Bartitsu: Sherlock Holmes does martial arts

When I was a young boy, we had a bookcase filled with a wide variety of literature. Most of it was well beyond what could interest me at the time but there was one book that would always draw my attention: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I eventually ended up reading it and liked it a lot. As I grew up, I read the other books and one of the things I enjoyed about them was that Holmes was a gentleman but also a fighter. He could kick ass if he needed to because he practiced boxing, fencing, stickfighting and as it turned out, martial arts:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentioned in one of the books that Holmes practiced a martial arts style called “Baritsu”.

Years later I would find out the style had actually existed but Doyle either misspelled it on purpose or made a mistake as the correct name is “Bartitsu”.

Bartitsu - Sherlock Holmes does Martial Arts

Bartitsu, the martial arts style created by Edward William Barton-Wright and practiced by Sherlock Holmes

Bartitsu was created by a certain Edward William Barton-Wright who lived in Japan for several years and learned martial arts while he lived there. When he returned home, he created his own art, which was a mix of Western and Eastern practices. In many regards, he was a pioneer:

  • He was one of the first (if not the first) to teach Japanese martial arts in the West.
  • He cross-trained and could perhaps even be called the mixed martial artist of his day.

He had some commercial success with it at first but eventually ended up in financial trouble and the art died out. Barton-Wright died a broke and lonely man.

Bartitsu was re-discovered in the early 2000’s but only really shot back into the limelight when Robert Downey Jr. kicked some butt in the Sherlock Holmes and the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows movies. Here’s a fight scene from that second movie: [Read more…]