Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sticking with "baritsu" and Barton-Wright can suck eggs

"We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanaese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me."
-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Final Problem"

"You say 'bartitsu' and I say 'baritsu,' You say 'Bar Tits Sue," and I say 'Barry Tzu.' Burbeebee, bratyty, burrbeebee, oh why-why . . . let's just hug and dive right off!"
-- Me, being silly

Okay, just between you and me, I've never really bought into this Barton-Wright "Bartitsu" scam that emerged in 2001 when a martial arts website stumbled across an old Pearson's Magazine article. It's probably just me having a "Don't spoil my childhood!" fan moment after twenty years of Sherlocking before anyone in the world discovered such a thing existed, but it also demonstrates an issue that Sherlockiana has dealt with from the start: Sherlock's reality versus history.

The grand game of Sherlockiana begins with the premise that Sherlock Holmes existed in our own past. Enough Canonical detail lines up with history that it seems an easy enough proposition to play with and have a little fun. But here's the quandry: If Sherlock Holmes is real, wasn't Irene Adler also real? And if Irene Adler was also real, why isn't there any record of her outside of the Sherlock Holmes stories?

In the past, Sherlockians have tried to say Watson used pseudonyms and found historical people to identify as the Canonical ones. "Irene Adler" was surely Lillie Langtry, that sort of thing. But by shoe-horning a figure in the Holmes Canon into history, they always lose a bit of their individuality, their own luster. As cool as you may want to say Lillie Langtry was, she was no Irene Adler.

And on top of that, if you're saying Irene Adler wasn't Irene Adler, how are we to trust that Sherlock Holmes was Sherlock Holmes and not an actor standing in for Crime Doctor John H. Watson who was really doing all the work? Or Conan Doyle himself, actually being Holmes and Watson and having all the adventures? That way lies silly-town.

If you want to play the Conan Doyle game and go "Oh, Doyle saw that Pearson's Magazine article and didn't spell it right," sure, I'll buy that. But to go "Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective hero of all time, defeated the greatest criminal mastermind in the world by using some shlocky martial art a guy named after himself that didn't actually survive until the modern day," I say thee "Nay!"

Sherlock Holmes gets to have his own martial art. Watson gets to spell things correctly. Tinkerbell resurrects when I clap my hands, and screw you if you want to argue that she doesn't. Baritsu, as Sherlock Holmes used it and Watson wrote it was being used by other heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow before anybody re-read an old article and a movie fight choreographer stumbled across it for Robert Downey, Junior.

Personally, that's my line in the sand. If you want to come at me with not-so-elegant Barton-Wright Bartitsu to change my mind, I'm afraid you're going to have to fight Sherlock Holmes. And he knew baritsu. And baritsu? Nobody beats baritsu.

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