Inside Every Umbrella is a Weapon of Self Defence

“You’ve never fended off an attacker using your umbrella? Well, let me tell you how it’s done”

December 5, 2016

By Jenni Elliott / Photo: Acadamie Duello

The Claim

Can you use an umbrella to fight off something other than a downpour? That’s what the practitioners of Bartitsu, a unique martial art that was famously depicted in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, would have you believe. Bartitsu combines various techniques from kickboxing, jujitsu, and cane fighting with the use of a (non-collapsable) umbrella, and it’s catching on in a big way in Vancouver. But that shouldn’t be too surprising—after all, if there’s one thing living in this city should have taught us  all (besides opening our minds to tofu and closing them to ever  paying off a mortgage) it’s that having an umbrella by your side is never a bad idea.


The Trial

When I walked into Academie Duello’s Gastown studio, I was greeted by a surprisingly diverse mix of classmates. Yes, there was the martial-arts fanatic (and likely Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast), but there was also the tiny woman who was looking to prepare for real-life perils rather than imagined ones. And prepared she was by the end of the class, which saw us run drills like charging our partner with a (plastic) knife while the other used the umbrella and a few well-placed pressure points to fend off our advance. “You’re not always going to be bigger or stronger than your attacker,” our instructor David said. “Use whichever tools are available to you.”


The Verdict

No, your real world attacker probably won’t be wielding a plastic knife, and you might not always have an umbrella handy. But that doesn’t mean the confidence you pick up (and knowledge of where the jugular is located) over the course of the four hours isn’t helpful. Despite its British origins, Bartitsu isn’t all tweed and top hats, and while it might sound frivolous to spend an afternoon playing with an umbrella, it’s harder than it looks. I left feeling like I had gotten some exercise while also learning something valuable—never mind the cocktail-party conversation fodder it gave me. “You’ve never fended off an attacker using your umbrella? Well, let me tell you how it’s done.”


Academie Duello, 412 W Hastings St.,

If you don’t want to put your favourite umbrella in harm’s way, check out the monthly self-defence workshops offered at Elements Academy of Martial Arts. The two-hour classes ($25) teach students how to use instinctive reactions to their advantage, as well as how to get away if someone is grabbing your hair or pulling you backward by the throat. “We teach women how to render their assailant unconscious, giving the victim an opportunity to flee,” says Emma Hamilton, owner of Elements. “We also advise to run when possible. Just because you’ve taken a workshop doesn’t mean you should stand and fight.”

Elements Academy of Martial Arts, 4465 Dunbar St.,

Originally published May 10, 2016

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.