Forteza Fitness

From the Blog

Captain Hutton writes about his friends at the Bartitsu Club

A portrait of Captain Alfred Hutton, taken at about the time he was teaching at the Bartitsu Club.

Captain Alfred Hutton was among the instructors who taught various branches of “antagonistics” at E.W. Barton-Wright’s School of Arms in London circa 1900.  One of England’s most prominent and respected swordsmen, Hutton was also the president of the Amateur Fencing Association and a pioneering practitioner of revived Elizabethan era fencing with weapons such as the rapier and dagger.

Although Hutton’s specialties do not appear to have been formally included as aspects of Bartitsu, it’s evident that there a good deal of cross-training took place at the Bartitsu Club; for a complete account, see Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London.

In an article for The Press newspaper (8 February 1904, Page 10), Captain Hutton reminisced about some colourful characters and incidents from his long experience of fencing.  He also offered the following remarks upon his Bartitsu Club colleagues and their methods of antagonistics:

“Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.”

These anecdotes clearly demonstrate that Hutton took a keen practical interest in the classes offered by his fellow Bartitsu Club “professors”. He occasionally demonstrated the Vigny method of self defence with a walking stick during interviews, and he offered a somewhat more detailed account of the Vigny system in his book The Sword and the Centuries.  It was also in that book that he described the Bartitsu Club as being “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

As it turned out, Hutton did find use for some of the 80 “kata” he learned from Tani and Uyenishi, beginning when he penned a short monograph on Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys. A few years later, Hutton demonstrated a number of jujitsu “tricks” for a panel of doctors working in one of London’s psychiatric hospitals.  This was almost certainly the first time Asian martial arts had been applied towards the problem of humane self defence and restraint in a therapeutic environment.

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Gymuseum 1: Indian Clubs

Circa 1900, schools of “physical culture” offered a wide range of tools and machines to develop strength, endurance, agility and flexibility.  Sadly, many of these devices have been lost over the generations, but some have survived in working order.  The Forteza gymuseum includes both a unique “living museum” of antique exercise equipment and an inspirational gallery of 19th century prints portraying combat sport athletes in training. One of the most readily noticed parts of the museum is a large collection of odd wooden bowling-pin shaped objects, known as “Indian clubs”.

The exercise of club-swinging was first introduced to Europe during the late 19th century, by British soldiers who had observed similar exercises performed by wrestlers and other athletes in India.  By manipulating the clubs in complex swinging and flourishing patterns, exponents were able to develop their co-ordination, strength, endurance and flexibility.

Club-swinging spread throughout the Western world via public gymnasia, military physical training courses and physical culture classes offered in schools. A “flourishing” trade also developed in home study manuals, further establishing Indian club swinging as a fitness craze that lasted through to the early-mid 20th century.

Some of our gymuseum clubs are modern and some are antiques dating back to circa 1900. All Forteza members are welcome to make use of them during their training; and remember, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

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Forteza hosts its first Playing of the Prize: an exhibition of historical swordplay.

This past weekend (April 22) Forteza hosted its first Playing of the Prize for the Chicago Swordplay Guild. Of course, for people new to Historical European Swordsmanship, the question arises…

What is a “Playing of the Prize”?

The Chicago Swordplay Guild utilizes a ranking system based on those of the medieval fencing guilds of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, which included three to four ranks: scholar, free scholar, provost, and master. These grades are not really analogous to the “belt ranks” in modern martial arts, but rather are closer to the system of licensing found in classical Japanese martial arts. They reflected a junior and senior level of two different roles within the school of arms: that of student and teacher. A scholar was one accepted as a student in the school of arms. In the English tradition a second grade of free scholar denoted a senior student who had grasped enough of the art’s foundation, usually encoded in the sword, sword and buckler and/or two-handed sword, and now had the “freedom of the school” to move on to more advanced training. Particularly dedicated students might press on to the grade of provost. This was the lesser teaching grade: a provost was licensed to teach students, but only under the auspices of a master, who oversaw all advancement testing. A master at arms or master of defence was the highest rank, and referred to a swordsman who had attained a high level of both martial and teaching skill. They were able to maintain their own schools and promote their own students.

