Edward William Barton-Wright
|Edward William Barton-Wright|
A montage of techniques from Bartitsu. Barton-Wright is pictured in the middle.
8 November 1860|
|Died||26 April 1951
Edward William Barton-Wright C.E., M.J.S. (member of the Japan Society) (1860–1951) was a British entrepreneur specialising in both self defence training and physical therapy. He is remembered today as having been one of the first Europeans to both learn and teach Japanese martial arts and as a pioneer of the concept of hybrid martial arts.
He was born Edward William Wright on 8 November 1860 in Bangalore, India, the third of six children of railway engineer William Barton Wright and his wife Janet. He had a twin brother, who died shortly after birth.
After returning to England with his family during the 1880s, Barton-Wright was educated in France and Germany. Following matriculation, he worked as a railway clerk before embarking on a career as a civil engineer and surveyor. He worked for railway and mining companies in locations including Egypt, Portugal and the Straits Settlements (modern day Malaysia and Singapore). In April 1892 he legally assumed the name Edward William Barton-Wright.
In a 1950 interview Barton-Wright professed to having had a "lifelong interest in the arts of self defence" and earlier interviews indicated that he had studied various fighting systems during his travels as a young man. While working as an antimony smelting specialist for the E.H. Hunter Company in Kobe, Japan (c. 1895-1898), Barton-Wright studied jujutsu in at least two styles, including the Shinden Fudo Ryū in Kobe and Kodokan judo in Tokyo.
Upon returning to England in early 1898, Barton-Wright combined these martial arts to form his own method of self-defence training, which he called Bartitsu. Over the next two years, he also added elements of British boxing, French savate and the la canne (stick fighting) style of Swiss master Pierre Vigny.
In 1899, Barton-Wright wrote an article titled "How to Pose as a Strong Man", detailing the mechanical and leverage principles employed in performing various feats of strength. He also produced a two-part essay entitled "the New Art of Self Defence" which was published in both the English and American editions of Pearson's Magazine. Excerpts of Barton-Wright's articles were re-printed in numerous British, American, New Zealand and Australian newspapers.
In 1900, Barton-Wright established the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture at 67b Shaftesbury Avenue in London's Soho district. The school offered classes in a range of self-defence disciplines and combat sports as well as various physical therapies involving the electrical application of heat, light, vibration, and radiation. Club members included soldiers, athletes, actors, politicians and some aristocrats. During the next few years, Barton-Wright organised numerous exhibitions of self-defence techniques and also promoted tournament competitions at music halls throughout London, in which his Bartitsu Club champions were challenged by wrestlers in various European styles.
In 1901, Barton-Wright published additional articles that detailed the Bartitsu method of fighting with a walking stick or umbrella.
In The Adventure of the Empty House, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, referred to Bartitsu (misspelled as "baritsu") in explaining how Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in hand to hand combat at the brink of the Reichenbach Falls.
By 1903, the Bartitsu Club had closed down. Subsequently, Barton-Wright mostly abandoned self-defence instruction in favour of his interests in physical therapy, although he was rumoured to have continued to develop and teach Bartitsu privately into the 1920s. Barton-Wright established a series of clinics at various locations throughout London, and continued to work as a physical therapist for the remainder of his career.
His therapeutic business, specialising in the use of various electrical appliances to treat the pain of gout and rheumatism, was viewed with suspicion by the London medical establishment and was subject to bankruptcy proceedings on several occasions during the first three decades of the 20th century. These included a damaging and acrimonious suit brought about by Wilson Rae, a former employee who had become a business rival. Barton-Wright's financial problems were compounded by a series of investments in unsuccessful inventions and other ventures, including an electrical display planned for an Amsterdam music hall.
E.W. Barton-Wright was not included in his father's last will and testament, although he did execute a portion of the will on behalf of one of his brothers, who was named as a beneficiary, in 1915.
Comparatively little is known about Barton-Wright's life during the period 1930-1950. From 1938 onwards, his medical clinic was in his own home, at #50 Surbiton Road, Surbiton.
In 1950, Barton-Wright was interviewed by Gunji Koizumi, the founder of the London Budokwai judo club later that year he was presented to an audience at a Budokwai gathering, as the pioneer of Japanese martial arts in Europe. Barton-Wright died in 1951, aged ninety, unmarried and under circumstances of some poverty, and he was buried in an unmarked grave at Kingston Cemetery in Surrey, England.
It was not until the late 1990s that E.W. Barton-Wright's historical significance was recognised, largely via research carried out by British martial arts historians Richard Bowen and Graham Noble.
Barton-Wright was the subject of dedications in both the 2005 and 2008 volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium and the annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture conference (2011–present) is also dedicated to his memory. His life and career are detailed in the 2011 documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.
In June 2012, Barton-Wright was commemorated via a wall display in the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library and via an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In February 2013 he was featured in the BBC Four Timeshift documentary Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: the Rise of the Martial Arts in Britain.
- Wolf, Tony (ed.) The Bartitsu Compendium. Lulu Publications, 2005.
- Noble, Graham. "The Master of Bartitsu," Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 1999, v. 8:2, pp. 50-61.
- Barton-Wright, E.W. "Ju-jitsu and judo." Transactions of the Japan Society, 1902, v. 5, pp. 261-264.
- Barton-Wright, E.W. "How to Pose as a Strong Man," Pearson's Magazine, v. 7, pp. 59-66.
- Barton-Wright, E.W. "The New Art of Self-defence: How a Man May Defend Himself against Every Form of Attack," Pearson's Magazine, March 1899, v. 7, pp. 268-275.
- Barton-Wright, E.W. "The New Art of Self-defence," Pearson's Magazine, April 1899, v. 7, pp. 402-410.
- Wolf, Tony and Marwood, James. (2006) "The Bartitsu Club."
- Barton-Wright, E.W. "Self-defence with a Walking Stick," Pearson's Magazine, February 1901, v. 11, pp. 130-139.
- Koizumi, Gunji. "Facts and History," Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, July 1950, pp. 17-19.
- "Barton-Wright's Grave Site," February 7, 2007