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Sunday, March 25, 2012

CQB Services » The Source

CQB Services » The Source

The Source

The Source
by Dennis Martin

It’s 1940, somewhere in Scotland. A group of recruits wait shivering in the dawn air. All are volunteers for special duties, behind enemy lines, and have been through a rigorous screening program. They have been brought to a remote castle for the next phase of their training; Silent Killing. The class is called to attention and in strides a rather studious figure, bespectacled and, by their standards, quite elderly. Surely this can’t be the instructor! He points to the biggest recruit and commands “Come right at me lad”. The burly recruit rushes in and is sent flying to land heavily on the turf, the instructor’s boot poised ready to crush his testicles. The recruits have met “The Shanghai Buster
[Picture copyright  CQB Services]
The more I research Close-Quarter Combatives the more I get the feeling that I’m treading a well-worn path, that someone has been there before. Many of the answers to contemporary self-protection problems are found, not in current Martial Arts training, but in the programs used in World War Two. In this article we are going to discuss the legacy of WW-2 Combatives, and why we consider them to be The Source.
Without doubt the pivotal figure of WW-2 Combatives was W.E. Fairbairn. He was not the only prominent instructor, as we shall see, but I believe he was primarily responsible for the enduring practicality of the training. To discover the roots of this training we must travel back in time almost a century, and right around the World, to Shanghai, 1907.


At the time Shanghai was the Worlds most dangerous city… equivalent to Jo’burg today. William Ewart Fairbain had joined the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) after serving with the Royal Marines. A year later, patrolling a foot-beat in the red-light district he was evidently attacked, because he had the unnerving experience of wakening to find himself in hospital. While recovering from the assault he noticed an advert for “Professor Okada, Ju-jutsu and Bonesetting”. Fairbairn started training in Japanese martial arts, eventually gaining Black Belt second-Dan from the Kodokan. I have known several people who took up training as the result of a violent attack. Every one trained with an extra degree of commitment, knowing that violence was a grim reality. Fairbairn expanded his training to include Chinese Boxing under Master Cui Jindong.
In 1910 Fairbairn was promoted to sergeant and began his long career as an instructor in close-quarter combatives, firstly on the pistol range. Over the years he developed and expanded police training to new levels. For example he introduced the “Mystery House “, a multi-room shooting facility, later adopted by the SAS as the famed “Killing House”.

As he rose through the ranks his influence spread, and he was able to introduce more innovations. He created the first SWAT Team, the SMP Reserve Unit, fully equipped and heavily armed as a mobile reaction force. Whenever they went on a callout Fairbairn was there gaining first hand experience in the alleys and slums of Shanghai. It is estimated that Fairbairn was involved in over 600 armed encounters during this period.


In 1939 W.E. Fairbain retired from as Assistant Commissioner of the SMP, and together with Eric Anthony Sykes, an officer from the Reserve Unit, travelled to England and were accepted by the War Office as Captains. This is not meant to be a biography of William Fairbairn (which is, incidentally, coming soon from my old friend Peter Robins), so I’m going to concentrate on the evolution of the “Fairbairn System” and how it related to the tactical requirements at the time.
Fairbairn’s career can be divided into phases, each representing a different emphasis:
Shanghai Period; Police close-quarter training has a different function than either civilian, or, military use. Every police use-of-force encounter ends in arrest, so control and restraint techniques are emphasised. Fairbairn taught his officers Defendu, his own blend of Ju-jutsu, Chinese Boxing and common sense street tactics. His book, “DEFENDU” (later renamed “SCIENTIFIC SELF DEFENCE”) presented this system, and was adopted as the official training manual by several colonial police forces.
Commando Period: When Fairbairn arrived in England the war was just starting, and there was a pervasive “back to the wall” spirit in the country. Newspaper cartoons showed how to secure a carving knife to a broom pole so a housewife could defend take on a hulking German Fallschirmjager. The last thing needed in this situation was restraint, so most of the joint locks of Defendu were eliminated.

