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The Forgotten Golden Age of MMA - Part III: Sherlock Holmes, Les Apaches & the Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence

Cageside Features Guest Columnist John S. Nash brings us part three of a fascinating four-part series shining a gas light on the forgotten golden age of mixed martial arts, an age that existed during the Belle Époque.

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Le Petit Journal - L'Apache Est La Plaix De Paris - via

This is a recently revised article, which was originally cross-posted at our fellow SBNation Blog, Bloody by Cageside Features Guest Columnist John S. Nash on Aug. 22, 2011 [†]

This is part three in a four-part series shining a gas light on the forgotten golden age of mixed martial arts, one which existed during the Belle Époque.

For the previous installments in this series, check out "Part 1: The Golden Age of Wrestling and the Lost Art of American Catch-as-Catch-can" and "Part II: The Rise of Judo & the Dawn of a New Age".


When the Ultimate Fighting Championship came on the scene in 1993, it was originally about seeing which martial art was the best of all fighting arts. In short, the answer then was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And the best exponent competing at the time was Royce Gracie, having been champion for three of the first four UFCs.

Today, the best art is not any one particular discipline, but a combination of the best of two or three arts: particularly boxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. And UFC has helped to refine martial arts worldwide. It's a little tough for the traditional martial artists to swallow, because one system doesn't do it. You've got to cross-train in many different systems.

- Dana White

One of the more interesting byproducts resulting from the explosion in popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the mixed martial arts, has been the ascension of cross-training and hybrid fighting systems over the traditional disciplines which had previously ruled in the world of unarmed self-defense. The very nature of the sport of MMA dictates that a participant could no longer narrowly focus on a single discipline, but instead, had to be ready and able to engage wherever or however hand-to-hand combat came about, be it striking or grappling, be it standing or on the ground.

Interestingly enough, Dana White doesn't credit mixed martial arts or the UFC with sparking this revolution; instead giving that honor, along with the title of "father of mixed martial arts", to the legendary Bruce Lee.

If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away.

One cannot help but marvel at the foresight and innovation Bruce Lee displayed when he founded Jeet Kune Do in 1967. Here, was a martial art that combined many of the different disciplines from the East and West - wrestling, boxing, kung fu, fencing, karate, and more - and then systemically pared it down to the best techniques each had to offer. A martial art so analytical in its approach, that it introduced the four ranges of combat - with the ranges being kicking for long range, punching for medium, trapping for close, and grappling for ground fighting - which so perfectly described the different spheres of combat within mixed martial arts, that this division is still commonly used today.

As amazing as it seems, he conceived all of this more than twenty-five years before the first UFC event was ever held.

What is even more amazing is that a couple of other martial arts accomplished all of this as well... and did so almost 70 years before Bruce Lee even conceived of Jeet Kune Do.


In 1898, a 38-year old Edward William Barton-Wright returned to the homeland of his Scottish mother and Northumbrian father, having spent his lifetime, with the exception of a few years in the 1880s, abroad. He had been born in Bangalore India, educated in Germany and France, and then operated railroad and mining concessions in Spain, Portugal, Egypt, the Straits Settlements of Southeast Asia, and beyond. It was during this long period as a well-traveled expatriate that he picked up an extensive knowledge in the martial arts:

I have always been interested in the arts of self-defence and I learned various methods including boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate, and the use of the stiletto under recognised masters, and by engaging toughs I trained myself until I was satisfied in practical application.

- E. Barton-Wright as interviewed by Gunji Koizumi, "Facts and History," Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, July 1950

Examples of such practical applications included the times he had "repeatedly been attacked during a long residence in Portugal by men with knife or 6-foot quarter-staff, and have in all cases succeeded in disarming my adversary without being hurt myself."

Prior to his return to England, he had been working as an antimony smelting specialist for the E.H. Hunter Company in the Empire of Japan (being listed in the Japanese Directory at the beginning of the years 1895, 1896, and 1897).

According to Barton-Wright, it was "during my three years' sojourn there, I studied Ju-jutsu under a local teacher in Kobe who specialised in the Kata form of instruction. I then met Prof. J. Kano, who gave me some lessons."

It was after this introduction to jujutsu that Barton-Wright, with his extensive and eclectic background in both Eastern and Western martial arts, found himself "seized with the bright idea of combining the self-defence of all nations into a system that, when properly acquired, should enable a man to defy anything but firearms or a sudden stab in the dark." And so, on November 26 of 1898, he registered something called "Bartitsu" Ltd. as 'Company 59684' with the London Board of Trade.


The peripatetic Barton-Wright had returned to an England whose citizenry was very receptive to any new art of self-defense, especially one that, according to the December 1900 Black & White Budget, "has been devised with a view to impart to peacefully disposed men the science of defending themselves against ruffians or bullies"; for the whole of the British Isles were in the grips of a Hooliganism panic.

The gentlemen and women of London, Dublin, Liverpool, and Manchester all lived in mortal fear of the Hooligans, Cornermen, Garrotters, and Scuttlers that populated the lurid headlines of the daily papers and tabloids, with new outrages being declared with every edition.

