Bartitsu is the British Gentleman's MMA. And one of the self-defense sequences, pictured underneath, involves hooking the opponent's foot with your cane and pulling his legs apart.

I've found one video of Tony Wolf (Sorry, it's a Vimeo link - it's at 44 seconds) showing this particular self-defense move. I've tried this with a friend with rather laughable results. Try as we might, we could not find a way to use the cane to split the legs enough to unbalance the attacker.

Our tentative answer was, "This is marketing material and does not actually work." The video seems to indicate something different. So... Is it marketing material? If not, how should we pull the ankle with the cane in order to obtain the result shown?

Bartitsu excerpt - Self-defense with a hooked cane


7 Answers 7


Thanks to Dave L. for alerting me to this very erudite discussion!

Re. marketing material; there is no strong evidence that any of the "set play" sequences demonstrated by Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny for B-W's Pearson's Magazine article were performed verbatim during training at the original Bartitsu Club in London. On that basis, it's arguable that they may have simply been improvising for the camera; the articles themselves definitely doubled as marketing for the school. However, another article written by Captain Laing, a soldier who had trained at the Bartitsu Club for three months, recorded a number of similar "set play" sequences, which serves as evidence that the Club did employ this type of training, if not necessarily the specific sequences shown in the Pearson's articles.

Re. the practicality or otherwise of the Pearson's set-plays; the overall premise of the current revival is that Bartitsu was essentially an experiment in cross-training, abandoned as a work-in-progress in 1902. The object of the revival is to try to pick up where Barton-Wright left off. The revival is a very "open source" movement and every instructor works out their own relationship to the original (or "canonical") material, including the walking stick articles. My own take is to work with the canonical set-plays at three levels:

First, they are practiced as a mark of respect and out of purely historical, academic interest; it's fun and, in a "living history" sense, valuable to be able to learn the sequences exactly as Barton-Wright demonstrated them. At that level, they also serve as a useful common technical and tactical "language" for the revival movement, directly comparable to ko-ryu kata, etc.

Second, practiced verbatim they teach some generally useful skills of combat body mechanics; extension, alignment, tactile response, etc.

Third, the canonical set-plays really come to life when you mess them up. A central exercise in my own Bartitsu classes is to allow the "opponent" to spontaneously defeat the "defender's" pre-arranged responses, forcing the defender to improvise solutions. There's a good example of this semi-freestyle drill applied to the technique in question at 2:18 in this video clip, which was also shot at the 2010 seminar in Eugene, Oregon. Given permission to defeat the set-play, my demo. partner crashed through the guard, pulling me down into an awkward semi-crouch; I improvised a response by converting the crouched position into a foot-sweep and takedown. As mentioned in the video captions (and the whole video is worth watching to get a sense of how this type of drill works in practice), this "combat improv" drill provides a useful "bridge" between the formal set-plays and free sparring.

Regarding the ankle-hook technique specifically; several of the existing answers have already nailed it, especially re. "connecting" the cane to the defender's hips, so that the sudden backward sliding step engages the core muscles and the defender's weight against the opponent's ankle, and also the value of being able to "read" measure (combat distance) and so-on. I would only add that there's also an element of pain compliance when the hard inner surface of a cane crook is applied to the bony ankle.

Finally, although I don't regard this sequence as a "high percentage" move and would not teach it verbatim as self defence per se, I was told that a seminar student actually did successfully execute the "ankle pull" aspect in a real-world self defence situation. Wonders will never cease ...

  • 3
    Welcome to the site, and thanks for answering!
    – stslavik
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 18:42
  • Thanks for stopping by. I particularly enjoy your points about bridging formal technique with sparring, as well as your parallel to koryu. Commented May 15, 2012 at 18:58
  • Hope you'll stay around too!
    – user15
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 19:02
  • Thanks. I'll be happy to try to answer any questions about Bartitsu; it's been my main hobby interest for the past ten years or so.
    – Tony Wolf
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 19:09

We use the cane in my kung fu class, and it is surprisingly easy to uproot even a firmly planted foot. The lower leg is hooked near the ankle, and a quick jerk pops it loose from the floor. Once that happens, just keep pulling the leg forward. Sideways action is more difficult because of a lack of leverage - canes don't have much mass to them, and a double-hand grip can bring the wielder in close enough for a counter attack.


You'll notice a difference between the images in the book and the way Tony Wolf performs it (I suspect, and I say this out of speculation based on a childhood of slipping on dance floors in dress shoes at cotillion, that this has a great deal to do with foot wear and surfaces). When Mr. Wolf is performing the technique, he's deep under the armpit, and the assistant has his balance backward (thus removing weight from the front foot).

So, let's break this down:

  1. Assistant punches. This is a lunging lead punch, which you'll often see in Victorian/Edwardian fighting styles. It may have its roots in the carrying of a town sword that fell out of favor half a century to a century prior. In the book, this punch is long, and the balance of the assistant is fairly stable; Mr. Wolf's assistant is similarly placed until disrupted.

