(Canonical Bartitsu, neo-Bartitsu)
Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence

by Catherine Marien for © 2009-2011.
Definition and Etymology
Bartitsu, an early form of hybrid martial art intended for self defense, was founded by Edward William Barton-Wright, the first known European to have combined Asian and European martial arts styles.

As a method of cross-training between French, Swiss, Japanese and English styles such as jiu-jitsu, savate, boxing and stick fighting, Bartitsu is considered a precursor of MMA. The main differences with MMA is that Bartitsu includes the use of weapons (sticks, or everyday objects turned into weapons) and that it is not a competitive combat sport, but focuses solely on self defense.
The term 'Bartitsu' stems from the founder's name combined with the Japanese suffix 'itsu'. Note that the founder's name at birth was Edward William Wright and that he legally changed his name to Edward William Barton-Wright only when he was in his early 30s.

Barton-Wright defined the three fundamental combat principles of Bartitsu as following:
1. to disturb the equilibrium of your assailant;
2. to surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and as such annihilate his strength;
3. if necessary, to make use of joint locks and pressure point techniques.

Bartitsu's effectiviness derives from its covering four fighting ranges, both long and close range:
1. standing weapon length (mid range): stick
2. standing kicking range (short range): foot
3. standing striking range (close range): fist
4. grappling range and ground fighting range: close combat

These four ranges corresponded with the four major martial arts included in Bartitsu: stick fighting, savate, boxing, Jiu Jitsu and judo.

Note that Barton-Wright only distinguished between striking range (stick fighting) and grappling range (jiu-jitsu) even though the Japanese/European art of Bartitsu actually covered the four ranges.

Bartitsu always started with range fighting only evolving to close combat if necessary. Judo and jiu jitsu are only used to get to close quarters, never as primary means of attack. That is because range fighting ensures a better visibility and mobility and better protection against multiple attackers. Ground fighting is used only in a last resort, because it greatly reduces vision and thus requires the person under attack to have already gained sufficient knowledge about his situation. However, as ground can greatly minimize a size and strength advantage, allowing to subdue a much larger opponent, it remains a very useful technique. See also: Hybrid styles vs. traditional martial arts

Bartitsu was geared specifically towards the problems of self defense in an urban, industrialized society, at a time when many middle and upper class Londoners feared the threat of street gangsters. It was concomitant with a general feeling of insecurity both in England and among the traveling bourgeoisie of Europe, as well as with a public fascination with Asian (especially Japanese) culture.

Similarly to Systema, Keysi and Krav Maga, Bartitsu relies entirely on adaptability and improvisation and as such includes no set stances or kata. The system offers solutions and self defence sequences in reality-based street attack scenarios rather than fixed techniques. As it embraces every possible eventuality, it is not necessary to try and get the opponent in any particular position. Defence and counter attack are entirely based upon the tactics of the opponent.

History and Origins

Born in Bangalore, India, in 1860 Edward William Wright travelled to many different countries, among which Japan. During his travels he had the opportunity to learn a variety of fighting methods and martial arts styles including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate, the use of the stiletto, as well as two different jiu-jitsu styles: Shinden-Fudo Ryu (Kobe) and Kodokan Jiujitsu (Tokyo), also known as Kodokan judo or Kano jiu-jitsu, after its founder Kano Jigoro, with whom Wright possibly trained. Note that in the early years the terms judo and jiu-jitsu were quite interchangeable before these styles evolved into complete different arts.

By the time E.W. Wright returned to England in 1898, he had combined all of the martial arts that he had been exposed to into a single, unified system. Although initially focusing on jiujitsu, Barton-Wright's vision was broader than any one method and comprised not only boxing but also the use of the stick, feet, and a very tricky and clever style of Japanese wrestling, in which weight and strength play only a very minor part.

Bartitsu was specifically designed as a gentlemanly art of self defense, in response to the threat of street gangsters, both at home and while travelling abroad. It enabled the gentleman to reassert his physical presence on the street in a manner that was not only artful but also aesthetically appealing.
The method was mentioned in several British magazines, and featured as "Baritsu" in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Empty House."


As it combines stand up fighting, clinch work and take down techniques Bartitsu can accommodate any type of attack.

It incorporates a wide range of strikes, thrusts and disarming techniques from Vigny style stick fighting, joint locks from jiu jitsu, grappling techniques from kodokan judo, and throwing and takedown techniques from both. Movements and foot work came from savate (also known as chausson) and boxing. However, the guards are much more numerous and done in a slightly different style from boxing.

Not much is known about the boxing style incorporated into Bartitsu. What is sure is that it was modified to better suit the purpose of self defense. It may have been a sort of Queensbury style modified with movements similar to London Prize Ring pugilism, or taken from a much older boxing style, known as Scientific Boxing, which incorporated defensive techniques such as side-stepping, ducking and blocking.

The main difference between the street-oriented Vigny style and cane or canne fighting is that French stick fighting lacks a hand guard. The Vigny style took that into account and included a range of guards in which position and distance from the opponent protected the weapon wielding hand. The stick is manipulated with the wrist - and not with the fingers as in sword-play - and the blows are given by swinging the body on the hips - and not merely by flips from the elbow. The practitioner should be able to handle the stick single-handed as well as double-handed. The Vigny system is also ambidextrous meaning that the practitioner can and should swap hands, so that his opponent can never precisely tell which hand will deliver the attack.

Most of the throwing techniques included either tripping the opponent, twisting his head and neck or manipulating his elbow joint; without resorting to the variety of hip and shoulder throws typical of modern judo.

