Bartitsu for Policing and Security

E. W. Barton-Wright wanted “to impart to peacefully disposed [people] the science of defending themselves.” Bartitsu has been used by various groups including police and security forces, as well as Suffragettes who were defending themselves against the police.

I’ve worked in security since 2009, and it is important to follow the Use of Force model to avoid escalating a situation. Even in dangerous situations, security officers are forbidden from using painful joint locks or choke holds, and Canadian security may not carry weapons of any kind. Our police carry handguns and different non-lethal accessories.

I wrote about this previously from my point of view as a fight director for film and theatre. I wanted to improve the realism of scenes that involved police violence. Let’s revisit the ASLET Use of Force study and what it can tell us about good Bartitsu training.

The Use of Force Study

You can find the 1997 ASLET “Use of Force Training Seminar: Future of Non-Lethal Force Training–Reality Based and Integrating Techniques for Non-Lethal Force Training” at the Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Jan 2007.

The report concluded: “Nearly two thirds of the 1988 altercations (62%) ended with the officer and subject on the ground with the officer applying a joint lock and handcuffing the subject.”

Five scenario patterns accounted for 95% of the altercations: “Within each of these five patterns, a description of the most frequent first, second, and final combative action was generated by the computer… Four combative actions by suspects accounted for almost two thirds (65.8%) of injuries; the officer was kicked 23.4 percent, punched 16 percent, thrown/tripped 15 percent, or was bitten 11.4 percent.” The thrown/tripped statistic includes injuries sustained from wrestling on the ground.

5 Scenarios, 95% of The Time

As for the five patterns, they were:

  1. Subject pulls away from an officer’s attempt to control the subject’s arm. “33.7% Officer grabbed the subject by the arm and the subject pulled his arm away; the most frequent second act was the officer applying a joint lock (32%) and the most frequent final subduing act was the officer taking the subject down to the ground (46%).”
  2. Subject attempts to punch or kick the officer. “25.4% Subject ran at the officer and swung punches and kicks; the most frequent second act was the officer evading the subject and striking him with the baton (26%; a close second was taking the subject to the ground 22%) and the most frequent final subduing act was taking the subject to the ground (35%).”
  3. Subject refuses to assume a searching position. “19.3% Subject refused to assume a searching position as verbally ordered by the officer; the most frequent second act was the officer applying a joint lock (35.5%) and the most frequent final subduing act was taking the subject to the ground (36.5%).”
  4. Subject flees and officer pursues. “10.5% Subject ran from the officer, officer chased the subject; the most frequent second act was the officer taking the subject to the ground (40%) and the most frequent final subduing act was also taking the subject to the ground (39.5%).”
  5. Subject takes a combative posture, but does not attempt to strike the officer. “6.8% Subject assumed a fighting, martial arts, or boxing stance but did not attack the officer; the most frequent second act was the officer striking the subject with the baton (38%) and this was also the most frequent final act (41%).”

The last one may be a bit misleading, since my first interpretation was: “Subject took a fighting stance, but before he could attack, the officer struck him once and that ended the altercation.” It is far more brutal when you consider that the scenario could equally be interpreted as: “Subject didn’t attack, he clenched his fists and looked angry. The officer struck with the baton repeatedly and met no resistance.” He didn’t have to take the subject to the ground or handcuff him as in previous scenarios because the baton hits were severe enough to knock them unconscious or make them cower.

What to Expect

If you’re in security or policing, you can take those statistics as a straightforward description and train your joint locks and takedowns from the positions described.

If you’re one of my average students, the lessons are buried in the data. If we start with the last scenario, we see that strikes with a baton or your walking stick can be very effective at ending a fight in your favour. If you’re unarmed against a stick or baton, you need to be very careful. If you’re fleeing from violence, make sure you have a good head-start and they cannot chase you effectively: knee strikes and takedowns will give you the space to escape instead of merely running. Finally, you should take these statistics as evidence that joint locks should lead to takedowns, and practice your escapes as well.

If you’re living in a place where there are corrupt or illegitimate police, they may have been trained for these scenarios. Make sure to study these tactics to surprise your assailant and present them with a scenario that they can’t handle.


The study also included the percentages of injuries based on targeting of the attacks. For example: kicking resulted in injuries to the legs (36%), the head (27%), the rib cage (22.5%), and the groin (14%). Although several fractures occurred, the most common injury was a bruise to the legs, head, ribs, or groin. The most common injury suffered in ground fighting was a strained lower back.

Learn Scientific and Peaceful Martial Arts

Although police and security do not officially train in Bartitsu, I believe we share the same goals and many of the same methods: to end violence quickly using proven techniques but without unreasonable harm. We are interested in the safety of all including someone attacking us. In order to do so, we continually study and practice in a realistic and systematic way.

A new Fight Like Sherlock Holmes introductory course starts this week. Sign up for Mondays, Wednesdays or Saturdays for one month of lessons in Bartitsu to learn scientific and practical ways of defending yourself. You can register online here!

David McCormick Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
Read more from David McCormick.