Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, July 01, 2018

A Tale of Two Knives

At HROARR, a website dedicated to western historical martial arts, there appeared a very interesting article about two iconic fighting knives, the KA-BAR and Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife. The history and combat philosophy behind these are fascinating. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

The knife is a silent and deadly weapon that is easily concealed and against which, in the hands of an expert, there is no sure defence, except firearms or running like hell.
-From the declassified Special Operations Executive Syllabus
When it comes to modern combat knives, the two most iconic knives of the Western world are undoubtedly the American "KA-BAR" and the British Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife. These two knives represent completely different philosophies with the KA-BAR being a very strong and sturdy fighting knife of utilitarian design, and the Fairbairn-Sykes representing a more elegant design for more delicate use in clandestine operations.
To really understand these knives, however, we have to look back at the contexts for which they were designed and what needs they were intended to satisfy.

Fairbairn & Sykes

So, stepping back in history...

Famous British Lt. Col. W.E. Fairbairn joined the British Marines at the age of 15, using faked documents stating that he was of legal age, i.e. 18. He was deployed to serve in Japanese-occupied Korea already in 1903, then at the real age of 18. Here he spent much of his time practicing various forms of martial arts with Japanese and Korean fighters, practiced drilling with the Royal Marines and fighting Japanese Army troops with bayonet.

Fairbairn left the military in 1907 and instead joined the Shanghai Municipal Police, serving in one of the red light districts, then considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Shanghai was a one of the most important centres for the opium trade, the precursor of today's heroin and cocaine trade and just about as sinister, with related crime and well-armed gang activity. This increased dramatically after opium trade once again became illegal in 1906, after having been forced upon and "legalized" in China by the British Empire. (For more on this see the 1st Opium War & the 2nd Opium War). Of course as with any city, and in particular port cities, gambling and prostitution was also common and it was by some called the vice capital of the world. Around this time more than 10% of the Chinese were smoking opium. About 15% of China's crop acreage was dedicated to opium while 20 years later twice as much, a change which would greatly diminish the need for British export of opium to China.
As a result of the initiative taken a year earlier, the Shanghai Municipal Council stopped issuing licenses to opium dens in 1907, the very year of Fairbairn's arrival. The same year he was stabbed a dozen times by members of a Chinese separatist gang and left to die in the back streets of Shangha, but luckily he managed to survive this brutal experience.
Ten years later, in 1917, the last legal opium shop was closed. Opium trade didn't disappear though. Quite the contrary. This was a golden age for the Green Gang triad, collaborating with the senior Chinese officer in the French gendarmerie Huang Jinrong in taking over the whole opium trade which now made more money than ever.

As if this wasn't enough, Shanghai was also haunted by increased Chinese nationalist activity, an increasing amount of armed robberies. Terrorist kidnappings & bombings and rioting and large-scale conflict was also very common. The Green Gang was often hired by Chinese Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang for political violence and they, along with other criminal gangs took part in the White Terror massacre where some 5,000 pro-communist strikers in Shanghai were slaughtered in April 1927.

It was a huge boiling pot of vicious violence and Fairbarn was right in the middle of it at quite young age, something which would shape the rest of his life, laying the foundation of a very pragmatic and ruthless perspective on violence and martial arts.
Later, after the war, Fairbairn would create and train a special anti-riot squad for the SMP and many of the tactics and techniques developed here are still in use today.
It is here, in 1919 in Shanghai, that he met Eric A. Sykes, while Sykes was still working with weapons import/export at a British Secret Service-run company. Sykes was an expert marksman and came to form and oversee a team of civilian & police snipers for the SMP and naturally he also became the head of this unit in 1937. In 1939 Sykes would properly join the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS-MI6).
Based on their experiences and training the two designed their own martial arts system for specific use for the Shanghai Municipal Police called Defendu. For hand-to-hand combat Fairbairn mixed Savate, Jujitsu, early Judo, Chinese martial arts (he had studied Kung-Fu with the Empress' former bodyguard), wrestling and boxing, all of it reflected against his own experience of raw and brutal street fighting as a police.


Dirk Bruere said...

I have a FS knife. It's almost useless apart from killing people. It breaks easily, has a bad balance and not much of a cutter. Good at stabbing - and that's it.

Frank Granovski said...

I have a Buck model 119.