In the early 1900’s, the city of Shanghai, China was easily one of the most violent and dangerous cities in the world. Gangs and opium dealers ran the show and they would do whatever was necessary to thrive and survive. The gangsters of Shanghai were reputed to be extremely ruthless, handing out muggings, beatings, armed robberies, kidnappings and murders on a daily basis. They used strong-arm tactics to coerce citizens, business owners and even law enforcement. They were truly a plague on the city, keeping fear and tension high at all times.
At the height of the city’s chaos, one man entered the picture and helped to begin the process of turning the criminal world around. His name was William Ewart Fairbairn, a soldier from Surrey, England. From a young age, it was clear that Fairbairn was quite special. At 15, he saw a poster for the Royal Marines and decided he would join. Underage, he convinced a recruiter to forge his paperwork so he wouldn’t have to wait. It was almost immediately, in 1901, that Fairbairn was sent to Korea and got his first taste of close combat. Along with getting battle tested in war, Fairbairn began studying the different martial art disciplines that originated in the country. More than any other soldier in his unit, and some would say the entire Royal Marine force, Fairbairn was rapidly becoming a combat master.
In 1907, the British Legation Guard assigned Fairbairn to the International Police Force in Shanghai – among the toughest police assignments an officer could get.
Left for Dead
Not long after arriving in Shanghai, Fairbairn was patrolling the streets of the brothel district when he came upon a gang of criminals who threatened him. Rather than run, he stayed to fight them. In spite of all the fighting skills he had acquired, he ended up taking a beating that nearly killed him.
When he woke up in a hospital days later, he noticed a plaque near his bed that read: “Professor Oakada, jujitsu and bone setting.” As soon as he got out of the hospital, he began studying jujitsu and judo with the professor, eventually earning a black belt in both. He took his new combat skills to a new level. Over the course of over 30 years with the Shanghai Police, Fairbairn got into a minimum of 600 violent encounters with b unarmed and armed criminals. He frequently found himself in highly dangerous situations, but it was his skill, bravery tenacity and strong moral compass that always guided his decisions and secured his ultimate safety.
On one particular evening he entered into a highly precarious situation on a pier, with a Japanese officer, and fellow judo expert. At the time, there was extreme hostility between China and Japan. As Fairbairn approached and greeted him, he noticed about 150 Chinese men and women on a Japanese naval vessel, sitting with their hands bound behind their backs. He asked the Japanese officer what was going to happen to them. The officer responded that they would be executed. Fairbairn insisted that he release them and allow them to come with him. Though the Japanese officer was well aware of Fairbairn’s reputation, he refused. Fairbairn calmly told him to do what he had to do, but that one day they would meet again on the streets and when that time came, he would make him pay for any wrongdoing he committed against the men and women. Within a short matter of time, the officer released them all to Fairbairn.
With so much practical knowledge in the field of law enforcement, as well as close combat, Fairbairn decided to take everything he knew and formulate his own practical street defense system, known as Defendu.
Chin Jabs & Tiger Claws
Fairbarin, and to this day his followers in the combative art Defendu, emphasize atemi, or the aspects of martial arts that involve direct striking.
Borrowing from various martial arts, Defendu includes down-and-dirty, non-telegraphic strikes that are easy to apply. Best of all, they are also highly practical and effective in real-world situations. The Edge-of-the-Hand Blow, similar to shuto (knifehand) in karate, involves connecting with the fleshy part of the hand between the knuckle of the little finger and the base of the palm. The Chin Jab involves angling the hand backward, spreading the fingers and slamming the underside of the opponents chin with force. The Tiger Claw is highly effective when facing a frontal attack, carried out by curling the finger as if holding a shot put and striking with a piston-like motion. Defendu also includes numerous kicks in its arsenal, mainly designed to attack and damage an attacker’s legs and knees.
After retiring from the Shanghai Police, Fairbairn incorporated Defendu while creating and training the riot squad of the Singapore Police. He also worked with the Cyprus Police authoring a riot manual, designing bulletproof shields and creating a specialty fighting knife.
William Fairbairn was undoubtedly one of the chief pioneers of close combat in the 20th century and his techniques for street defense are still widely accepted and used. To this day police officers, military personnel and martial art students all over the world utilize his teachings as part of their combat training. They also entertain each other by retelling Fairbairn’s harrowing stories from his days on the streets of Shanghai.
In 1960, Fairbairn passed away at his home in England. In addition to being remembered as a man who revolutionized self-defense and making it practical to law enforcement and civilians, he is also remembered as a well-mannered gentleman who never drank, swore or boasted about his abilities and accomplishments. Fairbairn made a real contribution to the world and he did it with humility and grace. He was one tough cop.