Combatives Founders

Fairbairn, Combatives – the Testing Ground

Over the period of his career with the S.M.P., which spanned over thirty years, William Fairbairn not only made in depth studies of almost every known (we assume to him) form of close-combat, but also actually tested these methods against determined, often armed criminals who would rather kill an officer of the law and make a run for it rather than be captured and face almost certain execution (tough times required tough laws).

It is apparent that Fairbairn was compelled by this harrowing near death experience and the violent and deadly environment, to develop an effective and practical method of combat, not with a mind to self-protection, but due to the extreme circumstances, survival itself!

Shanghai Municipal Police

As Fairbairn rose through the ranks of the S.M.P., he was charged with the duty of instructing firearms and hand-to-hand combat, no doubt due to his obvious by now hands on experience. With his friend and firearm expert and salesperson Eric Anthony Sykes, he completely revised the firearms training methods that were previously employed and instituted a new method (Read - Shooting to live - W. E. Fairbairn, E. A. Sykes), which reflected the actual conditions of real gun fights based on his actual life experiences.

Ju Jutsu Training at SMPA closer look at Fairbairn's research revels that at one time or another he closely studied, tested or looked at all of the Eastern systems available to him at that period. He took the time and trouble to study what he deemed to be “serious” systems that could further his knowledge and subsequently added elements from street fighting and brawling as well as some what some may call “dirty” tactics he had perhaps heard of, experienced or seen applied. Armed with all this, he took to the “field” where he pressure tested it so he would know exactly what worked and what didn't.

Once he had tested these for a period of time, he came to the same conclusion all very experienced and serious students of self-protection eventually come to; the need to chisel away the inessentials of what he had learned (thereby making it more specific in application). The process of compressing his curriculum to a few basic techniques that would consistently work in real live situations and which induced the stress of fear, disorientation and confusion became paramount and the foundation of Combatives as we know it today. It was essential that the Combatives practitioner become "Attack minded and dangerously so!" as he himself said. Reflecting on this statement it is obvious that he was not a proponent of the “self-defence” school of thought, despite the fact that he essentially promoted civilian and law enforcement applications.

The multi-nationality of SMPWhat is truly noteworthy is that these conclusions were borne out of real life in-the-field experience under extremely violent and many times potentially deadly conditions; there was no sterile dojo environment or ring with rules and referees to test his theories and protect him. It would be safe to say then; that he believed that the lack of realism is the main reason that self-defence school of thought fails in most cases.

In the year 1920, Fairbairn took an extended leave from the S.M.P. during which time he was attached to the New York City Police Department as a Captain for a 10 week period of observation. No doubt this was arranged by his superiors perhaps at his request. During this time, in order to absorb as much as he could, he participated in everything, from routine patrol duty, to major gambling raids.

SMP riot control squadron with Fairbairn on vehicleA list of his accomplishments prior to his WW2 innovations in unarmed combat is extensive to say the least! These skills were taught to:

  • The nine thousand (9000) police officers of the Shanghai Police.
  • The famed 4th Marine Regiment known as the "China" Marines.
  • The newly founded (by him), developed, trained, and headed Shanghai Riot Squad called the Reserve Unit (R.U. - This was the first ever Special Weapons & Tactics Unit, and was a prototype for today's S.R.T., & S.W.A.T. teams).

Later, along with his friend and colleague Eric Anthony Sykes*, and then Lieutenant Samuel Yeaton (U.S.M.C.), Fairbairn began work on the prototypes of what would become the worlds most famous combat knife, the Fairbairn/Sykes fighting knife. The knife went into mass production in 1941 in Sheffield and many designs that have followed since copy the same basic design principles.

*(A reserve officer in the S.M.P. and chief of the Riot Squad Sniper unit, and later still Major with the British Army assigned as close-combat instructor for the Commandos and Special Operations).