  2. Disruption. The practitioner moves in to receive the punch. In the book, you'll notice he does so at the wrist; in Mr. Wolf's video it's clear to the armpit, which sends the balance of the assistant backwards and removes weight from the front foot. Meanwhile, the cane is hooked about the ankle. Positive, pulling pressure is applied whilst still imbalanced.

  3. Stepping away. The practitioner turns and steps back, which pulls with the whole body. Figure 180 pounds pulling against the lower leg as it attempts to push weight forward (causing the assistant's leg to continue forward and his weight to shift to compensate). The end result is a fall.

Something to be aware of – most of the arts upon which Bartitsu was based still exist: Pugilism, Le Canne/*Canne de Combat*/Canne d'Arme, Savate, and jujutsu are all still popular and practiced around the world. The technique in question is a rather anglicized version of a technique from Le Canne.


The pictures raise almost as many questions as they answer ;)

But as with foot sweeps in Judo, it would come down to a question of timing. Once the forward foot is planted firmly on the ground, I don't see how this would work. You'd have to catch the leading foot as the opponent was advancing, just as he's about to transfer his weight.

It looks like it might be fun to have a go with.

  • It's an interesting idea, but you can see that in the video the ruffian's foot is planted. In the pictures, the ruffian is in an elongated stance, but even then... It's weird. The thing is, the cane gives you some leverage, so you don't HAVE to do it before the foot is planted. (I managed to get this far with my friend).
    – Anon
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 14:21
  • I'll confess I didn't watch the video. I was just going from the pictures.
    – nedlud
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 20:47

Someone mentioned Kosotogari. There are three ways it could work.

  1. Catch the foot before weight comes onto it.
  2. Catch it as he is trying to step back.
  3. Use a sharp jerking movement but the leg has to be braced backwards at an angle to the floor.

Another thought would be Kibisu gaishi - the heel pick as it was formerly done in Judo.


Displacing the Foot

This spurs thought of kosotogari or kouchigari from judo. If I can sweep his foot with my foot, surely I can do so with a cane. Unfortunately I've never tried, and so cannot answer definitively.

This Gentleman's Apparent Technique

It appears that instead of swatting the foot inward, the...bartitsuka?...is hooking and drawing backwards and upwards while connecting the cane to his body. Thus he is pulling with his body instead of just his arms.

Limitations and Further Research

As with anything, and particularly reverse-engineered techniques from kata or books, we should be very careful to distinguish "this could be made to work against a compliant partner" from "this is useful for fighting". The true test of technique is only against a competent, motivated and fully resisting opponent, the easiest and most relevant of which to procure in this case being a Dog Brothers gathering. They'll probably let you use a cane in a full-contact fight with one of them.

  • The problem my friend and I came during your description, at the "and upwards" part. It turned out to not work well for us, because we could not separate the legs far enough to create sufficient imbalance.
    – Anon
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 14:26
  • @Trevoke I think that the best way to understand that part of the technique is to study judo's kosotogari in depth. I don't know how to describe it with words except to point to a "chopping" motion. Commented May 16, 2012 at 2:52
  • Looked up kosotogari on Youtube. I understand what you mean - it's the traditional way of taking somebody down by breaking equilibrium and redirecting their weight. I can't map that technique to the "and upwards" part of your answer, but it definitely maps to something else a friend said involving a twisting motion with the cane to generate the same kind of directional force on the ankle (which I haven't been able to try yet).
    – Anon
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:31

If you were unable to split the legs enough to unbalance an attacker, it just might be that both of you might have really good grounding in your stances or leg strength to resist the pulling of the cane. An inexperienced person with a cane might not have fuller understanding of how the cane works (even though the "hook and pull" premise looks fairly straightforward).

I think it can work, but that might also depend on who you are using the technique against. A person who does not have a martial arts background may not be aware of his own body. I'm going to venture a guess on how something like this would work effectively against anyone. I think what is key is, like Dave said, is using your own body mass and not just your arms. I imagine you would engage your core and back more. Using only your arms to pull backwards will also generate a counteracting pull forwards and throw you off-balance.

If the person can resist pulling, it would take more effort on your part to displace that foot and move it forward. If the person moves in (like in the video), the upward trip also requires body movement to force the attacker to fall. The basis of how to redirect a person's movements depends on your ability to "read" or "feel" how that person is moving, i.e., how their center of mass is placed. It can be very subtle, and developing that skill takes time.

In addition to that, there are probably cane techniques I'm missing (since I don't know how to use one of these) that focus on how to place the cane in relation to the biomechanical structures of the foot and ankle and the effects that come from that. I would say that's probably a more critical component than sole body grounding and movement.

The elongated stance in the photo might be an exaggeration for the demonstration and visualization of the footing or grounding in relation to the subsequent pulling move. The video shows something a little more close-quarters where the stances are not as exaggerated and appears to be something you would more likely see in reality (in a street self-defense situation like that).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.