Fairbairn-Sykes-Applegate Knife Fighting

The Fairbairn-Sykes-Applegate (FSA) Knife Fighting is the basic knife fighting system taught to the British Empire and American military, OSS and SOE during WWII. William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes also invented the famous British commando dagger — “Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife” — and Rex Applegate and Fairbairn, designed a fighting knife  — the less famous Boker Applegate-Fairbairn knife.  The system is still held in high esteem in some quarters because of their expertise in other areas of close-quarter battle, but the problem with their method was none of them were experienced knife fighters.

The cardinal rule of knife fighting is to avoid the point of the enemy’s dagger, but the Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate method ignores that. Their knife fighting tactics were abysmal. As well as ignoring concepts like tempo, misura and velocità, Fairbairn dismisses the need for any stance or guard. Whereas Applegate advocates adopting cinghiale porta di ferro larga — knife held in the right hand at the right hip with the left foot and left hand forward.

Col. Rex Applegate

Col. Rex Applegate

This a terrible knife fighting guard. It leaves your front, left flank and rear only guarded by your empty left hand, telegraphs your attacks, and you can attack the enemy at close range — (misura stretta). If your enemy is in the same guard and you fatally stab him, he’s still likely to stab you right back. If you’re lucky he’ll let you share the ambulance.

Trying to parry a dagger thrust at close range is a good way to get a free ride in an ambulance. The best way to parry a dagger thrust is to move out of it’s range and parry it when it falls short, when it travelling at less velocity. But even then it dangerous to parry a dagger with an empty hand, and has to be done with force. It’s better to parry blade on blade, or to use a stab to the enemy’s hand as a stop hit. Parrying the enemy’s forearm or wrist with your dagger might cut them but still leaves you vulnerable to their attack. You might sever his radial or ulnar artery but if he might stab you in the Jacobs. Not a good trade off.

The FSA method also overemphases slashing, but stabbing is a lot more effective. A slash requires a much longer range of motion, and requires two movements, whereas a stab only requires one. It also needs to be travelling at a much greater velocity to inflict serious damage. Another problem with the FSA method is the Fairbairn “timetable of death”, trying to sever the enemy’s arteries is fine if he is standing still like a mug, but when he’s moving about with a dagger that he wants to stick in you — forget about it! Targets need to be accessible. Most people usually stab to the stomach and slash to the face, but these are the best protected targets. Stabbing someone in the throat, Jacobs, arse, thigh, or foot, is a lot easier and will end a fight.

38 thoughts on “Fairbairn-Sykes-Applegate Knife Fighting

  1. Rob…

    who do you think is more likely to knife you: the sexy blonde in Prada dress, the old rabbi, or the black geezer in a hoodie?


    • Heather, if you stab some wrong ‘un in the April, he’s going to go straight down or stand still then go down, but he ain’t chasing after you the same with the foot. You stab to the throat or face at close range, they lean back you do a sbasso and stab them in the foot. If they pull their foot back you stab them in the Jacobs or thigh.

      • It’s very easy at close range if they’re leaning towards you or away from you. At distance you can set it up with a feint to the Jacobs, abdomen or throat. It’s a good attack and part of old fashioned knife fighting. One of the hardest combination attacks to defend is a stab Jacobs, thigh, and foot. The leaps onto one foot in the Sicilian system are defences to low level attacks.

    • @ heather:

      “Okay, I get stabbing a guy in the balls but the ass and the foot? What will that do?”

      Again with the balls… Heather, I will tell you a secret about us guys… you know what hurts more than stabbing a guy in the balls? stabbing them on the toe… hurts like crazy.

      Keep that in mind. No balls. Ever. Go to the toes instead… And that’s a general rule for everything, not just stabbing. Say u wanna electrecute a guy for some reason… go to the toe. Say u wanna kiss a guy, right? Toe! U wanna spoon feed him? Toe. As a matter of fact do it to anything but the balls. Period!

      Sigh, I need to go to sleep I am starting to ramble.

      • @ mmk080

        A man’s fear of castration is a good reason to go for the balls. Unless you sever his femoral artery, he’s not likely to die of exsanguination from a stab to the balls, even if you manage to serve his dick. But the pain and fear of castration would probably send him into shock even if you only partial served his dick, ruptured one of his balls or cut open his happysack.

      • @Steph

        Thanks Steph… I feel so much better knowing that.


        *looks down at his happysack*

        It seems everyone wants a piece of you these days… can’t say I am surprised…

    • Maybe they don’t like Italians cos there were lots of Italians in London who could knife fight. They could have got them to teach them. Anyways soldiers don’t kill many people with knives, that’s what they got guns for. Knife fighting is better for terrorists.

      • That’s true knife fighting has a very limited in warfare, it’s good for assassination but you use firearms in CQB and it’s not a good for silent sentry removals either. It’s good for partisans, assassins, bodyguards, bouncers and self-defence.

      • @ amie

        Hmm… the British military probably discriminated them because they were criminals, not because they were Italian, but you’re right they would it would have made more sense to get knife fighters to teach knife fighting.

      • As to why the British adopted this system.

        Because Applegate was a high ranking field officer just below staff rank, he probably actively promoted the system and believed in it himself.

      • Kev,

        Not really because Applegate was an American with OSS during the war, and the British military didn’t rate Fairbairn. He worked with Sykes as a municipal policeman in Singapore and again briefly as CBQ instructors in Britain in 1940, but they fell out and he was fucked off, first to Canada at camp X and then to the OSS. Sykes on the other hand was well respected and stayed on in Britain and taught special forces, SOE and his methods were taught in “Tough Tactics” by the APTC. He was an exceptional firearm instructor and a pioneer in modern point-shooting. Applegate trained with them both.

        I think the British were a lot more sceptical about Fairbairn’s knife fighting than the Americans but didn’t see the need to learn a proper knife fighting system, whereas the Septics bought it hook, line and sinker. There is a book called “Put ’em Down, Take ’em Out!: Knife Fighting Techniques from Folsom Prison” by Don Pentecost, which purports to be jail house knife fighting but it’s a rip off of Applegate.

    • Good question. I don’t know the answer to that. It’s not like the couldn’t find anyone, the jails were full of experienced knife fighters and like Amica says there were a fair few experienced Italian knife fighters in London at that time.

      • Heather, knife fighting is big all over Europe because of gun laws but in Italy there is a long tradition of fencing and knife fighting is part of that, remember that Italy’s knife fighting tradition goes back well over 2,000 years. Peasants duelling with daggers but all classes fought with them. The reason America doesn’t have a knife culture is because of the 2nd amendment. If you have a choice — carry a firearm. In my opinion, the anti gun lobby is a bigger threat to American national security than some spoilt Saudi cave-dwelling goat-molester, holed up in Pakistan.

  2. who do you think is more likely to knife you: the sexy blonde in Prada dress, the old rabbi, or the black geezer in a hoodie?

    Hey, what about the sexy brunette?

  3. Rather butt than balls
    (perhaps u need to be a man to truely appreciate that ‘choice’)

    Resets reminder not to browse Stefi blog on public computers!

    • @ Becky

      I asked who do you think is more likely to attack you with a knife a black geezer in a hoodie, a blonde in prada or a rabbi. You’ve answered the question. BTW carrying a knife ain’t a problem, knives they don’t run around stabbing people on their own.

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