Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
As everyone knows, Sherlock Holmes, gentleman sleuth and mastermind, died in 1891 at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. In “The Final Problem,” Arthur Conan Doyle describes Holmes struggling with his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty, with both men plunging to their deaths in the end.
Except, as everyone also knows, he didn’t. Holmes returns in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” explaining that he’d been wandering the world for the past three years, traveling to such places as Italy, Iran, and Tibet. (Hmm, reminds me of someone… who can it be?)
And how did he survive his duel with Moriarty? How did he survive the long fall?
Holmes explains that he faked his own death after defeating Moriarty using “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”
There was no such thing as “baritsu,” and Conan Doyle had meant to write “Bartitsu,” the Victorian mixed martial arts.
In 1898, a man named Edward William Barton-Wright returned to Britain. Born in Bangalore, India, in 1860, Barton-Wright had just spent three years living in Japan, during which time he studied Jujitsu in both Tokyo and Kobe. Upon returning to England, Barton-Wright announced that he had developed a new form of martial arts called “Bartitsu,” the name being a portmanteau of “Barton” and “Jujitsu,” with Western fencing and boxing techniques mixed in for good measure.
In fact Barton-Wright adapted Bartitsu for the Victorian social milieu, the key weapon used in Bartitsu being the gentleman’s walking stick. And he ran his own club teaching the art to both ladies and gentlemen from 1899 to 1902.
In 1902, for reasons not entirely clear to posterity, the club ceased to operate. But a number of ladies seemed to have been trained well enough that they would come to form a bodyguard society protecting activists agitating for women’s right to vote. The bodyguards were known as the “Jujitsuffragettes.”
Conan Doyle obviously read or heard about Bartitsu, and he honored Barton-Wright by implying that no less than Sherlock Holmes might have been a student of his at the Bartitsu Club. But there was an obvious problem of chronology: Although Conan Doyle published “The Adventure of the Empty House” in 1903, after the club’s closure, “The Final Problem” was set in 1891, before Barton-Wright ever developed Bartitsu, indeed before he ever went to Japan.
Still, the anachronistic reference might have saved Bartitsu from oblivion. After nearly a century of obscurity, Bartitsu formed part of the fight choreography in the 2009 and 2011 Sherlock Holmes films. Now Bartitsu clubs are cropping up here and there once more.
Read more in the Atlantic and the Art of Manliness.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."