It mattered little that the London Police Court Commissioner described the whole thing as "press manufactured hooliganism" or as Patrick MacIntyre, a former member of Scotland Yard, told the South London Chronicle in the August 27th, 1898 edition, that the papers were in their "silly season" and were focusing on Hooligans "as a suitable and sensational means of filling their columns at the present moment." To the public at large, Hooligans lurked around every corner.

To capitalize on this climate of fear, Barton-Wright hastily set up a demonstration for the staff of Pearson's Magazine, where he bested Erik Chipcase, the amateur champion of Cumberland and Westmoreland style of wrestling, in several challenges. Convinced of the legitimacy of his claims, the publishers opened their magazine's pages to him, where - after penning "How to Pose as a Strongman" - he wrote a pair of articles in March and June of 1899, detailing some of the techniques "that comprise my New Art of Self Defense, to which I give the name Bartitsu."

And what was this "Bartitsu"?


As explained on the stage every night by (Bartitsu's) introducer:

"There is a secret method of wrestling known, and very covertly practiced, in Japan, and that is called jujitsu - the word "jitsu", freely translated, meaning "to a finish".

The "Bar" comes in - as part of the name of Mr. E. W. Barton-Wright, who has invented this scientific self-defense, adapting endless points from schools of wrestling in nearly every part of the world; adapting also the peculiar Japanese art which was permitted to be shown him, as the rarest favour, in Japan; plus a something - I am sorry not to be more definite, but it is so comprehensive and so complicated, that I am bound to call it a "something" - inherent to the mind and personality of Barton-Wright, the man himself.

- "The Bartitsu Club" Health and Strength Magazine, January, 1901

In those early days, Bartitsu, as presented to the public by Barton-Wright, seemed little more than jujutsu by another name (and a poor translation). Almost all of the methods demonstrated in his Pearson's Magazine articles were taken directly from the Japanese art, with the sole exception being a Parisian street-fighting technique of using one's coat to disarm an opponent.


In addition, the very principles of Bartitsu, as detailed in the second of the two articles, borrowed heavily from Kodokan Judo:

(1) To disturb the equilibrium of your assailant; (2) to surprise him before he has time to regain his balance and use his strength; (3) if necessary, to subject the joints of any part of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strain which they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist.

That he should focus on jujutsu when introducing his new "antagonistic" (the term martial arts and combat sports were known for during the Victorian and Edwardian period) should come as no surprise. At the time, it was unknown and exotic, the perfect combination for capturing the public's imagination. But in truth, jujutsu was to be but a component of Bartitsu and not the whole. Soon, Barton-Wright, through his writing and live demonstrations, was expanding on what really entailed "self defence in all its forms":

When he spoke of Bar-titsu, he therefore meant real self-defence in every form, and not in one particular branch. Under "Bar-titsu" he comprised boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking-stick as a means of self-defence in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers. Ju-do and Ju-jitsu, which were secret styles of Japanese wrestling, he would call close-play as applied to self-defence.

- "Ju-Jitsu and Ju-do", Transactions and Proceedings of the Japanese Society, London, Volume 5

Bartitsu was thus an eclectic martial art, borrowing from several disparate disciplines from the East and West: English boxing, French savate, Japanese jujutsu, European wrestling and la canne.

The pugilism was taken mostly from scientific boxing, best exemplified by "Gentlemen Jim" James Corbett, where the punches are straight, with the fist kept parallel to the ground, and the jab is liberally used. Strikes were often thrown while "marching" or "shift punching", using one's forward momentum to close distances and gain power with the objective being, to hit, while not getting hit.

The savate was of both boxing française and la lutte parisienne or "street fighting" and all the "dirty tricks" that entailed. The kicks used were supposedly modified from what was used in savate, which, according to Barton-Wright, were "quite useless as a means of self-defence when done in the way Frenchmen employ it". Although, this statement may owe more to English biases than any actual fact.

The jujutsu was, in the beginning, mostly of Shinden Fudo-ryu with a sprinkling of Kodokan Judo, and included many atemi-waza techniques. Later, Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, Daito-ryu, and Fusen-Ryu were added to the repertoire.

The wrestling was of both Catch-as-Catch-can, of the all-in, "anything goes" style, and Swiss schwingen, which as a sport resembled judo, in that contestants compete standing, attempting to "throw" each other to the ground, instead of working for a pin.

Stickfighting was assimilated last, after Barton-Wright was introduced to the French master-of-arms Pierre Vigny who had developed his own defensive la canne that employed the walking stick and umbrella. All of these were to not only be taught individually, but to also be integrated into an all-encompassing martial art:

In order to ensure, as far as it was possible, immunity against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, (one) must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body, which were scientifically attacked. The same, of course, applied to the use of the foot or the stick ... judo and jiu-jitsu are not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but [are] only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters, it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

- Barton-Wright, "Jiu jitsu and Judo: the Japanese Art of Self Defence from a British Athletic Point of View", February 1901


Bartitsu was "not intended to take the place of boxing, fencing, wrestling, savate, or any other recognized form of attack or defence. This, however, is claimed for it - it compromises all the best points of these methods." Instead, according to The Black & White Budget (December 29, 1900):

Bartitsu therefore resolves itself into this: if one gets into a row and plays the game in the recognised style of English fair play - with fists - the opponent will very likely rush in and close, in order to avoid a blow. Then comes the moment for wrestling in the secret Japanese way. Instantly, the unwary one is caught and thrown so violently that he is placed hors de combat, without even sufficient strength left to retire unassisted from the field.