Chicago Swordplay Guild Bill of Challenge for a Scholar’s Prize to be fought at Forteza, 22 April 2012, adapted from its Elizabethan antecedents.

One of the most important steps in the progression through the grades was the concept of Playing the Prize. This comprised of two steps. The first step occurs as an internal event, comprised of written and physical tests to assess the student’s skills. The second step was for the student to submit a challenge for a public prize playing (free fencing exhibition), for the grade being tested for. These Bills of Challenge were posted of the event and a wooden scaffolding was erected in a public square. A good number of formalities were observed. On the appointed day and time, following a procession of drums and flags the Player was paraded to the raised scaffold with much fanfare.

Usually fought on raised stages in inn yards or playhouses, Playings of the Prize were the precursors to the “prize fighting” that would become associated with boxing in the 1800s. They were boisterous affairs, including music, food, and rowdy, cheering (or booing audiences) who would throw coins (or if displeased, perhaps less savory “awards”) onto the platform.

At the start, a senior Master would declare the name of the Player, the rank being sought, and then announce “The first bout to be at [whichever weapon]”. Bouts were fought using blunted weapons and played to a number of ‘hits’ rather than to a ‘victory’. Although not real, the fights were not displays or exhibitions, but rather a sort of sparring tests to  evaluate the Player. The bouts could sometimes be bloody, but never lethal. No armor was used and blows were limited to above the waist, but even the bare head and hands were targets. The job of the “answerers” or “challengers” was not to break or beat the Player but to seriously test them. The ‘Prize’ itself was promotion to the new rank.

Playing the Prize in the Chicago Swordplay Guild

Although this was the first Prize to be fought at Forteza, Playing the Prize has been part of rank advancement in the Chicago Swordplay Guild since 2001, and we proudly embrace the traditions of our ancestors.  Family and friends of the candidates, Guild members past and present, and guests from other martial arts schools, are all invited to attend this public exhibition of arms. Much like the original Prize, ours are a combination of formality and raucous celebration. Refreshments and music entertain the audience before the Prize begins and during breaks between challenges. Rather like watching a tournament, spectators are encouraged to cheer good blows, and to boo wild, uncontrolled blows.

This cheerfully irreverent atmosphere offsets the formality of the Prize itself. The list (cordoned off combat ring) is decorated with heraldic banners representing the Guild and the virtues ascribed to the medieval warrior (if you’ve been paying attention to our website, you already know that these are strength – speed – knowledge and courage!).  Guild instructors trade in their black Forteza t-shirts for our formal uniforms, which are a modern homage to the arts origins in the 14th – 16th centuries, much like the hakama seen in traditional Japaneses martial arts. The Prize begins with a formal opening ceremony, taken from their Renaissance precursor, and then each candidate is called forward one at a time, their challengers are announced, and combat begins.

Armizare students fight their Prize with the longsword, while Renaissance Swordsmanship students fight with the single rapier. Challenges at the Scholar level are fought under a set of rules somewhat more “permissive” than those of the 16th century, in large part because of access to additional safety gear:

  • Each match is 3 minutes in length;
  • The entire body is a target;
  • Strikes may be made with the point, edge or pommel of the sword;
  • Disarms, grapples, leg sweeps and throws are permitted, but combat will stop once both parties are unarmed, or one is thrown to the ground.
  • Combatants acknowledge their own blows, and the Judge intervenes only to part combatants with his baton for safety reasons or because a throw or disarm has occurred.

