SCIENTIFIC SELF-DEFENCE —aka — DEFENDU: SCIENTIFIC SELF-DEFENCE
Published 1931 as SCIENTIFIC SELF-DEFENCE, first published in 1926 as DEFENDU: SCIENTIFIC SELF-DEFENCE. Shanghai, CHINA. Written by William E. Fairbairn.
The legendary William Ewart Fairbairn wrote Defendu: Scientific Self-Defence when he was a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police Force, holding the position of Officer in Charge of Musketry. That was in 1926. The second edition of the same book was published under the title Scientific Self-Defence. That was in 1931. For all practical purposes the two books are identical. The primary difference is that an original edition of Defendu . . . is virtually impossible to find. An original edition of Scientific . . . is only next to impossible to find. The dollar cost of an original copy of either volume in reasonable condition would almost certainly be at least $1,000. — and we doubt it would be up for sale very long before someone snapped it up.
Fortunately, the alternate publishing house Paladin Press has done us all the great service of reprinting both books, and offering each for a very reasonable price. No researcher into the craft of close combat and self-defense should overlook acquiring and studying a copy of this volume. Reprints offer the same information and teaching value that the originals do; so until you do locate an “original copy” (if you’re a collector) you can satisfy your need and desire to know what the book contains by purchasing a reprint.
As a collector’s item, this book is at the top of all collectors’ lists. There is no one who, like ourself, is a professional teacher and scholar of close combat, who does not covet this book! Like first editions of Applegate’s classic, Kill or Get Killed, those of us who live this stuff must have a copy of Scientific Self-Defence. Unlike Kill or Get Killed, however (and unlike Get Tough! and Hands Off!, both by Fairbairn) Defendu. . . /Scientific. . . is of only limited practical value to the devotee of real world self-defense and close combat. Without wishing to incur the wrath of Fairbairn aficionados — of which we are certainly one! — we must point out two things:
First, not all of the material contained in Defendu/Scientific is the most practical and realistic for serious personal defense applications, and
Second, for practical combative use All-In Fighting/Get Tough! is
Fairbairn’s superior work. (Hands Off! contains pretty much a repeat of what All-In Fighting/Get Tough! offers, but is condensed and re-written with the female’s needs uppermost in mind).
Fairbairn’s brilliance shines through in Scientific because he strives to simplify and to practicalize the classical/traditional ju-jutsu that he himself had studied, in order to meet the tough demands of practical application by those who were not willing or able to spend years at learning formal ju-jutsu. This is no mean accomplishment. Prior to Fairbairn no one was doing this, and, from “traditional” perspectives it was then (as it still is today amongst fanticizing, ridiculous, dojo fanatics and staunch classical-traditionalists) almost sacrilege to deviate from “tradition”. Also, it must be remembered that Fairbairn wrote this text primarily for police officers, secondarily for private citizens who were interested in self-protection. Police requirements were then, as they always have been and always will be, very different than the requirements of wartime combat by military and intelligence people. Fairbairn’s later works reflect his wartime approach — and All-In/Get Tough! is clearly the superior way for handling life or death situations, as opposed to police arrest and control demands.
The comealong type holds, most of the throws, and the armlocks demonstrated in Defendu/Scientific may, in our view, be dispensed with for combat purposes. Much of the stick material is good, but when Fairbairn demonstrates the use of a walking stick for applying a hold he looks no less ridiculous to us than does any traditional “martial artist”.
One should not get up from the ground by doing a backward somersault (and this is a flaw that is found in All-In/Get Tough!, too). Nor should one attempt to “close the gap” between himself and a gunman by doing an acrobatic forward roll on the ground (happily, not found in Fairbairn’s wartime treatments).
Our point really is that Defendu/Scientific should not be regarded as “scripture”. It is a fine work by one of history’s greatest close combat masters — but one does Fairbairn’s memory no service by overlooking weaknesses in the material that appears in his book. And there are weaknesses. Fairbairn’s counter to a rear forearm strangle (“mugger’s grip”) is a poor one. And, frankly, his advocacy of using a front kick against a knife attacker, while neglecting to advocate simple side-stepping, which makes a hell of a lot more sense as a general defensive action, is not the greatest piece of advice (although we love his forthrightness and honesty in emphasizing the real danger inherent in facing a knife-wielder).
Readers should mark well that Fairbairn broke with his own “Defendu” approach to personal combat when he and Sykes were called into service with British intelligence and the commandos during WWII. According to The Secret War Report of the OSS, by Kermit Roosevelt, in which Fairbairn and the training of OSS personnel is referenced, Fairbairn did not use the designation Defendu for his wartime method. Instead, it was referred to simply as The Fairbairn System. (One of this writer’s own teachers, a former FBI instructor, had been a personal student of Fairbairn and Sykes during the second world war. This individual never once referred to Fairbairn’s — or to anyone’s — use of the word “Defendu”. He did say, however, that he and others had been taught The Fairbairn System).
Whether Fairbairn himself ever specifically divided his own thinking about curriculum content according to a process of sorting “this into Defendu” and “that into The Fairbairn System” is a moot point. The fact remains: When Fairbairn was tasked with developing a method of training men for war he approached the matter differently than when, previously in Shanghai, his mission was training police for the challenges of urban law enforcement.
For practical close combat study All-In/Get Tough! and Kill or Get Killed. For the delight of studying a classic text authored by a combatives genius who left an indelible mark on the development of western close combat doctrine, and who influenced all of us who work today to perfect practical armed and unarmed close quarters battle methods, obtain, read, study, and enjoy Defendu/Scientific Self-Defence.