Much has been made of Guy Ritchie's decision to emphasize Sherlock Holmes martial arts prowess in his upcoming film based on the character. Purists seem to be outraged. They usually are. I don't have a dog in that fight, except to say that I've long thought previous film adaptations didn't emphasize Holmes' martial aspect enough - so much so that in one particularly dreadful adaptation featuring Charlton Heston as Holmes, the detective laments the need to have a body at all and expresses his longing to be a mind freed of all physical limitations. As awesome as it would be to have a movie about a floating brain in a deerstalker cap (perhaps with a dangling spinal cord, just for laughs) drifting about Victorian London solving crimes, I just can't see Sherlock Holmes expressing that sentiment.
Ostensibly, Sherlock Holmes practiced (among other manly arts) baritsu, which many scholars have long dismissed as a nonsense term coined by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was, most likely, a typo: at the time in England there was a popular martial art called bartitsu, developed by an Englishman named Edward Barton-Wright. Barton-Wright travelled to Japan to work on a railroad project; while there, he studied jiu-jitsu to stay in shape. He was extremely impressed with the art - so much so that he brought some top jiu-jitsu students back to England and promoted them as prize-fighters to great success. He also took what he learned in the jiu-jistu dojo and synthesized it with European boxing, kick-boxing, and stick-fighting to create a unique art he named after himself: bartitsu. Barton-Wright's approach, it goes without saying, predated Bruce Lee's "take what is useful" approach and today's "mixed martial art" movements by nearly a century.
Barton-Wright is a fascinating character, worthy of a movie of his own. In addition to martial arts his school seems to have been an epicenter of all kinds of Victorian madness, such as "electro-therapy," and physical therapies involving heat, light, and radiation. I have no idea if it worked, but it sure looks cool:
But Barton-Wright's contributions to western culture did not end with martial arts and awesome-looking gizmos I need to have in my living room. He was also an early supporter of women's rights, and made it a point to teach his art and jiu-jitsu to suffragettes, so they could defend themselves against thugs, state-sanctioned and otherwise, who tried to bully them out of their right to vote:
Like I said, a fascinating character. I'm told Robert Downey Jr. is practicing "proper" bartitsu in the movie - whatever that means. If nothing else, I'll be glad to see Sherlock Holmes portrayed as more than walking brain - I think we could use a hero these days who demonstrates that stupidity is not a necessary component of strength.