Wiliam Barton-WrightThe art which in recent years has become known as the art of Sherlock Holmes is in fact a creation a 19th century engineer called William Barton-Wright. Barton-Wright was a well travelled man and while in Japan he studied martial arts under several jujitsu masters including Jigoro Kano, the father of Judo.

On his return to London in 1898, Barton-Wright set up a School of Arms in Shaftsbury Avenue where boxing, fencing, wrestling and savate were also taught. A master of self promotion he began touring the music halls with Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, two prominent Jujitsu practitioners, offering a £20 purse, approximately 10 weeks wages, to anyone who could stay on their feet for 15 minutes with either of these experts. Thus Barton-Wright was able to successfully demonstrate the superiority of these Japanese fighting skills when employed by a small defender against a bigger more powerful assailant.

Wiliam Barton-WrightIn 1899, Pearson’s Magazine, printed an article by Barton-Wright describing the principles and techniques of a ‘New Art’ which he named Bartitsu; Conan Doyle called the skill employed by his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Baritsu. He explained that his new art of Bartitsu meant “real self-defence in every form.” As well as containing elements from ju-jitsu, Bartitsu also included skills and techniques from boxing, wresting and french kick boxing (Savate).

A visionary in many ways, Barton-Wright was emulated many year later by Bruce Lee, whose own quest for martial enlightenment led him to incorporate and adapt elements from different fighting styles in to his martial arts concept, Jeet Kune Do. Barton-Wright also published several articles on a self defence system using the cane, a device carried by most gentlemen at the time.

Although the Budokwai (the oldest and most famous Japanese martial arts club in Europe) honoured Barton-Wright’s contribution to martial arts in 1951 he was, a couple of years later, afforded only a paupers funeral in an unmarked grave. A sad and poor memorial for the west’s first mixed, martial artist and the man ultimately responsible for bringing Jujitsu to this country.

This introduction fails to do justice to this remarkable man, ahead of his time in many ways. Very few people, including martial artists are aware of him. A senior dan grade once asked me who was responsible for bringing jujitsu to this country, “William Barton-Wright,” I answered confidently. “No, it was Kano!” I was told.

UK martial artists, no matter what style they practice should acknowledge the fact that Barton-Wright was a pioneer in the combat arts. Today, societies exist that study and comment on the art of Bartitsu and a search on the net will find martial artists who list within their profiles ‘Bartitsu’ as a practicing or teaching style.

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In praise of discomfort …

Mats pounded soft from the limbs of ages,
you seek solace in the hope that this time, it will not hurt.
You watch, you listen.
Hands blur in motion while feet dance their rhythm,
and yet, as the twirling white mass flies, with graceful ease through air,
you miss something, small, but significant, simple but pure.
Your concentration shattered by the sound of palm crashing,
then drumming it’s relentless beat of submission.

Once, in ages past, straw became the comforter of pain, the soaker of blood,
as warriors, not yet hewn in battle sought knowledge and the way from those that
were sculpted, that were shaped, that were Samurai.

Now the battlefields are gone, but the battle lingers – in oneself!
All is still, silent, save for the amused bleatings of the young or the groans of older aching limbs too long bruised or bashed.
And yet the player endures, smiles, wipes the sweat from brow and flies again.

Blood rushes, punches stretch forth, legs kick out. Hair is grabbed, joints are locked, organs shake and points of pain are pressed home.

Why? You ask.
Why let this ritual of discomfort, pain and endurance persist?
Why battle when there is no war?
Why strike out when there is no threat?
Why land when there is no need to fall?

Words hard pressed against the tongue fail in their praise of the majesty of the art.
It is not about discomfort, sweat, tears, it is about the joy of the art itself, the flow from one poise to another, from grace to gracefull, from ploy to counter.

It is about watching young limbs trying trying to master the necessity of technique,
against the deception of failure.
It is about the timid stepping forth against the ragging voice of doubt.
To do or not do, that is the question.

But above all else it is knowing that while the body crashes and nerve ends mash, we live.
We breathe, and thus we honour the majesty of creation itself.

I pick myself up, dust myself down, wince, smile, ache and rejoice while tugging at dishevelled clothing and wonder,
…are there funny white pyjamas and crash mats in heaven?

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