Currently, many of us in the States are enjoying the 2nd series of “Sherlock” from the BBC (Thank you PBS!). Last year, US cinemas saw the release of the second Holmes movie, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” with Robert Downey Jr. as the world’s first, and only, consulting detective.
The Downey version displayed a more physically active Holmes. The fight scenes seemed to be inspired by MMA bouts. Downey himself trains in the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun and adapted some of those moves into the movie’s fight choreography. Click here for an article on how the martial arts helped Downey overcome drug and alcohol addictions.
Holmes purists bristled at just how active the cerebral detective is in these new movies but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock’s creator, wrote that Holmes had used a martial art called “baristsu” to defeat Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. You can find the reference in the 1901 short story “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Holmes is quoted by Dr. Watson as saying that “baristu, the Japanese system of wrestling, (which) has more than once been very useful to me”.
Doyle was probably referring to bartitsu, a stick-fighting self-defense technique developed by E.W Barton-Wright (1860-1951) in England in 1898. It is believed the Doyle either changed, or simple misremembered, the correct spelling of the new martial art.
Bartitsu enjoyed a revival in 2000. You can even find this website devoted to it.
A new documentary was produced last year called “Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes.” Click here for a preview.
I read all of the Doyle canon, starting in the 4th grade. Holmes became popular around that time thanks to Nicholas Meyer’s excellent pastiche, “The Seven Percent Solution” which he also turned into a great movie. Of course, I also watched the Jeremy Brett series. While I moved more into James Bond fandom, my interest was reignited by the new BBC series.
So as we enjoy the last episode of Series 2, “The Reichenbach Fall,” I wonder when our modern day Sherlock (played by the outstanding Benedict Cumberbatch) returns for Series Three, if he will also have new-found martial arts skills that help him dispatch the evil Professor Moriarty. After all, the new series will open with an adaptation of…”The Adventure of the Empty House.”