Monday, 25 October 2010

Bartitsu and the Victorian Gentleman...

I went on a jujitsu/kobudo course on Saturday and one of the experiences on offer was the amazing art of Bartitsu! We only spent about 20 minutes on this as a taster, so we didn't even really scratch the surface. However it did whet my appetite to find out more about it.

Bartitsu is the Victorian gentleman's self-defence system. It is also the martial art of Sherlock Holmes. When you search around the Internet you find that there is actually quite a lot written about it and its founder Edward Barton-Wright so I won't re-iterate it all here (there are some links at the end of this post). Instead, I've found a great mini-documentary about it on YouTube which summarises nicely what it's all about:

The basic premise of Bartitsu is that it is a system based on four different fighting systems that are used together to enable you to cover all distances. The main emphasis is on the Vigny cane fighting system at the striking range and  jujitsu (and, secondarily, the "all-in" style of European wrestling) at the grappling range. Savate and boxing methods were used to segue between these two ranges, or as a means of first response should the defender not be armed with a walking stick.

Barton-Wright was clearly a man ahead of his time. One could easily argue that he was the original cross-trainer and the true father of mixed martial arts. He publicised his art through articles, interviews and demonstrations which he advertised as 'Assaults At Arms'. He also organised challenge matches against fighters representing other combat styles.

On Saturday, at our seminar, we learnt a couple of techniques with the 'swagger stick' which is a stick approximately 2 feet long and which was also used in the military as a 'pacing' stick to make sure soldiers were equally paced from each other when standing in line! These locking and striking techniques were similar to the techniques one might learn with a tanbo. We then had a go with a gentleman's cane, learning to stand in 'Gentleman's stance' and 'Swagger stance' before learning some stick defences similar to ones done with a jo. The sensei who was teaching us was very much into the culture of the art and looked very dapper in his waistcoat and cravat!

Then, of course, there's the Sherlock Holmes link. There is reference to the art of 'baritsu' in Arthur Conan Doyle's book, The Adventure of the Empty House. After years of research historians finally agreed that Conan Doyle was referring to the art of Bartitsu and had just misspelled it! Here's a video about the Sherlock Holmes connection and modern practice:

Here's Sherlock Holmes in action with some Bartitsu in the recent Sherlock Holme's film:

When Barton-Wright's Bartitsu club finally closed in 1902 the art was all but forgotten for the best part of 100 years. However, it is making a big revival in the 21st century. Following the discovery of Barton-Wright's original articles in the British Library by Richard Bowen, the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences (EJMAS) web site began to re-publish them in 2001.  They soon attracted a cult following and in 2002 an international association of Bartitsu enthusiasts known as the Bartitsu Society, was formed to research and then revive E.W. Barton-Wright's "New Art of Self Defence". Bartitsu clubs are now popping up all over the place! Here's a video of a 'Victorian self-defence class experience day' , filmed in 2007 (to look Victorian):

I've been fascinated by this Victorian martial art and would love to learn some of the self-defense techniques for ladies with a parasol! I believe Funakoshi effectively defended himself with an umbrella once. Edward Barton-Wright sounds like a remarkable man - a pity he died a pauper, unknown and his martial art all but forgotten during his life-time...

If you want to read more about Bartitsu visit the Bartitsu Society at:

There is also a thorough article about it at Wikipedia:

Illustration at top from:
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Saturday, 23 October 2010

kids having fun!

I had this afternoon free (and all to myself), so I wanted to blog. Unfortunately I had a case of writer's block. So I read all your latest posts, looking for inspiration - alas nothing!

Then I remembered a post I had written a while ago called "Martial Arts block vs Writer's block". I re-read this and decided to take some of my own advice. I had suggested that if you are really stuck try writing in a different genre - a poem for instance.

I was also interested in Micheles latest post on "Should karate class be fun?" . Clearly what children think is fun is not necessarily what Sensei thinks is fun!

With this in mind I decided to write a poem! It's in the style of a Villanelle, though the structure is not perfect (I'm a beginner). Any way here it is:
Kids having fun
They just want to skip and run,
When they should be standing still.
Well at least they’re having fun.

