Don’t miss Matt’s post at No-sword today on “the first Oriental branch of the Baker Street Irregulars, The Baritsu Chapter,” and how the name comes from a mysterious Conan Doyle reference to “baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling,” which turns out to be a mangled allusion to a long-forgotten martial art called bartitsu, invented in 1898 by Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who had spent the previous three years living in Japan. A must-read for anyone interested in Japan, Sherlock Holmes, or “the worst excesses of British mustachery.”


  1. marie-lucie says

    Once more, Sherlock Holmes intervenes successfully in international diplomacy.
    I don’t think that “baritsu” is a mangling of “bartitsu”: it is the latter that sounds like a mangled Japanese word, with its unjapanese -rt- sequence (this being a British coinage, the word must have sounded more like “baatitsu” with a long vowel). Conan Doyle’s “baritsu” is certainly based on “bartitsu” but sounds more genuine as the name of a mysterious Japanese martial art. “Bartitsu” wrestling (etc) was not a homegrown Japanese art but admittedly a hybrid form. Sherlock had studied the real thing.

  2. Good points all, and of course you’re right about the nonrhotic pronunciation, which hadn’t occurred to me.

  3. Whatever it may be, “Bartitsu” isn’t a mangling of anything. It’s the original name of the art, derived from “Barton”, the name of its mustachioed gaijin inventor. “Baatitsu” wouldn’t be Japanese either, because “ti” isn’t a modern Japanese syllable. The closest Japanese transliteration would be something like “Baachitsu” (or, to take a minor liberty, “Baajutsu”, which sounds more like a martial art, but which would also be a homophone of 馬術, “equestrianism”). In more recent times, Japanese has shown a tendency to preserve R’s rather than drawl them non-rhotically, so you might also transliterate it as “Baruchitsu”.

  4. Dunno why Wikipedia says, “Judson’s article itself eventually became obscured,” when it’s quoted extensively in Baring-Gould‘s footnote to the relevant place, which surely anyone doing research in the ’70s and ’80s would have gone to.
    I’m afraid the Journal of Manly Arts transcription doesn’t do the Victorian original justice, what with the ‘stash popping out into the title and a footnote taking up more than half the first page.

  5. Was Conan Doyle nonrhotic? Where’s that recording we had of him recently?

  6. marie-lucie says

    Lantzy: “Baatitsu” wouldn’t be Japanese either, because “ti” isn’t a modern Japanese syllable.
    Indeed, but I was thinking of how most British people would pronounce the word, which after all was coined by a Britisher.
    dearieme: Was Conan Doyle nonrhotic?
    Since he was a Scotsman, I would guess his speech was rhotic, which would make his pronunciation of “Bartitsu” really un-Japanese.

  7. Have a look at bartitsu in action here. The background music is the theme from the Russian Sherlock Holmes mini-series.

  8. Here is the Sir Arthur video. He’s got quite a wange of non-wotic Rs. He sometimes deploys a back-of-the-throat, Bergen-Norwegian R.

  9. twoleftfeet says

    Never fight with a barista with baritsu. You have a stick. They have hot coffee.

  10. marie-lucie says

    AJP: the Sir Arthur video. He’s got quite a wange of non-wotic Rs. He sometimes deploys a back-of-the-throat, Bergen-Norwegian R.
    Nice video, long enough to distinguish his interesting allophones (variants) of “r”.
    I don’t know any Norwegian, but what I hear is not back-of-the-throat but a more or less strongly trilled r (similar to Russian) between vowels (whether in the same word or not, as in I read or more honest), and also in words beginning with pr, dr and gr. So he would say “a range” not “a wange”. This is what one would expect from a person from Scotland. Some experts here can comment on his pronunciation of r before a consonant or at the end of words not directly followed by a vowel – I suspect that living in Southern England must have diluted his Scottish accent somewhat.

  11. marie-lucie says

    Sashura, thanks for the “bartitsu” video. Cane fighting is obviously not original Japanese.

  12. But it’s not Conan Doyle’s rhoticism that’s at issue (the -r- in baritsu would be pronounced by anyone, rhotic or not) but Barton-Wright’s; he’s the one who invented bartitsu. He was born in Bangalore, so it’s hard to know his family’s dialect, but I suspect he’s far more likely to have been nonrhotic.

  13. Modern Japanese Bartitsu enthusiasts tend to pronounce it “baruchitsu”.
    Born in Bangalore to a Scottish mother and a Northumbrian father, educated in France and Germany and then spending years working in Egypt, Indonesia, Portugal and Japan, Barton-Wright’s accent in speaking English may likewise have been all over the map.
    A “Times” newspaper journalist also misspelled the word as “baritsu” after watching a demonstration of the art in London during 1900. It’s possible that Conan Doyle referred to that article when he wrote “baritsu” in to the Adventure of the Empty House.

  14. baruchitsu is how you transliterate in romaji (Latin script) the kana transliteration of the original English Bartitsu into Japanese.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Here is the Sir Arthur video.

    What strikes me is the complete lack of aspiration. And what was he doing to /w/?

  16. John Cowan says

    Doyle grew up in Edinburgh till age 9, so his native accent was aspirated and rhotic. But when he went to school in England, he probably overdid losing the aspiration.

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