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Bartitsu: The Original Mixed Martial Art

By Edited Jan 20, 2015 1 0
Credit: Wikimedia Commons Image

We've all had that conversation; who would win in a fight? A heavyweight boxer against a judo master? An Olympic wrestler versus a Brazilian Jujitsu fighter? Obama in a cage match with Mitt Romney? In the testosterone driven world of the male outlook we want to know who is the best fighter. It's the question that led to the establishment of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior, as well as the continued popularity and success of mixed martial arts as the slightly safer descendant of Rome's gladiatorial days (except with less audience participation and fewer dog fights). What most people don't realize is that this is all old hat to the British, who invented mixed martial arts in the 1880s.

Wait, What?

Yes, you heard that right. England, the tea-sipping, monocle wearing, fastidiously polite society America has been thumbing its nose at ever since we beat up their soldiers with the help of the Atlantic Ocean invented mixed martial arts more than 100 years ago. The style was originally called Bartitsu, and it combined savate (French foot fighting), boxing, wrestling, jujitsu and elements of saber fencing and Irish shillelagh fighting. The name came from the creator, a man named William Barton-Wright whose could have killed a dozen men with his mustache alone.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons Image

How He Did It

William Barton-Wright was an engineer by profession, and given that England was still working on that whole empire project he got sent all over the world building railroads for people who really had no need to go more than a mile or two outside of their villages. When he wasn't tugging on his watch chain and laying iron rails (also with the aid of his excessively manly facial hair), Barton was what we would refer today as a martial arts enthusiast. He'd learned boxing and fencing in England, he'd been to France and when he made it to Japan he was instructed in jujitsu and judo at the Shinden Fudo Ryu. This last set the trend for white guys attempting to master Japanese martial arts, though there were no witnesses that said whether or not anyone dared to laugh at Barton while he trained.

Once he returned to England Barton decided that he'd had enough of this silly engineering business, and he opened up his own martial arts school. The central part of the debate on who had bigger fighting trousers had been located, and it was that every fighting style had an inherent weakness. So Barton cobbled together an invincible martial art that he, in his infinite modesty, named Bartitsu. Barton even publicized his brutal brain child through articles published in 1899, explaining to people just what his bizarre new creation was. It helped that England was being gripped by a fitness craze, and that all of its citizens both at home and abroad were looking for new activities to shape up with. They'd tried boxing, wrestling, sword fighting, swimming, rowing, and even running around and screaming while on fire (England has some very strange sports), and when Bartitsu caught on it caught on big.

It helped that England (ahead of the American curve once more) was gripped by a fear of crime. It was a given that just walking down the street was no longer safe, and that hooligans would do unspeakable things to anyone with the temerity to have money in their pockets. Unless, that is, said person was a master of this latest self defense craze.

So How Come I've Never Heard Of Bartitsu Till Now?

Unfortunately the hay day of the Gentlemanly Art (as Bartitsu came to be known) was short-lived. One day the fighting style was on everyone's tongue; it was even practiced by Sherlock Holmes in "The Mystery of the Empty House" (where Conan Doyle changed the name to Baritsu, because he didn't want to fight Barton even metaphorically over copyright). Almost overnight though Bartitsu slipped out of the public eye as if it had never been.

You know, as health crazes tend to do.

Of course there were and still are die hard fans of the art that still run schools and hold lessons, combining Barton's original recipe with the spices that have been discovered over the years. And now that America has once more caught up to the discoveries of England (what we call Steampunk they typically refer to as last Tuesday), the recent mixed martial arts fad has led to the "re-discovery" of Bartitsu by the masses.

Want To Know More Awesome Stuff?

If you're interested in more cool stuff from the Victorian era then check out this article about the Supercomplication, the most complicated pocket watch ever designed without the aid of a computer!

If you'd rather know more sweet martial arts moves then see how you too can knock someone out in seconds using the Sleeper Hold!



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  1. "Bartitsu." Art of Manliness. 25/12/2014 <Web >
  2. "Bartitsu (Canonical Bartitsu and Neo-Bartitsu)." Full Contact Martial Arts. 25/12/2014 <Web >

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