Thursday, 20 December 2012

Paleo Fight Club

 The end of days approaches and my training is going the same way.  Christmas preparations and festivities, seasonal illnesses and general hullabaloo means that that is it for 2012 on the training front.  But like the Mayan calendar, my training is cyclical rather than linear, so I will be back to iron in the new year.

I have a few ideas in the pipeline but I have also been pretty busy at work and so have not had time to write much.  One element in particular that I was hoping to expand upon was my interest in Bartitsu.  Oh well, here goes...

Bartitsu was a branch of physical culture developed by Edward William Barton-Wright in the late 1800s.  Whilst Barton-Wright's system was largely concerned with self defence, it also encompassed broader elements of strength training and 'well-being'.

What was interesting about Barton-Wright's martial art was that it attempted to synthesise the best elements of several martial arts of both Eastern and Western origin in to a single fighting system - creating a 'total' martial artist.  These elements included pugilism (from western boxing), kickboxing (the French style of Savat), wrestling (European) and the locking, wrestling and ground fighting techniques of Judo and Juijitsu.  In addition, Barton-Wright's methods include stick fighting and he encouraged broader skill development in weaponry.

Remember, this was over 70 years before Bruce Lee formulated his own Jeet Kune Do - but whereas Lee was anti-classical in his philosophy, Barton-Wright, possibly burdened by the society of the time, took a more formulaic approach.  Both however sought to sharpen their skills with real combat.

Barton-Wright was perhaps the first MMA artist, and his approach to formalise combat came hot on the heels of modern Judo but preceded Taekwondo, Doce Pares (renowned for its one-stick fighting) and modern self-defence arts such as Krav Maga and  BJJ.  Not bad for an Edwardian gentleman!

This truly pioneering approach to health and fitness would probably have been lost to the present were it not for a Sherlock Holmes story called 'The Adventure of the Empty House' where reference is made to a method of fighting called 'Baritsu'.  This term is believed to have been the result of a typo in The Times in an article covering a demonstration of 'Bartitsu' which Conan-Doyle may well have read (around this time there seems to have been widespread fascination with Eastern martial arts).

Where all this gets me to is that Barton-Wright's approach to physical culture is something I find highly inspirational.  Like any martial art, there is continual novelty to be found in the range of gymnastic moves and techniques to master   A good martial art will require strength, skill and balance over a range of motion.

There is much to commend training in a dedicated striking art and a dedicated grappling art.  If you then seek out some Escrima (where many of the strikes and techniques are simple extensions of empty-hand techniques), you will be channelling the spirit of Bartitsu.

Looking at Barton-Wright's wider philosophy of health and physical culture, you could easily argue that gymnastics and a solid strength training program would fit in with his ethos - in fact Bartitsu found its way in to "Sandow's Magazine of Physical Culture" and stick-fighting was considered a way to keep fit.

So back to the title of this post;how has combat shaped us in an evolutionary sense?  Today the BBC report on a story about how the hand has evolved for combat,
  • The team found that making a clenched fist did indeed provide protective buttressing for the delicate bones of the hand. Making a fist increased the stiffness of the second meta-carpo-phalangeal, or MCP, joint (these joints are the knuckles visible when the hand is clenched as a fist) by a factor of four.

    It also doubled the ability of the proximal phalanges (the bones of the fingers that articulate with the MCP joints) to transmit a punching force.
So whilst it might be deemed unbecoming of peacefully disposed gentleman to participate in aggressive pursuits, it is perhaps to be expected that a chap may have to defend himself against a ruffian on occasion and Bartitsu offers 'inestimable advantage when occasions arise where neither boxing, nor wrestling, nor any of the known modes of resistance is of avail'.

You can find out more from the Bartitsu Society.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that if it was not for Barton-Wright the history of Judo in the UK would be VERY different.

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