The eccentric martial art of Edwardian England

Bartitsu

Adam M Wakeling

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Bartitsu demonstration (Pearson’s Magazine)

“Carry your overcoat upon your shoulders without passing your arms through the sleeves, in the style of a military cloak, with your right hand ready upon your left shoulder to use your coat in the way explained below, should the necessity arise. Be careful always to walk in the middle of the road. Directly your assailant attacks, face him and wait until he is within a distance of two or three yards. Then envelop his head and arms by throwing your coat at him, with a sweeping, circular motion of the arm. This will obscure his view momentarily, but not your own, and will give you plenty of time to deliver your attack, which should take the form of a right-handed knock-out blow in the pit of the stomach.”

(Edward Barton-Wright, How a Man May Defend Himself Against Every Form of Attack)

IfIf there were what we would today call geeks in London in the late 1890s, they were almost certainly reading Pearson’s Magazine. It was a leading publisher of speculative fiction, serialising H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds over 1897 and 1898. Aside from Wells, the magazine carried the stories of prolific science fiction writer George Griffith, featuring everything from space travel to exploration of the fourth dimension, the adventures of the daring hero Captain Kettle by C. J.

Cutcliffe Hyne, and various other stories in which London was threatened with destruction by strange and exotic enemies. Aside from fiction, it also covered politics (generally with a socialist editorial line — George Bernard Shaw was a contributor), literature, arts, essays speculating on the end of the world, and what we today might call self-help.

In was this final category, in March 1899, that the readers of Pearson’s Magazine found an article called ‘How a Man may Defend Himself against every Form of Attack’. It was written by an engineer named Edward Barton-Wright, who had made an extensive study of boxing, wrestling, and fighting with the walking stick. He had just returned to England from spending several years working in Japan, where he had been training in jiujitsu and Judo.

“In this country, we are brought up with the idea that there is no more honourable way of settling a dispute than resorting to Nature’s weapons, the fists, and to…

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Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at https://www.amwakeling.com/ and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.