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Dec-27-2009 22:48printcomments

Sherlock Holmes' Martial Art Comes To Pacific Northwest

Bartitsu, used frequently by Doyle, describes one of the earliest attempts at mixing eastern and western martial arts.

“Bartitsu”
The name “Bartitsu” might well have been completely forgotten if not for a chance mention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his Sherlock Holmes mystery stories. In the Adventure of the Empty House (1903), Courtesy: baritsu.org

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - Having recently been given terrific behind the scenes looks at the new Sherlock Holmes film staring Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson we have been shown that the film has chosen to bring a greater emphasis to Mr. Holmes' martial arts abilities.

The movie, in fact, seems to be bringing a greater emphasis to action than past portrayals of the great detective. This decision has come under fire by Sherlock Holmes purists, however the decision has basis in the novels themselves.

The film's fight choreographer Richard Ryan worked closely with the actors to recreate the martial arts system for film. “The physicality, the bare-knuckle fighting, the martial arts are all hinted at in the books,” says Law who delved deep into Doyle’s books in preparation for his role. Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as a man accomplished in Pugilism, grappling and Cane Fighting, all things combined in a historical martial art known as Bartitsu.

Bartitsu might have been forgotten along with it's creator, if it hadn't been mentioned as the martial art of that great Detective, Sherlock Holmes. In fact, the great detective was noted to be quite an excellent 'single-stick fighter'.

“Doyle called it baritsu in the novels, which is tied to a 19th-century hybrid of jujitsu that is actually called Bartitsu, created by Edward William Barton-Wright,” Downey explains. In the novels, Sherlock Holmes used his knowledge of Bartitsu to fight against his adversary, the nefarious Professor Moriarity at Reichenbach Falls.

The real martial art of Bartitsu was the brainchild of Edward Barton-Wright, an English engineer who, while in Japan, was taken with a demonstration of JuiJitsu. Barton-Wright returned to England and set about making himself a public expert on matters of self-defense for the urban upper classes.

Barton-Wright's earliest public demonstrations and publications displayed simple jujitsu skills, but soon he expanded his system. Adding pugilism, savate (French kickboxing), canne de combat, and a smattering of Western wrestling styles to the Eastern arts, Barton-Wright unveiled bartitsu to the world in 1898.

Bartitsu was one of the earliest attempts at mixing eastern and western martial arts. The system was billed as the gentleman’s art of self defense and prominently featured the use of the cane or umbrella as a weapon. Barton-Wright recognized that fights have various ranges. The cane, which no gentleman ever went into the streets without, extends one's reach and lets a fellow defeat an opponent without dirtying his hands.

At closer range the hands and feet come into play utilizing Savate and Pugilism. Closer still Jujitsu and wrestling are employed. Clubs sprang up around Europe and the system was studied by men and women alike. In fact the system was practiced as part of the training of the English women’s suffrage movement as a means of protecting themselves.

Tony Wolf is a New Zealand martial artist and fight choreographer most recently known for his work on ’Lord of The Rings’. Mr. Wolf has recently become a figure in the revival of the study of the art, publishing several books on the subject.

He explains, "The perception at the time was that members of the educated classes were at increasing risk from street gangsters…Barton-Wright also stressed that skill at Bartitsu would be useful when traveling overseas, to countries where one 'could not expect fair play.'”

Tony Wolf will be making a tour of the Pacific North West in March of 2010 to teach a series of Bartitsu seminars. He will be teaching in Seattle hosted by author and martial artist Neal Stephenson the weekend of March 6th and 7th. He will then be teaching at the Northwest Academy of Arms run by Maestro Sean Hayes in Eugene Oregon the weekend of March 13th and 14th.

Finally Mr. Wolf will be teaching at a seminar hosted by the Portland areas historic fencing school Academia Duellatoria run by instructors Jeff Richardson and Matthew Howden on the weekend of March 20th and 21st.

For more information about Bartitsu check out the Bartitsu Society at bartitsu.org/ For more information on the upcoming seminars check out the websites of the hosting schools at duellatoria.com/ and northwestacademyofarms.com/




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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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