W.E.Fairbairn. The“Godfather” of Modern Self-Defense

W.E.Fairbairn. The "Godfather" of modern Self-Defense.

W.E.Fairbairn. The“Godfather” of Modern Self-Defense

William E Fairbairn ( 1885 – 1960 ) is often called the godfather of modern “Combatives” Self-defense.

He developed a quickly learnable system that had to be tested as realistically as possible in the most dangerous of circumstances. Fairbairn also wrote several well-illustrated books on the subject.

As a British Royal Marine and police officer, he developed hand-to-hand combat methods for the Shanghai Police during the interwar period, as well as for the allied special forces during World War II.

In the introduction to “Get Tough”, Fairbairn says…

“The methods described in this book I have carefully worked out and developed over a period of many years. They owe something to the famous Japanese judo (jiu-jitsu), and something else to Chinese boxing. But, largely, they were developed from my own experience and observation of how most effectively to deal with the ruffians,thugs, bandits, and bullies of one of the roughest water-front areas in the world.”

His methods were quick to learn and instantly applicable, which was very useful in training the Shanghai police and the army. Time was limited.

So what did he do to make things so learnable?

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Training the right attitude. A major part of your Self-Defense armoury

Mindset and attitude are an integral part of any self-defense system

“But it must be realized that, when dealing with an utterly ruthless enemy who has clearly expressed his intention of wiping this nation out of existence, there is no room for any scruple or compunction about the methods to be employed in preventing him.”


Training the right attitude. A major part of any self-defense armoury

One of the subjects often missed when it comes to self-defense is the discussion of attitude and how this is developed in training. It’s OK to be working on your decent-looking jab or leg kick, but, you should also be developing an attitude that will help you survive a rough encounter. A strong will to win. This can be worked on and conditioned in training as can anything else.

Tough attitude

A good quote from the excellent “How to Drive a Tank“, by Frank Coles when he takes lessons in self-defense, puts it this way.

The driving force behind everything is to develop a survival mindset that is positive, relentless and instantly combative as and when required. By far the most important attribute of this is tenacity, or the will to endure, supported but not surpassed by aggression.
To give you an idea of how raw this really is if Mick ( his instructor in the book ) had five seconds to teach you how to have a fight in the room next door he would say, ‘Don’t give up – whatever fucking happens – don’t give up.’”

Training the mind to deal with adversity is just as important as any technique because very often, things go wrong and you must be prepared to dig in to survive.

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The Art of striking. The Essential self-defense tool.

Striking is an obvious but essential tool in self-defense

The Art of Striking in Self-Defense

So how do we define striking? Hitting something, to put it bluntly. In this case, that something is someone who is physically attacking you. If you learn to do this well and as concussively as possible, you will have a better chance of surviving a violent encounter.

To strike your opponent you have certain natural weapons on the human body.

  • The head
  • The arms which include, elbows, hands, and fingers
  • The legs ( feet, knees, and shins normally )

These are the main tools and if you train sufficiently in all of them you will have an effective arsenal that you can use to improvise, depending on the situation.

With good coaching, which is probably THE most important thing, the best way to train these tools is with a partner on the pads or on the bag, to help focus, condition and to develop technique. Once reasonably proficient you should try sparring scenarios and forms of pressure testing.

Each tool has a different approach and uses. For instance, if you used your fingers you wouldn’t aim for solid bone, but for soft tissue ( eyes for instance ) But you might well attack hard bone with your feet if done correctly ( a strike to the shins for example ).

All forms of striking have certain aspects in common

  • To use correctly they come from good balance and use of weight in execution
  • Speed and velocity are key to efficiency
  • The more relaxed the body is to execute a strike, the more efficient the strike. ( rigid muscles pull against the force of a strike and affect speed. A good example is a boxer executing a punch over a short distance that maintains its power from a relaxed position)
  • They have to be trained correctly and conditioned

Let’s look at the different weapons specifically

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Why there is only “training” when it comes to self-defense

Training gives a self-defense student a vital dose of reality that will benefit them in the long run
Training gives a self-defense student a vital dose of reality that will benefit them in the long run

Why there is only training when it comes to self-defense. What?

There is only training in self-defense? Why? What about theory?

What does that mean?

It means you can theorize all you like but you must APPLY any theory. This is called training.

Training is essentially the practical application of any theory and is a cycle of gain and failure. Without that gain and failure, you will have no actual concept of REALITY. What actually works for YOU after the theory has been tested.

Theory applied in practice

So, for argument’s sake, you imagine yourself hitting hard with a right cross. Great! Good idea! You practice open-air punching, with no target, all by yourself, having seen the technique on Youtube.

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