Simanaitis Says

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IN INITIAL ASSESSMENT of Sherlock Holmes—his Limits, chronicler Dr. John H. Watson made no mention of sports other than “Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.” This was recounted in A Study in Scarlet, an early adventure in their partnership. Later, as Watson got to know the world’s first consulting detective, other indications of Holmes the sportsman were revealed. Here are tidbits on the matter.

The Bicyclist. In Holmes’ day, bicycling was more than sport, it was an important element of transportation. Though there’s no canonical evidence of his pedaling it all over town, Holmes knew enough about bicycling to unravel “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist.”

Said the woman cyclist: “He always kept so far from me that I could not clearly see his face.” An anonymous artist’s illustration, Portland Oregonian, July 23, 1911. This and another image from The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories (2 Vol. Set).

In “The Adventure of the Priory School,” Holmes claims he could deduce a cyclist’s direction of travel by comparing “the more deeply sunk impression” of the rear wheel with the “more shallow mark of the front one.” Wouldn’t you know, Sherlockian scholarship has disputed this. Even Watson’s literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had an opinion: “I had so many remonstrances upon this point, varying from pity to anger, that I took out my bicycle and tried.”

Doyle found this deduction of the world’s first consulting detective to be at fault.

A Practitioner of Bartitsu. Holmes recounts his battle with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Fall: “We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”

Though Watson misspelled it as “baritsu” in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” bartitsu was the Victorian term for the Gentlemanly Art of Self Defense.

And not just gentlemen. Image from Loose Lips.

A Rugby Enthusiast? Though chronicler Dr. John H. Watson played rugby, aka rugger, as a youth, no record exists of Holmes’ participation in sports during his own university days. In fact, in “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter,” Holmes says, “You live in a different world to me, Mr. Overton, a sweeter and healthier one. My ramifications stretch out into many sections of society, but never, I am happy to say, into amateur sport, which is the best and soundest thing in England.”

Besides, Holmes didn’t have the rugger physique, even if he was known to have the necessary aggressive disposition.

Holmes in a combative mood, as documented by Sidney Paget.

The Fisherman. In “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” Holmes asks, “Is there good fishing in that part of Berkshire?”

“Well, sir, I’ve heard there are trout in the mill stream and pike in the Hall Lake.”

“That’s good enough. Watson and I are famous fishermen—are we not, Watson?”

The Beekeeper. Though hardly an Olympic event, beekeeping may qualify as a sportive endeavor. It requires special equipment, its mask, clothing, and such, and clearly calls for a special dedication. In fact, as cited in “His Last Bow,” Holmes wrote a monograph on the subject: Practical Handbook of Bee Culture with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.

Image from BuzzAboutBees.

Mountaineering. What with his adventure at Switzerland’s Reichenbach Fall and his hiatus in Tibet, there is circumstantial evidence of Holmes’ prowess in mountain climbing. Nothing canonical I could find, however.

Singlestick Expertise. Singlestick, also known as cudgels, is a martial art related to the Japanese Kendo.

My Kendo model. Its original stick was lost; a non-canonical substitute is shown.

Holmes’ expertise with a singlestick is documented in A Study in Scarlet. Watson is told, even before he meets him, “He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge…. pushed to excess. When it comes to beating subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape…. to verify how far bruises may be produced after death. I saw him at it with my own eyes.”

Sort of Kendo forensics. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Scott Monty
    February 20, 2020

    Dennis, an excellent summation. We recently discussed the sportsmanship of Sherlock Holmes after a year’s worth of monthly discussions about games and sports on our podcast “Trifles.”

    The final episode involved William S. Baring-Gould’s article for Sports Illustrated, “Sherlock Holmes, Sportsman” in the May 25, 1963 edition:

    We should probably chat more.

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