Erin Fitzgerald performs a little “death from below” in her bout with Shannon Winslow

As this is not a tournament, but an examination, each Challenger is given a specific task for their match with the Prizor, based on the observations of the instructors. For example, if the candidate has trouble initiating attacks, one Challenger might be told to hang back, forcing the Prizor to pursue and open with attacks. Conversely, a Prizor who starts strong but tends to “stop and look” might find their opponent continuously presses in with an unrelenting barrage of blows.The purpose is to push the Prizor physically and mentally, under the added stress of the watching eyes of friends and family.

One place where we have decidedly improved upon the past is that Guild Prizes are distinctly co-ed. Weapons are a great equalizer in terms of strength and size, and female students face men and women Challengers equally. Guild membership has traditionally been about 1/3 female, but this past Saturday saw three ladies take the field as Prizors, out of six competitors in total!

The candidates await their judgement by the instructors and challengers.

Once all the bouts were over, if the Prizor was judged victorious by the four Masters, he would be declared “a well-tryd and sufficient man with divers weapons”. He would then (after collecting the change littering the stage)  swear his oath of obligation, and be escorted by his new peers back to the school and from there off to do much drinking.  Our modern Guild’s Scholar’s oath is adapted directly from the Elizabethan one, requiring the student to treat those above and below him or her with respect, to train diligently and with pride, but not vanity, to be sure that their actions and deeds in the list or the classroom bring renown, not shame, to their fellows and teachers, and to be a good citizen. Students kneel and swear this oath on the hilt of a sword, receive their license and are gifted with a green garter tied under the left knee – a symbol of their rank. Finally, they sign their names in the Guildbook – a custom-made, leather-bound volume containing the history, rules and doings of the Chicago Swordplay Guild. (One such guildbook is in Ghent, home of the oldest surviving fencing school in the world. While the modern guild is a sport-fencing club, the records and entries in its book go back to its founding in 1614!)

And then, it was time for a celebratory Guinness….

Or course, it would be quite foolish to preserve all of these Renaissance customs without including the celebratory drinking at an inn! And so, with all due diligence, the tired, and bruised newly-minted Scholars were escorted by their colleagues to O’Shuaghnessy’s Public House for a pint or four. Slainte!

Our hearty congratulations go out to Christina, Erin, Heather, Jake, Robert and Nathan and our thanks to Shannon, Dan, Davis, Jacques, John, Phil and Trey for serving as Challengers!

Here are a few videos of the day’s combats:

Longsword

Rapier

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Antagonisticathlon! (Or, “Saving Dr. Watson: A Gentleman’s Encounter with Dastardly Evil-Doers”)

On Sunday, March 11th of 2012, members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago took part in the first ever “antagonisticathlon” event at Forteza. This was their graduation from the recent six-week introductory Bartitsu training course.

Obviously, with a diverse group of students, some with extensive martial arts training, some with none what-so-ever, there is a limit to what a “graduation exam” might entail after a mere twelve classes. Likewise, the Bartitsu revival has been decidedly non-hierarchical, emphasizing the continuation of Barton-Wright’s work over creating ranking systems and standardized curriculum. What to do?

Enter the Antagonisticathlon.

The what???

During the late 19th century, the word “antagonistics” meant all manner of combat sports and self-defence skills. Inspired by this, Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf came up with an interesting way to test the novice Bartitsuka (students) while having a good deal of tongue-in-cheek fun at the same time!

Antagonisticathlon participants represent Victorian-era adventurers fighting their way through a gauntlet of obstacles and ne’er-do-wells, inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ escape from Professor Moriarty’s assassins in The Final Problem:

The dapper Michael Mauch, right, does not hestiate to sully his waist-coat as he hurls a ruffian to the ground during the Anatagonisticathlon. ((c)2012 Andrew A. Nelles/ For The Chicago Tribune)

The “stations” of the antagonisticathlon (not all shown in the video compilation) included:

