Setting The Record Straight About “Defendu


IT is not unlikely that many of you who visit this web site each month have a reprint (or possibly even an original) edition of William Fairbairn’s classic Scientific Self-Defence. This book describes Fairbairn’s full method of what we would today call police defensive tactics and self-defense. A study of this book makes it plain that Fairbairn’s Method, referred to by him as “Defendu”, is what his most distinguished pupil, Rex Applegate, might have called “peacetime methods of individual combat or self-defense”. Much of Defendu deals with ju-jutsu arrest and control methods, as well as practical self-defense reactions to common street attacks, and a private citizen’s use of a walking stick as a weapon of personal protection. This is/was “Defendu”.

When Fairbairn was called out of retirement at the outbreak of WWII and, along with Eric Sykes, tasked with training the famed British Commandos, as well as the Home Guard and later the Special Operations Executive as well as England’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the curriculum he devised and taught —— and that quite correctly made him a wartime legend —— differed markedly from the Defendu of his earlier Shanghai years. As a police officer Fairbairn understood what the officers serving with the Shanghai Department required; as well as the citizens of that turbulent City who sought a means of self-defense. As a top level teacher of close combat for military and intelligence personnel now fighting a war Fairbairn knew that their needs were considerably different. And while certain specific techniques of his Defendu found their way into Fairbairn’s wartime program, it is not true that Defendu per se was the method taught during the war years. The wartime system that Fairbairn taught was referred to simply as “The Fairbairn Method”. This is the method that Fairbairn also taught to the American Office of Strategic Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he was seconded to the States. This is when then Captain Rex Applegate was ordered to work with Fairbairn, learn all that he could from him, and —— literally —— become Fairbairn’s opposite number on America’s side of the Atlantic before Fairbairn and Sykes returned to England. Thus Rex Applegate became Fairbairn’s most significant and prominent student of The Fairbairn System.

In the extensive tome The War Report of the O.S.S. the origin and development of the O.S.S. is described in great detail, as is the particulars regarding the Organization’s training of its agents. In the original and in the postwar declassified reprinting of this Document, titled The Secret War Report of the O.S.S. by Anthony Cave Brown (published in the early 1970’s) reference is made to The Fairbairn System as the close combat method taught to O.S.S. operatives. Nowhere is “Defendu” mentioned.

In our 25+ year association with Col. Rex Applegate his references to Fairbairn  —— which were a great many —— always referred to his wartime doctrine as “the Fairbairn System”. Never once did Applegate use the term Defendu regarding what his wartime mentor passed on to him.

One of our own teachers who had served in counterintelligence during WWII and who had trained under Fairbairn and Sykes personally when with the FBI always spoke of The Fairbairn System; never did he use the term Defendu.

But there is further concrete evidence proving our point: Both Fairbairn’s classic books Scientific Self-Defence and All-In Fighting (original edition of what later was titled Get Tough!) are available for anyone interested to reference. Scientific Self-Defence reflects Fairbairn’s earlier Defendu Method. All-In Fighting/Get Tough! describes most of The Fairbairn (Wartime) System. The latter teaches how to kill with the short stick, knife, and smatchet, and —— perhaps most significant —— places primary emphasis on the chinjab, edge-of-the hand blow, side kick, and knee attack.  Their ruthless, offensive use is taught and stressed often in discussing the defenses against enemy attack. Breaking a man’s back, and bursting his eardrums via what Fairbairn called the “thunderclap”, is also emphasized, as well as how to kill a downed enemy in lethal battle. What is more, great emphasis is laid upon the trainee’s never going to the ground and not working on ground fighting, per se. This last being of particular importance to those who have been caught up in BJJ/MMA fighting sports. (Not that we would expect them to pay attention to this truth that every single combat and defense teacher of any merit has always and invariably stressed when teaching men for real combat and war.)

During the war Fairbairn taught and stressed weapons in his System (the peskett, the derringer, the spring cosh, the .45 automatic, the flick knife, and any available object-at-hand). That’s war! (And, parenthetically, we might add that is the American Combato way ——— and always has been, since inspired as a System in large measure by the WWII Fairbairn System!)

In point of fact the label given a method matters —— if at all —— only to the provider of the particular “label”) and to those truly dedicated, serious students who resent lack of clarity when discussing their activity. Nevertheless, when one loves a field of study, as we love close-combat, self-defense, etc. it is a little bothersome to notice inaccurate references to anything in that field of study. Hence this article. Defendu and The Fairbairn System are two different creatures. Distantly related, yes; but different, nonetheless.

Now aren’t you glad you know this?

We suggest: Both Defendu and The Fairbairn System deserve to be appreciated and studied, and wrung out for all they’re worth —— which is plenty! We would argue that for serious self-defense and military or paramilitary close combat, The Fairbairn System is the way to go, and it’s kill or be killed spirit needs to be assimilated and, if necessary to save innocent life, brought unhesitantly into play!