William Ewart Fairburn Created A New Martial Art.

by Daniel Russ on June 16, 2012


William Ewart Fairburn, Martial Artist

William Ewart Fairburn


There are few people like William Ewart Fairburn. He was a fighter. Engaging in combat must have been in his blood because allegedly he survived hundreds of them. Which brings me to the first hurdle whilst uncovering this amazing man’s life. Sometimes people author their own myths. And sometimes those personal myths ensorcell story tellers and they take on a life of their own. And while I am certain Mr. Fairburn was an incredibly interesting man, it seems unlikely one person would be ensnarled in hundreds of street fights. One would have to be somewhat willful and deliberate to be in that many hand to hand combat situations. In fact, according to the narrative, he had around 600 “non training street fights”. The other thing that makes this so unlikely is that regardless of the fact that he supposedly had scars all over him self, a street fight can be lethal. To dodge a hundred bullets would also put him squarely in the column of lucky. If you survive 600 street fights, with no rules, then immediately go and play the lottery.


Fairburn-Sykes Commando Knives

Fairburn-Sykes Commando Knives


Born in 1885, Fairburn became a policeman and later British soldier patrolling British holdings in Shanghai. There he learned boxing and Chinese martial arts and became an ersatz close quarter combat instructor.  Over time he developed him own martial art and called it Defendu.





He trained British Special Forces these unarmed and knife fighting techniques. Fairburn developed innovative shooting techniques and authored a book entitled Scientific Self Defense. Many think he was the inspiration for Q in James Bond. He was known also for his special forces stiletto called the Fairburn-Sykes Knife. As well as the Smatchet. Also shown here.


What he did was original. He invented a whole martial art that lives in musty paperback books once sold in small space ads in the back of Argosy Magazine.



He died in 1960.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Paolo Cariello March 1, 2013 at 10:28 am

Interesting article, as for Fairbairn being in that many fights, it can be possible Shanghai was a very violent place and he was both a beat cop as well as in the riot squad durring a time that riots where all too comman. Yes the average man living the average life and training in the martial arts probably would not have been in that many fights, but someone in his job would most probably and 600 would be a pretty low figure, I’ve been in security/bodyguarding and military work for over 22 years, violence comes with the territory. I even worked the door of a venue for 475 nights straight without a day off averaging probably more than one fight a night (not my intention to fight I don’t get paid any more if I fight) and he lived in a rougher more dangerous time so I think he could have done so and no I have no intention of playing the lottery I have used my luck surviving in a tough proffession. with respect Paolo

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