Combatives Founders

Fairbairn, the beginning of Combatives

Fairbairn had always been thought of by his co-workers as “a good man in a brawl" and his record with the British Royal Marines confirmed the fact that he was already well versed in close combat and in bayonet fighting. In one particular incident (in Shanghai) however, the odds against him proved greater which led to him completely changing his approach to combat. It was while assigned to one of the notorious "Red light"  districts (Brothel areas) of the Shanghai waterfront, when on routine foot patrol, Fairbairn was severely beaten and left for dead by group of Tong members whose “enforcers” were legend for their brutal and lethal manner of dealing with any opposition. This was apparently quite a common occurrence and no doubt several police officers may have even met their end this way.

Fairbairn and OkadaFairbairn awoke in a hospital room and saw a placard on his bed table that read, “Professor Okada, Jujutsu and Bone-setting”. Subsequent to a comparatively lengthy recovery during which time he no doubt analysed his misfortunate incident, Fairbairn determined never again to suffer a similar fate. It was in 1908 that he searched out Professor Okada, a Japanese national living in Shanghai and began to train with him in Shin-no-Shin-do Ryu Ju-Jitsu. Shin-no-Shin-do Ryu is derived from Yoshin Ryu. The system is comprised of restraining techniques, strangles and chokes, but practically no atemi or “heavy” throws (supposedly created in the mid 1500's by Yamamoto Tabizayemon, a master of the Yoshin Ryu system of Jujutsu. Tabizayemon lived in Osaka where he held a senior position in what was in essence the city police. The system was apparently developed because his men were tasked with restraining Samurai of higher rank than themselves and due to the restrictions of class could not harm them).

Okada O-sensei had also been personal instructor to the Emperor of Japan, a fact which was unquestionable proof of his far above average skill. Fairbairn trained hard and diligently at Prof. Okada's school every day for the next three and a half years, he immersed himself into his new found passion, perhaps because he realized he may not be so fortunate the next time he had to deal with violence.

For a period of 10 years that followed, Fairbairn also studied and became proficient in “Chinese Boxing” (Pa-Kua and Chin-Na) under the direction of Tsai Ching Tung (Cui Jingdong), who at one time was employed at the Imperial Palace, in Peking, China as an Instructor to the Retainers of the late Dowager Empress.

There are those who doubt his studies in these particular systems, although his techniques published in his various books, are readily recognisable by practitioners of either system and no western systems has similar techniques to those portrayed save a few. He was known to “cross train” and it is known that he had a good knowledge of English boxing, Cornish wrestling, and French Savate. In fact his shin kicks are probably derived from the latter.

In 1918 Fairbairn was accepted by the Kodokan Judo University in Tokyo subsequent to his application for entrance, receiving a 3rd degree brown belt in January 1919, seven years later a 1st degree black belt in February 1926, and five years later still a 2nd degree black belt in February 1931.

It is worth noticing five things:

  • First, the three and a half years with Prof. Okada on a daily basis
  • Second, his willingness to investigate other systems and philosophies
  • Third, the overall length of time from the commencement of is studies in judo to the end (13 years – no mean feat at the Kodokan of that day and age).
  • Fourth, the length of time he studied between promotions.
  • Fifth, his certificates are signed by Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) himself.

These three teachers and their combat systems formed the system on which Fairbairn later laid the foundation of his brand of Western Combatives. It is quite safe to assume that most of his combatives system was mainly based on JuJutsu purely because of the time spent in that system with such knowledgeable teachers. Both Professor Okada and Kano Sensei were masters of their respective JuJutsu systems, although Kano sensei and his successors gradually did away with the JuJutsu aspect keeping many techniques but masking the more esoteric entities of the art while promoting Judo as an educational system and sport since he considered himself an educator.