The Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Hoplology and Antagonistics

need to linkify much of this text but here it is in raw form for now — E.W.

BWAHAHA is one way of thinking about, and organizing, a Western Martial Arts (WMA) group. It happens to work well for our participants and in our contex. We don’t pretend that it works as well for everyone and we don’t disrespect, or even disagree with, WMA groups that choose to organize themselves along different lines. In fact, BWAHAHA could not exist were it not for the efforts made by such groups to rediscover and perpetuate the various martial arts in which we are interested.

The “BW” in BWAHAHA stands for Barton-Wright, as in Edward William Barton-Wright, a Victorian railway engineer who founded the Bartitsu Club in London just before the turn of the Twentith Century. Barton-Wright seems to have been a better martial artist than businessman, and so the Club burned brightly for a few years and then died out suddenly, though not before growing famous enough to have been immortalized as the martial art of Sherlock Holmes.

The first “AH” in BWAHAHA stands for Alfred Hutton, an approximate contemporary of Barton-Wright’s, who stood at the center of a major revival of historical swordfighting that swept through the Victorian world. Perhaps the most prominent figure in this circle was Sir Richard Francis Burton, who in his day was generally considered to be the greatest swordfighter in the world, and who is a figure of considerable fascination among some members of our group. Though Burton himself seems not to have founded a swordfighting lineage to which we can attach ourselves, the younger Hutton, after Burton’s death, found his way to the Bartitsu Club and used it, for a time, as the headquarters of his cabal of swordfighters. Thanks to the indefatigable researchers who contribute to, we have an image [TK] that shows members of Hutton’s group fighting with longswords in an exhibition that also includes practitioners of Bartitsu. Since our group began as a historical swordfighting organization, we include Hutton’s initials in its name to signify that, like the members of the original Bartitsu Club, we are trying to practice both the modern, practical, mixed martial art of Bartitsu and more ancient, less practical arts such as medieval longsword under the same roof.

The second “A” in BWAHAHA stands for Alliance. In order for us to realize the goal of bettering ourselves in all of the component arts, it is necessary for us to reach out to a network of martial artists who are far more expert than we in one art or another. Fortunately we live in a time and a city where such expertise is not difficult to find, and we have been lucky enough to make contact with groups who are willing to work with us in a flexible and informal style. Some of us have enrolled as novice students at a local jiujitsu club. Likewise, since Seattle is rife with groups practicing Filipino stick-fighting arts such as Escrima, Kali, and Arnis, we are building an alliance with the Seattle Escrima Club as a way of honing our cane-fighting skills. Academia della Spada, the most senior Western Martial Arts organization in the Seattle area, offers classes in precisely the style of bare-knuckle pugilism that would have come naturally to the members of the original Bartitsu Club, and so we have set up a deal that allows us to learn from their resident expert on the topic. The Single Action Shooting Society, which has an active local chapter, has the know-how and the infrastructure needed to pursue the art of turn-of-the-century revolver shooting in a safe and responsible manner, and by attending their meetings and playing their game by their rules we can begin to develop some of the firearms skills in which many Victorians would have been inculcated and which are explicitly described in Joseph Renaud’s Defense dans la Rue.

Thus, by building an alliance among the most effective local teachers of these arts, we hope to develop our skills more rapidly than could ever be possible if we attempted to go it alone.

The last “H” in BWAHAHA stands for Hoplology, a somewhat archaic and Victorian-sounding term for the study of arms and armor (Greek warriors in the phalanx were known as Hoplites, a word deriving from the same root). And the last “A” stands for Antagonistics, which is the word that the original Bartitsu Club used to denote what we now call Martial Arts (the term “martial arts” did not enter the English language until the 1930’s and is an attempted translation of a Japanese word). With these two words, Hoplology and Antagonistics, we once again encompass the twin traditions personified by Hutton and by Barton-Wright. For Hoplology, though it can refer to any weapon, most often refers to swords and swordplay. And Antagonistics, while it could be applied any martial art, generally means boxing, wrestling, and other forms of unarmed combat.

Anyone who has seriously pursued any of the arts mentioned above will know that a lifetime of study is required to obtain mastery over any one of them, and that BWAHAHA, since it divides its attention among several such arts, can only offer a relatively superficial treatment of any one topic. This we freely admit, and encourage those who would seek mastery of one art to look elsewhere for a satisfactory training environment. But there is something to be said for cross-training among several martial arts, and that is the type of group that we aspire to be. Sword, stick, revolver, pugilism and grappling are our disciplines and the Bartitsu Club is our inspiration and our theme.

3 Responses to BWAHAHA

  1. T.W. says:

    “… Hoplology: the history of arms and armour, their connection and their transitions, plays the most important part in the annals of the world.” Sir Richard F. Burton, 1884, “The Book of the Sword”.

    Burton is considered to have founded hoplology as an scholarly discipline; it remained essentially dormant after his death until it was revived in the 1950s by the famed American martial artist, soldier and intellectual Donn F. Draeger. As far as I know, though, Burton was not directly involved in the late Victorian HES revivalist effort; that was Hutton’s (and Castle’s) baby.

    Several of Hutton’s young proteges identified as members of both the Bartitsu Club and Hutton’s informal School of Arms (which had begun as a HES-centric boys’ club attached to the London Rifle Brigade during the 1880s) and at least one fellow is known to have cross-trained between Bartitsu and Hutton’s “ancient swordplay”.

    Personally, I’m increasingly coming to define Bartitsu per se as a self defence-oriented cross-training methodology applied to c1900 antagonistics, rather than as a fully codified martial art in its own right. Hypothetically, the latter might have been where B-W was heading, but as far as we know he never got there; I think of the modern Bartitsu revival as a means of continuing his work-in-progress, without necessarily attempting to complete it.

  2. E. W. says:

    Thanks Tony. Yes, it’s good to make it clear that, as much as we might wish it were otherwise, Burton was not directly involved in the historical European swordsmanship revival.

  3. Pingback: Despatch from the world of longswords and gambesons | The Bartitsu-as-Lifestyle Experiment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *