Tuesday 21 September 2021

William Fairbairn, toughest man in the Empire

I first came across the name of William Fairbairn on a knife.

In my book Chick Magnet, the main character Mick runs a stall at Paddy's Market, where he sells electronic gadgets and knives.

For the sake of the story, he needed an expensive knife to sharpen, so I went looking for something cool to put in his hands. And the coolest knife in the world is the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, the classic British commando weapon of World War 2.

Most military knives are practical things, good for opening cans and cutting your way out of a tangled parachute. But the Fairbairn-Sykes knife is purely for quiet killing. It has a lean mean shape that lets you know it means business.

I started reading about Captain William Fairbairn who helped to create it, and I was fascinated.

William Fairbairn was a Royal Marine who ended up policing that little slice of Shanghai co-owned by England and America.

In the early 1900s, Shanghai was the most dangerous city on the world. Opium flowed freely, kidnapping and slavery were common, gangs fought for supremacy.

When Fairbairn was just starting out as a police officer, one of those gangs severely beat him and left him for dead. After recovering, he was determined to be better prepared next time, and so began his search for useful fighting skills.

Fairbairn learned Japanese Jiujitsu and Chinese Temple Boxing, integrating their most useful techniques into the training for new police officers. Eventually he synthesized a coherent combat system he called Defendu.

By the end of his career, it’s estimated that he had been in thousands of fights. His hands and forearms bore the scars of his victories.

Part of his success was a very aggressive and ungentlemanly attitude - hit them first, hit them hard, hit them where it will hurt the most.

This lethal practicality extended to his teaching on the gun range. Previous trainers taught their students to stand and aim as they would at target practice, while Fairbairn had them draw and shoot from the hip. Most gunfights happened inside a room, so you didn’t need to take careful aim; you pointed the gun like pointing a finger and got off the first two shots as quickly as possible.

That’s right, two shots - the double-tap! In a time when ammunition wasn’t always reliable, shoot the buggers twice and be sure.

The shooting system he devised with his colleague Eric Sykes was very successful in the nastiest neighbourhood in Asia. It was soon adopted in other jurisdictions around the world.

Fairbairn also taught knife fighting, as his officers were always armed with a blade.

And it’s fair to say he invented the precursor to the modern SWAT team. The Special Reserve Unit of the Shanghai Municipal Police was a highly trained group of his best men, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice for a riot, a gunfight, or a robbery.

When the great war came, the British went looking for someone to train their best men. And a pair of police officers from Shanghai were the answer.

William Fairbairn and his colleague Eric Sykes trained the special forces of England and the USA. Many of the techniques they brought back to Blighty are still taught to the modern counterparts of those units.

As someone who’s trained in martial arts for a long time, I have enormous admiration for William Fairbairn. His courage and skill are legendary.

So my book The Hopping Ghost is set in his city. And my wee vampire comes to him to learn how to take care of herself in the daytime.

Like the Post? Do share with your Friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment

IconIconIconFollow Me on Pinterest

Joel on Twitter

What's Hot

Tweets by @JoelRheinberger