Tuesday, October 1, 2013

England has martial arts?

England has martial arts?

Originally posted on www.atemicast.com

Engraving of Medieval Knight
    If you surveyed 100 people and asked them to name a country famous for their martial arts, England would not be at the top of that Family Feud list.  Sure, China, Japan, and probably Korea would fill in the top three.  Followed, possibly, by Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, or possibly India.  Brazil might come to mind, but England?  That country is known for its stiff upper lip, not upper cut.
    But why not?  Europe had a professional warrior class just light the Asian kingdoms.  They were called knights.  It has long been the popular idea that European knights were unskilled hack-and-slashers, protected from the lethal blows by their thick plate mail, but logically, that cannot be true.  The had to have a skill set that allowed them to be successful warriors.  Besides, any time you have humans in conflict, there is going to be an evolution of combat movements.  Some work, and you survive.  Some don't, and you die.  This will naturally lead to people teaching others how to survive better.  It is only relatively recently that some of these Dark Ages fighting styles have reemerged into the light of popular knowledge.  The book Medieval Combat is a translation, with reproduced illustrations of a 15th century Fechtbuch (fight book), bu German Master-of-Arms, Hans Talhoffer.  It describes many methods of combat, including long sword, various polearms, unarmed combat, combat against two people, and so on.  It a complete martial system  Reading the book, with its artistically don illustrations, reminds me of the picture scrolls of Asian martial arts where the techniques of a system were passed down.

Illustration from Fechtbuck
    Even after the use of gunpowder was established as a battlefield tactic, rapier use was still prevalent, and these Renaissance fencers were establishing schools of training.  There were different theories applied and colored by different countries.  Italian swordsmanship was different from German, which was different from Spanish, French, and English styles.  Officers in all the major armies of the world still carried swords up until WWI; although the Japanese, with their love affair with the sword, would carry this tradition through WWII.  The American Marine Corp still has their dress Mameluke swords, as symbols of these historic warriors.
E. W. Barton-Wright
    Even as countries and governments adopted advances in warfare technologies, private individuals were still at risk.  Just as today, there were back alley muggings, people were still scuffling over disputes, and others needed personal protection - enter E. W. Barton-Wright.  Mr Barton-Wright was a British engineer who worked as an antimony smelter in Kobe, Japan from 1895-`989.  In Kobe, he studied Jujutsu and Judo, incorporating these martial arts along with French Savate, La Canne (stick fighting from Switzerland), and boxing into what he eventually called "Bartitsu."  Barton-Wright introduced his new Bartitsu in London in 1900, and by incorporating many of the world's martial arts, he became England's first mixed martial artist.  Barton-Wright's style used jujutsu principles, but included equipment that an English gentleman might commonly have on him.  The Swiss La Canne was used with canes and umbrellas, which every good Victorian age gentleman in London should have on his person while about.  It was proliferated for three years and enjoyed increasing popularity.  Barton-Wright wrote two volumes on the content of Bartitsu.  Then, for reasons not entirely clear, his London Bartitsu club closed its doors.  If not for a brief mention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book The Adventures of the Empty House, which spoke of his hero Sherlock Holmes employing "bartitsu,"the martial art may have been forgotten by history.  Recently there has been a movement to re-establish this forgotten martial art.  There are clubs which have sprung up in the last decade to investigate England's martial arts history.  Furthermore, other martial artists have been reviewing the two volume of information that Barton-Wright left behind in order to determine what the original Bartitsu techniques were in order to study and reintroduce them for a modern audience.

If you are interested, I conducted an interview with Tony Wolf, one of the men responsible for the re-establishment of bartitsu.

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