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Defendu is a modern martial art developed by William E. Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes. It is a hand-to-hand combat system based on jujutsu that was developed to train the Shanghai Municipal Police, and was later taught in expanded form to OSS and SOE members during World War II.
Based on his training at Kodokan in Tokyo, and actual fights he was involved in during his police work, Fairbairn began to develop his own system of hand-to-hand combat, Defendu. It was designed to be simple to learn and provide effective results. Fairbairn published a book, Defendu, in 1926 (re-printed as Scientific Self Defence in 1931), illustrating this method and it is here that the term “Defendu” first appeared.
This confused early readers of the book, who assumed that the techniques within had some direct basis in the Eastern martial arts that Fairbairn had learned. Thus, in an attempt to highlight the originality of Fairbairn’s material, the term did not appear in the 1931 edition of the book.
Fairbairn was called upon by the British to help train Allied troops in World War II, by which time Defendu had a well established record. Fairbairn and others expanded on this system to create the Close Quarters Combat system that was then taught to the troops. This system was built on Defendu, but modified for military applications, rather than police and riot control.
The original Defendu was oriented towards self defense and restraint, while the Close Quarters Combat system concentrated on rapid disabling of an opponent, with potentially lethal force. The militarized version of Defendu is described in Rex Applegate’s book Kill or Get Killed.
Fairbairn published several more books on the subject of self defense, all of which refer to Defendu only in relation to the earlier book. The phrases “gutter fighting” or “the Fairbairn system” appeared to be his preferred terms for the style.
The start of WWII saw the Allied forces needing every advantage to give their soldiers and Special Forces a winning edge. They found one such edge in Fairbairn’s system. Immediately, Fairbairn was commissioned in the British Commandos and ordered to teach a lethal version of his system at the Commando school in Scotland.
It was at this top secret Scottish location that Col. Rex Applegate of the U.S. Army studied under Fairbairn. Through Col. Applegate and other Instructors such as Col. Anthony Biddle, these highly effective skills were taught to U.S. Troops including US Marines and Rangers as well as OSS operatives and later to the FBI and CIA as the foundation of their basic training.
Once the British Commando School in Scotland was able to produce its own Fairbairn/Sykes qualified instructors, both men were transferred. Fairbairn to North America on Special Assignment, and Sykes to S.O.E.(Special Operations Executive), where he trained special agents for behind the lines duties. Fairbairn’s ‘Special Assignment’ in Oshawa Canada was to teach his system to Allied Spec Ops at the most highly classified training operation of WWII, Camp X. Agents were trained in depth to dispose of their enemy quickly and quietly with brutal effectiveness. To this day the American, Canadian and British Governments still hold certain aspects of what went on at Camp X classified. Following his instruction at Camp X, Fairbairn was rejoined by Col. Applegate to form the United States Camp B, now known as Camp David.
This introduction of ‘The Fairbairn Fighting System’ at Camp X in conjunction with input from many highly skilled instructors with various backgrounds and fighting skills would be the beginning of the evolution of “DEFENDO”. As Close Quarters Battle or Unarmed combat training progressed throughout this period, it was added to and refined utilizing western fighting principles, eventually becoming referred to in slang as “DEFENDO” by Allied soldiers.
By far the most renowned unit of WWII to be highly skilled in Unarmed Combat during that early period, was the 1st Special Service Force, better known as “The Devil’s Brigade”. The first of its kind, this unique unit was made up of Canadian and US troops, and carried a reputation for being able to take impenetrable objectives when no one else could. With “Pat” O’Neil (another of Fairbairn’s senior students) as their Unarmed Combat Instructor these legendary men became known as some of the most highly trained soldiers during WWII with their unit being the predecessor to the US Special Forces.
Allied victory in WWII marked the end of wide spread instruction of “DEFENDO” within North America as soldiers returned to their civilian lives, and only professional military personnel remained to continue the training. Following WWII, “DEFENDO” was adopted by a large number of Police agencies throughout Canada and the U.S. including the R.C.M.P. Since then, Fairbairn’s original system of CQB has been the foundation for every modern police and military system of Unarmed Combat.
The system we know today finds its roots as Defendu in the 1920s as a Police system for dealing with some of the world’s worst criminals. The founder William E. Fairbairn, Assistant Commissioner of the Shanghai Municipal Police, together with Inspector Eric Anthony Sykes, needed an effective system to teach their officers so they could survive the harsh realities of the roughest seaport in the world.