How to Form a Physical Culture Club

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



(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.

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


(“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

Old Soldier Ancestors

The other week I posted about the database where you can search muster rolls from the Hundred Years War (1300s-1400s).

It looks like wildcard searches are the way to go, because I found soldiers in the database that share the surname of both sides of my family by searching on the first couple of letters and then an asterisk. For example, searching on CO* as the surname gives two archers:

John Couche, Archer, his captain was Robert Giffard and his commanding officer was Richard Fitz Alan, earl of Arundel. He served in the Naval Expeditionary force that went to France in 1388.

Matthew Couche was also an archer on “Keeping of the Sea” duty in 1372-1373. Captain and commanding officer was Sir Philip de Courtenay.

The other side of the family included archers as well as men-at-arms:

Richard Lilye was an archer with the 1415 Expeditionary force under Henry V. His captain was Roger Chamber.

Two different Williams (Lillye and Lilly) served in the standing forces in Ireland and Acquitaine, respectively, in 1374 and 1439. The first was an archer and the second a man-at-arms.

The database offers an interesting glimpse into the past, so if you have any English ancestry, you might want to give it a whirl.

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

“Physical Culture and Self Defense” by Fitzsimmons (1901)

Our indefatigable friend Kirk Lawson recently finished transcribing another martial classic. This one was on my list, but he saved me the trouble with this faithful reproduction. Here’s his description:


As with all other retranscribed antique manuals that I republish, the text is available for free. You can download it at no charge. The treeware version is at “cost.”

Born June 4, 1862, Robert Fitzsimmons began boxing first as an amateur n Australia, defeating four men in his debut. He quickly transitioned to professional, and in the late 19th Century met and defeated numerous well known champions of the day including Dempsey, Maher, Hall, Creedon, Corbett, Ruhlin, Sharkey, ‘and others of like note.’ retaining and defending the Heavy-Weight title until June 9, 1899.

In retired life, Fitzsimmons taught Boxing, Self-Defense, and Physical Fitness, then known as “Physical Culture.” In 1901, he published his Fitness and Boxing manual titled “Physical Culture and Self Defense” which included material from earlier articles he had written.

This book is a faithful transcription by Kirk Lawson of the original text. Special attention has been given to recreating the look and feel of the original document, including similar fonts, the preservation of spelling, hyphenation, and intentionally blank pages.

You can get the book at:

While you’re there, check out Kirk’s other offerings:

Was Savate’s Drop Kick from Pro Wrestling?

Of course that begs the question: Does savate possess the drop kick?

Unless you’re a youngster, you’re probably familiar with the numerous books Bruce Tegner published primarily in the 1960s, one of which was a text on savate. Therein, Tegner demonstrated first a jumping drop kick from the standing position and then a leaping sidekick from a moving start. Click on the thumbnail below for a close-up:

Drop kick

So is this a savate technique? If not, from where may it have derived? First, I am skeptical that the drop kick is a technique common in savate. I could easily be mistaken, but I don’t recall seeing the drop kick in either modern boxe francaise or in any classical savate manuals.

So where did it come from? Well, the obvious jumping ability and the high knee chambering does remind the reader of savate. A further reading of the history section of Tegner’s book reveals that he did go to Quebec at the age of fourteen for a year to learn savate from Jean-Claude Gautier. Tegner was born in 1929, so this was during WWII. Tragically, Gautier later died in that war as did so many other French savateurs. In fact, savate instruction was so severely depleted at that time that the art was nearly lost.

While Tegner may have very well learned the drop kick from Gautier, it may instead have been an anachronism. Tegner did not publish his savate book until seventeen years after his early training with Gautier. In the preceding thirty years, wrestling had introduced the drop kick as part of its aerial theatrics. Then once WWII began wrestlers were tasked with much of the hand-to-hand combat training and later published their methods, often including lip service to savate methods (think D’Eliscu, Cosneck, etc.).

“Jumping Joe” Savoldi had begun using the drop kick in the squared circle as early as 1933 and took credit for its invention. Likewise, wrestler Abe Coleman claims he invented the drop kick after seeing kangaroos on a visit to Australia in 1930. Either way, the method was firmly established well before Tegner went to Canada to learn savate.

In 1934, the press made a to-do over an anonymous wrestler complaining about Savoldi’s use of the drop kick. (Washington Post, Jan. 30, 1934). This was likely Jim Londos complaining before his January 31, 1934 rematch with Savoldi. Savoldi won the rematch after previously double-crossing Londos earlier in 1933, although in the meantime Savoldi had lost the title to Jim Browning.

But back to the relevant point: in 1934, the press referred to the drop kick as the “American savate,” giving initial credence to the idea that the drop kick may have been a technique introduced to wrestling from savate, but I think that also is a red herring. My take is that the term savate was just being used as a generic term for a foot technique in the article because of savate’s strong association with kicking techniques. I don’t believe the term was used to indicate an actual connection to savate.

Therefore, I conclude that Tegner’s use of the drop kick was idiosyncratic and not a widespread technique commonly used in savate. I suspect that instead the drop kick was incorporated at some point from the influence of wrestling. I’d love to be proven wrong, though, so if any of you savateurs can set me straight, don’t hesitate to speak up!

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: [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:

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 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.

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