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William E. Fairbairn: Wikis


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William E. Fairbairn
Born 1885
Died 1960
Occupation Royal Marine Corp, Shanghai Municipal Police, Combatives Instructor

William Ewart Fairbairn (1885–1960) was a British soldier, police officer, and exponent of hand-to-hand combat method, the Close combat, for the Shanghai police between the World Wars, and allied special forces in World War II. He developed his own fighting system known as Defendu, as well as other weapons tactics. Notably, this included innovative pistol shooting techniques and the development of the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife.

The television series Secrets of War suggested him as a possible inspiration for James Bond.


Military career

He served with the Royal Marine Light Infantry starting in 1901, and joined the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in 1907.

During World War II, he was recruited by the British Secret Service as an Army officer; together with Sykes he was commissioned on the General List in 1941. He trained UK, US and Canadian Commando forces, along with Ranger candidates in close-combat, pistol-shooting, and knife-fighting techniques.

Fairbairn eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel by the end of World War II, and received the U.S. Legion of Merit at the specific request of "Wild Bill" Donovan, founder of the U.S. O.S.S.

Martial arts

After joining the SMP, he studied jujutsu and then Chinese martial arts, developed his own fighting systemDefendu—and taught it to members of that police force in order to reduce officer fatalities. He described this system as primarily based on his personal experience, which according to police records included some 600 non-training fights, by his retirement at age 55 from the position of Assistant Commissioner in 1940.

Weapons innovations

Together with Eric A. Sykes he developed innovative pistol shooting techniques and handgun specifications for the SMP which were later disseminated through their book Shooting To Live With The One-Hand Gun (1942), along with various other police innovations such as riot batons, armored 'Mauser-proof' vests, and other equipment.

He is perhaps best known for designing the famous Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, or 'Commando' knife which was used by British Special Forces in World War II, and featured in his textbook Scientific Self-Defence.


  • Defendu (1926), Paladin Press, Softcover, 178 pages, 7" x 10", ISBN 978-1-58160-602-7
  • Scientific Self-Defence - a slightly modified reprint of Defendu (1931), Paladin Press, Softcover, 182 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", photos, ISBN 978-1-58160-529-7
  • All-In Fighting (1942), Paladin Press, Softcover, 130 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", illustrations, ISBN 978-1-58160-506-8
  • Hands Off! Self Defense for Women (1942), Paladin Press, Softcover, 56 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", photos, ISBN 978-1-58160-443-6
  • Shooting to Live (1942) with Capt. E.A. Sykes, Paladin Press, Softcover, 122 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", photos, ISBN 978-1-58160-678-2
  • Get Tough, Paladin Press, Softcover, 120 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", illustrations, ISBN 978-0-87364-002-2

See also


  • The Legend of W.E. Fairbairn, Gentleman and Warrior: The Shanghai Years by Peter Robins, edited by Paul Child. 2005. ISBN 0-9549494-0-4
  • Shooting to Live with the One-Hand Gun by Captain William E. Fairbairn and Captain Eric Anthony Sykes. 1942. Reprint ISBN 0-87364-027-6
  • Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai by Robert Bickers. 2003. ISBN 0-231-13132-1, 0141011955. Life and times of a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police.
  • Contemporary Knife Targeting - Modern Science vs. W.E. Fairbairn's Timetable of Death by Christopher Grosz and Michael D. Janich - a thorough analysis of Fairbairn's work on human anatomy and knife fighting.
  • W E Fairbairn Gentleman & Warrior The Shanghai Years (2005) First biography on Fairbairn.

External links



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