The legend of William Ewart Fairbairn and the ghosts of Achnacarry

The legend of William Ewart Fairbairn and the ghosts of Achnacarry

There have been many great articles written about "Dangerous Dan", "The Shanghai Buster". Yet the story of this "old English Schoolmaster" look-alike, has never been touched upon as the superb epiphany that he was.

Epiphany is a word probably ill-used within these lines, yet I find myself lacking a better term. Just the sheer volume of his contributions to the fields of police work, weapons development, and close quarters combat, seem to defy any other capture. Each an unique product of an exceptional convergence of nations, persons, and times.

This is the story of a truly crucial man, who found himself uniquely positioned within this rare crossroads of worlds events and changing eras. An age of revelations; much of which can be singularly sourced back the this very man, this legend, this William Ewart Fairbairn.

Alone or in association with other greats such as Anthony Sykes, Rex Applegate, and Dermot "Pat" O'Neill, this man more than any one person, is responsible for devising of some of the most successful methods of close quarter combat that the world has ever witnessed.

Much of this accreditation revolves around his highly touted system of hand to hand combat, "The Fairbairn Method".

His fighting methods are some of a select few that can rightfully claim the title of being a "full spectrum combat system". In further validating this title, his system bore ground breaking developments in unarmed combat, stick fighting, Spring Cosh ( a type of sap ), knife use, and with pistols and sub-machine guns.

Renowned for their simplicity and ease of acquisition Fairbairn's unarmed methods are effective and absolute. His unarmed repertoire emphasized crippling edge of hand blows, stunning chin jabs, blinding tiger claw strikes and destabilizing pneumatic percussion strikes. Vicious kicks delivered with the tip, heel and edges of the boot, joint articulations, chokes, throws and takedowns further sealed an opponent's fate.

The Fairbairn unique methods of armed fighting were equally devastating. Whether it was his edged weapon methods which addressed the use of the now famous Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, his "Smatchet" sword, or "Cobra" knife design. He also fielded a method of shooting which he called "Point Shooting". His method of shooting pistols and sub-machine guns with without the use of sights gave a person the ability to effectively engage an enemy regardless of the environment or its ambient conditions.

He is also recognized for the development and employment of breakthrough concepts such as bullet proof riot shieldsQuick Reaction Forces and S.W.A.T. teams, the "Killing House" training Facility, and the use of "pop-up" targets which when later employed in Vietnam singlehandedly changed the face of modern warfare.

Within a few short years, in some form or another, Fairbairn's methods were globally adopted by almost the entire Allied forces. There they held a particular reverence within the elite forces such as the legendary Commandos from Achnacarry House. Who exploits fostered fear even into the heart of Adolf Hitler himself, resulting the release of Hitler's infamous "Commando order".

In some manner everyone of his developments remain in use today! The FS knife is found globally, an enduring trademark of elite forces.

Consider the following as viable determinants of such an unique convergence and occurrence:

