Shanghai Municipal Police Jujitsu

In July of 1940, SIS agent Eric Anthony Sykes, a retired Inspector in the Shanghai Municipal Police, and William Ewart Fairbairn, a retired Assistant Commissioner in the Shanghai Municipal Police, were commissioned as captains in the British army to instruct commandos  in close combat at the Special Training Centre, Inverailort, Scotland. As well as teaching instinctive point shooting, silent killing and knife fighting, the pair taught unarmed combat.

Their unarmed combat techniques were then adopted by the Army Physical Training Corps, who first taught them to the Commandos, Airborne Forces, Special Operations Executive and the Special Air Service, then included them in the “Tough Tactics” manual used by the APTC to train troops in North Africa, before El Alamein, and then to troops throughout the British empire. Their unarmed combat was even adopted by the American OSS, who seconded Fairbairn in April 1942 from Camp X (Special Training School 103) in Canada. And in the British Mandate of Palestine, their unarmed combat techniques were being taught both to the British Army and the Jewish terrorists groups they were fighting.

Although it is commonly believed that the unarmed combat techniques that they taught were developed by Fairbairn from judo, jujitsu Chinese boxing and his own experiences in the Shanghai Municipal Police — because that is what he claimed — this is complete bullshit. Its often noted that Fairbairn’s books: “Defendu” (1926) and “Scientific self-defence” (1931) and All-in Fighting (1942) bear more than a striking resemblance to Leopold MacLagen’s: “Ju-jitsu: A Manual of the Science” (1918), “Capt. Leopold McLaglen’s Modernised Jiu Jitsu Lessons” (1939), and “Unarmed Attack and Defence for Commandos, Home Guards and Civilians,” (1942). The unarmed combat techniques Fairbairn and Sykes taught were based on the techniques in the Shanghai Municipal Police Self-Defence Manuel (1915), which were lifted from a seminar with Leopold MacLagen, who taught jujitsu to both the the Shanghai Volunteer Corps and Shanghai Municipal Police in 1914. Even the trademark Fairbairn chin jab is in the Shanghai Municipal Police Self-Defence Manuel.

Fairbairn demonstrating the Shanghai Municipal Police Jujitsu

Captain Leopold MacLagen claimed to have served in the Boer War and been a world jujitsu champion. He might have served in the Boer war and might have even been a captain, but he wasn’t world jujitsu champion, he was a touring music hall charlatan, which is why his jujitsu was bullshit, as was the Fairbairn System.

Illustrated Techniques from Fairbairn’s Get Tough! (1942)

The Happy Slap

Creeping up behind an unsuspecting Nazi type with his helmet off and happy slapping him isn’t my idea of life or death combat. It ranks up there with glueing a coin to the floor and booting him up the the Aris’ when he bends over to pick it up.

back breaker

Isn’t that a chiropractic technique?

cock grab

The problem with Fairbairn was that despite having a 2nd Dan black belt from the Kodokan, his self-defence techniques were based on hammed up, stage jujitsu — maybe he should have got Judy Garland to write the preface to his book, instead of Douglas Fairbanks. Grabbing a geezer by the crown jewels will get his attention for a second or two, but the half-arsed standing arm bar and knee to the face is just stupid.

If he had tried this horseshit in a live sparring session, who would have found out how utterly ineffective most of it was. Unfortunately he didn’t and this sort of nonsense was taught after WWII as self-defence; it’s the basis of the Israeli unarmed combat system krav maga. And the unrealistic techniques in Fairbairn’s 1942 book HAND’S OFF are still taught in women’s self-defence courses today.

29 thoughts on “Shanghai Municipal Police Jujitsu

  1. Fairbairn must have been an honorary Judo dan grade because he was born on the 28 Feb 1885: He didn’t get his 1st dan until the 14 December 1926, when he was nearly 42!

  2. Steph –

    In my alter ego I’m an academic and a man of science. Ergo, I’d have to conduct a series of tests on you. I’d need to see photos of you clothed and nude (video is fine too). Then, after a most thorough investigation, I’m sure I could come up with some sort of double-blind test — something that involves photos of masked nude women and your masked nude photo in the mix as the control.

    Being a man of science, this would have to be repeated numerous times to rule out random chance.

