The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence

Author: E.W. Barton-Wright
Publisher: Ivy Press
Subject: History/Martial Arts/Bartitsu
Year: 2011


“The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence” is a slim volume collecting the work of E.W.Barton- Wright and presenting it as originally expounded over 100 years ago.

The book carries the subtitle, ‘The Manly art of Bartitsu’ and it contains 8 chapters covering a wide range of techniques using both open hand and improvised weapons.

This book is a collective repackage of articles that individually would be very difficult to find and purchase but since it was only printed a few years ago it’ll be easy enough to locate a copy at one of the larger online retailers.


This small hardback is slightly under A5 size and 13mm thick. A picture of two men in Victorian era clothing, fighting with walking canes adorns the front cover and gives light to the contents within.

The book starts with a contents page and a quote from the Sherlock Holmes book “The Empty House” where Holmes tells how he was able to slip Moriarty’s grip as they wrestled above a waterfall, using the skills of ‘Baritsu’. As we now know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spelt Bartitsu incorrectly in his books and during the short introduction to this volume, this fact is covered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The introduction also has a short history of E.W Barton-Wright, where and when he was born, how he happened to travel to Japan and ‘became fascinated by Jiu-jitsu’. He spent time there training and on his return in 1898, developed his own self defence system. He published some articles in a magazine and opened the first Bartitsu club in 1900. The introduction is short (less than 2 pages, but crams a lot of concise writing and information into it, nicely setting the tone for the rest of the book.

We then turn to two pages titled ‘Defence for the Gentleman’ where a slightly wider historical context is given to martial arts and particularly jiu-jitsu during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Here we find out that Barton-Wright’s club closed after a couple of years due to finance issues and falling out with his chief Jiu-Jitsuka -that old, stubborn martial arts’ ego and politics are nothing new!

Following this we enter the eight chapters that were originally published so many years ago. Some of the techniques are very sound and are delivered in a way that many would recognize from modern day lessons, others are perhaps less useful, as it is rare to see anyone walking with a cane for fashion these days. As stated previously, some of the techniques are open hand such as grappling or locking joints, whereas others use improvised weapons such as my personal favourite, the bicycle.

There are some strongman parlour tricks included which are a bit of a novelty and as the wording is reprinted exactly, some of the language may cause a smile. I think this is the first martial art book I have read which uses the word “Ruffian” to describe an attacker or assailant!

Once you’ve covered the eight chapters and learnt how to use an umbrella as a weapon, the book abruptly closes with a picture of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes books.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This book is aimed at fans of Sherlock Holmes, and with the television series “Sherlock” having proved very popular around the globe, I believe this book was printed to further the resurgent interest in the fictional detective.

However, the book is also worth looking at as a martial artist. There is a nice element of history, the evolution of improvised weapons, including techniques using an umbrella and a bicycle which would stand up today, along with the presentation of traditional locking and throwing techniques.

You certainly aren’t going to read this book and be armed with lots of new moves, but you may well learn a couple of different techniques worthy of practice.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this. I learnt something while being simultaneously humoured by the language used and the sort of situations people may have found themselves in at the turn of the 20th century. While this book may not be aimed specifically at us, I would urge you to buy or borrow a copy as it’s an interesting read.

If you’re a fan of both Sherlock Holmes and martial arts, then this book is well worth a look to learn the techniques. There is some useful guidance in its pages, but it’s perhaps a little on the short side!

Book Rating: 9/10

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Favourite Quotes

  • “You are riding along a country road, when suddenly you are startled by a man who springs in front of you from the hedge, and attempts to grab your machine. You should instantly spring backwards off your machine, and by pulling at the handle-bars, cause it to rear up on its back wheel. You are now face to face with your assailant, with your machine standing up perpendicularly before you. You may retain your hold of the handle-bars with both hands, or place your right hand on the saddle – in either case you have perfect control over your machine, and may run it backwards or forwards before you, to the right or left, as you desire. Your adversary will jump back from sheer surprise and thus lose balance. Seizing this opportunity, you should take a sharp step forward and hurl your machine at your assailant.”
  • “Envelop his head and arms by throwing your coat at him, with a sweeping, circular motion of the arm. This will obscure his view momentarily, and will give you plenty of time to deliver your attack. While he is still enveloped in the folds of your coat, slip round behind him, seize him by the right ankle, and push him under the shoulder blade with your left hand. You will thus throw him very violently upon his face, and in his endeavour to break his fall and protect his face he will put out his hands, and involuntarily drop his weapon.”
  • “When a man seizes you by the lappets of your coat, he overlooks the fact that in this method of attack his face is left undefended. Your first movement will be to strike him in the face with your right fist. This advice may seem unnecessary. It is not, however, so often followed, for the chances are that when the occasion arises to which it applies, you will follow the natural and instinctive desire to free yourself by placing your hands upon your opponent’s arms and pressing against them, which is as feeble as it is an unavailing method of resistance.”
Stuart Grimes

Stuart Grimes is a fan of all martial arts. He has studied Shotokan Karate for a few years as a teenager and also taken classes in Judo, boxing and Kickboxing. His children have inherited his love of martial arts and currently train over 12 hours a week, incorporating Chin Woo Kung Fu, Gymnastics and Sport Karate. His eldest two children compete regularly and either hold or have held English, British or European titles in the WTKA, WKU, ISKA, WKKC, WMO, WMKF and WKC, as well as a Unity International Games title.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Kung-fu Kingdom