The implication from this, and other works, is that when in a fight, one was to use each of the individual components as the situation warranted, segueing between them as the fight progressed: the walking stick at a distance, savate and boxing as the antagonist closed in, and finally jujutsu and wrestling for "close play".

Edward-Barton also had an intense interest in physical culture and therapy, and would often recommend elector-therapy along with a regiment of calisthenics and dumbbell, iron wand, or Indian club exercises. The result was that "Bartitsu also comprises a system of physical culture which is as complete and thorough as the art of self-defence."

Barton-Wright found enough early success and enthusiasm, that by the summer of 1899, he opened the Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, with the Baron of Desborough, W.F. Grenell, an early convert, consenting "to be the President of the Bartitsu Club."

The list of prominent members included Captain Alfred Hutton of the King's Dragoon Guard, who led a group of historical fencers and taught stage combat to actors at the club; Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, who later gained infamy for being one of the few adult male survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic; the future Olympic fencer Captain Stenson Cook of the London Rifle Brigade School of Arms; and Captain F.C. Laing of the 12th Bengal Infantry, who would later pen the 1923 manual "The Walking Stick Method of Self-defence". Women were also admitted to the club, with specialized self-defense courses offered to them, which, while excluding boxing, included instructions in savate, Vigny's stickfighting, and jujutsu.

The Bartistu Club itself, which was located at 67b Shaftesbury Lane in the Soho District, was described by Mary Nugent in the pages of Health and Strength Magazine as "...a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions' prowling around it like tigers."

A clinic attached to the club, also offered its members the most advanced services in electro-therapeutic technology: the Nagelschmidt Apparatus, Ultra-Violet Ray Lamps, Light Baths and Thermo Penetration Machines, which were all available to the Club's members.


The most impressive feature of the Bartitsu club, was the collection of "champions" whom Barton-Wright had assembled to serve not only instructors, but as participants in the various "Assault-at-arms" he staged, to demonstrate the effectiveness of what he billed as, the "gentlemanly art of self-defence."

Amongst these "champions", were such luminaries as the French Professor of Arms, Mon. Pierre Vigny, and the "Little Swiss" Armand Cherpillod.

Vigny, bringing with him his own theories of eclecticism in self-defense, served as the club's Chief Instructor, teaching savate as well as his own system of la canne, which he perfected by "going into the purlieus and worst localities of Geneva and other large towns", where local toughs "obliged him with as many free fights as he wanted". The hulking Cherpillod, often credited as the Swiss Champion of the Continent, was hired as the physical instructor and wrestling coach, focusing mostly on his native schwingen and Catch-as-Catch-can, which he was now combining with jujutsu techniques. These two were joined on the staff by several Japanese judokan.

In late 1899, it was reported by The Daily Iowa Capital that Barton-Wright "was going to Japan to secure instructors in certain styles of wrestling." In truth, he never made the trip... instead, writing to Professor Kano Jigoro to ask for assistance in finding suitable jujutsu practitioners. Kano in turn, helped arrange for S. Yamamoto, K. Tani, and his 19-year old younger brother Yukio Tani to travel to London, with the three of them arriving in autumn of 1900.

Yamamoto and the elder Tani would last less than a year before returning to Japan, being unwilling to take part in the music hall performances that Edward-Barton used to demonstrate Bartitsu, viewing it as beneath them -- and degrading to their art. The youthful Yukio Tani apparently had no such qualms, and was soon joined by a 20-year old Sadakazu Uyenishi, who had arrived to replace his departing compatriots,

Soon after his Pearson's Magazine articles appeared, Barton-Wright had begun holding "Assault-at-arms" for the skeptical public. The typical such "performance" usually involved demonstrations in stickfighting and jujutsu, feats of strength (usually by Tani) taken from Barton-Wright's knowledge in strongman tricks, and several challenge matches against fighters representing the various other "antagonistics" of the era.

An account of one such event was given on November 30, 1901 by The Illustrated London News:

The various methods of self defence adopted by followers of the "Bartitsu" system were demonstrated at their School of Arms on Nov. 23, when they were opposed by English and Continental wrestlers and boxers.

Great interest was aroused by the contest between a professional wrestler in the Cornish and Devonshire style and Uyenishi, champion light-weight wrestler of Osaka. The Japanese won each of the three throws. A professional boxer defended himself against the school's "savate", with an indecisive result.


While most the competitions involved his foreign fighters, Barton-Wright occasionally participated himself. At one such event at St. James's Hall, he reported that he "challenged anyone to attack me in any form he cared to choose. I overcame seven in succession in three minutes. All were fourteen stone. Through this feat I received a Royal Command from King Edward the Seventh." (Koizumi, 1950)

Unfortunately, for Mr. Barton-Wright, his Royal performance was derailed in the form of a hand injury resulting from an encounter with two ruffians during a bicycle excursion to the Kentish coast. The two men had tried to block his path, and he was forced to spring off his bicycle, winding the first attacker with a shoulder strike and felling the other with a punch, which in turn broke his hand.

