William Barton-Wright and the art of Bartitsu

William Barton-Wright and the art of Bartitsu

A well travelled English engineer, William Barton-Wright studied under Jigoro Kano, the father of judo and several other jujitsu masters before returning to the UK where he began formulating his own ideas regarding self defence.

On his return to London in 1898, Barton-Wright set up a School of Arms in Shaftsbury Avenue where boxing, fencing, wrestling, savate and with the aid of two prominent Japanese, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, jujitsu was also taught.

To promote his school, Barton-Wright toured the music halls with Tani and Uyenishi offering a £20 purse, equal to 10 weeks wages, to anyone who could stay on their feet for 15 minutes with either of these experts. They were extremely successful and were instrumental in demonstrating to the public how these Japanese fighting skills could be expertly employed by a small defender against a bigger more powerful assailant.

In March 1899 he had an article, “The New Art of Self Defence”, published in Pearson’s Magazine. This article, listing the principles of the ‘New Art’ which he called Bartitsu, basically described the philosophies, techniques and underlying features of jujitsu.

In a talk given to the Japan Society, Barton-Wright explained that his newly named art of Bartitsu meant “real self-defence in every form.” As well as ju-jitsu techniques the art also included elements from boxing, wresting and savate (french kick boxing) – preceding the legendary Bruce Lee’s quest for martial enlightenment through different styles by some sixty years!

Barton-Wright also published several articles on a self defence system using the cane, derived from a swiss savate instructor. He was featured in many magazines of the time such as Health and Strength and his Bartitsu appeared as ‘Baritsu’ in the works of Conan-Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes.

A year or so before his death in 1951 aged 90, he attended the Budokwai’s annual celebration at the Royal Albert Hall and was presented to the audience; a fitting accolade bleakly contrasted with his final demise, a paupers funeral in an unmarked grave. A sad and poor memorial for probably 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 individual. Barton-Wright was ahead of his time in many ways. Very few people, including martial artists are aware of him, in fact I was once asked who was responsible for introducing Ju-Jitsu to this country by a very senior dan grade. “William Barton-Wright,” I answered confidently. “No, it was Kano!” I was told.

UK martial artists, no matter what style they practise 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 practising or teaching style.

If you’d like to know more about Barton-Wright and read his writings, then visit the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences and type in ‘Barton-Wright’ in their search engine. You can get there by following this link – click here. Alternatively there’s a book, ‘The Bartitsu Compendium’ now available that attempts to encompass the essence of Bartitsu and it’s creator.