In the past few years, we’ve seen Holmes grace the Big and Silver screens with his sleuthy presence. The BBC did good work with a modern-day telling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s head boy, but it has been British writer/director Guy ‘Lock Stock/Snatch’ Ritchie who has set the bar with 2009’s epic rendition of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, played to perfection by Robert Downey Jr (trained in Bruce Lee’s first style Wing Chun) and his ever-loyal brother-in-arms Dr. Watson, Jude Law being his damn suave English self.
Ritchie portrays Holmes as a maverick, a liability to himself and others, but an incredible detective mind and skill set to rival any hard man. He gave Holmes SWAG.
Ritchie knows his fight scenes and praise is due for bringing to the fore Holmes’ fictitious yet fascinating background.
There are certain moves in the fight scenes that took me back to many a classic martial arts film, but not like this. Something’s afoot….
Imagine a Victorian English boxer. Ok. Give him the grappling skill of a UFC fighter and the kick strength of a ‘roided up JCVD. This is the martial art of BARTITSU, one of the world’s least recognized fighting styles and rumored to be the first mixed martial art in history.
Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer, invented the art form of Bartitsu in 1898 after returning back to Blighty from Japan where he had been trained in traditional Jujitsu and Judo (‘the gentle way’…), announcing it to the middle-classes of London and setting up the first school for the megaton of martial arts, the ‘Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture’. The principles?
“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 parts of his body, whether neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, back, knee, ankle, etc. to strains that they are anatomically and mechanically unable to resist.”
Bartitsu requires a knowledge of several different disciplines, and combines styles from across the world including British Boxing, Kudokan Judo (throws and joint locks), Shinden Fudo Rya Jujitsu (grapples, ground work, kicks), Fencing, Savate (French kicking style designed by sailors), Schwingen (the Swiss wrestling technique) La Canne (French martial art utilizing the cane or stick) and Stiletto training (Sicilian dagger-fighting).
Barton-Wright recognized the need for a mix of styles in the very dodgy world of Victorian England where pickpockets, thugs and muggers were roaming the misty streets, making a walk down the cobbles risky business. He ensured his students knew the basics of hand-to-hand fisticuffs — “in order to get to close quarters, it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the art of the foot”. True say.
A gentleman wouldn’t go anywhere without his cape and cane (obviously) so including styles that incorporated both practical and defensive techniques was a masterstroke and catered to an audience perfectly.
Holmes has got the lot: schooled in botany, chemistry, phrenology, science and pseudoscience, the occult, ballistics, music, a unique martial art and forensics. The guy could even tell which cigar/opium pipe a pile of ash came from. I believe it was the very real art of Bartistu, the martial art for the English gent that gave this fictional sleuth his bravado and self-assurance. Quick-thinking, with precision accuracy during both combat and detection, every detail noted and logged. He’s one of the England’s best characters, let alone fictional detectives, the whole time wearing 3-piece tweed suits, busting up lower case G’s and puffing mad pipes. BADMAN.