This traditional English stick-fighting art uses a weapon known as the “quarterstaff”—a hard, wooden staff that sometimes has a reinforced metal tip. It is possible the name evolved because the primary weapon was a staff and, when fighting, was typically held with the right hand in the middle and the left hand a quarter of the way from the end— hence “quarter staff.” However, a more probable theory is that the name refers to a fight settled without the use of a lethal sword or knife. In medieval English, “quarter”—meaning to give mercy—may have referred to the act of pardoning an opponent by not killing him and using the staff as a response to an insult instead of the deadly sword. Typically made from oak, hazel, or ash, they ranged from 6-9 ft (1.8-2.7 m) in length and would have been employed in swinging, arching actions, and poking thrusts.
Training was practical and, once mastered, practitioners could utilize a range of improvised weapons in offense and defense, easily adapting the skills they had learned to help effect victory in battle. Most famously used as the favorite weapon and training method of Little John, one of the followers of the legendary Robin Hood, the art was adapted and taught in the late 1800s at Aldershot Military Training School and continued in the early part of the 20th century, when it was simplified and taught as a sport for instilling confidence into young Boy Scouts in England.
Bartitsu is an English martial art founded by E. W. Barton-Wright; the name being a mix of his name and jujutsu. Barton-Wright had studied jujutsu in Japan and, on returning to England in 1898, codified the system and described his new science of self-defense in the following manner: “Bartitsu … comprises not only boxing but also the use of the stick, feet, and a tricky style of Japanese wrestling in which weight and strength play only a very minor part.”
The art quickly caught on for three main reasons: first, there was an increased interest in the Orient; second, at the turn of the century, physical culture had become a popular pastime among many who realized that the Industrial Revolution had led to a decline in the physical health of the sedentary middle and upper classes; and third there was among the popular media a rising interest in street violence. Newspapers of the time noted that stories about violence, wars, and street crime led to an increase in sales figures. The upshot of the glut of stories, though, was a widespread fear that an epidemic of violence was burgeoning on the streets of England.
E. W. Barton-Wright led an interesting and colorful life. Born in 1860 in India to a Scottish mother and a northern-English father, he spent the majority of his youth following his father, a railroad engineer, around the world as he moved from job to job. While in Japan, Barton-Wright studied jujutsu and it is likely he also learned judo from Kano Jigoro—the art’s founder—during his time there, before returning to England and codifying bartitsu in 1898.
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