  • Charging shoulder tackle to punching bag (“knocking an assassin out the window and into the Thames”)
  • Precision cane thrusts through suspended rings
  • Overcoat and cane vs. dagger-wielding assassin
  • Weight-lifting on antique pulley-weight apparatus
  • “Death Alley”; cane vs. three stick-wielding assassins
  • “Rowing across the Thames” on antique rowing machine
  • “Rescuing Dr. Watson”
  • Walking Cane vs. stick combat
  • Shoulder roll and hat toss to finish

Dressed in either traditional Edwardian work-out clothing (a fitted, sleeveless shirt and loose-fitting pants, such a yoga or gi pants), or in their Victorian best, the students readily got into the spirit of this martial obstacle course; testing themselves and their fledgling skills in Bartitsu, but first and foremost celebrating the esprit de corps of helping to make Barton-Wright’s “noble experiment” born anew.

“I say, Old Bean, perhaps this is more what you were envisioning?” ((c)2012 Andrew A. Nelles/ For The Chicago Tribune)

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Renaissance Swordplay: The Deadly Art of the Duel

One of the centerpieces of the Forteza curriculum is historical European swordplay. There are a number of traditions of swordsmanship, which can be divided by period: early modern, Baroque, Renaissance or Medieval; and by nationality: English, French, German, Italian or Spanish. As the home of the Chicago Swordplay Guild (and as the Italian name of our studio might suggest), we focus on Italian swordsmanship of the 14th – 17th centuries.

When the Renaissance brought sweeping changes to European culture, Italian fencing traditions also evolved, with a new focus on civilian swordplay. A new, uniquely Italian weapon and fencing style —that of the elegant rapier—swept across Europe; influencing most of the continent for well over a century, and laying the theory of Italian swordplay for the next three centuries.

Now, you can take up the sword and study one of history’s most scientific and dangerous fighting arts, as taught by the early 17th-century fencing masters Salvatore Fabris and Ridolfo Capoferro.

THE RAPIER – DUELING WEAPON PAR EXCELLENCE

rapier

A rapier is a long-bladed sword with a complex hilt, optimized for the thrust but still capable of debilitating cuts. The blade is fairly thin and stiff, and counter-balanced to provide greater point control. Rapiers were neither light nor flimsy; a typical rapier of c.1600 had a blade of 42″ in length, a weight of 2.5 – 3 lbs, and was capable of parrying the blows of broad-bladed military swords.

The rapier was generally used either alone, or in conjunction with the sidearms a gentleman would most likely have with him at all times: the cloak and dagger. In keeping with the advice of the ancient masters, you will begin with the sword alone, then add the dagger and cloak after your proficiency with the sword is developed.

THE SIDESWORD – COMPANION IN BATTLE OR SELF-DEFENCE

sideswordaThe rapier never entirely supplanted the older, broad-bladed “cut-and-thrust” or sidesword. Instead, the old medieval sword was fitted with finger rings and a knuckle bow to protect the hand and continued to serve on the battlefield and in duels amongst traditionalists and military men. Like the rapier, the Renaissance sword was taught both alone and in conjunction with a wide variety of defensive arms:

  • Brocchiero (the round buckler)
  • Targa (square buckler)
  • Rotella (large, round shield)
  • Cappa (cloak)
  • Pugnale (a long, double-edged dagger)
  • Guanto da presa (armoured gauntlet

As you progress through our curriculum you will have the chance to study this ancient weapon, first alone, then with the buckler, and finally, against the rapier.

RENAISSANCE CLOSE-QUARTER COMBAT
Also in keeping with the custom of 16th century fencing schools, concurrent with learning the sword you will also learn basic grappling, dagger and counter-dagger fighting, Abrazare (Italian for “embracing”) is unarmed combat. The goal of the system is to get the opponent onto the ground as swiftly and effectively as possible without going there yourself. Much like classical jujutsu, the fundamental principles of abrazare include:

  • Control of the center – Work from where you are strongest, move the opponent away from their own strength, and control the center of the fight;
  • Opportune Striking – Use strikes to points of pain to eliminate advantages of size and strength.
  • Breaking structure – Use strikes and holds to break your opponent’s connection to the earth.
  • Taking space – Occupy your opponent’s space to eliminate their options.

