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Martial arts of Holmes returns

Instructor Wolf helps rekindle bartitsu style
by: COURTESY OF Bartitsu Society, Tony Wolf will be giving two seminars on bartitsu, the gentlemanly martial arts used by Robert Downey Jr. in the new “Sherlock Holmes” movie, at the Milwaukie Elks Lodge Gym on March 20 and 21.

You might have watched the movie 'Sherlock Holmes,' observed Robert Downey Jr. in a couple scenes using some odd-looking martial arts and wondered what in the heck he was doing.

Well, it was a combination of Downey's instruction in Wing Chun Kung Fu, director Guy Ritchie's influence with Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the resurrected martial arts of Holmes' himself known as bartitsu, says Tony Wolf, a bartitsu instructor who will appear in the Portland area this weekend.

Bartitsu was introduced to London's educated class at the turn of the 19th century, and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the Holmes' novels with his character using the martial arts as part of his repertoire. Only, it was called 'baritsu' in the novels. It's a combination of gentlemanly fisticuffs, scientific boxing, kicking, jiu-jitsu and self-defense using a walking stick or umbrella.

Wolf didn't work directly on the film, but he has been a longtime friend of fight choreographer Richard Ryan. Wolf was the 'cultural fighting stylists designer' for the 'Lord of the Rings' movies.

Doyle was not known to use consistency in his Holmes' novels, and actually had Holmes die, being pushed over a cliff by archenemy Professor Moriarty. But Doyle reasoned in a following novel that Holmes actually used 'baritsu' to kill Moriarty.

COURTESY OF Bartitsu Society  and #8226; Public Domain

COURTESY OF BARTITSU SOCIETY • PUBLIC DOMAIN

Hey, it's fiction. But bartitsu became real, a Victorian/Edwardian-era, late 1800s/early 1990s martial arts created by Edward Williams Barton-Wright that died off when a London gym closed. It had been taught to London's educated class to combat street gangs.

'Not until the late 1990s did people look into it,' Wolf says. The late Richard Bowen passed on some 'crumbling old magazines' to Wolf, who published them.

Wolf theorizes that Doyle used 'baritsu' rather than 'bartitsu' in describing the martial arts to either avoid copyright infringement or he simply misspelled it. 'It's been confusing people for 100 years, and will probably continue to keep confusing people,' he says.

Wolf has studied and taught bartitsu for eight years.

'It captured my imagination,' says Wolf, 42, a native of New Zealand. 'It's amazing that this happened for a brief time 100 years ago in London.'

Wolf will be giving two seminars on bartitsu at the Milwaukie Elks Lodge Gym, 13121 S.E. McLoughlin Blvd., March 20 and 21. They are being hosted by the Academia Duellatoria fencing school (duellatoria.com).