By: William L. Cassidy

The author of the work, the late Lieutenant-Colonel William Ewart Fairbairn (1885-1960), is widely and quite correctly regarded as the foremost close-combat Instructor of the modern era. His remarkable career, which has been extensively documented, began in 1901 with the Royal Marine Light Infantry and service as a member of the British Legation Guard at Seoul Korea. In 1907 he signed on with the Shanghai Municipal Police, thereafter distinguishing himself as an innovative training officer and securing an international reputation by raising and commanding the famed Shanghai Riot Squad. During the period of his service with the force Fairbairn by actual record personally engaged in over 600 violent armed and unarmed encounters, in conditions ranging from routine police work to urban combat experience during the Sino-Japanese War.

Fairbairn retired from police work with the rank of Assistant Commissioner in 1940, at the age of fifty-five. Returning to Great Britain he was recruited by the Secret Service and gazetted as a Captain on the Army list. While so occupied he was the principal instructor's instructor to components of British Military intelligence, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS); the Special Operations Executive (SOE); the Commandos, and other specialized forces.

In 1942 Fairbairn was raised to Major and attached to British Security Co-ordination (BSC) in New York. While in North America he served as consulting instructor to the Canadian Army, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps, and was principal close-combat instructor for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Fairbairn was officially seconded to OSS in 1943, thus becoming one of the few men ever to serve with all representatives of the Anglo-American intelligence community. In 1944 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and in 1945 was awarded the Legion of Merit (U.S.) on the personal recommendation of William J. Donovan, founder of the OSS.

In the mid-1950's Fairbairn again traveled to Asia, serving with the Singapore Police during a period of great civil unrest and with the Cyprus Police during a similar period. He died of natural causes in the summer of 1960 at his home in England, a legend in his own time.

Elsewhere I have written, "To put in simply, Fairbairn's methods worked. Stripped of all the unnecessary trappings, his system of unarmed combat made it possible for a person of average strength and skills to meet and win against an opponent trained in the martial arts." This simplicity is admirably demonstrated in Scientific Self-Defence, a work originally published to serve as the complete exposition of his basic unarmed combat method. This work is the foundation of much of his later effort, including such commercially published extracts as Get Tough!, and the manuals and outlines he wrote for various agencies.

What is the essence of Fairbairn's method? Fairbairn himself wrote in 1925 that he believed his "...system to be entirely new and original, and, further, it requires no athletic effort to perform any of the exercises given. This system is not to be confounded with Jiujutsu or any other known method of defence, and although some of the holds, trips, etc., are a combination of several methods, the majority are entirely original." In an article analyzing certain aspects of Fairbairn's wartime work, I observed that his methods, "...were, from the very beginning, designed as a peculiarly Western Martial Art, a means whereby the English-speaking world could come to grips with and win over oriental systems." These statements lend outline, but the serious student of the subject requires greater detail.

To obtain such detail those who investigate Fairbairn's work will do well to notice the slight similarity in his style with that of Pa-kua Chang, and the manner in which this is skillfully combined with elements of Jui-jitsu. Apart from observing the derivative character of his method, one must also recognize the fundamentally original contributions. His originality stems from inspired, direct experience with the dynamics of personal combat over a considerable period of time. Close study of his methods reveals that he was not a mere theorist; rather he was a precise and careful empirical analyst with a flair for communication.

In combat instruction, practical experience is the highest court of appeal. When we examine many prominent instructors we are let to the conclusion that most practical experience of the past decades has been gained through structured competitions punctuated by infrequent unstructured battles. Even the oriental masters to whom we attribute such formidable qualities were considered battle-scarred if they managed to survive twenty or thirty encounters. Fairbairn, owing to his environments and occupations, had no such limitations. Despite a generous share of sporting matches, Fairbairn's expertise may be said to come mainly from the street, not the ring. The sheer number of life-or-death fights in which he found himself, coupled with lessons learned training literally thousands of men from widely varying cultures, gave Fairbairn a corpus of knowledge which is without precedent and unlikely to be duplicated.

William Ewart Fairbairn was a master of his craft and his form pure. His were not self-serving motions, but grand gestures of service to others. By his example he is teaching us still and thus his works are truly immortal.

This was taken from reprint of Scientific Self-Defence, published by William L. Cassidy in 1981.

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