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.