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~ William Ewart Fairbairn’s Books ~

Including Other Period Literature

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~ A Legacy Of Literature ~


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Fairbairn’s Books

When studying, collecting or simply appreciating the F-S Fighting Knife, it is almost impossible to not develop an interest in the men that lent their names to this iconic edged weapon.  Within the communities of martial arts, combat pistol shooting and knife fighting, William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes are often recognized as the grandfathers of modern ‘Combatives’, but surprisingly they are still little known outside of these specialist areas of martial training. 

Pioneers in their day, much of their legacy is now sadly overlooked and long forgotten.  Those of us who have studied martial techniques be it shooting, knife fighting or self-defense, or indeed the developmental history of these pursuits, soon learn that the contribution of these gentlemen is not only significant but quite profound.

What is believed to be the very first ‘manual’ of techniques by Fairbairn was written by him in 1915 while serving as a Sergeant 1st class in the Shanghai Municipal Police Force.  Written as a training manual for the Shanghai Municipal Police, entitled ‘Manual of Self-Defence’ and printed by The China Publishing & Printing Co. Ltd, it could be assumed that this is the precursor to his first book (below) published in 1926.

~ ‘Defendu’ (circa 1926) ~


What is probably the rarest of all of Fairbairn’s books is his first publication   ‘Defendu’, published in 1926 by the North-China Daily News & Herald, Ltd, Shanghai.  The book’s title, ‘Defendu’, is likely a fusion of the English word ‘defend’ and the Japanese character ‘do’ (often pronounced du), which is commonly attached to martial styles such as Judo, Aikido, Iaido, etc and can be translated as ‘the way’ (i.e. ‘the martial way’).  As Fairbairn was a student of Jujuitsu (the precursor of Judo), it is possibly that he decided to marry the two words to reflect his new style.  The decision to name his new system in this way and title his book the same may not have been well received, as the subtitle to the book, ‘Scientific Self-Defence’, would inevitably replace Defendu as the main title in 1931.

The hardbound book measures 10” x 7” and has 171 pages, with many photographs showing Fairbairn (and an assistant) demonstrating all manner of defensive and restraint techniques against both armed and un-armed assailants.  The example shown here is especially interesting, as hand written by Fairbairn on the publishers page it states that this book is a ‘specimen copy’, then signed and dated by Fairbairn in 1926.  On the title page is the statement that this is the official text book for the Shanghai Municipal Police, Hong Kong Police and Singapore Police. 

This scan from Fairbairn’s first book ‘(Defendu’ c1926) shows a young man in 1908 during his Jui-Jitsu training.  The same photograph also appears in the updated book ‘Scientific Self-Defence’ (c1931)

Fairbairn is also known to have visited Britain in an attempt to gain acceptance by various UK Police Forces but was unsuccessful.  As stated this is an incredibly rare book and only a handful of copies are known to exist.

~ ‘Scientific Self-Defence’ (circa 1931) ~


In 1931 Defendu was re-published by D. Appleton And Company New York, London  (printed in the USA) and retitled with the ‘less progressive’ name of Scientific Self-Defence.  The book was almost identical in size and content, just a little smaller at 9½” x 6⅜”.  Still hardbound but this time in red, it did have a dust jacket that depicted photographic images contained in the book.  With 165 pages the content was almost identical with just minor changes and additions. 

This 1931 edition of Scientific Self-Defence, in kind with its predecessor (Defendu), is still extremely difficult to find.  The example shown is complete with dust jacket.  However this particular example is of further interest in that it is signed and dated by Fairbairn along with a personal inscription that reads as follows: ‘To Major Harrison (?) with all best wishes W E Fairbairn Dec: 1935’.

~ ‘Shooting To Live’ (circa 1942) ~


The outbreak of the Second World War added an increased emphasis on all things combative.  This provided fertile ground for Fairbairn ‘and’ Sykes to share their knowledge.  This was expressed in a co-authored book and the only known book with Sykes named as author. Shooting To Live was published by Oliver And Boyd, London 1942.  A small book measuring just 6¾” x 4¾”, it was hardbound in green but with an attractive dust jacket showing two police officers armed with the Colt automatic pistol, an issue weapon of the S.M.P.