It was as at some point during this time, while Bartitsu was attracting a great deal of attention with the public and the periodicals, that it would gain its most famous practitioner - the "World's Greatest Detective", Sherlock Holmes.


He drew no weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu [sic] or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went.

- Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Empty House by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Even though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had somehow misplaced a "t" it is apparent that he is referring to Barton-Wright's Bartitsu. That he would be familiar with it should come as no surprise, for Doyle was writing at Pearson's Magazine at the very same time that the "New Art of Self-Defence" articles were being published. The misspelling can thus easily be attributed to either a simple mistake, or as a means to bypass any potential copyright violations.

That Sherlock Holmes was knowledgeable in something like Bartitsu should also come as no surprise, for the detective has a long and detailed history of being a skilled combatant, describing himself in "A Study in Scarlet" as "an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman". He demonstrates these abilities in both the "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client", where Holmes engages several opponents with singlestick, and in "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", where he describes how he put his pugilism skills to use by ending a bar brawl with a "straight left against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart."

In fact, Holmes's boxing skills are so great, that in "The Sign of the Four" a champion prize-fighter, who had previously tangled with him in an amateur bout, declares that he has entered the wrong profession. "You're one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high, if you had joined the fancy."

Ironically enough, as "baritsu" was gaining literary immortality with the publishing of "The Adventures of the Empty House" in 1903, Bartitsu as a martial art was no more: the club's doors had shut; its many instructors and members having gone their separate ways. Barton-Wright himself would turn his attention to the physical therapy business, offering various treatments of questionable merit, but would find no more success in these ventures than he did in the previous one. Eventually, he would die penniless at age 90; to be buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.

Many reasons have been given for Bartitsu's failure. Rival William Bankier blamed Barton-Wright himself for its collapse, claiming he was a poor promoter whose exhibitions he described as "farcical, and the demonstrators as knockabout comedians". Bankier cited as evidence, an event held at St. James Hall in December of 1901, and the terrible write-ups it received in London afterwards.

Another possible reason, given by former student Percy Longhurst and others, is that Barton-Wright had greatly overestimated the number of Londoners willing to pay the large fees necessary to keep such an expensive club and its high-priced staff in business.

Whatever the reasons, Bartitsu as a form of self-defense (Barton-Wright would continue to recycle the name for his other ventures) was no more. But even with so brief of life and one soon to be forgotten to the world at large, it would prove to have made a deep and lasting impact. "It was Mr. Barton-Wright", as former student Percy Longhurst wrote years later "...who first introduced the system into England; he it was who first brought over Tani and Uyenishi, the two Japanese who gave the first music-hall exhibition of the art."

This legacy, begun by Barton-Wright, would be continued and expanded on even further by his former professors and students.

Armand Cherpillod, the physical instructor, turned to professional wrestling upon leaving the club, incorporating the jujutsu taught to him by his fellow professors to great success in catch-as-catch-can wrestling. Eventually, he returned to Switzerland, and played an instrumental part in introducing jujutsu to Germany, as well as other countries on the European continent.


In 1903, only months after the closing of the Bartitsu club, Pierre Vigny would open, "The New School of Self-Defence and Fencing Academy", located first at number 18 Berner Street in London before moving to number 2, Hinde Square. Here, he would continue with his eclectic approach to martial arts, offering instruction in "boxing, la savate, fencing, walking-stick, with tricks and counters in wrestling" until 1912, when he returned to Geneva to establish another school.

For the first few months after Pierre Vigny opened his academy, Sadakazu Uyenishi served as the jujutsu instructor before he too opened his own dojo, the "School of Japanese Self Defence" at 31 Golden Square, Piccadilly Circus. He earned an excellent reputation as a teacher, being hired, along with M. Vigny, as a hand-to-hand combat instructor at the Aldershot Military School, as well as being an early and strong proponent of teaching "lady exponents of ju-jitsu".

Vigny would gain fame wrestling professionally under the name "Raku", an alias he also used when he co-wrote theText-Book of Ju-Jutsu with his student, E.H. Neslon.

Uyenishi would move back to Japan in 1908, turning his school over to another student, William Garrud, a university physical culture trainer and former member of the Bartitsu club. Garrud would also be a founding member of the British Jiujitsu Society, who went on to write The Complete Jujitsuan in 1914, which would become a standard reference book in England for years to come.

William's wife and fellow Bartitsu club member, and pupil of Uyenishi, Edith Garrud, served as the women's and children's instructor at The Golden Square School, while also helping popularize jujutsu by writing several articles and performing live exhibits. She even had a feature role in the short film Jiu-jutsu Down the Footpad. She may be best remembered for her part in the Suffrage Movement, having trained The Bodyguards -- the 25 women who were sworn to protect the leadership of the Women's Social and Political Union from assault or arrest during the time of the Cat and Mouse Act.

