Sunday, 25 January 2009

William E. Fairburn and close combat fighting...

I read with interest an intriguing blog article over at Just a Thought about early 20th Century Jiu jitsu showing men in bowler hats attacking each other. What a fascinating thought! Here's me thinking self defence was a thoroughly late 20th Century concept but apparently not only was making sure your bowler hat was 1 inch above your ears and your collar clean and starched a main preoccupation for the well-dressed man of 1904, so was the issue of personal safety. 

I also mistakenly made the assumption that the author of the book, a certain captain H. H. Skinner, was the same military man who had learned jiu jitsu whilst in the Singaporean police force then came to the UK and instructed special forces during the second world war. I was wrong! The man who did this was called William E Fairbairn who developed the killing commando knife (along with Eric Sykes - the military man, not the comedian!) also known as the Fairbairn Sykes.

Fairbairn served in the army and as a police officer in Singapore. He attended the Kodokan and was awarded a 2nd dan black belt from Kano himself! Ref here. He was well known for his ruthless efficiency in fighting and killing which is epitomised in his handbook,written during the Second World War for servicemen called: 'Get Tough!'.

In his foreword he says: "I should like in conclusion to give a word of warning. Almost every one of these methods, applied vigorously and without restraint, will result, if not in the death, then certainly in the maiming of your opponent".

Not traditionally the idea of a fair play gentleman, Fairbairn had a reputation:

"British Major Fairbairn, who had been chief of police in Shanghai before the Japanese capture of the city, taught the Fairbairn method of assault and murder. His course was not restricted to Camp X, but later given at OSS camps in the United States. All of us who were taught by Major Fairbairn soon realized that he had an honest dislike for anything that smacked of decency in fighting" [Dunlop, Richard (1980). Behind Japanese Lines. US: Rand McNally & Co. ISBN 0-52881-823-6.]

In 'Get Tough!' he often talks about hits and knee strikes to the testicles. This, after all, was war. It was produced at a time when there was a real threat to the UK of a German invasion and the civilian population was being prepared for all-out war. The Home Guard was mobilised even having secret squads trained in Fairbairn's techniques ready to infiltrate behind the enemy lines and wreak havoc. Ref. If ever there were a time to 'get tough', now was it...

The techniques which he taught during the war were from his own style of self defence called Defendu.

Interestingly there is a separate jiu-jitsu based martial art called Defendo (apparently unrelated to defendu) developed by Bill Underwood who, while working in theatres in Liverpool in the early 1900s, saw and trained in Judo and Jiu jitsu. He subsequently moved to Canada where Defendo and the curiously named British Jiu jitsu still exist: a style with roots in ancient Asian martial arts but with a realistic modern edge.


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