These strategies are applied through a diverse range of techniques, including throws, holds, joint locks, breaks, binds, and disarms, all of which are applied both unarmed and when wielding or confronted by the dagger.

As the sword evolved, so did the dagger. The Renaissance dagger was a large, double-edged weapon, with a hilt identical to that of a sword. You will not only learn how to use this deadly sidearm with the sword, but as your principle defense, fighting in dagger vs. dagger dueling, unarmed against the dagger, and with a particularly unique form, the cloak and dagger.

RENAISSANCE SWORDSMANSHIP AT FORTEZA
Through the study of Renaissance Swordsmanship, you will learn

  • A fighting art over 400 years old, that revolutionized the art of swordsmanship and gave rise to modern fencing;
  • How to wield the elegant, agile and deadly rapier and the powerful cutting sword, both alone and when combined with daggers, shields or cloaks;
  • A solid foundation in natural, elegant movement and universal body mechanics;
  • Combative integration – learn how to move from weapon range to grappling range, and how to fight with against diverse weapons in dissimilar combat scenarios;
  • The evolution of both the sword and dagger during the Renaissance;
  • The history of the duel;
  • The history of our tradition and the stories of its most famous (and infamous) students;
  • The ethical system of chivalry, in theory vs. practice, and its evolution over time.

Finally, the Renaissance arsenal was a diverse one, and senior students in the Renaissance Swordsmanship curriculum will also have a chance to study a variety of polearms, and the spadone – the massive, Italian two-handed sword.

IS THE RENAISSANCE SWORDSMANSHIP PROGRAM RIGHT FOR ME?
This program will especially appeal to you if you:

  • Are looking for an ancient martial art, taught with an eye towards tradition and historical context;
  • Want to study an integrated fighting system of armed and unarmed combat that will exercise both body and mind;
  • Are interested in working with a diverse array of weapons.
  • Come from a background in traditional Asian weapon arts, such as escrima, iaido or kenjutsu;
  • Are drawn to history and culture of the Italian Renaissance;
  • Are interested in cultural ethos of chivalry and Western traditions of honor;
  • Want a martial practice that has the depth and diversity to keep you engaged for a life time.

HOW DO I BEGIN?
Mastery is difficult, but beginning is easy! Just enroll in our Taste of the Renaissance introductory class and let your journey begin.

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Armizare: The Knightly Fighting Art of Medieval Italy

 

Armizare 1

One of the centerpieces of the Forteza curriculum is historical European swordplay. There are a number of traditions of swordsmanship, which can be divided by period: early modern, Baroque, Renaissance or Medieval; and by nationality: English, French, German, Italian or Spanish. As the home of the Chicago Swordplay Guild (and as the Italian name of our studio might suggest), we focus on Italian swordsmanship of the 14th – 17th centuries.

By the late Middle Ages, the Italian peninsula had become an ever-changing patchwork of petty kingdoms and free cities. Wars to gain, hold, and influence other cities put the peninsula in a state of nearly continuous, small-scale warfare, as political goals were carried out by force of arms. Dominating the field were the condottieri, mercenary knights who fought the despots’ wars, and had to be versed in a multitude of weapons including the sword, spear, and axe, in or out of armour, on foot or horseback, and against any number of opponents.  In the process, they developed a martial art of a richness and complexity to stand beside any other in the world.

Half a millennium later, the doorway to that martial art stands open to you.

FIORE DEI LIBERI, OUR TRADITION’S FOUNDER
Our medieval martial arts curriculum comes from the 14th century Italian master-at-arms, Fiore dei Liberi, son of a minor nobleman from Friuli in northeastern Italy, who has been called “the father of Italian martial arts”. A wandering swordsman, soldier and fencing master, after fifty years or study he composed a series of detailed, illustrated manuscripts, all entitled il Fior di Battaglia (the Flower of Battle).

