Combatives Founders

Captain Eric Anthony "Bill" Sykes (1883 - 1945)

"Bill" Sykes was born Schwabe and changed his family name to Sykes which sounded more British. During WW1 he had been an officer in a sniping unit.

Sykes in Shanghai

SykesLater while living in Shanghai he acquired a position with a security company, run by a division of the British Secret Service, selling small arms. It was there that he met Fairbairn and they became good friends.

Due to their experiences both men realised that anybody who expects to be involved in a fight better use all advantages possible. It is believed that Fairbairn had said that “a man with the knife has the upper hand compared to an unarmed man, even one well trained in martial arts”. Based on his incredibly extensive personal history in this matter, it is unlikely anyone can doubt his opinion. This is mentioned so that one may take heed of those “expert” teachers who make fantastic claims but have never been attacked with lethal intent in real conditions.

It was during the 1920's to the 1930's that Capt. Sykes worked with Fairbairn in Shanghai, China as part of his Shanghai Riot Squad. At the time Sykes was a Sergeant and commanded the newly formed sniper unit since he already had the experience from WW1. Although less famous that Fairbairn, Sykes’ exploits during this tumultuous period are not few and his training with Fairbairn afforded him the opportunity to put these techniques to actual use in the streets of Shanghai. He had a tight working partnership with Fairbairn whilst they were developing their brand of Combatives (unarmed and armed).


The friendship between Fairbairn and Sykes did not last the duration of the war and it is said that at some point towards the end of the war they refused to talk to each other. Both kept friendly contact with Rex Applegate. The reason for this refusal was probably the different direction concerning the emphasis Sykes placed on the training program – more weapons oriented which was his specialty – instead of the unarmed and program, (it is likely that he believed that since a soldier is by definition armed, too much emphasis was being placed by Fairbairn on the unarmed aspects). Despite this, Sykes was known to have great skills with a firearm and Fairbairn with a knife, even though both were experts with either. Sykes probably learned his unarmed combatives skills from Fairbairn and since the material that was taught to the military personnel in Scotland in the first two years was carried over the duration of the war, we assume he gained more from Fairbairn in this respect rather than the opposite.