“When we hear martial arts today, we hear Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan; we forget that the Western arts have also existed,” Professor Mark P. Donnelly, striking in his black vest and shirtsleeves, began his instructional seminar last Saturday in a New York midtown fighting studio. “It didn’t look anything like kung-fu and karate but it was certainly martial arts.”
What did Western martial arts look like? About 20 students ventured out in the excruciating heat to find out, particularly about bartitsu, an obscure Victorian martial art that’s been getting more pop culture attention lately. Most of the students that day were dressed in street clothes, though some sported vests, long skirts, or bloomers to fit the class theme. Despite two fans running and the AC on full, sweat had already broken out on many brows in the room. Still, we were ready for combat, Victorian-style.