A few months ago, while reading "The Empty House" in The Return of Sherlock Holmes to my boyfriend Scott, Holmes' amazing resurrection from the death attributed to have befallen him (no pun intended) in "The Final Problem" was just... well, too convenient for Scott's tastes.
"'We tottered together upon the brink of the fall,'" I read aloud, imagining the final epic moments in the immortal struggle at Reichenbach Falls between the world's most brilliant consulting detective and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. "'I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip-'"
"Wait, what?" Scott interrupted. "Baritsu?"
"Yes," I answered, thinking he has just misheard what I had said. Scott's a smart guy, and I often assume that he knows things of which he, in actuality, has no knowledge. In this case it was not an unreasonable assumption, as the guy is an armchair military historian with basic knowledge of various sorts of fighting methods.
So I was a little surprised when he asked, "Yeah, what it is?"
"You've never heard of it?"
"No. Tell me what it is."
"Well..." I began, not having any sort of idea what it was. "It's... a form of Japanese martial arts, I guess. It says so here in the text: 'baritsu...the Japanese system of wrestling.'"
"What does it look like?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's like sumo wrestling."
Scott cut through my reading with a disbelieving guffaw. "Yeah, like that's going to happen." (imitating Holmes) "Moriarty almost had me, but I just happened to know some obscure fighting technique called baritsu and karate-chopped my way out of it."
Scott's belittlement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's plot devices are probably justified Even though I knew that Doyle had originally intended to kill off Holmes in "The Final Solution" when it was written in 1893 and baritsu was the cleverest way he could justify Holmes not actually falling to his death in the 1902 Holmes story "The Empty House," I didn't realize how much Doyle waxed bullshit on his readers.
Much thanks to The Steampunk Tribune for enlightening me on this fact through its recent article about bartitsu (spelled with an extra t)- the new up-and-coming martial art of neo-Victorian enthusiasts. Without that article I would not have been directed to The Bartitsu Society's website, where they inform readers of the following:
In the year 1899, an English gentleman named Edward William Barton-Wright created the “New Art of Self Defence” that he called Bartitsu; a combination of low kicking, jiujitsu, fisticuffs and walking stick fighting, designed to beat the fearsome street gangs of Edwardian London and fin de siècle Paris at their own dastardly game.So either Doyle wants to credit Holmes with inventing this sort of fighting or is responsible for an anachronism in his stories (which, by the way, isn't the first occurrence of such in the Sherlockian world).
Bartitsu was the first “mixed martial art” to combine Asian and European fighting styles. It was later incorporated as “baritsu” into the Sherlock Holmes stories...
Learn more about the resurgence of this Victorian/Edwardian style of fighting in the 21st century at The Bartitsu Society (including information on workshops and seminars!) Or you can just watch this excerpt from the Society's documentary of bartitsu's history, which depicts demonstrations of this late Victorian martial art below: