In 1940, William Fairbairn with a friend of his, Eric Anthony Sykes, who have both been training police officers in Shanghai for many years, returned to the UK and were involved in the preparation of intelligent officers and scout saboteurs. Basics of combatives system created and taught by Fairbairn consisted of various types of martial arts he studied throughout his life: from boxing, wrestling and savate to judo, jiu-jitsu and Chinese kung-fu.

William Fairbairn
William Fairbairn

Fairbairn and Sykes became instructors in British intelligence units, which included the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, the predecessor of the MI-6), and the Special Operations Executive (SOE), as well as Royal Marine Corps, Paratroopers, and Home Guard.

In 1942, Fairbairn moved to Canada where he trained local agents in the so-called Camp X (also known as the School of Specialized Training No. 103). Sykes stayed in England and worked with SOE agents that performed tasks in the enemy rear by spying, sabotaging and subversive actions.

William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes

When the US entered the war, Fairbairn began training the American agents from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the military officers; he worked with American instructors, in particular with Rex Applegate and others.

Fairbairn and Applegate called the system they have created “Defendu” (from the word “defense”). Fairbairn himself sometimes used the term gutter fighting (“dirty fight,” as the gutter means “urban slums”).

The armory of Combatives back then was simple, but undeniably effective:

  • Tiger’s claw: a palm stroke preceded by fingers attacking the eyes;
  • Chin jab: a blow to the chin with the heel of the hand;
  • Edge of hand blow: a stroke with the rib of the palm in the neck or in the head;
  • Cradle blow: a kick by fingers formed as a “fork” at the throat;
  • High kick: kick in the groin or at the bottom of the stomach (it is called “high” since there were no kicks higher than this level in the Fairbairn system);
  • Stamp kick: a “tramping” kick with a foot on the knee or in the thigh;
  • Smash down kick: a close supposing-to-break-bones kick with a foot in the ankle joint;
  • Groin strike: a stroke in the groin with palm;
  • Knee kick to groin: kick in the groin with a knee;
  • Head butt: stroke with one’s head.