deft defense, and fast, multiple strikes rather than size and power. His manual, The Art of Boxing (1789), does cover the chopper, but copies are rare and the pages found online contain only a reference rather than the actual instruction.

An anonymous boxing manual from 1825 by “The Celebrated Pugilist” does contain a discussion of the advantages of the chopper and goes on to describe the blow as Mendoza’s favorite:


A Back-handed Blow or Chopper,

with the large knuckles of the right hand and a straight arm, is very effectual, as these blows, upwards or downwards, cut, and it is better to hit with them than the middle knuckles of the fingers, which are apt to be much injured. This blow was Mendoza’s favourite, and the power of striking it with dexterity often enables you to return with the same hand with which you parried the hit of your adversary. Thus, if you are struck at either side of the face, you may successfully raise up your elbow, catch the blow upon it, quickly bring round your arms, and give the chop. When the elbow is pointed a little upwards, it is the most favourable time for striking the chopper; because, by affording your arm a swing round, it gives a greater impulse to the blow.The chopper may be happily used in giving the return; and should a pugilist engage with a person ignorant of the science, it will certainly prove successful.

A round blow is easily perceived on its approach, and of course readily stopped. It is not a strong or quick way of fighting, and only resorted to by indifferent boxers; but the chopper is a blow out of the common line of boxing, and is found most effectual. For this purpose, the arm is to be drawn back immediately after giving this blow, so as to recover your guard. It generally cuts where it falls, and if hit but moderately hard on the bridge of the nose, or between the brows, produces disagreeable sensations, and causes the eyes to water, so as to prevent your adversary from seeing how to guard against two or three succeeding blows. If struck with force on the bridge of the nose, it splits it in two parts, from the top to the bottom; if on either of the eyes, it causes a temporary blindness, and if on both, it disables the person who receives it from continuing the fight.

The rear elbow stop from which a backfist can be thrown:
chopper1Rear Elbow Stop

Not all pugilism authorities were fond of the chopper. Lord Headley (R. G. Allanson-Winn), author of Boxing (1897), observed the transition from bare knuckles to gloves and not surprisingly found the chopper useless following the changeover. What was somewhat surprising was that Lord Headley thought it a weak blow even for bare knucklers:

A chopping hit from the elbow was made use of by some old timers, and though such a hit was capable of splitting a man’s nose, it was a poor hit and never could do much real damage, and in the present day it would be quite useless even for disfiguring purposes on account of the gloves.

I see the merit in both sides of the debate. It is a weak blow, in the sense that a knockout will not be scored from chopping the opponent. On the other hand, a strike breaking and splitting the nose or cutting the eyebrows or striking the eyes would be useful in an all-day bare knuckle match or a modern street encounter. A nice shot to the nose can be both disorienting and disheartening, resulting in the recipient watching through watery eyes as the claret flows down his chest. As the celebrated pugilist states, it also arrives in an unexpected manner because the line it takes is not “normal” in boxing.

A faithful reproduction of the chopper description from the Celebrated Pugilist’s Art and Practice of Boxing is depicted in the second sequence on this page: http://ahfaa.org/technique.htm [Update- Uh oh, looks like the American Heritage Fighting Arts Association may have went the way of the dodo. However, Pete Kautz was the man behind it and it looks like his overall site is still up.]

While that sequence does correspond with the image above of the rear elbow stop, it is not my preferred way of using the chopper. I prefer an elbow stop with my lead arm, rather than rear, because throwing a backfist from the rear hand is awkward for me and I often find myself out of range when doing so. From the front, however, it works well and I throw it like Terry Brown teaches on p. 197 of his excellent treatise English Martial Arts.

Basically, when you are at distance in a left lead and a right from your opponent comes in, you raise your left arm, blocking the strike with the elbow as below:

Mendoza stopFront Elbow Stop

This does NOT have to be a complicated move. From my regular boxing guard, I keep my hands in place and simply rotate my left elbow up into a position as if I were throwing a left hook to the head. The elbow works as a great stop because it has a solid structure behind it, lining up with the shoulder. If you are stopping a bare hand right, the consequences of your opponent hitting the point of your elbow should be easy to imagine.

So, after you raise your elbow and stop the blow, you keep your elbow in place and swing your forearm around and strike the face of your adversary with a backfist.

Another variation can be used when the action is a little closer. A common defense against a right hook is a left elbow cover wherein you raise your left arm and cover the left side of your head by reaching back and placing your hand on the back of your head. The motion is similar to throwing an elbow directly upwards from a guard.

Here’s a pic I found on the interwebs something like what I’m talking about, although it’s not the tightest cover in the world: http://www.lockflow.com/images/article_images/5381.JPG

From that position, the backfist goes directly out and strikes the opponent in the face.

I was recently shown another method of using the chopper, and it was in a “modern” boxing match. My brethren on the MMA.tv History Forum recently discussed the Pancho Villa vs. Jimmy Wilde fight (1923). You can see the clip here. The first inkling of a backfist comes at about :53, but then at 4:18, Pancho Villa misses with a huge backfist. Throughout the fight, it looks like Villa throws a left hook at a little distance, then follows up with a backfist from the same hand. He may have also been throwing a left jab/left backfist combo at times, but the grainy, jerky film footage makes it difficult to tell. It doesn’t appear to have been too successful, and it’s not the reason he won the fight, but it does show another application of the chopper: a backfist off a missed hook. That makes perfect sense to me, as it is launched from almost the same position as an elbow stop with the lead arm as described above.