    • Caroline,

      Dead people and unconscious people don’t attack people, generally they tend to lie on the floor not doing much. So beating someone to a pulp might not be subtle but is a pretty effective way of stopping them from hurting you. When I was a paratrooper, I was taught to shoot to kill, so why should the unarmed combat be any different?

  3. It’s refreshing to hear this stuff being slated and comparing it modern Krav Maga type training. People justifiable say that there’s lots of bullshit surrounding traditional martial arts but I’ve never come across clubs that sprout more bullshit than RBSD “no nonsense” instructors

  4. Hi – you really do not know what you are talikng about. I learned these techniques in the Royal Marines including the knife techniques and they work because they are simple – the drawings do not do justice. These same techniques are in the SAS Handbook plus some others – they do work believe me I have used them for real not just in demos. Fairbairn may well have got them from the SMP but he was responsible for much training there and if you think the RM and the US Rangers would be teaching these and they did not work you must be dreaming. Having trained in Karate for 40 years this is what I teach in SD, not complex jujitsu or karate techniques.

    • Don’t think the Royal Marines compare to the US Airborne Rangers, British Paras, SAS, Foglore or Pasdaran:) Anyways the US Rangers don’t use that system they invented their own MMA system and lots of them are good wrestlers too, or the ones that trained with us was. Don’t know what SAS handbook you talking about but don’t think the SAS have any unarmed combat system. I know USMC has it’s own martial art called Semper Fu (or MCMAP), seen it on Human weapon. SMP jujitsu is just a crap style of judo.

    • Pat, lets be honest, Her Majesties Royal Marine Wommandos are a bunch of cabin boys who either didn’t have the bollocks to jump out of a plane or like bunking up with sailors. First sign of any trouble and your mob go all village people and stick your hands up. In the Falklands your firm surrendered to Argentinian conscripts without firing a shot, and they didn’t exactly shine when they allowed themselves to be picked up in Iranian water by the Pasdaran: they shit their pants and threw their guns overboard. You going to tell me they got ambushed in open water in broad daylight by a power boat doing 80 knots? What did they think it was a fishing boat?

    • @ Pat

      If I didn’t know what I was talking about, I wouldn’t know that the Fairbairn system was ripped off from Leopold MacLagen’s system. And btw Fairbairn wasn’t responsible for much of the training, Jack Poole, Dermot (Pat) O’Neill and James Robinson were the peeople who really ended up running the SMP self-defence programme. Pat O’Neill was a 3rd dan and Jack Poole and James Robinson were 1st dans graded under Kano. The three of them were the stars and coaches of the SMP judo team and competed in the Kodokan Red and White Championships, which Pat O’Neill won. They also trained with alongside famous British judo names like Trevor Leggett and E.J.Harrison in the Kodokan. They had a lot more pedigree than Fairbairn, who was a pen pusher. Also in 1945 the APTC dropped the Fairbairn SMP jujitsu techniques from recruit training and replaced it with milling and the S V Bacon style of wrestling. Stanley Vivian Bacon was a British gold medallist in Freestyle wrestling. George De Relwyskow was another British freestyle wrestling gold and silver medallist from those Games, who was a H2H combat instructor at Aldershot during WWI and replaced Fairbairn at the Canadian Special Training School known as STS 103 or Camp X. He was a much better fighter and instructor by all accounts.

      If you’re teaching Leopold MacLagen’s techniques, you’re teaching piss poor, ineffective self-defence; rather than teaching substandard judo, why not teach the real deal? Fairbairn built his reputation off the success of the SMP judo team and Sykes shooting method, but as an unarmed combat and knife fighting instructors, Fairbairn, Sykes and Applegate were bollocks. Don’t get me wrong, I would rate Sykes and Applegate as two of the best firearms theorists of the C20th, well above Cooper, and their contribution to CQB tactics was immense.

  5. Enjoying reading the blog. I did some training with some World War 2 combatives guys in New Jersey USA. Learned the fairbairn system. I’ll put it mildly. It wasn’t for me. The karate chops and the like I don’t think really work. You also have no defense unlike the cheek weld of a boxing punch when you throw them. I found good solid traditional boxing punches much more effective. And you absolutely need grappling (wrestling) in a real fight. I think the system was to give soldiers a form of mystical confidence more than anything. I had no idea it came from maclagen. Good post.

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