With just 96 pages and many illustrations, this was one of the first pistol shooting books that emphasized not only the automatic pistol but ‘practical’ or combat shooting.  Subjects covered included: choosing a pistol, advanced methods, stopping power and even the layout of a ‘practical pistol range’.  A book way ahead of its time.  It is a thought that due to his firearms expertise that Sykes was perhaps the larger contributor to this book rather than Fairbairn who’s expertise was more in the unarmed ares of martial training.

A scarce Colt 1903 Hammerless automatic pistol used by the Shanghai Municipal Police Force. The adjacent official marking indicates original ownership and issue by the S.M.P.

~ ‘All-In Fighting’ (circa 1942) ~


In 1942 we see published what is in my opinion the most significant book in respect to the collector of the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife.  All-In Fighting (Faber & Faber, London 1942) is clearly aimed at military personnel and, not surprisingly given the time period, against the German soldier.  As can be seen from the cover the victor is dressed in British battledress where as the vanquished is obviously a German soldier.  This theme is continued throughout the book. 

The book itself is hardbound with an economy paper dust jacket, common to that wartime period.  As with many of Fairbairn’s books that were published during WWII, the quality of the paper is not robust resulting in many books with frail or missing dust jackets.  At 8⅛” x 5½” and with 132 pages the book is of a convenient size; one can image many being found in the side pocket of a Commando’s battledress trouser pocket for an interesting and informative read when time allowed.

One of the interesting aspects of All-In Fighting that makes it such essential reading for anyone studying the F-S knife or indeed any Commando-related topic is the use of weapons throughout the book.  Of course the Fairbairn-Sykes knife is well represented and it is clearly shown as the original First Pattern design by Wilkinson.  Aside from this there is also demonstrated the use of the Smatchet, a large machete-style knife with a leaf-shaped blade which was also designed by Fairbairn.  The use of the Enfield rifle has its own section and also the Luger makes an appearance for the Axis side.

Page 99 showing the vital places one can use to disable an aggressor with the F-S Fighting Knife.  Fairbairn clearly had a deep understanding of anatomy and the impact the right blade would have.

~ ‘Get Tough !’ (circa 1942) ~


The most prolific book to be found and indeed still published today is the American version of All-In Fighting.   Produced in softcover with 121 pages and with a dramatic dust jacket, it is resplendent with its new title GET TOUGH! I have seen this book in over twenty WWII printings but the original first edition is still quite scarce and often confused with a later printing.  The way to tell the ‘true’ first edition/first printing is by Fairbairn’s rank.  The original shows his rank as ‘Captain’ which can be seen on the bottom/front of the dust jacket and also on the front of the book proper.

As mentioned Get Tough went on to be produced in many subsequent printings but all those that followed had one notable change.  Both the book and the dust cover reflected Fairbairn’s new rank, that of Major.  The image adjacent clearly shows this difference; the bottom book is a first edition and first printing, showing his rank as Capt. (Captain) whereas the top book (a later printing) shows the rank of Major.

~ Rare Australian Edition ~


One interesting and extremely scarce printing of Get Tough is the little known Australian version.  Although the printing date is shown as 1943, it still uses Fairbairn’s earlier rank of Captain.  It appears that there was only one printing of this Australian issue as no other subsequent printings have been noted.  At first glance it appears identical, but a closer look reveals a number of differences:  The size at 7¼” x 5” is a little smaller than the original (7⅝” x 5⅜”).  The other change is that the dust jacket is permanently attached and not a true dust jacket.  At right is the Australian printing, the image at left is the publishers page, ‘Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney 1943.  There is also the addition of ‘The Rifle in Combat’ which adds an addition seven pages.  This section was originally featured in ‘All-In Fighting’ which would make this Australian addition a more accurate rendition of that first (British) printing (thanks for catching that Cris)

