The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife

(WITH SOME OBSERVATIONS AND COMMENTARY ON KNIFEWORK)

THE FAIRBAIRN-SYKES COMMANDO KNIFE is well known to anyone who is professionally involved in the field of close combat. It has been around since world war two, and despite the plethora of other fighting knives — all excellent — like the Randalls, the Eks, and others that were contemporary with the “F&S”, and/or that have been manufactured and become popular subsequent to the F&S, the Fairbairn-Sykes still manages to hold its own. It is an in-demand, highly valued, and deservedly respected individual close combat weapon. Military and intelligence services still issue this knife, today.

An original Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife. Note the rounded and checkered drip, which the author prefers. However, the later version ribbed grip is no less serviceable.

An original Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife. Note the rounded and checkered drip, which the author prefers. However, the later version ribbed grip is no less serviceable.

Many cheap and, in our opinion, unworthy versions of the F&S have made their appearance on the market in an attempt to cash in on this infamous blade’s reputation. However, in our opinion anyone wanting the genuine article should spend the few extra dollars that it costs (the knife is not expensive) and purchase an F&S made by Sheffield (England), Linder (Germany), or MacDonald (Scotland). So-called “F & S Commando Daggers” that sell for a quarter or even a fifth of what those manufactured by these three outstanding outfits are not in our opinion worth a fiftieth of the real McCoy, which may be obtained from those three sources.

The marvelous Ek Commando Knife Company produces its own unique variation of the original F&S design. Their terrific knife is certainly combat worthy, and is perhaps even a bit more rugged and durable than the original weapon; but we need to clarify that if you are after an original design then the Ek version might not be what you’re after. (If you want a first-rate combat knife to take into battle with you, however, you can never go wrong with an Ek! Their products are, as they always have been in the past, superb.)

The latest design F&S is with the ribbed handgrip. While this is serviceable, we frankly prefer the older rounded and checkered grip. MacDonald makes their version this way, and we are grateful for that.

A modern "ribbed grip" Fairbairn-Sykes. These knives are still available and are as excellent for close combat today as they were in the 1940's. This version was issued to Special Forces during the Vietnam War.

A modern "ribbed grip" Fairbairn-Sykes. These knives are still available and are as excellent for close combat today as they were in the 1940's. This version was issued to Special Forces during the Vietnam War.

Unlike many other military or combat knives, the F&S is a fighting knife and only a fighting knife. Original versions will not serve double duty as camp or hunting knives, since their thin stiletto design precludes their use for the usual utilitarian purposes to which such other knives may be routinely put. The F&S is a knife intended for hand-to-hand combat and silent killing. It is most emphatically not an “all purpose” knife, like Randall’s beautiful Model #1, for example.

Cost of a good Fairbairn-Sykes is negligable. This of course makes it very attractive. But it is the fact that the weapon continues to serve its intended purpose well that makes it a “good deal” at the cost of a quality, modern version. (Note: Collector F&S knives — i.e. WWII era originals — can go for $1,000. or more; but for practical use as a battlefield or self-defense weapon today, a recently manufactured one one can be purchased for under $100. in most cases.)

For those who appreciate the good sense that it makes to keep one’s home prepared just in case, the idea of obtaining half a dozen or more F&S knives and concealing them about the house for instant access in an emergency will definitely be an attractive idea. Most people cannot afford to conceal quality handguns around the house, but the one or two handguns that one does have can be supplemented nicely in a home defense plan by having these excellent commando knives readily available. Half a dozen will likely cost less than one additional quality handgun. It takes but a fraction of a second to grab a knife from its place of concealment and drive it into a home invader, rapist, or other intruder. Knowing that that capability is in your and your loved ones’ hands can be comforting in these troubled times.

Unfortunately, the law generally forbids private citizens carrying knives of a fixed blade configuration or of anything but the most limited blade length. (For carry we recommend a utility knife!). However, keeping even professionally configured fighting knives in the home is legal almost everywhere in the United States. We of course suggest that you check with local law enforcement before going ahead with any plan to arm yourself or your family in any way; but our understanding at present is that having fighting knives in the home is legal in most places in the USA.

