Tag Archives: Wrestling

The Sherlock Holmes Book of Self-Defence – The Manly Art of Bartitsu

The Sherlock Holmes Book of Self-Defence – The Manly Art of Bartitsu, as used against Professor Moriarty is a fun-filled little book from the Ivy Press, based upon the original Edwardian articles and other writings of E.W. Barton-Wright, the devisor of Bartitsu.The Sherlock Holmes school of Self-Defence: The Manly Art of Bartitsu as used against Professor Moriarty by [Barton-Wright, E.W.]

While it’s a fun read, this delightfully-illustrated little book is practical too, and you might pick up a hint or two on defending yourself.

I spent a couple of decades indulging in martial arts, including Wado Ryu Karate, Kung Fu, boxing, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and Savate (French kick-boxing). Elements of the later two make up much of the ethos of Bartitsu. I’ve used similar techniques in training and the real world – they do work, though you really do need to practice and not just read a book.

Contrary to popular belief, Victorian and Edwardian society was not particularly safe. There were places in town and country where you might be attacked. Personal safety did prey on people’s minds.

Barton-Wright (1860-1951) was an interesting character. He was a consulting engineer by profession, work which took him all around the world, including Japan where he took up Jiu-Jitsu. Returning to London in 1898, Barton-Wright devised the hybrid Bartitsu (named after himself), publishing magazine articles and opening a Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue. It didn’t last long, no doubt because of competition from many other schools of many other martial arts disciplines that became popular at the same time.

It did, however, make its mark on one famous writer – Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. When Doyle brings Holmes back from his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls, Holmes explains to Watson how he escaped the grip of the fiendish Professor Moriarty:

We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of Baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me…

Notice that Doyle gets the name of the art wrong, Baritsu rather than the proper Bartitsu, though this could well have been a proofing error rather than the author’s fault. Interesting to see how widely Barton-Wright’s martial art had become known.

This present book presents us with a number of these techniques, from how to “Deal With Undesirables”, such as evicting a troublesome man from a room, to how to escape when grabbed from the rear or by the throat. There are short chapters on how to fight with a walking stick, dealing with an attacker armed with a knife, how to throw and hold an assailant on the ground, and even self-defence using a bicycle as a weapon.

All very interesting, though if you want to take this up seriously you should perhaps enrol in a club and learn hands-on.

But this little book is a delight and well worth a read for devotees of historic crime fiction.



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Night and the City

Some time ago I blogged on Gerald Kersh’s classic novel Night and the City, https://gaslightcrime.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/night-and-the-city-by-gerald-kersh/

One of the finest novels ever written about London’s Soho and its underworld. Product Details

But today I want to talk about director Jules Dassin’s 1950 film version, perhaps one of the finest examples of film noir ever made. And the first remark I would make is to forget the book entirely. Dassin’s film has only a slight resemblance to the book. Dassin never read it until after he’d made the picture, and Kersh was, perhaps understandably, rather peeved.

However, out of one masterpiece came another. The film, in so very many ways, equals the book in quality. Now a word of warning. There are at least two different cuts of Night and the City, both with different musical scores. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call them the American and British versions. And to complicate matters there are scenes in one that are missing from the other. The British version has a weaker romanticised ending. Personally, I favour the American version and its musical score; the latter seeming more apt for this excursion into noir.

In the novel, the hero, Harry Fabian, tries to pass himself off as an American hustler. In the film the part is played by an American, as an American. Richard Widmark is quite superb as this two-bit hustler, roaming the streets of Soho and the banks of the Thames, and never once seeming out of place. Desperate to take over control of the all-in wrestling scene, corrupt and crime-ridden at that time, Fabian hustles money from night-club owner Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan, in his greatest screen role) and his wife Helen (a menacing Googie Withers).

As the wrestling scene is run by gangster Kristo (Herbert Lom) this puts Fabian in considerable danger. Only the fact that Fabian has gone into partnership with Kristo’s father, an old champion wrestler known as Gregorious the Great, saves him. The old grappler is played by former world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko.  Zbyszko had never acted before, but he gives a wonderful performance, culminating in a graphic bout with the actor and former wrestler Mike Mazurki. Probably the best fictional wrestling bout on film.

It all, of course, goes badly for Harry Fabian, who soon finds himself on the run, with much of the London underworld appearing to be after him.

At one point, Fabian is described as a man for ever on the move, on the run. And Widmark gives a performance where his character is always in motion, hardly ever still, leading up to a terrific chase sequence at the end, through the monochrome streets and bomb sites of postwar London.

The photography is quite superb, depicting a London now lost for ever, beautiful to look at, this film, and benefitting from the stark contrasts of black and white, which adds to the feeling of menace. Monochrome should be used more often in film-making. Colour is not everything, as modern cinematographers should learn.

If there are weaknesses in the film, it is the under-use of film noir regular Gene Tierney, as Fabian’s love interest. She plays so little a part in the story the character might as well not be there. Hugh Marlowe – a grand actor who deserved better parts and more leads than he got – as her neighbour is totally wasted. But these are small flaws in Dassin’s masterpiece.

Dassin was sent to London by Daryl Zanuck to make this picture, to evade possible arrest due to alleged communist sympathies, in the paranoia that beset Hollywood at that time. The director was, rather like Fabian, almost on the run. Because of the political difficulties he was allowed very little hand in post-production editing, though his ideas were taken on board.

This all added up to the creation of a masterpiece, the real-location shooting giving the film a vibrancy and reality which is quite outstanding.

Different from the book? Yes, but the two complement each other is portraying London and its underworld at a most interesting time in history.

To order Night and the City just click on the link below:


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