The Baritsu Chapter

Here's an article I found in The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook (1973, ed. Peter Haining) about Holmes's Japan connection. The original source is given as "The Sunday Times, February 26, 1950," and spelling, punctuation, word choice etc. is Sic! throughout, although I did fix a couple of glaringly obvious typos.

By Richard Hughes

Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts around the world will doubtless be excited to know that the first Oriental branch of the Baker Street Irregulars, The Baritsu Chapter, has been formed in Tokyo under the occupation.

As the Nipponese chapter included leading Japanese, it can be said that a common devotion to the memory of The Master of Baker Street was the means, peace treaty or no, of first restoring Japan to the comity of nations.

The late Count Makino, one of Japan's distinguished Elder Statesmen, who was her representative at Versailles and narrowly escaped assassination by the militarists in the 1936 Tokyo army mutiny, was one of the foundation members of the Baritsu chapter. He had a profound knowledge of the Holmes-Watson saga, and his scholarly grandson, Kenichi Yoshida, son of the present Prime Minister, a Cambridge graduate and another member of the Baritsu chapter, testifies to his late grandfather's angry rejection of modern Western detective mysteries and intense re-reading of the original Holmes stories.

On his death-bed last year, the ailing Count Makino wrote a learned paper for the opening meeting of the Baritsu chapter. He clarified the doubts of Holmesian students over the use of the curious word "baritsu," from which the Tokyo chapter takes its name, by Holmes in the "Adventure of the Empty House." Students will remember that Holmes, explaining his miraculous return form the dead to the shaken Watson, credited his escape from the long, murderous arms of Professor Moriarty to his "knowledge of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling," which enabled him to hurl the arch-criminal into the Reichenbach Falls.

The word has been loosely accepted by students as an alternative Japanese term for "jujitsu." But, as Count Makino pointed out, there is no such word as "baritsu" in the Japanese language. He suggested in his brilliant paper that its appearance in the Holmes saga was just another of Dr. Watson's numerous errors as chronicler.

"What Holmes actually said," wrote Count Makino, "was: 'I have some knowledge of bujitsu, which includes the Japanese system of wrestling.' Bujitsu is the Japanese word for the martial arts, which in addition to jujitsu embrace the study of archery, fencing, spearmanship, pike-thrusting, long and sword swordsmanship, military fortification and the firing of cannon, muskets and small arms.

Holmes as specialist

"Sherlock Holmes' proficiency in all these highly specialised arts is well known. We know his weakness for pock-marking the walls of his apartment with patriotic initials his knowledge of airguns was at least equal to that of Colonel Sebastian Moran; we have a glimpse of his acquaintance with pike and spear in the 'Adventure of Black Peter,' in which he attempted to harpoon the dead pig in Allardyce's butcher shop. We know also that he was 'a bit of a single-stick expert,' while some of his early adventures among the medieval moats, turrets, and drawbridges of the English aristocracy would naturally have attracted him to a study in military fortifications.

"Only in Japan," concluded Count Makino, "do we find one comprehensive science which includes all these studies. Only in Sherlock Holmes do we find a Westerner who combines a notable skill in all of them. For us Japanese there is intense satisfaction in the foundation of the first Tokyo chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars, under a name perpetuating that complex and subtle Japanese art which saved the hero of the West and of the East for further unforgettable adventures."

Did you spot the error in Makino's deductions? He has eliminated the impossible — the claim that "baritsu" is an actual Japanese word — and thereby arrived at the truth, i.e. that "baritsu" was an error for another word. But he did not eliminate the possibility that it was an error for another English word. Which it is. "Baritsu" is now known to be a misspelling of or editorial mistake for bartitsu, a martial art founded in the late 19th century by Edward William Barton-Wright. Bartitsu, Wikipedia informeth us, combines the jujitsu Barton-Wright studied in Tokyo, a Swiss school of cane fighting, and the worst excesses of British mustachery.

Hughes goes on to list a few other members of the Baritsu chapter, including Edogawa Rampo and "George F. Blewitt, Philadelphia defence attorney for the late General Hideki Tojo," and closes with:

Truly Holmes — now in his ninety-sixth year and living in contented and immortal retirement among his Sussex beehives — has succeeded in bringing the East and West together, irrespective of race, colour and political ideology. The philosophic observer may well speculate on the significance in current international affairs of the continued absence of any branch of the Baker Street Irregulars in Moscow and of the stubborn refusal of Joseph Stalin to read any of the Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Popularity factor: 9

Leonardo Boiko:

Speaking of which, why there is this widespread variation in Western contexs of [u] to [i] in martial arts that include a 術 or 柔—rendering jūjutsu, ninjutsu, kenjutsu, bujutsu as jiujitsu, ninjitsu kenjitsu, bujitsu? Is it an artifact of a misunderstanding of romanizations like “jyujyutsu”? Or is there actual phonetic variation (dia- or synchronically) that I’m unaware of?

