Fighting Like It's 1899
If you live in the New York City area, you have absolutely no excuse to not check out the Bartitsu Club of New York City. Dedicated to the study and revival of the Victorian art of self-defense, the club meets once a week for three hours of Bartitsu training. Although Bartitsu is a form of mixed martial arts, you do not have to have a background as a martialist in order to pick up these self-defense skills. "We encourage students to outsmart rather than outmuscle opponents," says the club's Director, Rachel Klingberg, who had some interesting information to share for those who are interested in joining the Bartitsu community.
FItness Cult Chronicles: Describe the Bartitsu community - do you find that most members use it as their primary source of physical exercise or as a supplement to another routine?
Rachel Klingberg: In the NYC Club, most of the dedicated students already practice at least one other style of martial arts, although, since Bartitsu is a mixed martial art composed of four styles (Vigny cane, jiu jitsu, savate, and boxing), there is some overlap, particularly with longtime jiu-jitsu practitioners who have taken up the study of Bartitsu. Worldwide, I know of a handful of Bartitsu students who practice it exclusively, but it seems that most students are lifelong martialists who actively practice at least one other style. Martial arts classes are generally a good workout so I’m not sure if they supplement with other forms of exercise. I have met a few Bartitsu students who also practice yoga or walk several miles per day, and of course many practice solo drills at home in-between classes.
FCC: How would you encourage new members to join who are used to a more conventional workout routine?
RK: I would not suggest they abandon their physical fitness routines but rather study self-defense as a supplement to it. The goals of a workout routine and a self-defense class aren’t quite the same. People with rippling muscles who are clearly in great physical shape do not always excel at self-defense training; psychology has more to do with success than physical fitness. Bartitsu was designed as a self-defense system, and fitness is only one aspect of effective self-defense strategy. It certainly helps to be able to outrun a would-be assailant, and stamina is also important in survival situations, but the original Bartitsu School of Arms in turn-of-the-century London didn’t cater to athletes.
Ordinary men and women, mostly of the upper-classes, wanted to learn to defend themselves against street crime without lowering themselves to the brutality of criminals. Bartitsu taught them to defend themselves in a fashion befitting gentlemen; in the 19th century, the implication was that the training, along with superior intelligence and breeding, would allow them to prevail over the common low-born criminal. It was self-defense for the thinking man (or woman). We do not retain the Victorian notions of social class, but we do encourage students to outsmart rather than outmuscle opponents.
FCC: Do you only do seminars in New York City?
RK: Our club only hosts seminars in New York City, but Bartitsu seminars are offered all over the world. There is a very active club in Chicago which we sometimes consider the flagship as the classes are run by Tony Wolf, a key driving force behind the Bartitsu revival. For a martial art, Bartitsu is still relatively rare; we know of only around 20 or 30 clubs worldwide.
FCC: How would one go about becoming an instructor?
RK: There is no formal certification for instructors, but like any martial art, years of study are necessary to gain the experience to teach others. It’s best to have a mentor, although experienced instructors are few and far between, so it does require self-reliance and initiative. Study should include not only physical training but also reading of the original source materials published by Bartitsu’s founder, Edward William Barton-Wright, as well as other historical materials from the same era. Research is encouraged by the Bartitsu community; we are always pleased when someone digs up another turn-of-the-century newspaper article relating to self-defense. Tony Wolf has compiled two handy volumes called The Bartitsu Compendiums that includes the key historical materials – essential reading for anyone who wants to be proficient at Bartitsu, and certainly for anyone who plans to teach it.
FCC: Have you heard back from anyone who attended one of your seminars who was able to practice these self-defense techniques in daily life?
RK: Some techniques are applicable to everyday life – knowing how to fall softly is important for city dwellers, especially in the winter when the pavement is icy and accidental falls can cause serious injury. In terms of defense against assault, I have never heard of any of our students in such a situation, although it’s certainly possible. New York City is one of the safest large cities in the world, and I may never need the self-defense skills I’ve worked so hard to acquire. But it’s much like knowing how to swim – my life may never depend on it, but if I happen to capsize on the Staten Island Ferry, I know I can swim to shore.
Click here to learn more about the Bartitsu Club of New York City and their upcoming training sessions.