Fairbairn first trained the Home Guard; whose highly secret Auxiliary Units had a covert role far removed from the popular “Dads’ Army image. They were to act as “stay-behind-parties”, to become in effect the British Resistance Movement following the expected Nazi invasion. He also trained the Commandos, the raiding force who was to be Britain’s offensive arm, striking at vital enemy targets.
Fairbairn produced his classic manual “All-In Fighting” during this period. Published in the USA as “Get Tough!” this shows marked changes from the Shanghai phase. Police need to handle drunks, handcuff resisting suspects, and disperse crowds. Military/ infiltrators need a stripped-down system to instantly subdue an enemy, with, or, without weapons.
Fairbairn and Sykes gathered together a select group of twelve men, who were put through a twelve-week instructors program, and then sent out to spread the system through the forces. Included in this group were Bill Pilkington, who was already experienced in Ju-jutsu and Indian Lathi stick fighting, and Robert Carr, from Liverpool, whose preferred weapon was the docker’s hook.

It was during this period that Fairbairn and Sykes produced their famed F-S Dagger, which became the badge of the Commandos and the emblem of many Special Units worldwide.
Special Operations Period: Following success training the Commandos Fairbairn and Sykes were recruited by the Special Operations Executive, the secret agency tasked by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze!” SOE agents needed to blend in while operating in occupied territory, so relied on a variety of covert weapons, as well as unarmed skills. This became known as Silent Killing, the final evolution of the Fairbairn system. Get Tough was further revised and only the most aggressive, potentially lethal, techniques retained.
America started a counterpart of SOE their Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and such was the fame of Fairbairn that he was requested by the OSS to provide instruction in Silent killing to their personnel. He stayed in America until the war ended, finishing with the rank of Lt Colonel, and was decorated for his invaluable contribution.
Meanwhile Eric Sykes stayed in Great Britain training the SOE and other secret agencies including the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). Sykes was an intriguing character, and it has been speculated that he was himself an agent of SIS while in the Far East. Besides being a superb shot, he was a master in the use of arcane covert weapons, such as sleeve and lapel daggers, killing needles and disguised firearms. Sykes refined the Get Tough era syllabus and, like Fairbairn, eliminated all but the most effective stuff. He died in 1945.


It is important to note that Fairbain taught a total system, including the use of impact weapons, edged weapons, firearms as well of hand-to hand methods. This “all-in” system is known by many terms. The SOE called it Silent Killing. Current military terminology prefers CQB, or Close-Quarter Battle. American instructors refer to CQC, Close-Quarter Combatives. Fairbairn called it “Gutterfighting” To quote Fairbairn….”You’re interested only in disabling or killing your enemy. That’s why I teach what I call Gutterfighting. There’s no fair play; no rules except one: kill or be killed”.
Wartime exigencies severely limited training time. To traditional martial artists who think in terms of years of training the program seems ridiculously short, surely you can’t teach a system in a few hours? However, current research by training organisations such as Bruce Siddle’s’ PPCT indicates such thinking is 360º wrong. In fact, if you can’t teach the system in a short time it probably won’t work in the street. In gutterfighting, less is more. Let’s look at a typical syllabus:-
  1. The edge of hand blow (known today the Axe-hand, familiar to Karate practitioners as Shuto)
  2. Tiger’s claw (A direct palm-heel strike)
  3. Chin jab (A palm-heel strike done as an uppercut)
  4. Kicking; the edge of boot kick
  5. Knee (delivered to testicles)
  6. Thunderclap {strike to ears}
Various wartime instructors taught additional strikes, such as Hammerfist, Elbow-smash etc, but even with these, the core syllabus was small, deliberately so.
These strikes are very simple, but there are technical distinctions that identify real wartime training:
FOOTWORK, taught to allow violent movement on uneven, or, slippery ground, rather than the martial arts equivalent suitable only for the gym
WEIGHT TRANSFER, to increase impact.
DENIAL OF REACTION TIME, all strikes were non-telegraphic, there was no preparation, no giveaways. Also use was made of masking. For example, Fairbairn regarded the eyes as a prime target, but they were never attacked directly, because of the natural defensive instinct. By using the chin-jab, or, Tiger-claw the eyes were attacked indirectly, but nevertheless, effectively.
It was W.E. Fairbairn’s thought that if an individual mastered these methods of striking, he would be able to effectively deal with any unarmed opponent, only if the person applying them used them in combination and in a strong attacking manner.