  • At the core of it all we find Fairbairn himself, both a gentleman and a warrior who for whatever reason had within himself such natural combative talents; history supports this.
  • As a young man he convinces a recruiter to falsify his age and he enlists as a recruit in the Britain's Royal Marines Light Infantry at 15 years and 10 months old, giving him a military foundation, and personal experience in shaping men.
  • Then in 1907 he is posted to Shanghai which even today is recognised as being the most dangerous and corrupt city in the world of its time, quite possibly even up until today.
  • In Shanghai leaving the forces he becomes involved in police work and martial arts training.
  • Directly or indirectly Fairbairn is influenced by the teachings of a jujutsu instructor by the name of Jigoro Kano; his certificate bearing Kano's mark. Kano, the same famous Jujitsu master who created judo; who taught a young Vasilii Oshchepkov who returned home to Russia to create Sambo; who taught Esai Maeda who later moved to Brazil and taught a man named Gracie.
  • While on police patrol Fairbairn is ambushed by gang members, savagely beaten he was left for dead. He required months to recovered. This is what today's psychologists call a "life altering experience".
  • From here he returns to the police force where he works with the likes of Dermot "Pat" O'Neill, and Anthony Sykes, as well as other people of other nationalities and their cultural inputs.
  • He rises within the Shanghai Municipal Police Force becoming the man behind the S.M.P.'s training and tactics development. This provides him a live fire laboratory in which to develop, test, and fine tune his theories.
  • During his time with the S.M.P. documents record that he is personally involved in some 200 to 600 reported violent armed and unarmed conflicts, often involving various scenarios of multiple combatants.
  • Then 1942, with a world at war. The Nazi war machine has crushed all of western Europe and is on the brink of overrunning England itself. London is enduring the brunt of the Luftwaffa's "Blitz" England, a nation intolerant of its state of desperation, is willing to do anything.
  • The United States is equally concerned. On its western shore, "Pearl Harbour", and Nazi U-boats just off its eastern shores.
  • Fairbairn and Sykes return home to England where they join the S.O.E. and charged with the job of training Britain's commandos, "Special Operatives", and the older men who made up the "Home Guard".
  • Hidden away they were first and mostly stationed at Inverailort House, the first STC ( Special Training School ), and later at other centres throughout Scotland and the UK. Here Fairbairn is free to implement and further develop the Fairbairn Method, while Sykes teaches his own but similar methods.
  • The effect of the Fairbairn Method upon the average Nazi trooper is fear. On 18th October facing elevating fear of England's commandos and much deliberation by German High Command lawyers, officers and staff, Hitler issued his infamous "Commando Order", the "Kommandobefehl". This letter ordered that any captured British commando is to be immediately executed, thus proving that they were just men, not demons, devils, or ghosts.
  • Fairbairn is sent to on special order to Oshawa Canada, STS-103, "Camp X", where he teaches spies and resistance operators.
  • On loan from the British, at the OSS' secret Training  Area-B facility in Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, Fairbairn meets U.S. Colonel Rex. Applegate works with Fairbairn to teach the Fairbairn methods to elite elements of the American Armed Forces.
  • All the while in the field Fairbairn's methods are being battle tested against whatever the German and Japanese combatants had to offer. Subsequently the Fairbairn Method is constantly refined. Tuned by soldiers reporting back in from the battlefield.
  • At the end of the war at the specific request of "Wild Bill" Donovan, founder of the O.S.S. the predecessor of today's C.I.A., Fairbairn receives the United States "Legion of Merit". America's sixth highest award, it is only awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.
  • After the war he continues to be engaged by various governments to teach the Fairbairn System.
  • Even though Fairbairn continues to train and review other improvements there are no modifications to his method published or publicized.
  • Fairbairn continues teaching the Fairbairn Method until he retires and eventually passes away in 1960.

If we now review these events in retrospect, "Are they not milestones suggestive of an unique person forged in an exceptionally rare convergence of nations, persons, and times"? If not then I would suggest that it would be very difficult to ever recognize what might well be.

Inexcusably the totality of these notable developments, have repeatedly been allowed to drift back into the quilt work of conflict and combat. Now, more often than not, the name Fairbairn falls unrecognized upon the ears of modern martial artists.

Regardless of however often his name is evoked, or how consistently his developments, methods, and teachings experience rebirth, only but a few carry forth his methods, his name. The martial art world continues to focus on the glamour, melodrama, and sensationalism of Hollywood's martial illusions and artistic fantasies.

Today across the globe we can still find his ruminants of his work. Scattered piece meal, as part and parcel of another program they survive, to carry on. A handful remain who knew his mark first hand. His methods refuse to pass on, instead finding life in the legend of William Ewart Fairbairn and the ghosts from Achnacarry.

Barry Drennan
Founder, Instructor,
Fairbairn Protocol H2H


Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Stay informed

Sign up to our newsletter

Invalid Input

Follow us

Join MAZ community