Sensei chants the dojo kun,
Their cups he hopes to fill.
They just want to skip and run.

“Quiet now, the lesson’s begun.”
Their kiai’s are so shrill!
Well at least they’re having fun.

“Listen! Or my works undone,”
Says Sensei with a chill.
They just want to skip and run.

With blocks, strikes and kicks all done,
Sensei starts a drill.
Now at least he’s having fun.

One minute! Then they’ll be gone,
Having dragged Sensei through the mill!
They just want to skip and run
Well at least they’re having fun!

  Not brilliant, I know, but I hope it brought a smile!

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

If I had a pound.......

If I had a pound for every time a martial arts instructor has told me I'm leaning forward when doing kihon or kata moves I'd be a very rich woman by now!
I have been told this by several instructors now so it is obviously a persistent problem. Unfortunately, I don't realise I'm doing it. I don't feel as if I'm leaning forward and when people straighten me up I feel as if my back is hyper extended!
When I'm teaching others I can see the same problem in some of them. In fact I got my young white belts to do some kihon with a bean bag on their head to stop them leaning! However, seeing the same problem in others doesn't seem to help me correct it in myself (perhaps I should try the bean bag trick!).
When I make a big effort not to lean forward when, say, doing an oi zuki, I make an error with my foot or hand position because I'm thinking about my back. Naturally Sensei notices the hand or foot error but doesn't seem to notice that on that occasion my back was straight! (Is there no justice in the world?)
Other errors that I have made along the way have been much easier to correct but this one seems pretty intractable at the moment. I feel very frustrated by this because it must seem like I'm just not listening or taking on board the criticism. I am, I just can't seem to correct it.
I went on a course last Saturday and lo'and behold my 'leaning' was pointed out at least four times. One instructor suggested that I try holding back the shoulder of my hikete arm more and stretch out my 'guard' arm a little further. Well, I will try this, it may work.
Do you have a specific problem with an aspect of your technique that seems intractable at the moment? How do you try to deal with it? Any tips for curing my 'leaning' problem?
If I don't sort this one out soon I may just have to start charging a pound for every time someone tells me........I may as well be a rich 'leaner' than a poor one!
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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Self defence training - are you scared enough?

Do you ever think of why you are doing karate? I expect that between us we have a variety of reasons – general fitness, sociability, sport and competition or maybe we like the aesthetics of martial arts. Some of us may have slightly loftier aims of mental and spiritual development. However, all these goals can be achieved through other types of activity such as aerobics, gymnastics, dance, team sports, yoga or meditational practices. Therefore, there must be another aim that binds us all together – a desire to learn self-defence.

For some of us learning effective self-defence will be the main, overriding aim of training in karate and for others it will be a secondary consideration. How important the self-defence element is to you, may depend on your perception of your risk of being attacked and needing to use it. This will be related to your upbringing, past experiences, job and probably your gender.

If you were brought up in the rough end of town, witnessed or were involved in several street fights and/or work as a bouncer , or, as a woman, you’ve been the victim/witness of domestic violence, then learning karate may be all about self-defence and not much else. However, if you are a middle class housewife who’s never even seen a fight or ever felt threatened by violence in any way, or, a mild mannered man who knows how to stay away from trouble, then your motivation to really learn self-defence may be much lower.

Whatever your circumstances, learning self-defence must be in the back of your mind somewhere because you are reading this blog and you’ve joined a karate club; in which case, you will probably agree that there is no point in approaching the self-defence elements of karate in a half-hearted fashion. Yet many of us do!

However remote the possibility that we may get attacked, if it happens, it may be a life or death situation. You will either get attacked or you won’t – it’s all or nothing. So is there any point in only half-heartedly preparing for such an eventuality, however remote the possibility seems?

There is a Japanese phrase – Ichi-go, ichi-e, which means, “one encounter, one chance”. This is what it will be like if it ever happens to you – you will get only one chance to defend yourself, so you have to make your training count. Do you train as if you are preparing yourself for a real encounter? Are you scared? If you train half-heartedly then you are clearly not scared enough.