Maestro Fiore gave no formal name to his school or his martial art, simply calling it Armizare (are-mee-TZAR-ay), which means “the art of arms”. He divided Armizare into three principle sections: close quarter combat, long weapon combat and mounted combat. Within these subsections, dei Liberi taught his art through a series of zoghi (“plays”) —formal, two-man drills akin to the kata of classical Japanese martial arts.

Scrimia (literally “fencing”, ie: “swordplay”) begins with the sword, but forms the technical, mechanical and tactical basis for fighting with all other long weapons in Armizare, such as the spear and poleaxe. The system also includes the use of several unusual weapons, such as monstrous, specialized swords for judicial combat, a slashing, winged-spear called a ghiavarina, and hollow-headed polehammers, filled with an acidic powder to blind the opponent!

Scrimia includes:

  • Spada d’un mano (one-handed  sword techniques)
  • Spada a dui mani (two-handed sword techniques)
  • Daga e bastone  (staff and dagger)
  • Lanza (spear)
  • Spada en arme (sword in full armour)
  • Azza (poleaxe)
MEDIEVAL CLOSE-QUARTER COMBAT (Abrazare)

Abrazare

Abrazare (Italian for “embracing”) is the unarmed system contained within dei Liberi’s fighting art. The goal of the system is to get the opponent onto the ground as swiftly and effectively as possible without going there yourself. Much like classical jujutsu, the fundamental principles of abrazare include:

  • Control of the center – Work from where you are strongest, move the opponent away from their own strength, and control the center of the fight;
  • Opportune Striking – Use strikes to points of pain to eliminate advantages of size and strength.
  • Breaking structure – Use strikes and holds to break your opponent’s connection to the earth.
  • Taking space – Occupy your opponent’s space to eliminate their options.

These strategies are applied through a diverse range of techniques, including throws, holds, joint locks, breaks, binds, and disarms, all of which are applied both unarmed and when wielding or confronted by the dagger.

The medieval dagger was a large weapon, often the length of a man’s forearm, and designed for both self-defense, and as the call of last resort on the battlefield, where its sharp point could puncture the weak-points in armour. Dagger fighting and unarmed combat are closely intertwined in Armizare, and together form the basis of fighting with all other weapons, especially in armour.

It total, medieval close quarter combat is used in or out of armour and includes:

  • Abrazare (striking, throwing and grapping techniques)
  • Bastoncello (a short stick, approximately 12” long)
  • Daga (the rondel dagger)
  • Daga contra spada 
    (dagger vs. sword)
  • Spada contra daga 
    (sword vs. dagger)

MOUNTED COMBAT (A Cavallo)

837b39f6-9f3d-11de-9f47-001cc4c03286.preview-300

Finally, the knight was first and foremost a cavalryman, and his fighting art was equally adapted for combat on foot or horseback. While we currently do not practice mounted combat, the mounted techniques contain many interesting insights into the other sections of the art of arms:

  • Abrazare
  • Lanza (lance)
  • Spada d’un mano contra lanza (sword vs. lance)
  • Spada contra spada
  • Ghiavarina 
    (a partisan-like weapon wielded on foot against mounted opponents)

ARMIZARE AT FORTEZA

Through the study of Armizare, you will learn:

  • A 600 year old fighting art, tested on the battlefield by generations of medieval warriors;
  • A solid foundation in natural, elegant movement and universal body mechanics;
  • How to wield a wide variety of  swords, daggers and polearms, in and out of armour;
  • Combative integration – learn how to move from weapon range to grappling range, and how to fight with and against diverse weapons in dissimilar combat scenarios;
  • The evolution of the many tools in the knightly arsenal;
  • The history of our tradition and the stories of its most famous (and infamous) students;
  • The ethical system of chivalry, in theory vs. practice, and its evolution over time.

IS THE ARMIZARE PROGRAM RIGHT FOR ME?

