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The Shanghai Buster W. E.

by Dennis Martin
Its 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 cant 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 instructors boot poised ready to crush his testicles. The recruits have met The
Shanghai Buster.
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 Joburg 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 closequarter 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 , so Im going to
concentrate on the evolution of the Fairbairn System and how it related to the tactical
requirements at the time.
Fairbairns 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
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 Britains 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 dockers
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
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 CloseQuarter Battle. American instructors refer to CQC, Close-Quarter Combatives. Fairbairn called it
Gutterfighting To quote Fairbairn.Youre interested only in disabling or killing your enemy.
Thats why I teach what I call Gutterfighting. Theres no fair play; no rules except one: kill or be
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 cant teach a system in a few
hours? However, current research by training organisations such as Bruce Siddles PPCT indicates
such thinking is 360 wrong. In fact, if you cant teach the system in a short time it probably wont
work in the street. In gutterfighting, less is more. Lets look at a typical syllabus:1. The edge of hand blow (known today the Axe-hand, familiar to Karate practitioners as
2. Tigers 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. Fairbairns 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.

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