Even more important than the striking techniques was his emphasis on offensive mindset. All-out overwhelming aggression was what made the system so effective. The repeated exhortation to “kill or be killed” had the effect of accessing the highest levels of body-alarm reaction, energising the neurology and releasing a potent chemical cocktail that made the fighter stronger, faster and more resistant to pain and shock. This kind of mindsetting is common now, but in wartime it was revolutionary.
The massive international law-enforcement-training organisation PPCT conducts detailed academic research on the physiological, kinaesiological and psychological aspects of use of force. Chief instructor Bruce Siddle told me that “the more they researched the more they found Fairbairn was right” It seems so; Marcus Wynne spent several years working on a US Government counter-terrorist unit, and is now heavily involved in critical incident survival training. He told me that the CIA tested a group of veteran WW-2 operators, and that the old timers were still able to perform CQB on demand.
It was that conversation with Bruce Siddle that rekindled my own interest in WW-2 CQB, and since then I have tried to find out as much as I can about the training.


The US Marine Corps deployed a detachment of troops to Shanghai in the 1930s to augment the police. Several of these “Shanghai Marines” trained with Fairbairn, and one, Sam Taxis, demonstrated the Defendu system back in the US to Colonel AJ Biddle. Scion of a wealthy family Biddle devoted himself to the study of close combat, sparring with noted boxers such as Gene Tunney, and fencing with Olympic swordsmen. Biddle developed official programs in bayonet fighting, knife fighting and unarmed combat for the USMC. He was very impressed with Defendu and mentioned it in his classic book “Do or Die”
A student of Biddle, who later became a senior instructor was John Styers. His legacy is the book “Cold Steel” which details his update of the Biddle syllabus.
When the US entered World War Two a young shooting enthusiast Rex Applegate was recruited as an officer in the fledgling OSS and personally tasked by Colonel Wild Bill Donovan to “learn all there was to know about close combat, with or without weapons.” (Fifty years later Applegate commented “that was a pretty tall order, I’m still learning!”)

Applegate trained with Fairbain at the OSS’ secret Area-B facility, eventually becoming Fairbairn’s demonstration partner as they taught Americas’ secret army. Applegate was then sent to Great Britain, where he underwent the full gamut of specialised combative training with the Commandos and SOE. In Scotland he trained with both Eric Sykes and Bill Pilkington.
Applegate eventually left the OSS and set up the Military Intelligence Training Centre at Camp Ritchie. MITC became a centre of excellence in all aspects of special combat training. Applegate finished the war as a Colonel, and the MITC syllabus provided the basis for the book “Kill or get Killed” which has ensured Applegates enduring reputation. The Colonel died in 1998.
While training the OSS Fairbairn requested that his prot駩 Dermot “Pat “O’Neill be brought over to assist. O’Neill, an Irishman, had been a sergeant in the Shanghai Police, and a top Judoka, ranking 5th-Dan with the Kodokan. He was also skilled in Chinese Boxing. Pat O’Neill arrived in the US but was snapped up by a new joint US/Canadian unit the First Special Service Force (known later as “The Devil’s Brigade”). Although co-opted as a combat instructor such was O’Neill’s fighting spirit that he insisted on serving with the unit in action, which he did with the rank of Captain. After the war O’Neill became combatives instructor to the CIA. He was one of only three foreigners to gain Judo 6th-dan. He died in 1985.


A US Marine Sergeant Kelly trained extensively with Pat O’Neill in Shanghai. Returning to America he trained a young marine called Charles Nelson. A friend of Styers and already a student of Biddle, Nelson quickly became adept at all forms of close combat. Although involved in such dangerous operations as the Guadalcanal landing Charlie Nelson survived the war, to set up a self-protection school in New York. He is actually, the only legitimate link to WW-2 CQC as neither Applegate nor Fairbairn left any real successors. Over the years he has trained military units, police officers and countless private citizens.
Charlie Nelson is now in his eighties, and although physically infirm, continues to teach. His knowledge and experience are unequalled.
Bob Kasper of New Jersey trained with Charlie, and runs the Gung-ho-Chuan Association, (GHCA) a group of former military personnel dedicated to keeping WW-2 Combatives alive. Bob is especially renowed for his system of knife-combatives.