The “Fairbarin Technique”

THE F&S fighting knife was presented to the British Commandos and to the secret servants of both England and the United States with an excellent technique for using it. Developed by one of the knife’s originators, the celebrated William E. Fairbairn, the method was, appropriately, called The Fairbairn Technique of Knife Fighting. Then Captain Rex Applegate, American protégé of Fairbairn and Sykes, did some minor modifying of the pure Fairbairn technique, but essentially emphasized the same core method. It was simple, deadly, and reliable. You can read a description of it in Applegate’s Classic Kill Or Get Killed.

Rex Applegate demonstrates how to hold the F&S on the attack. This photo taken during WWII when then Captain Applegate was assigned to the OSS. Note lead hand used to parry — perhaps strike a blow or throw dirt, while the knife is held back in the rear hand ready for a lethal thrust.

Rex Applegate demonstrates how to hold the F&S on the attack. This photo taken during WWII when then Captain Applegate was assigned to the OSS. Note lead hand used to parry — perhaps strike a blow or throw dirt, while the knife is held back in the rear hand ready for a lethal thrust.

It must be noted that the Fairbairn Technique was ideally suited in its (and in Applegate’s) pure form to the F&S knife, per se. This constituted no shortcoming for those issued the F&S knife. However, this technique does not lend itself completely and perfectly to the employment of, say the Ka-Bar or other Bowie-type (as opposed to stiletto type) combat knives. For this reason, our own approach to knifework, while including the Fairbairn technique, goes a bit further. We employ methods that enable the user to manage any knife — F&S, Randall, Ek, Ka-Bar, etc., even a folding or kitchen knife, in an emergency — in combat. Our own (American Combato) method, the basics of which are presented in our DVD #11 – Knifework, synthesizes the Fairbairn method with the Biddle-Styers Method, and adds a couple of innovative touches found in neither approach. In briefest essence our fundamental idea is that:

• For offensive combat, and/or when confronting an enemy armed with anything but a knife, himself, the Fairbairn/Sykes/Applegate technique is perfect.

• For self-defense use of the knife — perhaps against multiple adversaries — the Biddle Styers approach (i.e. knife in the lead hand) makes the most sense. And it should be noted that this method can easily be utilized with the F&S.

• When confronting an enemy who is armed with a knife (just about never likely) the Biddle-Styers approach is best.

Knife vs. knife encounters occur in martial arts classes and in seminars, and on DVDs produced by people who know little or nothing at all about close combat. Who the hell is going to give an enemy time to draw his knife in a real situation? If you ever do that you are a fool. And do not expect any enemy who comes after you with a knife to give you sufficient opportunity to draw yours! Such a thing as knife vs. knife could happen; and so you should, in a comprehensive course, be taught how to handle such an encounter. But the likelihood of it happening perhaps approximates your chances of being hit by lightning — twice.

A photo taken at the Commando Training Center, Achnacarry, Scotland. In war this is a much more likely use of the fighting knife than "knife vs. knife fighting" per se. In fact, Rex Applegate told us that he NEVER HEARD OF ONE INSTANCE of knife vs. knife combat occurring in all of WWII! Sentry elimination skills are not needed for self-defense with the knife, but it is well to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of a fighting knife, on any account!

A photo taken at the Commando Training Center, Achnacarry, Scotland. In war this is a much more likely use of the fighting knife than "knife vs. knife fighting" per se. In fact, Rex Applegate told us that he NEVER HEARD OF ONE INSTANCE of knife vs. knife combat occurring in all of WWII! Sentry elimination skills are not needed for self-defense with the knife, but it is well to be reminded of the ultimate purpose of a fighting knife, on any account!

THE stiletto design is unquestionably the best for a knife which has as its sole purpose killing. And, however unpleasant or “politically incorrect” it may be to say it, efficient killing capability is the measure of a fighting knife’s worth. The venerable Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife proved itself in this venue during a world war. Those who are wise do not quarrel with success!

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