Yaki Tani, the youngest of the Champions, actually left the Bartitsu Club before its doors closed, having had a falling out with his employer over, according to Barton-Wright, Tani's inability to keep appointments. Tani would go on to work with the previously mentioned promoter William Bankier, who was better known as the strongman "Apollo, the Scottish Hercules." With Bankier as his manager, Tani become a major star in the field of professional wrestling, finding ample success in the variety halls of London.


Tani also worked as a jujutsu instructor in his spare time, with many of his students having illustrious careers. Percy Longhurst, another former member of the Bartitsu club, was also a founding member of the British Jiujitsu Society, as well as author of Jiujitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence (1906). Bill Underwood would go on to found the unarmed military combative systems of Combato and Defendo.

Another student of Tani's was the French fencer and Savateur, Jean-Joseph Renaud, who spent every day - sometimes twice a day - during the Summers of 1905 and 1906, studying jujutsu at the "Japanese School of Self-Defence".

Afterwards, he would take these newfound skills back with him across the Channel, where he would put them to good use battling a menace even more fearsome than that of the London Hooligans, a menace who would instigate a revolution in the traditional fighting discipline of savate and the development of new eclectic martial arts.


The Gay Paree of the late 19th century and early 20th century was a much darker and dangerous place than the one Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald were strolling through a mere generation later. The population had exploded in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, as poor rural workers migrated to the city and its factories, creating slum neighborhoods almost overnight.

Even worse, in the aftermath of the Semaine Sanglante which toppled the Paris Commune, an atmosphere of anarchy and lawlessness prevailed, greatly exacerbating the tensions between the working class and bourgeois. It was in this environment, that the gamins from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables grew up in, to later become the scourge known as "les Apaches".

There are many different stories as to how the name "Apaches" came to be applied to the criminal gangs of Paris during the Belle Époque.

In one, it began with a newspaperman's report of an altercation in the Montmartre section, writing, "the fury of a riotous incident between two men and a women rose to the ferocity of savage Apache Indians in battle". In another, it followed the discovery of a man so brutally tortured in the Faubourg du Temple that the incident was given the headline, "Crime Committed by the Apaches of Belleville". Alternatively, in a third possibility, it came about at the Belleville police station, where, after listening to a young ruffian named "Terror" recite the long list of outrages committed by his gang, an exasperated interrogator finally exclaimed "you behave like Apaches!" The young hoodlum was pleased with the name, "Apache it is!" Thereafter, "they came to be known as ‘Apaches de Belleville'. Soon, we had tribes of Apaches around Paris, and from then on, the word stuck".


No matter the origin, the term "Apache" was quickly embraced by the outlaws and adopted by the police, newspapers, and the public at large, when describing the brigands that infested La Ville Lumière, and whose crimes now blared daily across the headlines: "Apaches Terrorize Paris", "Paris Gang of Murderers", "A Bloody Execution in Central Paris".

The typical Apache was a pimp, swindler, and thief, whose chief prey was "‘les noctambules". They spoke their own argot, a language of street slang incomprehensible to authorities or any potential law abiding victim, and possessed their own code of justice that demanded harsh punishment upon any treacherous members. They were identifiable by their preferred ensemble: a pair of freshly polished yellow boots with gold buttons worth killing over; a colored scarf around their neck indicating which band they swore allegiance to; a pair of trousers, tight at the knees and flared at the bottom, known as a Bénard; a striped sailor shirt which was so synonymous with their dress that hence became known as, "an Apache shirt".


And for les Apaches, no crime was too outrageous, be it the robbery and murder of an elderly widow, the killing of a cabman and assault on two police officers in broad daylight, or the attacking of firemen who dared try to extinguish the arson fires they lit.

In perhaps their most infamous incident, "the Place de la Bastille was the scene of a veritable pitched battle between them and the police that surpasses anything heretofore dreamed of". It began when two opposing bands of Apaches met, and:

"a pitched battle with knives and revolvers took place, during which three Apaches were killed and seven wounded. The fighting spread to the neighboring streets and cafes".

"Eight policemen, requisitioned by the frightened shopkeepers, tried to separate them. Then what always happens, happened. The thugs at once forgot their personal differences to make common cause against the "agents"...

"So it happened that for a full hour, the Place de la Bastille in central Paris was a bloody battle ground on which the police did the bleeding. From a dozen tough bars came reinforcements to the Apaches."

Soon it was reported that over a hundred more had joined their fellows in combat.

"Of the eight original policemen, six were finally carried to the St. Antoine Hospital, and all with bullets somewhere in them; and the battle would have ended in the triumph of the toughs had not policemen off duty, plain clothes men, detective inspectors, soldiers and firemen come to the rescue. Nine wounded Apaches were left on the ground by the fleeing bands."

- Excerpted from the National Police Gazette, Evening Post of Wellington, New Zealand and Le Petit Journal Illustré.

That les Apaches were dangerous opponents, there is little doubt, for when they entered battle they did so armed with a wide assortment of unique and deadly weapons:

"They fight with knuckle dusters, called "American punches," with blackjacks, leaded canes, sword canes and revolvers. But their real favorite weapon is the long, thin, sharp knife called the "zarin" [sic] Which they handle with a ripping stroke."

Besides the "surin", they had a knack for turning common items, such as bodkins and scarves, into instruments of violence, and wore ingeniously designed studded rings, being fond of a particular design called the "thorn puncher".


