Combatives Founders

Rex Applegate – Technical Background

Rex ApplegateOf the four basic founders of today’s Combatives, Sykes and Applegate were the only ones who had no Japanese or Chinese technical background from the start. Applegate had been selected by Bill Donovan because he was intelligent; an excellent shot, big bodied and was not afraid of violence. The greatest part of the techniques he practiced and taught, with small exceptions, were a copy of Fairbairn’s techniques.

Applegate developed the techniques described in his book during his work with W. E. Fairbairn, who had previously developed his own techniques while working for the Shanghai Municipal Police from 1907 to 1940. Fairbairn of course drew heavily on two Japanese and two Chinese traditional martial art systems, all of which he simplified and tailored to the needs of police training in what was at the time the world's most crime-ridden city. The result was the development of “Defendu”, considered the first of what became known as “Modern Western Combatives”. Applegate's system and techniques are heavily based on Fairbairn's “Defendu”, which was constantly enhanced with feedback from the O.S.S. operatives who put those techniques into action during the 2nd World War.

Applegate and Point Shooting

It was an established fact that Applegate was a really good shot under pressure with his system of “Point Shooting” which is founded on shooting with a strong emphasis on training for close-range, fast-response shooting. He was therefore a proponent of this combat pistol shooting system he later outlined in “Kill or Get Killed”.

This “Point Shooting” system is somewhat at odds with another well-known system that was developed and promoted by Jeff Cooper which he called the "The Modern Technique of the Pistol". While both systems have many supporters, it is Cooper's system with many variants which is more-commonly used. Supporters of Cooper's methods are mostly members of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (I.P.S.C.) and other forms of action shooting (it is probably due to the holding of shooting competitions that the I.P.S.C. draws a crowd). Applegate's supporters on the other hand, point to police incidents where officers trained in Cooper's methods have discharged many rounds at close range (3m or less) with few (if any) disabling hits!

Applegate's last years of life were spent promoting his combat pistol shooting methods to various police agencies. Applegate was a founding member of the International Close Combat Instructors Association and co-wrote “The Close-Combat Files of Colonel Rex Applegate” with Chuck Melson.

Applegate/Fairbairn Fighting Knives

Fairbairn - Sykes knifeFairbairn - Sykes knifeIn the early 1980’s, Applegate released a knife design called the “Applegate-Fairbairn fighting knife” (an improved version of the WW2 Fairbairn-Sykes knife). This new knife's design was promoted by Applegate as a collaborative effort by Applegate and Fairbairn during the war, which eliminated the major weaknesses of the F/S knife. Supposedly the American company charged with manufacturing copies for the American forces did not use the right alloys or annealing process which resulted in problems among which were a weak blade point (which was prone to snapping) and the difficulty of determining the blade's cutting edge orientation by grip alone due to its round profile in the shape of a cigar. No such problems were reported for the British made F/S knife.

On the Applegate/Fairbairn knife, the former was “remedied” by gathering more steel at the tip and a thicker blade and the latter by flattening the cigar shaped grip to match the orientation of the cross-guard (whose task is to protect the fingers) as well as changing the material of the handle. Other changes were the bronze cross-guard with its crimped forward quillons.

The late 1980’s saw the release of an improved version of Fairbairn's Smatchet by Applegate, (which historians speculate that it is likely a copy of a Welsh machine gunner’s knife, while others maintain that it was the result of development which had begun during the war as a collaborative effort between Applegate and Fairbairn), which had been used both the by the S.A.S. and O.S.S. during WW2. Applegate named his 25cm double-edged knife the "Applegate-Fairbairn Combat Smatchet". In 1994 at the Blade Show in Atlanta, Georgia, Applegate was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame in recognition for his writings on knife fighting and the impact his knife designs have made upon the cutlery industry.

The government of Mexico awarded him an "Honorary General" rank after the close of WW2. By then he had spent 15 years there as an advisor.


The truth of the matter is that the Applegate/Fairbairn is in its own right an excellent effort and a very well designed knife. Although designs for the knife which bear both the signatures of Applegate and Fairbairn have never surfaced, Applegate did provide royalties to Fairbairn's offspring for placing his name on the blade after his own.