“Watson May I Borrow Your Mustache For a Moment?”
If you haven’t seen the new Sherlock Holmes flick stop reading this article right now, get in your car and go see it. It is a great movie that has brought back the franchise with a bang.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law play the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson perfectly and Guy Ritchie did an excellent job of directing.
But the best part of the movie isn’t the story, it’s the use of the once forgotten British Martial Art of Bartitsu, kicking ass with the Riding Crop and the classic Cane (one a sword cane) by Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Good on Guy Ritchie for using the same tools and martial arts used by Sherlock Holmes in the books.
Below is a little bit of information on each of these Victorian era weapons and fighting techniques and how you can learn then if you want.
Sherlock Holmes briefly mentioned that he was skilled in Bartitsu in the book "The Adventure of the Empty House" and used its fighting moves to toss Professor Moriartys ass into the Reichenbach Falls killing him.
Bartitsu is a “Gentleman’s Martial Art” that was created by British globetrotting adventurer (and a bit of a hustler) Edward William Barton-Wright. Ed was an engineer that worked in Europe and Asia, after learning jujutsu in Japan and returning back home he created Bartitsu.
Bartitsu Founder Edward William "The Mad Stash" Barton-Wright
Bartitsu is a mix of jujutsu, western boxing, savate (French kickboxing) and canne de combat a French stick fighting martial art.
You Wont Be Needing That Knee Anymore Dude
It was basically a martial art so an upper class gentleman could defend himself from commoners in late 18th century Brittan. Sort of a “Snob-Fu” for rich folk and royalty.
Over the years Bartitsu pretty much faded out of the fighting world, recently a few groups have been trying to bring it back as a historical martial art. Considering that men don’t walk around with Riding Crops, Swords or Canes anymore it really isn’t practical these days.
Bartitsu Cane Stance - Handlebar Mustache Required for proper balance
Lately Bartitsu has been making a bit of a comeback, the Bartitsu Society (formed 2002) teaches seminars in major cities and the original Bartitsu training manuals can be found on Amazon.com. If attending a seminar isn’t possible the closest cousins to Bartitsu are Jeet Kune Do and combatives.
The Cane and Club
Holmes, like all gentlemen in that day and age walked around with a cane despite not having the physical need for one. So for the time it was logical that one would learn how to use a cane as a weapon, especially if you worked in a hazardous occupation or spent allot of time visiting whorehouses in the Whitechapel district of London (Jack the Rippers old hunting grounds).
The martial art used by Holmes to fight with a cane or club is called Singlestick, again this is a French form of stick fighting (I guess they had allot of sticks laying around in France from all of the white flags they wave). Dr. Watson describes Holmes as a Singlestick expert in the Sherlock Holmes books.
I’ll Show those baby Seals Who’s in Charge Around Here
The old school British walking cane isn’t the candy cane shaped cane people use these days. The cane used during Sherlock Holmes time was a short straight cane with a length less than 3 foot long.
Canes of 1800’s England were made with a fat head and solid wood (some were even made from whale tooth) that made it a great choice for discreet self defense.
It is doubtful that there is a Singlestick studio in your town so the closest thing to learning Singlestick or the cane would be the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).
Eskrima, Kali, Arnis de Mano all concentrate heavily on stick fighting. Most cities have a Martial Arts studio that teaches Filipino martial arts or occasionally holds FMA seminars.
Now combine the walking cane with a concealed sword like Dr. Watson carried and you have a seriously deadly weapon. The “Swordstick” (the more common name for sword canes then) was pretty popular with the snooty “tea and crumpets” crowd circa 1800’s Europe.
The swordstick form Sherlock Holmes’s time was usually made with Malacca wood (a lightweight but solid wood from Malaysia), with a stainless steel rapier style blade.
Using a swordstick then was similar to the techniques used in classic fencing, you hold the swordstick single-handedly with your dominant hand wile the weak arm would be held in an L shaped position (like the left turn hand signal).
Sherlock Holmes was said to be a formidable fencer and most likely used fencing as a basis for fighting with a Swordstick.
As far as I know their isn’t a martial art that teaches you to fight with the late 1800’s swordstick, but learning fencing like Holmes would probably be the best choice. You can buy swordsticks on Amazon.com, Cold Steel makes the better quality ones.
The Riding Crop
This is exactly what it sounds like, it is a stick covered in leather used to smack a horse in the ass. Horses and horse drawn carriages were the main means of transportation during Sherlock Holmes’s time, so some guy walking around with a riding crop was as normal as someone walking around with car keys these days.
Oddly the Riding Crop was Sherlock Holmes’s preferred weapon; in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons he actually says it is his favorite weapon.
There isn’t a specific way to beat the shit out of someone with a riding crop outside of S&M, you basically just hit someone over and over again.
Bare Knuckle Fighting
Sherlock Holmes isn’t the first person when people think about boxing skills but Holmes was a skilled bare-knuckle prize-fighter, as shown in this latest movie. It was one of the things he did when he got bored between jobs (along with a nasty blow, smack and morphine habit).
Bare-knuckle fighting is basically boxing where dirty fighting is allowed, stepping on the other dudes foot, spitting and head-buts are all somewhat allowed.
Bare-Knuckle Fighting is actually sort of funny looking, you stand with a straight back with your fists palm up and low (not protecting your face).
If you want to learn Bare-Knuckle Fighting you can check out classic boxing manuals (available on Amazon.com and at Paladin Press) or just hit your local boxing gym.
*Note: I am not a Martial Arts Expert but I do have a Black Belt in Johnny Walker-Fu
————————————————————————————— ~James GJames G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long. He spends his off time in his homes in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns and writing poorly written articles.