Their most infamous weapon was a peculiar gun known as the Apache Revolver or "daisy" in their argot (since it opened up like a flower), which could work as a gun, knife, or brass knuckles. Armor was occasionally donned by them as well, with one Apache arrested wearing "sleeves and wristlets of brass, which bristled with keen points, so that policemen in the mere act of attempting to seize him were sure to inflict severe injuries upon themselves."

When unarmed, les Apaches were only slightly less dangerous: they practiced their own codified system of street fighting, which had developed out of savate and la lutte parisienne. Savatte (its original spelling, meaning "old boot") was the old fighting style of the slums, its origins supposedly lying with a French law, which held that one's fists were to be considered a deadly weapon during any assault.

To circumvent the law, toughs took to using open hands and feet, with slaps, backhands, and eye-pokes taking the place of the fist and the pointed toes or hardened heels of their boots being used as weapons to deliver plenty of kicks, stomps, and purring. It was introduced to the wider world by famed criminal and criminologist Vidocq, who studied it in 1797 while he was waiting in Bicêtre prison for his transfer to the Brest penal colony.

Eventually, the police in Paris attempted to stamp down on savate (as it was now known) by requesting and obtaining a new law that sentenced anyone caught fighting with hands or feet in the street to immediate long-term enlistment in the army. To once again circumvent the law, la lutte parisienne was developed. It was a form of grappling that used head-butts, throws, chokes gouges, and torsions - or the twisting of joints or limb, or even ears or groin, to induce pain or injury - to mask the fact that any fighting was even taking place.


Also included in les Apaches repertoire were a number of "dirty tricks". Perhaps the best known of these was, the "Coup de Pére François," one method of its use consisting of:

"stealthily approaching the person who is to be robbed from behind, casting a looping scarf over his head, and while tightening it by a hand pull around his neck with one hand, jamming the other fist into his back between the shoulder blades. A confederate of the man with the scarf then strips the victim of his valuables."


Les Apaches also practiced their own unique style of dancing, where the night's violent activities would be recreated in a violent "street swing" that reportedly left some participants severely injured, or worse, from being thrown across bars, onto tables, or after being struck with mis-timed blows. It has been theorized it was akin to a Parisian Capoeira, a means by which the methods and techniques of Apache fighting could be acquired and simulated.

After a night of revelry in the Paris underworld, Max Dearly and Maurice Mouvet came up with their own toned down version of the "le danse Apache", a kind of ‘tango" that reenacted a heated street encounter between a pimp and a prostitute, which they unveiled to the beau monde at Maxim's and the Moulin Rouge in 1908, launching an Apache craze.

The working class and bourgeois proved less tolerant towards the "Plague of the City", but with only 8,000 policemen against an army of 30,000 Apaches, there was little relief to be had.

Eventually, the Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, authorized the formation of Les Brigades du Tigre, a crack squad of mobilards trained in modern policing and hand-to-hand combat, but even they couldn't alleviate the Apaches depredations. Soon, citizens began to look to themselves, with some forming their own "Hooligan Hunter" patrols in hopes of keeping the savages at bay, while others took up the various arts of self-defense for themselves.


Savate proved to be the most popular and common form of self-defense taken up by the hard pressed Parisians, but the "old boot" being taught in the salles had changed radically since the days of Vidocq.

At some point in the early 19th century, savate had merged with what was known as chausson (slippers) or jeu marseillais (game from Marseillais), a very similar martial art which was popular in the Mediterranean cities of Avignon, Toulon, and Marseille, and amongst the sailors of the French Navy. It too was fought with one's feet - possibly so that the hands could be used to grab lines or railings for balance on the ships' decks - but made much greater use of the more athletic and nimble high kicks.

This new savate's greatest exponent was Michel Casseux, who tried promoting it to the higher classes as a sport more so than a method of self-defense (even going so far as to eliminate such tried-and-true techniques as head-butting and eye gouging). Later, his pupil Charles Lecour, after an encounter with an English pugilist, added the striking of boxing to create what would be known as the sport of savate, or 'boxe française'.

It was also in these early days that la canne was incorporated into savate, as both a self-defense and later as a sport. The walking stick had been in use as a martial art for some time by the gentleman of France, replacing the sword as the preferred means by which one defended himself or his honor, following Louis VIII's ban on dueling. It was soon joined in the curriculum of savate by le baton, or the staff, a common weapon in the rural areas of France.


By the middle of the century, several savateurs were turning their attention away from sport savate and back to unarmed combat and self-defense. Two savate maîtres in particular, Hubert Le Boucher and Louis Vigneron, helped merge many of the techniques of la lutte parisienne into the regimen of savate, including the use of projections, eye gouging, low kicks, and groin strikes. Vigneron, "L'Homme-Canon", so named because his act included him hoisting a 600-pound cannon on to his shoulder, emphasized powerful throws and slams, while Le Boucher focused on various methods of choking and neck breaking.

After Vigneron's untimely death in 1871 (due to a miscalculation with the powder caused his cannon to explode), his work was continued by his protégé, Joseph Charlemont. It was Charlemont who codified the existing methods of savate, and then expanded on them further by introducing fencing footwork along with techniques. These additional elements were included in his 1899 book, L' Art de la Boxe Françaice et de la Canne in which he described a system built around four ranges of combat, where striking and grappling were to be used in conjunction with one another.