This program will especially appeal to you if you:

  • Are looking for an ancient martial art, taught with an eye towards tradition and historical context;
  • Want to study an integrated fighting system of armed and unarmed combat that will exercise both body and mind;
  • Are interested in working with a diverse array of weapons.
  • Come from a background in traditional Asian weapon arts, such as escrima, iaido or kenjutsu;
  • Are drawn to the history and culture of the Middle Ages;
  • Are interested in the cultural ethos of chivalry and Western traditions of honor;
  • Want a martial practice that has the depth and diversity to keep you engaged for a life time.

HOW DO I BEGIN?
Mastery is difficult, but beginning is easy! Just enroll in our Taste of the Knightly Arts introductory class and let your journey begin

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Announcing the Bartitsu Club of Chicago – a key part of the Forteza Family!

Bartitsu Club of Chicago logo

Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago offers regular, progressive training in the “lost martial art of Sherlock Holmes”.

History

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing and stick fighting into the “New Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. Promoted via exhibitions, magazine articles and challenge contests, Barton-Wright’s New Art was offered as a means by which ladies and gentlemen could beat street hooligans and ruffians at their own game.

Thus, the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London became the headquarters of a radical experiment in martial arts and fitness cross-training. It was also a place to see and be seen; famous actors and actresses, soldiers, athletes and aristocrats eagerly enrolled to learn the secrets of Bartitsu.

In early 1902, for reasons that remain a historical mystery, the London Bartitsu Club closed down. Barton-Wright’s art was almost forgotten thereafter, except for a single, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, wherein it was revealed as the method by which Sherlock Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fatal battle at Reichenbach Falls.

Our premise and approach

Bartitsu was abandoned as a work-in-progress one hundred and ten years ago, but what if Barton-Wright’s School of Arms had continued to thrive? In collaboration with other Bartitsu clubs and study groups throughout the world, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago is proud to pick up where he left off, reviving and continuing the experiment into the new millennium.

E.W. Barton-Wright recorded the basics of his “New Art” via lectures, interviews and detailed articles, which form the nucleus of “canonical Bartitsu”. These methods are practiced as a form of living history preservation and also as a common technical and tactical “language” among modern practitioners.

“Neo-Bartitsu” complements and augments the canon towards an evolving, creative revival as a system of recreational martial arts cross-training with a 19th century “twist”.

Our venue

Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts (4437 North Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640) is the ideal venue for reviving Bartitsu. Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Our classes

Bartitsu classes at Forteza run from 6.30-8.00 pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The price for the six-week introductory course (two classes per week) is $125.00.

A typical class includes calisthenic warm-ups, specialized movement drills, study of the canonical sequences and neo-Bartitsu “combat improvisation” training. Participants should wear comfortable exercise clothing and bring a change of shoes for the class.

Contact info@fortezafitness.com to book your place in the first ongoing Bartitsu course in Chicago.

Our instructor

New Zealand citizen and Chicago resident Tony Wolf is one of the founders of the international Bartitsu Society. A highly experienced martial arts instructor, he has taught Bartitsu intensives in England, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Canada and throughout the USA. Tony also edited the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005 and 2008) and co-produced/directed the feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes (2010).

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Defensive Actions

Walking into the Forteza Fitness club in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood is like strolling into a cultural time machine.

On some days, the time machine takes us back to Victorian England, circa 1895, as instructors teach bartitsu, a mixed martial art popular in late 19th century Britain, which includes elements of jiu-jitsu, bare-knuckle boxing, French kick-boxing and combat techniques that utilize a cane or walking stick.

On other days, the time machine goes back even further, as instructors teach traditional European martial arts techniques like armizare, an Italian form of sword fighting dating back to the medieval era; or sabre fencing, which goes back about that far too.

And while these ancient fitness and self-defense techniques may seem like the personal trainer’s version of a historical re-enactment, participants say they’re actually much more than that.

Click to read more.

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