[Bob Kasper, on left]
Recently the USMC became dissatisfied with their “LINE” CQB Program, and called in Bob Kasper and his associate Kelly McCann to join a committee to create a new program based on the proven WW-2 system. Bob advised on all aspects, but was solely responsible for the entire edged weapon-training package.
Kelly McCann is an associate of Bob Kasper, and a GHCA Instructor. Because of his work in training military Special Ops teams he initially wrote under the pen name “Jim Grover”. He presented a series of tapes on Combative Skills under his Grover pseudonym, and recently offered his Situational Self-Offence tape. These are outstanding, and should be purchased by anyone interested in realistic self-protection.
GHCA is represented in the UK by CODA, founded by the late Pete Robins, and continued by his training partner Paul Child.

Peter Robins-on left- was the World’s leading researcher on WW-2 Combatives, until his untimely death.
Anyone interested in authentic wartime-type training should contact CODA. Bob Kasper has visited the UK and I was delighted to be invited by Peter to attend the first course.


How does a military system developed in wartime relate to todays needs in a highly litigious society? Fairbairns’ methods don’t find favour with law enforcement today, run by “crime managers” who try to solve problems with technology. Equipment is fine and there is a place for sprays, batons and shields, but at the end of the day we important thing is to train the man, or, woman.
For generic self-protection against surprise unprovoked attacks often with deadly weapons and fuelled by psychoactive drugs we need a very aggressive system. WW2 Combatives still have a place. Adapt them by all means, but you may find as many others have, that Styers, Sykes, O’Neill, Applegate, and especially Fairbairn knew close quarter combat like no others since.

The most intensive examination of WW-2 Combatives in recent years was at CAMP GET TOUGH, in Sweden in 2005. Here Mika demonstrates an OSS knife technique on Slacky
This look back at the past is also a look towards the future, because I predict that WW-2 Combatives will become fashionable, just like Judo, Karate, Kung fu and Brazilian Ju-jutsu have in turn. Charlatans will appear, with full-page adverts claiming to be the heirs to Fairbairn, Applegate, or both! Reading the books and watching the videos does not make an instructor. There are very few authentic instructors of WW-2 Combatives, and the guys listed below can check out any claims for you. Pete Robins, in particular, has interviewed many members of the Special Forces Club and the Commando Association during his research for the forthcoming biography of Fairbain, and he really knows who is who.
As mentioned above, I have a keen interest in the subject, but don’t claim to teach WW-2 Combatives as such. I teach techniques that have worked for me, that I’ve used more than once. However, I’ve adopted and adapted much of the rationale, concepts and the offensive mindset for our use.

[Every year we hold our INTERNATIONAL COMBATIVES SEMINAR, which always has a WW-2 module. Here the DS from the 2005 event are shown l-r Si, Mark, Al, Lee, Den, Phil, Greg, Mika, Tony]
You will notice that all the instructors mentioned both British and American link back to Shanghai, either directly or indirectly. This was, indeed, the source of all CQB expertise for the wartime allied effort. W.E. Fairbairn continued his work after the war, with police units in Singapore and Cyprus. He left a lasting legacy, a combat system created when policing the world’s most dangerous city, then proven in the battles, raids and behind-the-lines encounters of World War Two. Sam Yeaton, one of the Shanghai Marines, said, “This man Fairbairn is beyond the shadow of a doubt the greatest of the greatest of them all.” In this writers opinion he remains the “Father of CQB”


Dennis Martin would like to thank Peter Robins, Phil Matthews and Terry Haglund for invaluable input with this article.


GHCA (Bob Kasper) PO Box 1336, Brick NJ 08723, USA


Get Tough” by W.E. Fairbairn, published by Paladin Press
Do or Die” by AJ Drexel Biddle, published by Paladin (now out of print)
Cold Steel” by John Styers, Published by Paladin Press
Kill or get Killed” by Colonel Rex Applegate, published by Paladin
The Close Combat Files of Colonel Applegate“, by Applegate & Melson, Paladin.
The First Commando Knives“, by Kelly Yeaton, Phillips Publications, New Jersey.
“W.E. Fairbairn: Warrior and Gentleman”
by Peter Robins with Nick Tyler; edited by Paul Child. CQB Publications, UK

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