~ ‘Self-Defence For Women And Girls’ (circa 1942) ~


Not only a pioneer in modern combat techniques but also, it would seem, far ahead of his time in the realms of women’s self-defense.  An example of this forward-thinking mindset can be seen in one of the earliest known books on ladies self-defense.  Written by Fairbairn and published in England in 1942 (Faber & Faber, London), Self-Defence for Women and Girls covered many similar techniques to those found in All-In Fighting which was clearly aimed at the military in general and at Commando’s in particular.  With only 48 pages and showing carefully chosen but practical techniques, this groundbreaking book is almost never seen.  With a very simple and fragile dust jacket the book was 8” x 5½” and soft cover.  Of interest is the lady ‘assisting’ Fairbairn is non other than Dorothea Fairbairn - his daughter.

~ ‘Hands Off !’ (circa 1942) ~


Along the same line as Get Tough was a successful US version of the British women's self defence book with a new title and dust cover, ‘HANDS OFF!’  (D. Appleton - Century Company New York 1942).  With just 41 pages the content is identical but the quality of printing was much improved.  The copy shown at right is complete with its original dust jacket.  The image below shows  Fairbairn’s signature and the date 1944, making this a rare signed copy.

~ Other Publications Of Interest ~


Although not written by Fairbairn or Sykes, I have come across the occasional period publication that for one reason or another holds a related interest and will share them here.   Please feel free to contact me if you have or know of other literary items that may add to our knowledge.  These additions can certainly be fun but also add some historical perspective and for that alone are invaluable.

~ A Rare Book From Fairbairn’s Personal Library ~


Years ago I  came across this 1925 copy of  THE PIGEONEER, a US Army training manual No. 32.  The manual is quite an in-depth and interesting work on the care and use of pigeons in the military.  As fascinating as the topic is, the real story here is that the original owner has written his details on the front cover and the owner is none other than William Ewart Fairbairn! 

The Shanghai Municipal Police was an international force which included a large contingent of US Marines.  It would seem logical that Fairbairn had an extensive library of training manuals and as is the custom in the military, you put your name on ‘everything’..!  Interestingly the date on this signature is the same year as hie first publication ‘Defendu’, a signed copy of which (also dated 1926) is at the top of this page.

~ ‘Real Heroes’ - A 1943 Comic Strip ~


War touches every corner of a society and children are no exception.  Here we see the comic book Real Heroes published in January of 1943 (Volume 1 No 8).  The cover states “8 full length true war stories and 7 other true comic features”.  The dramatics of war clearly provided more than enough raw material for writers.  The talents of W.E. Fairbairn made for good material as this two-page comic strip tells of his Get Tough training.

E.A. Sykes

W.E. Fairbairn

The adjacent images clearly shows the difference in Fairbairn’s rank; Captain (below) indicating a true first edition/first printing and Major (above) for all subsequent additions.

A scene from the comic book Real Heroes (Volume 1, No 8, January 1943).  Lighthearted as it may have been to portray Fairbairn in this way (top left) but he had a reputation as a hard man and the caption from the thug was no doubt poignant.

The Broad ArrowThe_Broad_Arrow_Including_Ministry_Of_Supply_Markings.html
The McKinley Tariff ActThe_McKinley_Tariff_Act_%26_The_F-S_Knife.html
The Etched F-S BladeWilkinson_Sword_%26_The_Etched_F-S_Blade.html
The F-S Personal Etching RegisterThe_Wilkinson_F-S_Knife_Personal_Etching_Register.html
The Very Last Wilkinson F-S KnifeThe_Last_Wilkinson_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
Variations Of The F-S KnifeVariations_Of_The_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
The Wilkinson First Pattern F-SThe_Wilkinson_First_Pattern_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
The Wilkinson Second Pattern F-SThe_Wilkinson_Second_Pattern_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
The Wilkinson Third Pattern F-SThe_Wilkinson_Third_Pattern_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html

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