So, what is a real fight like? Obviously your attacker won’t hold out their arm or leg six inches from your body whilst you think about what to do with it. Neither will they casually hold onto your lapels and wait patiently for you to respond whilst having a nice chat about something. They won’t let go as soon as you attempt to put a lock on or fall over as soon as you start to push or pull them.

In reality, an attack is fast, furious and unrelenting – at least a man on man or woman on woman attack will most likely be like that. The attack generally consists of repetitive punching and kicking. There will no ‘thinking’ time, no time to use complicated techniques, no time at all. The person who seizes control first will be the winner. You will only seize control if you have trained to do so and practiced to the point where you need ‘no time’ to think.

A man on woman attack is a slightly different scenario. According to crime statistics, the most common ways in which a woman is attacked by a man is by being grabbed. The five most common ways of attack are by variations on the wrist grab or arm and wrist grab. This is followed by bear hugs and strangles. A man rarely starts the ‘fight’ by striking the woman, though striking may come later if the woman needs to be subdued.

So, how will you react if you are attacked? Well, according to the experts in self-defence training, “you will fight as you train”. They also say that, “You won’t rise to the level of your expectations but instead you will fall to the level of your training”. Depending on your attitude to training this will either sound encouraging or alternatively, make you very scared!

Perhaps this is a good time to examine you own attitude and motivation to your training. Take kata for instance. It is said that when a lay person watches a kata performance they should recognise that they are watching a ‘fight’ in progress. Not only that, they should realise that you are winning! Do you perform your kata to win the fight?

Then there’s kihon (basics). Do you ever get bored standing in rows drilling basic punches, kicks and blocks? Maybe you think that you’ve been doing this so long now you can do those kihon combinations with your eyes shut. Good! That means you’re reaching a state of ‘no mind’ (mushin). Remember, you’ll have no time to think in a real fight, a state of mushin is what is required – so keep drilling!

And what about kumite? We do light contact point kumite; it’s not fighting as such, it’s sport. So does it have any value in self-defence training? It depends how you look at it but I think it has a lot of value. It teaches you to deal with confrontation, control your fear, speed up your reaction times, deal with unpredictability and ultimately achieve a state of mushin. The best ‘fighters’ just spar and don’t think but you have to train extensively to reach this mental state.

These three cornerstones of karate: kata, kihon and kumite, all feed into the ultimate aim of self-defence training. So if you are giving your all to these elements of training then it makes sense to give your all to the self-defence element of training too. Remember itchi-go, itchi-e – one encounter, one chance…..make sure you will win.
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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Seienchin kata - calm in the storm

In preparation for my black belt grading next year I have begun to learn the kata, Seienchin. Anyone who knows this kata will immediately remember the lingering pain in the thighs as much of this kata is spent in a deep shiko dachi (horse stance)!

Seienchin is the only kata in our kyu grade syllabus that comes from the Naha-te style of karate in Okinawa. The name of this kata is most commonly believed to mean "Calm in the storm". It seems likely that the kata originates from China and was brought back to Okinawa by Higashionna (Higaonna) Kanryo around 1883. Higashionna spent many years in  Fuzhou, a town in the Fujian province of China and learnt several styles of gongfu or 'monk fist boxing'.  On his return to Okinawa he developed the style of karate known as Naha-te, the forerunner of Goju Ryu karate.

Higashionna had many notable students, including Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu) and Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-Ryu). Both of these masters would have learnt the kata from him and Seienchin kata is preserved in both these systems as well as in Isshin-ryu (Isshin-ryu's founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku, had been a student of Miyagi in his earlier years). Mabuni is generally credited with being the person who took Seienchin kata to Japan when he moved there with his family in 1920. Seienchin is believed to be one of the most conserved kata practiced by different styles.

Seienchin kata is described as having 'Yin and Yang' in its performance due to the contrast between hard and soft or slow and explosive. It is as if the 'storm erupts from the calm phases of the kata'. It utilises very low shiko dachi stances, and the dynamic breathing and block/striking techniques are typical of the Naha-te style.

Here's a video of the Shito-Ryu version of the kata:

 Sources: Seienchin (2nd edition) karate and the kata. Dr Jason Armstrong.
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