Some specific techniques such as the Overcoat Trick, a self defence technique making use of an overcoat as a defensive weapon, seems related to the Metsubushi techniques which were used by the mercenaries of feudal Japan in order to blind and distract their opponents. The fact of turning everyday objects such as walking sticks or umbrellas into weapons (a technique known as ('shadow weapons') may have had the same origin.

Modern Bartitsu (Bartitsu Today)

There was probably more to the art of Bartitsu than Barton-Wright put forth in his lectures, demonstrations and articles. Therefore, the term neo-Bartitsu refers to both "Bartitsu as it might have been" and "Bartitsu as it can be today". It is based on the canonical material produced by Barton-Wright and his collaborators, but also includes the full range of boxing, jiujitsu and walking stick defence techniques recorded by former Bartitsu Club members and their students between about 1903 and 1923. The term Canonical Bartitsu, on the contrary, is somtimes used to refer to Bartitsu "as we know it was" based on the writings and self-defense sequences presented by Barton Wright and his colleagues from 1898 to 1901. Thus, Canonical Bartitsu just intends to preserve what was, while Neo-Bartitsu also extends and develops beyond the fundamental canon or principles.

Neo-Bartitsu also describes the way practitioners are continuing Barton-Wright's experiments in martial arts cross-training, by using modern training methods and equipment, etc. A key principle is that neo-Bartitsu is individualistic, meaning that even though modern Bartitsu instructors are all working with the same original material, each school has developed its own dynamic, resulting in  their own style of neo-Bartitsu. That is why it is sometimes referred to as 'Edwardian Jeet Kune Do.'

Early Bartitsu
Bartitsu practitioners wore short-sleeved jiujitsu gi jackets and knee-length pants for jiujitsu training and standard 19th century "physical culture" attire (t-shirts or tank-top shirts and tights or knee-length breeches and stockings) for boxing, savate and stick fighting practice.

In training classes practitioners use boxing gloves and training canes, either canes featuring solid ball handles (classic Bartitsu ) or hook-handled canes, depending on the technique trained. More advanced practitioners usually wear judo or jiujitsu gi jackets and belts or sashes. Note that no belt ranking system exists in bartitsu, so the belts or sashes are just used to hold the gi jackets together. Body protection for contact stick fighting drills and sparring usually includes a 3-weapon fencing mask, shoulder, torso and arm protections, padded gloves and knee/shin protection. The level of protection depends on the level of contact (medium or full) used during training. For boxing head protectors, groin cups and mouth-guards are recommended.

Edward William Barton Wright
Photo courtesy of
References :
Bartitsu Society: a completely apolitical association of Bartitsu instructors and enthusiasts.
Wolf, Tony (2005), The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 1: History and the Canonical Syllabus. Lulu Press.
Wolf, Tony  (2009), The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume II: Antagonistics.
Wolf, Tony (2010), "Bartitsu." Martial Arts of the World. An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation. Ed. Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth. Vol. 2. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO LLC. 451-55. Print.
Barton-Wright, E.W., Self-defence with a Walking-stick: The Different Methods of Defending Oneself with a Walking-Stick or Umbrella when Attacked under Unequal Conditions (Part I), from Pearson's Magazine, 11 (January 1901), 35-44.
A.C. Cunningham (2007 reprint). The Cane as a Weapon. Tony Wolf.

External links:
Tony Wolf:  has been heavily involved in the research and revival of Bartitsu since 2002 and author of the Bartitsu Compendium, vol I and II.
Ran Arthur Braun: founder member of Bartitsu Club Israel, Italy and Russia
Bartitsu Club Italy

Schools and Seminars


James Marwood teaches regular classes in Modern Bartitsu at the Farnborough Leisure Centre in Hampshire, U.K.

Ran Arthur Braun runs Bartitsu study groups in Calabria, Rome, Savona and Como, under the auspices of Bartitsu Italia

The Linacre School of Defence (Oxford, UK) offers classes in c1900 boxing (including grappling) and low kicks of savate, and may offerfurther related arts in the future.

The Black Boar Swordsmanship School in Scotland offers regular training in self defence with a walking stick, drawing from the Bartitsu repertoire as well as the "Cane as a Weapon" system of A.C. Cunningham.

The Grange (Coventry, UK) offers experience days, with tuition in Bartitsu.

The Zwaardkring historical fencing club offers one two-hour Bartitsu practice session per month and the Judoclub Shizen Hontai plans to offer a weekly Bartitsu study group. Both clubs are in Veldhoven, Netherlands.

Bartitsu Club Russia, based at the Mishenev Fencing School in St. Petersburg, offers occasional public Bartitsu seminars.

North America

The Botta Secreta historical fencing school in San Francisco runs regular Bartitsu training sessions on Thursday evenings.

The Academia Duellatoria in Portland, Oregon offers Bartitsu classes on the third Tuesday of every month.

The Academie Duello historical fencing and stage combat school in Vancouver, Canada offers occasional Bartitsu seminars with instructor David McCormick

Cumann Bhata Dayton (Ohio) Western martial arts club offers Bartitsu classes on the first Monday of each month.

The Houston School of Defense offers regular classes in walking stick defense and plans to extend into training in other aspects of the Bartitsu and Neo-Bartitsu curricula.


 The Gemeiner Academy of European Combat Arts (Gold Coast, Australia) offers regular training in Vigny/Lang stick fighting and associated skills.

For more information on Bartitsu schools, seminars and study groups, see:

The Bartitsu Compendium Volume 2
The Bartitsu Compendium Volume 1
. © 2009-2011. All rights reserved.
Photos by Gregory Brophy (hand wraps), Gerville Hall (TaeKwonDo girl), Lucian (Karate fight).
Reproduction strictly prohibited.
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