Possibly the most loved and used fighting knife in the world, the Fairbain-Sykes Fighting Knife is a stilletto daggar designed and produced during WWII for commando troops and still used to this day. The knife was designed for a precise grip and a long thin blade that could go through a Soviet Army greatcoat to the ribs and slice, rather than tear, for faster death.
The knife's history
worth a small book alone
, but the two men who invented it also helped invent modern police fighting and close combat, and probably inspired Q from James Bond.
W.E. Fairbairn served in the British army and then in 1907 joined the Shanghai Municipal Police. Shanghai was then considered one of the most violent cities in the world with a tiny and overwhelmed police force. Fairbairn's response was to invent new tactics, equipment and training for the world's first anti-riot police unit
and in his words: "Get tough, get down in the gutter, win at all costs... I teach what is called ‘Gutter Fighting.’ There’s no fair play, no rules except one: kill or be killed”
He invented a riot baton, bulletproof vest, a training room staged like an opium den, and other innovations
like marking bullets at the base to track them later. That introduced him to E.A. Sykes
, then the representative for Remington in Shangi, who quickly joined the Shanghai Municipal Police as a reserve officer.
Fairbairn invented his own martial arts, Defendu, a mix of judo, jiu jitso and chinese boxing
that he had learned in Shanghai, as a way for police to restrain and defend themselves, distinct from the close quarter combat style he and Sykes later trained soldiers in. They also co-wrote one of the first and still relevant books on shooting for police, Shooting to Live (PDF)
. Fairbairn retired from the SMP in 1940 with over 600 non-training fights he survived and scars covering his entire body. According to his daughter Dorothea, he also bred goldfish and taught her bonsai, and never swore or drank.
During WWII, together with his friend Sykes, he developed the training for the Special Operations Executive and the newly formed commandos teams. Dubbed "Dangerous Dan" (no relation to Beano) and basically trained people how to kill other people with your little finger at Churchill's secret school, Beaulieu.
Both were very well-liked trainers. One trainee remembers Sykes as having "the manner and appearance of an elderly, amiable clergyman, combined with the speed and ferocity of a footpad; lulled by his soft tones and charmed by his benevolent smile, we would be startled to hear him conclude some demonstration with a snarled "Then you bring up your right knee into his testicles".
Fairbairn also wrote two widely distributed comic booklets on hand to hand fighting: Get Tough! training comic by Fairbairn (1942)
and Hands Off! Fairbairn's comic book guide to self defence for women
(Bonus: short feminist history review of the comic
Sykes and Fairbairn fell out at the end of the war, although neither ever disclosed why
. Sykes' much-loved wife died young of cancer, and he never remarried. He had to retire early in 1945 due to ill-health and died soon after. Post-war, Fairbairn went briefly by Cyprus and Singapore where he set up their riot police units, before dying at home in 1960 (probably too polite to kick Death to well, death).
Carrying on their training was Colonel Rex Applegate
. Born and bred in Oregon to a family heritage of shooting, Applegate joined the military police where he was recruited to the OSS, forerunner to the CIA, and eventually met and became fast friends with the two men. Ironically, Applegate never went into combat because of a lung ailment. Instead, he poured his considerable energies into training other people on how to kill effectively and efficiently. Applegate's book Kill or Be Killed (scanned marked-up book PDF
) is a classic for combining military and police tactics.
Post-war, Applegate was a special advisor in Mexico, establishing their riot police
and taught John Wayne how to shoot,
still lecturing and teaching up to his death in 1998.
Applegate with Fairbairn's approval, also created a version of the knife, with a handle that could be differently weighted to change the balance point and a partially serrated blade, but it wasm't as popular as the original, except for the folding version
. Or you could carry a Fairbairn's other knife, the Smatchet
with your spork.
Finish off with some official training films from DoD have Applegate's classic training films on shooting
and why war is not sport
, or just check out an entire channel of Fairbairn beating people up.
(Gutterfighting previously on metafilter