As outlined by him, the savateur, employing the stance found in fencing, should use croisés, lunges, en marchant, shifts, or drop steps to control the distance between him and his opponents, allowing him to initiate any punches or kicks while also staying outside the enemy's reach. Furthermore, if faced with a superior striker, the savateur could elect to use several takedowns (including single and double leg grabs, trips, and throws) to hurl his opponent onto his head, against a wall, or body slam him to the ground (although following the fight to the ground was not something Charlemont recommended).

With these additions, savate would gain the sobriquet "fencing with four limbs".

When the panic over les Apaches reached a fever-pitch by the end 19th century, Charlemont and other maîtres d'armes, or Master at Arms, found themselves and their services in high demand. In salles across Paris various masters were now offering lessons in a multitude of self-defense methods, at least to those who could afford them. Many of these masters were influenced by the works of Charlemont, Vigneron, and Le Boucher, and were looking to integrate new fighting techniques into savate.

One such Master at Arms had been Pierre Vigny, of Bartitsu fame, who had studied under Monsieur Charlemont in his youth and who went on to develop his own eclectic style, blending Charlemont's system of savate with his own style of la canne, before finally traveling to London and meeting a kindred spirit in Edward Barton-Wright.


Other Master at Arms began offering instructions in the use of a wide range of weapons, looking to incorporate them with other savate techniques, including le couteau (knife), larga (cutlass or bowie), le rasoir (straight razor), le fouet (whip), and le revolver. Some took up the study of panache, which was the method of using whatever is at hand, be it everyday objects or clothing, in a fight.

Numerous offensive and defensive techniques were developed from such innocuous objects as la chaise (chair), which, in a pinch, worked as an a excellent shield or as a blunt instrument against a crowd, le manteau (coat), which could be thrown or whipped in a blinding attack or wrapped around the forearm to serve as a gauntlet against bludgeons, or le chapeau (hat), which, if it was a durable bowler, became a buckler to be used against bladed weapons. Some Professors even went so far as to hire Apaches, so as to learn the enemies' techniques firsthand.


Over the last century savate had proven to be an incredibly adaptive and inclusive system, having integrated with a multitude of disciplines to become a very thorough fighting system. So when Edward Barton-Wright began publicizing the equally adaptive and inclusive jujutsu to the peoples of Europe, a few men instantly recognized the potential to be had by coalescing the two.

The result would eventually become the most developed hybrid fighting system of its era, Défense Dans la Rue or Defense in the Streets.

The first Frenchmen to present jujutsu as a viable form of self-defense to his countrymen may have been Émile André who wrote and published 100 Coups de Jiu-jitsu in 1899. Although, in truth, very few of the 100 coups were actually from jujutsu, since André knew little actual jujutsu. Instead, the majority of the methods demonstrated by André were taken from savate and lutte libre (Catch-as-Catch-can wrestling).

André would quickly rectify his deficit in knowledge by taking up the study of jujutsu shortly thereafter, joining his already existing expertise in fencing and savate. He would also continue writing self-defense manuals, following up his 100 Coups de Jiu-jitsu with 100 Façons de se Défendre Dans la Rue avec Armes, circa 1900.

Over the years more would follow, and in 1910 he would complete his detailed treatise on Defense Dans la Rue, entitled L'art De Se Défende Dans La Rue, which would prove to be in those days the most popular manual on the subject.


Another proponent of Defense Dans la Rue was the expert fencer and savateur, George Dubois, who after engaging in and losing a challenge match to the French jujutsuka Ernest Regnier in 1906, took up the Japanese art himself. He eventually published the book Comment se Défendre or "How to Defend", detailing his many methods of real world self-defense, with one particular menace figuring heavily in his thinking:

"In life, danger does not come solely from criminals, or Apaches, as one has delighted in naming them these last few years. There are other dangers. They are numerous. However, we will go over every possibility so as to successfully resist these [Apaches].

Meanwhile, in 1906, Dubois' and André's contemporary, Jean-Joseph Renaud returned from London where he had being training "for two summers at the Japanese School in London, under the direction of Myaki, Yukio Tani, Hirano, etc. with enthusiasm, often twice per day". He was already highly accomplished in savate, English boxing, la canne, fencing, and even "Apache street fighting", but Renaud was quick to grasp the benefits that the Japanese martial art accorded him. In 1912 he released the book Défense Dans la Rue, the closest thing to a definitive work on the subject.


What the three men had in common, besides the heavy influence Joseph Charlemont had upon them, or their extensive backgrounds in savate, fencing, and jujutsu, was the idea that not only were all of these individual fighting styles useful (along with boxing and wrestling) but that they were even more useful when used in conjunction with one another. As Jean-Joseph Renaud explained:

"If it's necessary to train the various sports of defence separately, it is often appropriate to unify them and to execute phases of combat composed of movements of English boxing, French boxing, Jiu-jitsu and cane."

