Bartitsu - Sherlock Holmes' Martial Arts Style

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Bartitsu - Sherlock Holmes' Martial Arts Style

Bartitsu is an English martial arts style that combines styles such as English bare knuckle boxing, Savate (French kickboxing), Vigny cane fighting and Japanese jujutsu. It was seen as a "gentleman's" martial arts to use against street thugs. For information on cane techniques, please visit the main Cane Self-Defense Techniques section.

Created in the 1890s, Bartitsu faded into obscurity. Nevertheless, interest in Sherlock Holmes (who was skilled in Bartitsu) has helped to revive this martial arts. Moreover, the Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. has given Bartitsu a further boost in popularity.

Amazon - Books on Bartitsu

History of Bartitsu

According to The Bartitsu Society, "In March of 1899, readers of an article appearing in London’s Pearson’s Magazine were intrigued to learn that a “New Art of Self Defence” had been introduced to their city. The author of the article and founder of the New Art was Edward William Barton-Wright… As detailed in the series of articles Barton-Wright authored between 1899 and 1902, his New Art – which he referred to as Bartitsu – was largely drawn from various ko-ryu (“old school”) forms of jiujitsu. Over the next several years he also incorporated tactics and combat techniques from British boxing, kicking, and a stick fighting style that had been developed by a Swiss Maitre d’Armes, Pierre Vigny. As such, Bartitsu – the word was a portmanteau of “Barton-Wright” and “jiujitsu”, defined by Barton-Wright himself as “self-defence in all its forms” – became the first combat system to combine Asian and European martial arts. Bartitsu was taught at the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture and promoted through a series of well-publicised challenge matches, pitting Barton-Wright’s Japanese and Swiss champions against exponents of various other combat sports. These challenges anticipated the mixed martial arts craze of the 1990s by nearly one hundred years."

Description & History of Bartitsu

Principles of Bartitsu

The primary principles of Bartitsu, as described by Barton-Wright, are:

  • To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant.
  • To surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength.
  • If necessary to subject the joints of any parts of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strains that they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist.

Bartitsu Training

Training begins with a series of quick warm ups to loosen the body. Students learn techniques in jujitsu, French kick boxing, boxing, and cane fighting. Usually an instructor gives a brief demonstration, on a pretend assailant, on how a particular technique works to surprise and puts an opponent off balance by using the body’s control points. Students then practice the techniques individually and with a partner. The classes focus on the sensations of balance and joint locks to understand what is a stable, movable posture and when an opponent has been subdued. Instructors teach Bartitsu techniques so that students can learn self-defense.

Typical Bartitsu Class

  • Warm-ups including exercises for strength and flexibility drawn from the 19th century physical culture repertoire. A number of members of the Bartitsu Society swing Indian clubs as a callisthenic and co-ordination exercise.
  • Technique drills covering basic jujitsu takedowns, throws and locks; boxing punches and defenses; stick fighting attacks and defenses.
  • A representative selection of canonical self-defense sequences and “twist” exercises
  • Several rounds of free-sparring, which can include fisticuffs and low kicking; competitive (submission) jujitsu; stick fighting; and/or “all-in” sparring


  1. Significant Bartitsu content added by Michelle, Blog -, Added - 01/02/15
  2. The Bartitsu Society, How To Set Up A Bartitsu Club,, Added - 01/02/15
  3. The Bartitsu Society, About Bartitsu,, Added - 8/30/13

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