BOOK REVIEW: Scientific Self-Defense by W.E. Fairbairn

Scientific Self-DefenseScientific Self-Defense by W.E. Fairbairn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Fairbairn was a fascinating character, and I read this book largely out of historical curiosity. He was on the Shanghai Police force, where he was regularly involved in physical altercations. Then, during the Second World War, he taught close-quarters combat to Allied nation commandos. While this book is a self-defense manual (and, as such, is technique-centric,) it’s interesting to see what Fairbairn came up with when building his own self-defense system (which he called “Defendu,”) taking a background in Judo, Jiu-jitsu, and other martial arts and applying it to practical self-defense situations. The book includes a mix of techniques for countering grappling and weapon attacks as well as holds, take-downs, and some stick and truncheon techniques. There are a number of specialty items thrown in such as binding an opponent.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for individuals interested in learning self-defense. This isn’t a challenge of Fairbairn’s qualifications, which were impressive both on paper and in terms of real-world experience. There were three things I disliked about the book as a self-defense manual. First, Fairbairn did not seem to be a believer in the “don’t let your ego write checks you’re not willing to cash with your body.” He’s not much of an advocate for running away screaming, even when the situation would allow that option. To be fair, most of Fairbairn’s students were police officers and military personnel – i.e. not individuals with the same range of options as a civilian. Secondly, the book is loaded with statements about it being a “simple matter to do ‘x’” along side pictures of ragdoll (passive) opponents, and this could build a fatal misapprehension of what will happen against an opponent who is resisting and applying counter-techniques. Finally, a major point of building a self-defense system is to weed out the techniques from martial arts that are too complex for an individual who isn’t training daily and who isn’t used to commanding his body under intensely stressful situations. Therefore, one avoids complex techniques, or ones that require a high degree of precision. It’s hard to justify including techniques such as juji-gatame (a ground armbar technique that is challenging to apply, but especially as it’s demonstrated – i.e. from a standing takedown.)

If you want to know more about what was being taught in the early twentieth century with respect to self-defense based on jiu-jitsu, the book is interesting. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for those interested in knowing more about self-defense.

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