News! -

DVDs of Fairbairn from the OSS Archives at

Film Released! - “Age of Heroes” about Ian Fleming’s 30 Commando Unit (Trained by WE Fairbairn)

What is "Self Defense?"

Self defense is really an inaccurate term often meant to mean Close Quarter Combat. It is much more than that.
Self Defense for a civilian breaks down into four key points:
  1. Awareness - be aware of your surroundings at all times. There are three levels of awareness depending on situation - Low, Normal and ALERT. In modern times the major threat to awareness is technology. People walking around wearing headphones or texting become oblivious to their surroundings.
  2. Avoidance - avoid areas that have risks - Subway at night, dark parking areas etc
  3. Evasion - if you detect a threat like someone apparently following you; confirm it, and evade - go to a crowded cafe or other location with people.
  4. Escape - if confronted run away if possible - if attacked then defend yourself vigorously to stop the attack, then escape
There are tried and tested strategies for all four of the above.

In our colleges and universities we have a different kind of risk particularly, but not exclusively, to young women students and staff.
Whereas in the general metropolitan environment the atmosphere, surroundings and personal intuition may raise Awareness the threat in a college, university, or high school, comes mostly from people the victim knows and otherwise trusts. The victim can often be alone with their "attacker" away from help or escape. The term "attacker" often refers to a boyfriend or acquaintance who may have had a little to drink, or drugs which then change his personality. Like wise the victim may find it difficult to refuse advances for fear of injury, physical or psychological.
Often the courage and confidence to assert some dominance over the attacker is all that is required. More on this....

Fairbairn's System

The Fairbairn Fighting system was created in Shanghai from the best of Jujitsu, Pakua and Chen Taijijuan. William Ewart Fairbairn was the founder of numerous training centers in the UK and Canada during World War 2. They were put in place on the personal instructions of Sir Winston Churchill to train the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Royal Marine Commando
units, US Rangers and some other groups in effective fighting methods that could be quickly and easily learned. Major Fairbairn was retired from the Shanghai Municipal Police where he had been the Assistant Commissioner and had founded the world's first SWAT Team. He was seconded to the USA in 1942 by "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of OSS then later head of the CIA, to set up training. Fairbairn trained Col Rex Applegate who later ran training for US Special Forces. Their training center was Catoctin Mountain in Maryland now part of the National Parks. A bit more welcoming than the Commando training center in Scotland!
Fairbairn had unique experience in close quarters combat, probably more than anyone else in the 20th century. He also wrote numerous books aimed at both the military and civilian audience including Hands Off! aimed specifically at women. Most of his books can still be obtained through Paladin Press although originals that sold in the 1940's for 75c now cost over $100 in auctions!

I was fortunate enough to be trained in Fairbairn's Fighting Techniques whilst at the Commando Training Centre, Royal Marines(CTCRM), Lympstone, Devon, UK in 1970/71. In today's world his method is very relevant as seen by the growth of schools teaching Israeli Krav Maga and other more complex methods.

If you are looking to learn enough self defense for your own confidence, safety and security then Fairbairn's system is natural in its style, simple to learn and has been proven effective by SOE agents, many of whom were young women, parachuted into France, Germany and Italy during the Second World War. There is no need to take extensive courses in extravagantly expensive self-defense systems when some 12 hours training is all that is required to learn enough basics. By all means train in Judo, Karate, Taekwondo or Taijijuan as they teach balance, breathing and style, but Fairbairn suggests learning just 10 techniques!, and then practising them regularly to become very proficient.

William Fairbairn is the creator, along with Eric Sykes, of the Commando Dagger fighting knife which is a logo of the Royal Marines Commandos. The picture (right) Recruits undergoing close quarter combat at the Commando Basic Training Centre, Achnacarry, Inverness-shire, Scotland 9th of January 1943 was colorized by Noah Werner Winslow.

You can buy authentic reproductions of the Type 1 and Type 2 daggers here at the Macdonald Armouries. These are to the original specifications and materials.

The “Fairbairn System” was a complete system of Unarmed Combat, Knife Fighting, Stick fighting, Spring Cosh and the use of the Pistol, Carbine Rifle and Submachine gun. In short it was his vision of the most complete system of close combat instruction he could devise.