As martial arts fans know, the spelling “jiu-jitsu”—and its pronounciation—was made official in the Gracie family’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is really a derivative of early jūdō, when it was still called jujutsu interchangeably.  Wikipedia says the Brazilian pronounciation is [ʒuˈʒitsu], but I’m fairly sure it’s closer to [ʒjuˈʒitsʊ], even when spoken by official sources. I wonder how and when did they start to call it jiu-jitsu. The rōmaji theory feels weird to me because I don’t think Maeda would have instructed the Gracies primarily via written texts…



If I had to guess, I'd say it's just out and out butchery of pronunciation by English speakers. For example, we pronounce kamikaze as kamakazi, harakiri as harry-kerry, etc. I think native English speakers are just changing vowels at random to suit the demands of English.

Leonardo Boiko:

Well, that would explain English loanwords, like Ashida Kim’s (fake) “ninjitsu”. But Brazilian Portuguese speakers rarely alter Japanese vowels in loanwords; we had no Great Vowel Shift, no European Portuguese vowel neutralization, we don’t use single letters to represent diphtongs like English etc. Our vowel system match Japanese reasonably well (save, of course, for details like the lip compression of う). We might nasalize a vowel preceding [n] or [m] (as in [ka.'tɐ̃.na]), and we might lower a final [e]/[o] to [ɪ]/[ɯ] – but those changes would only change spoken language, not written text. And we would never change an [u] to [i]. Except we did.

I’d even risk saying that the glide in [ʒju] makes it sound more alien than [ʒu]. The ispell corpus has no examples of “jiu”, but about two thousand “ju”s — jujuba, Tijuca, ajuda and so on.

So whence “jiu-jitsu”?


Both this and the Wikipedia piece on Bartitsu are fascinating--thank you. You're not kidding about the facial foliage, though. Tempted to modify the Wikipedia piece to add "startling an opponent with the luxuriousness of one's moustache" to the list of signature moves at the end.

Leonardo Boiko:

I wonder what koryū bujutsu system did Holmes studied under. I don’t know of any that trains gun marksmanship…

language hat:

Isn't it possible Portuguese borrowed the word from English?

Leonardo Boiko:

The Gracies, Brazilians who studied directly under Mitsuyo Maeda, borrowing the name of their own martial art from English?

I suppose it’s possible that they were overwhelmingly influenced by the romanization, by English or by both to the point where they ignored the way their own teacher spoke. (According to pt.wikipedia, contemporary newspaper O Tempo announced Maeda as a “jiu-jitsu” expert—but I’m not sure that was really the spelling in the newspaper; can’t find it online). But if that theory is true, I find it surprising enough to write about it. Am I being insistent? Sorry :)


Hmm, I'm not aware of any variation in Japanese between jutsu/jitsu for 術, but it could be a now-lost Japanese variant. Or, it could be a mistake by 19th-century English speakers that lives on. (My intuition as a native speaker is that "jitsu" is easier to say than "jutsu", and the latter is likely to morph into the former in fast speech.)

If the term "jiu-jitsu" had already entered Portuguese via English by the time Maeda arrived to teach the Gracies what was up, maybe they just went with the flow and called it "jiu-jitsu" instead of trying to persuade everyone to switch to "jiu-jitsu".

In particular, the retention of "jiu" in Portuguese strikes me as a good argument for the "imported from English" angle, because it's a distinctively archaic romanization. (Wikipedia says it was used as the title of an English lecture in 1888, before the Hepburn system became standard.) It doesn't seem likely that both English and Portuguese would come up with a non-standard romanization like that independently.

Once you had "jiu-jitsu", then it could have got extended by analogy to ninjitsu etc.


The original ACDoyle stories very much emphasize Holme's martial prowess--a bare knuckle boxing champion at one stage chides him for choosing the life of a detective over that of a fighter. I blame Basil Rathbone, and his deadly art of the stiff upper lip, for giving us a less physical Holmes.

Mind you, if Guy Ritchie is to believed, Holmes is the inventor of MMA, combining London style vale tudo, string vested judo, and Indian yoga, all united under the imperial power of Victorial colonial consciousness.

"British moustachery." Hahhaha.

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