How Judo Affected Sherlock Holmes
In October, I described the development of Judo and its interesting founder, Jigoro Kano. A real teacher at heart, Kano dedicated his life to teaching others the benefits of martial arts training in general and Judo specifically. Because of his efforts, Judo was shared with the world and Japanese martial arts went through a renaissance of sorts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, an engineer by the name of Edward William Barton-Wright spent three years living in Japan where he trained in Judo and Jiu Jitsu.
When he returned to England he announced the formation of a “New Art of Self-Defense.” Barton-Wright opened what was arguably the first mixed martial art school in the west in that it ultimately incorporated boxing, wrestling, fencing, Savate, and even the use of the stiletto and cane on top of it’s foundation in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. He called this system “Bartitsu,” a combination of his last name and jiu-jitsu. In 1899, Barton-Wright publicized his art through articles, interviews, and a series of demonstrations; ultimately he opened the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture. During this time, E.W. Barton-Wright stayed in contact with Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) and several Japanese Judo and Jiu-Jitsu instructors travelled to England to become instructors at the Bartitsu Academy.
The Academy was formed at an interesting time in English history. Many commentators expressed dismay in the late 19th century about the increasing physical degeneracy of Englishmen as machines and mechanized transport took the place of manual effort. Alongside this there was widespread alarm at lurid newspaper accounts of the depredations of violent street gangs - Hooligans in London, Scuttlers in Manchester, Cornermen in Liverpool - whose methods did not answer to English ideas of fair play. In the face of this onslaught, many English gentlemen were ready to look overseas for methods of self-defense that had a similar disregard for fair play. Unfortunately, English enthusiasm for martial arts was not enough to keep the Bartitsu Academy open for long, and it closed in 1902.
However, in 1903, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was obliged by popular demand to resurrect his famous detective Sherlock Holmes (his most recent book being published in 1894). And what system of defense was a perfect match for the English gentleman detective? Bartitsu! Unfortunately, the article that the author used for source material incorrectly named it as “Baritsu,” and so for decades many people never recognized the connection between the two. Although Bartitsu largely died out in the early 1900s, it has recently gone through a rebirth of its own starting in the early 2000s and interest in the style was boosted significantly by the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr.