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As Wing Chun enthusiasts we are familiar with Robert Downey Jnr's use of Wing Chun in the 2009 movie "Sherlock Holmes". But was the fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle really a trained fighter and if so which art did he train in?

Holmes' (fictional) fighting prowess is brought to light in "The Adventure of the Empty House" published in 1901, in which Holmes explained to Watson that his victory over Professor Moriarty was due to his training in "baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me".


Far from being a fiction Bartitsu (its correct spelling) was probably the first formalised MMA training in the West. (Dependant of course on how one defines "formal" MMA). Created by Edward William Barton-Wright circa 1895, Bartitsu (a combination of his name "Bart" and "itsu" from Jiu-Jitsu) combined Boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, Savate, Fencing, Swiss Wrestling, and "walking-stick fighting".


Barton-Wright was born and raised in India and received his higher education in France and Germany. He professed to having had a "lifelong interest in the arts of self defence".

"I have always been interested in the arts of self-defence and I learned various methods including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters, and by engaging toughs I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application. (Koizumi, 1950)."


It is known that he had studied jiujutsu in at least two styles including the Shinden Fudo Ryū in Kobe and Kodokan judo in Tokyo with Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo, and when he arrived in London from Japan he brought with him the famous Japanese jiujitsu instructors K. Tani, S. Yamamonto, and Yukio Tani.


!n 1899 Barton established what was perhaps the first example of the modern commercial martial arts school in the Western world, the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture. Located in London’s Soho district. It was a well-appointed establishment described as “a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions’ prowling around it like tigers.”

These “champions” included an impressive roster of self defence specialists gathered from around the world. As well as the aforementioned experts in jiu-jitsu, from Europe he brought Professor Pierre Vigny, to teach, among other things, a French system of stick fighting known as "la canne". Vigny was an accomplished professor of Savate, boxing, fencing, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. He served as the fencing master for the Second Regiment of the French Artillery and was, for a period of time, a Professor of Arms at the Geneva Academy of Fencing and cane fighting. From Switzerland came Armand Cherpillod who ran classes in Svingen (traditional Swiss wrestling). Cherpillod developed a career as a professional wrestler. There was also a cabal of fencer/historians led by Egerton Castle and Captain Alfred Hutton, who were devoted to re-constructing the ancient arts of fencing with the rapier and dagger and two-handed sword, and who also taught stage fencing classes to some of London’s acting elite.


As well as organising numerous exhibitions of self-defence techniques Barton promoted tournament competitions at music halls throughout London, in which his Bartitsu Club champions were challenged by wrestlers in various European styles. His primary focus however was self-defence (for the Gentlemen and Ladies) and in this regard his system of Bartitsu was a hybrid of multiple styles designed for effectiveness at multiple ranges.



Barton believed that no one method was sufficient to cope with every possible form of attack, and so intended for the Bartitsu practitioner to be well-rounded, able to shift between different skills and styles as the moment required. His Bartitsu was conceptually divided into a series of four ranges, those of the stick, the foot, the fist, and of close-combat.


Practitioners were encouraged to become familiar with the four major martial arts taught at the Club, each of which corresponded with one of the four ranges, and to develop enough proficiency that they could use any one style against the other if need be. As a result his classes were run according to a type of circuit training model, with small groups of students rotating between specialist instructors.


As well as classes for the general public, there was a certain amount of learning exchange between the instructors at the Club. Barton-Wright took it upon himself to teach boxing to Tani, although he later reported that the jiujitsuka had little aptitude for the sport. He also encouraged Tani and Uyenishi to coach Cherpillod in jiujitsu, in exchange for lessons in Swiss wrestling, so that they might all be better equipped to fight in freestyle challenge matches.


Returning to the present day and Robert Downey Jnrs' portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, while it is true that Wing Chun is evident in the fight scenes there is also ample Bartitsu, which is very evident in the use of Savate style kicks, and slapping or palm strikes which were also common in Savate. 

“The idea was that you use your opponent’s strengths against them. With the use of surprise,” director Guy Ritchie told Vanity Fair in 2009, explaining how bartitsu was incorporated into the fight choreography of the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr.


"Bartitsu, as you are acutely aware, is a mixed martial art involving boxing, ju-jitsu, savate, stickfighting and swordplay that was popular at the turn of the 20th century. In developing our Holmes combat style we wanted to use a neo-Bartitsu that was in keeping with the film’s contemporary aesthetic. To do this we chose to utilize the Chinese boxing that Downey practices as the foundation and also incorporate swordplay and elements of Brazilian ju-jitsu, which Ritchie practices." Richard Ryan, fight choreographer.


As well as Sherlock Holmes, both Doc Savage & The Shadow (DC comic book heroes circa 1940) were trained in the art of Bartitsu.

A Magazine Article

Japanese jujutsu experts

Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi

1/ To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant


2/ To surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength.


3/ 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.

Information presented here was obtained from the website(s) of The Bartitsu Society - & - The Art Of Manliness

6 minute mini-documentary on Bartitsu

A mini-documentary on Bartitsu, a martial art and self defence system founded by E. W. Barton-Wright in the year 1899. 


Bartitsu was a method of cross-training between jiujitsu, savate, boxing and stick fighting; it was the first fighting art to have incorporated both Asian and European styles.


After a few brief years of glory, Bartitsu was all but forgotten throughout most of the 20th Century.

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