The most recognizable element in Bartitsu is walking stick self defense. It is both a differentiator from other martial arts, and unique in shape compared to other stick fighting arts.
However interesting the uses are in Victorian and Edwardian settings such as Sherlock Holmes productions or fantasy settings such as steampunk, it seems to be the least applicable to today’s gentleman.
Since the use of the stick incorporates many movements common to the other component arts of Bartitsu, we look at the integration of the walking stick on the final 2-hour lesson of our introduction to Bartitsu.
If one is interested in Bartitsu as a practical system for the safety of peaceful individuals today, of what value is learning to use the walking stick? I believe that it is not merely for the historical value or as a tribute to the original art.
The reason that walking stick self defense was integral to Bartitsu is precisely because it was a fashion accessory that every gentleman would carry when leaving the home. Ladies would carry a parasol with equal frequency.
Almost every technique with the walking stick can be used unaltered with an umbrella. In Vancouver, carrying a full-length umbrella is almost as ubiquitous as the walking stick was.
Therefore, the usefulness of the walking stick is twofold: to apply it to an accessory you would actually carry, such as an umbrella, and also to understand the value of adaptability to use whatever is to hand to defend oneself spontaneously.
Not Just Crowd Control
The first position to learn is the much under-appreciated bayonet grip. To grip the stick or umbrella in two hands, one near each end, is presented in canonical Bartitsu as a method of dealing with multiple attackers, and as an element in only one other sequence.
The bayonet grip is best when you are surrounded and in close quarters for the following advantages:
- Thrusts can be made in any direction
- Thrusts need little room to be effective
- With two hands on the stick, it is difficult for assailants to disarm you
These advantages are true even against a single opponent when the distance is short. Therefore, if we admit that most fights will go from a longer range to a shorter one, we should not only learn how to incorporate jujitsu into our stick practice, but also switch to bayonet grip when the distance gets short.
Single Handed Victory
At ranges beyond the reach of the hand, the stick should only be used in a cutting action with the reach of one extended arm. A thrust with a blunt stick lacks any strength and is difficult to direct accurately. As the stick is easily disarmed from one hand, it’s important to keep it in motion, and away from the opponent’s grasp.
Historically, Savate included stick fighting, but most practitioners fell into the trap of treating the walking stick like a sword. Admittedly, some sword theory is very relevant to the effective use of the stick, such as striking with the true edge, but the lack of a sharp edge and point and the lack of a guard for the hand require unavoidable adaptations.
Pierre Vigny was the main instructor for the walking stick at the Bartitsu Club. His most important innovation was to recognize that the hand is vulnerable when held in a fencing grip such as “terza” that was used for centuries, since the time of Capo Ferro. Instead, we use the high guard favoured by Lang (left in the picture), or the rear guard favoured by Barton-Wright (right).
In our introductory class, we explore some drills and practical skills with the one-handed guards, as well as the transitions to a close range. The advantage of the rear guard for surprise and mobility is awkward at first, but leads to the best results.
In our ongoing Bartitsu practice, we continue to combine and coordinate the four arts of jujitsu, pugilism, Savate and Vigny’s cane. We also occasionally delve into other improvised weapons and systems that use different non-lethal implements, such as escrima’s short stick, the pen or kubotan, and objects that you may have at hand in a realistic situation.
When you complete Fight Like Sherlock Holmes, just by participating, you should be able to demonstrate the following skills by the end of the course. You will then automatically earn your green sash. There is no test at this level.
Green Sash (Fight Like Sherlock Holmes, 1 month):
- Bayonet position, guards and thrusts
- High guard and inside vertical strike
- Rear guard with slip and counter
- Preemptive strike with follow up of strike or takedown
Once you begin participating in green sash classes, you will have the opportunity to get skills signed off toward your Blue Sash. After a few months, you will likely be ready to test for that rank. The full list of skills is longer than this, but here are the walking stick competencies that will be expected of you:
Blue Sash (3 month minimum, test):
- Using the crook of a cane
- Outside guard
Now once you've been working with us for at least a year, you will be ready to demonstrate a series of accomplishments that set you apart as an intermediate student of the art. Here is what will be desired in a student testing for their red sash, in terms of weapon fighting:
Red Sash (1 year minimum, test):
- Reverse grip strikes, use of the crook
- Locks and chokes with a stick
- Leboucher de Rouen's methods
- Escrima, kali and arnis
- Pen and Kubotan
- Bowie knife
On November 28, we held a rank exam at Academie Duello for candidates in the Mastery Program and the Bartitsu program. The Blue Sash test is in three parts: demonstration of specific skills, reaction to self-defense situations, and sparring. The sparring section is three-minute rounds of jujitsu, followed by kickboxing, and then stick fighting.
Congratulations to our newest Blue Sashes:
- Johann Weiss
- Selman Halabi
- Thomas Boylan
Learn Bartitsu from Scratch
Join us for ongoing training in Bartitsu by signing up for the introductory course Fight Like Sherlock Holmes at Academie Duello. In four weeks, we'll cover the four disciplines of Bartitsu: jujitsu, pugilism, savate and combining them all with walking stick. A new round starts every month, and you can choose a section that fits your schedule: Mondays or Wednesdays 8-10pm or Saturdays 2-4pm.
This is the fourth instalment on Bartitsu's Component Arts. Come back in 2 weeks for the final installment (part 5).