Antagonisticathlon! (Or, “Saving Dr. Watson: A Gentleman’s Encounter with Dastardly Evil-Doers”)

On Sunday, March 11th of 2012, members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago took part in the first ever “antagonisticathlon” event at Forteza. This was their graduation from the recent six-week introductory Bartitsu training course.

Obviously, with a diverse group of students, some with extensive martial arts training, some with none what-so-ever, there is a limit to what a “graduation exam” might entail after a mere twelve classes. Likewise, the Bartitsu revival has been decidedly non-hierarchical, emphasizing the continuation of Barton-Wright’s work over creating ranking systems and standardized curriculum. What to do?

Enter the Antagonisticathlon.

The what???

During the late 19th century, the word “antagonistics” meant all manner of combat sports and self-defence skills. Inspired by this, Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf came up with an interesting way to test the novice Bartitsuka (students) while having a good deal of tongue-in-cheek fun at the same time!

Antagonisticathlon participants represent Victorian-era adventurers fighting their way through a gauntlet of obstacles and ne’er-do-wells, inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ escape from Professor Moriarty’s assassins in The Final Problem:

The dapper Michael Mauch, right, does not hestiate to sully his waist-coat as he hurls a ruffian to the ground during the Anatagonisticathlon. ((c)2012 Andrew A. Nelles/ For The Chicago Tribune)

The “stations” of the antagonisticathlon (not all shown in the video compilation) included:

  • Charging shoulder tackle to punching bag (“knocking an assassin out the window and into the Thames”)
  • Precision cane thrusts through suspended rings
  • Overcoat and cane vs. dagger-wielding assassin
  • Weight-lifting on antique pulley-weight apparatus
  • “Death Alley”; cane vs. three stick-wielding assassins
  • “Rowing across the Thames” on antique rowing machine
  • “Rescuing Dr. Watson”
  • Walking Cane vs. stick combat
  • Shoulder roll and hat toss to finish

Dressed in either traditional Edwardian work-out clothing (a fitted, sleeveless shirt and loose-fitting pants, such a yoga or gi pants), or in their Victorian best, the students readily got into the spirit of this martial obstacle course; testing themselves and their fledgling skills in Bartitsu, but first and foremost celebrating the esprit de corps of helping to make Barton-Wright’s “noble experiment” born anew.

“I say, Old Bean, perhaps this is more what you were envisioning?” ((c)2012 Andrew A. Nelles/ For The Chicago Tribune)

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