He elaborated on this, explaining that the Défense Dans la Rue philosophy that no discipline was superior to the others:

"Is an English boxer put out of action by a kick? The British method is worthless. On the contrary, does the French boxer incur defeat? This French boxing, what a farce! A Jiu-jitsu man finds himself put out of action by a boxer, and Jiu-jitsu is but a bluff! If the opposite happens then there is nothing but the Nipponese method, the rest is but a joke! Yet each of these three systems of defence is excellent AND OUGHT TO BE COMPLETELY ASSIMILATED BY THE SPORTSMAN WHO DESIRES TO BE ABLE TO COPE WITH ALL CIRCUMSTANCES."

The three also shared a belief that the techniques taught and used should be predicated on empirical evidence. All three believed strongly in competition as a form of testing: either through matches in savate, English boxing, la canne, wrestling, or jujutsu; or through mixed competitions where two different fighting styles would be paired against each other. All three also were apt to test their methods in street engagements with les Apaches themselves, recording and making adjustments based on the results.


For the practitioner of Défense Dans la Rue, unarmed combat usually began from either a passive or en guard position, where lunges, feints, or shift movements (good footwork was held at a premium) would set up the distant attacks of coups de points (punches) and coups de pieds (kicks).

The kicks were taken from savate, and were usually low kicks to the shins, feet, knees, stomach, or groin of the opponent, since high kicks were seen as risky in a street engagement. The punches borrowed heavily from bare-knuckle boxing, which they viewed as being more applicable to street fighting than the gloved strikes found in the modern sport.

Defense consisted of parries, covers, and counter-attacks, as Renaud explained,

"Jiu-jitsu is the art of defence in the clinch; boxing is the art of avoiding the clinch, of repulsing the adversary with the foot or the fist."

As soon as the fight entered the clinch or "corps á corps" (close quarters) and if "they are a passable Jiu-jitsu man" it was recommended that they

"... throw [the opponent] on the ground as hard as you can by means of one of the "throws" of Jiu-jitsu, and if that doesn't suffice, follow him and apply one of the innumerable locks which the oriental method puts at your disposal. Whilst a kick, punch or headbutt produce only an injury that doesn't put the opponent out of the fight, a lock "finishes" anyone."

They could also elect to use such "serious strikes" as coup de téte (head-butts) coup de coude (elbow strikes) coup de fourche (eye pokes) and coup de genou (knee strikes).

Once at courte or close distance, be it on the ground or in the clinch, there was a wide variety of jujutsu submissions and lutte holds one could use as well, such strangleholds, and various locks and torsions of des bras (arms), des jambes (legs), des doigts (fingers), or de la tete et du cou (neck). There was also a number of dirty tricks, allowing one the means to render the opponent's groin, ears, or nose (such as the saisissement du nez, pression, torsion).

During the whole encounter, as one moved from striking, to the clinch, and even to the ground, the ability to move seamlessly between the different phases of combat was stressed:

One ought to be able to pass from one method of defence to the other without the least embarrassment; don't wait for the day of combat for that; don't say "in such circumstances I would mix boxing with Jiu-jitsu and cane"; recall that in a serious affair one does not have time to reflect and that one executes only instinctive movements usefully.

And since it had been originally designed to allow one to ward off the "night attacks" of the Apaches, instructions in such common street weapons as the knife, razor, walking stick, and revolver, as well as the coat and hat, were included in the regimen.

In the end, however, it wasn't Défense Dans la Rue or the French authorities that put an end to les Apaches, but instead it was on the hills of Verdun, and on the banks of the Somme and Marnes River, that the menace was finally extinguished.

Savate was also nearly eradicated during the conflagration, since so many of its practitioners were lost in the la Grande Guerre. It was thankfully saved, predominantly due to the efforts of one Comte Pierre Baruzy; but what he managed to preserve was mostly boxe française, the sport of French kickboxing, and not the complete fighting art of savate de la rue.

Still, that remnant was enough to inspire a martial artist half-a-century later to found his own discipline, incorporating many of the philosophies and practices of the "Noble Art of Self-Defense". These would include the idea of marrying disciplines from the East and West, using only the "best points of these methods", breaking combat down into phases or "ranges", renaming the coup de flanc as the lead side-kick, and even using various illustrations from an 1893 article on savate in his own manual.

In the end, not only has Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do kept alive some of the techniques of savate; he has also carried on the legacy of pragmatic eclecticism of Bartitsu and Défense dan la Rue.



To be continued next week in: "The Forgotten Golden Age of MMA - Part IV: Ultimate Fighting of the Belle Époque."

For additional history about the origins and early development of MMA: check out "James Figg &The Lost Origins of the Sport of Mixed Martial Arts".


† -- This recently revised article by our Cageside Features Guest Columnist , has been 'crossposted' to today (Dec. 8, 2012). In addition to delving into wrestling's past for Cageside Seats, Mr. Nash has regularly chronicled the forgotten history of mixed martial arts at our fellow SBNation Blog:, where the original draft of this article was posted on Aug 22, 2011. Cageside Seats is proud to present the cross-posting of his entire archive of articles in this exclusive guest column for your enjoyment. To read more fascinating articles from Mr. Nash, simply bookmark this link and remember to check back frequently for new content.


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