This is our last installment on “defining” the parameters of COMBATIVES.
The point, I am sure, will be missed by some but it must be emphasized that this material is historical fact and is accurate in substance and detail. It is an objective view of combatives and NOT a subjective opinion or personal “definition” designed to fill an agenda of one sort or another.
The Battle of Britain began in early July 1940. England was isolated, cut off and alone. The miracle retreat from Dunkirk and the German “Blitzkrieg” across Europe, including the crushing tactical defeat of the famed French “Maginot Line” proved the Third Reich war machine to be virtually unstoppable. Hitler’s plan for the invasion of England, named “Operation Sea Lion” was a daily focal point of danger and concern for the British.
Dunkirk had decimated the British forces and moral was at an all time low. Two recently returned veterans of British colonial rule in Shanghai, China approached the War Office and offered their services at this desperate time. William Ewart Fairbairn, retired as a ranking officer of the Shanghai Municipal Police force and his partner Eric Anthony Sykes, a private arms dealer who served as a “volunteer” in the SMP and who headed the “sniper” unit of the famed Shanghai Riot Squad promised the War Office that their training and methods could in short order make “any one man the equal of ten”. After the debacle at Dunkirk this was a MOST important and dramatic statement. Initially dismissed, these two men went on to PROVE the veracity of their words and convinced the power that be as to absolute effectiveness of their methods. If that meant that an over middle aged W.E. Fairbairn had to place several young bucks in the hospital to prove his point in an impromptu, but VERY realistic “demonstration”, so be it. Those who “tested” Sykes fared NO better. So the methods that these men had developed during decades of very dangerous work in Shanghai now became a highly valued and integral part of training for all British forces and Special Operations personnel.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 coupled with the Imperial Japanese military’s coordinated assault on all American and British forces across the Pacific Rim pulled the United States firmly in this world wide conflagration. We were now fully at war with the Axis forces. Fairbairn who was now in Canada, assigned to the infamous “Camp X” (where along with “unarmed combat” experts WEF and George de Relwyskow was a BRAZILIAN JUDO/JUJUTSU EXPERT, Hmmm…….Colonel Carl Eifler was ALREADY undergoing training here) was ordered to assist the US government agency known as the “The Office of the Co-coordinator of Intelligence” the precursor of the OSS. Eric Anthony Sykes remained in England and found the need for his services in great demand. He also found himself working under the auspice of the British covert force known as the Special Operations Executive.
The history of these men from the early days of Shanghai, up to and through the war years is an entire story unto itself and beyond the scope of this article. However it must be clearly understood that the contribution of these men had a profound effect and influence on close-combat methods, tactics, and techniques for DECADES after the war. Despite the often heard “argument” that we have somehow “evolved” beyond these methods, we will in future articles put this notion to rest. They were however, certainly NOT the only “experts” involved in this field! An example (one of many) would be A.J. Drexel-Biddle who studied and trained extensively in boxing, Savate, jiu-jitsu, swordplay, knife-fighting and various bayonet methods.
As the United States geared up for war, a major factor began to be publicized. Both here and in Australia the press made a great deal about the superiority of the Japanese fighting man. Part of this was, to be sure, rooted in fact. The Battle of Port Arthur, the turning point in the Russo-Japanese war, several decades earlier, had shown the world the tenacity and ferocity of the Japanese soldier, particularly in the area of close-in man to man combat. Much was made of the large Russian soldier finding abject defeat at the hands of his smaller Japanese adversary when engaged in hand to hand combat(hence a very obvious boost for the creation of Sombo). Jiu-jitsu was given world-wide attention and notoriety in this regard. The Japanese conduct of their war in China also showed the world a seemingly invincible and unstoppable force. A force that was brutal and deadly in the extreme.
So much attention was given over to the training of US and Allied forces in methods that would enable the average soldier to meet the Japanese fighting man on a somewhat equal footing. EVERY branch of the Armed Services began an intensive physical training program designed to meet these needs. Much of the “expert” instruction needed, particularly in the arena of close-quarters man to man combat, came from the civilian quarter. Men with tremendous and varied life-long experience in all forms of “combatives” were tapped to create training programs that would give the Allied soldier sufficient means by which to engage their enemies at close-quarters. The Axis did the same of course, Japan being the obvious factor in this regard, BUT even Adolf Hitler proclaimed the absolute need for boxing and jiu-jitsu in military training as it imparted courage and daring to the average soldier to close with his enemy!
In the US there were a PLETHORA of varied methods and training systems. ANY attempt to narrowly define the methods extant in this era is FOOLISHNESS! Though the contribution of Lt. Colonel Fairbairn is GREAT, as is the influence of Colonel Applegate, there were DOZENS upon DOZENS of different close-quarters battle systems developed. From wrestling, boxing, savate, judo, jiu-jitsu, Chinese boxing, and even football and rugby methods were NOT only drawn upon, but entire “systems” were advocated based on these individual methods. It may come as a surprise to many, but here in the US, even Japanese KARATE was used!
Many of these “unarmed combat” courses were highly complex and technical as they were rooted in the favored methods of the men tasked with their “creation”. Wrestlers tended to rely on that method, Judo men on that system, Boxers on their expertise and so on and so on. Each method also could claim stunning success in actual combat! True after action reports showed that ALL of these methods had merit and COULD be used effectively in the rigors and stress of real battle. However, as the war progressed two major factors began to influence and change these training protocols. One was the fact that more and more men from ALL sorts of varied backgrounds being were drafted into military service, the other was that as demands for more and more replacement troops began to rise the amount of training time became by necessity reduced and limited.
The approach that seemed MOST feasible and useful was one that COMBINED the “best” or most effective, efficient and quickly learned methods as well as those most well RETAINED! The rudiments of boxing and wrestling were made part of an overall general physical conditioning program and “unarmed combat” became a specialized block of instruction. These courses in “unarmed combat”, “hand to hand combat”, “combat judo” and so forth again sought to COMBINE the most advantageous holds, throws, trips, locks, strangles, blows, strikes and kicks from all the varied methods available. The ONLY truly limiting factor here was the TIME element. Other considerations were also important. The O’Neill (another Shanghai veteran and ranking Kodokan Yudansha) method is a classic example of a system specifically tailored for both the training environment available as well as the NATURE of the combat engagement expected. There were even attempts made to instruct the military in actual Koryu Jujutsu systems here in the US! However the MOST effective systems still sought to MIX ALL the varied methods of physical combat.
As the war progressed more and more after action “intelligence” gathered from the reality of actual battle helped shape and determine training priorities. Many methods of close-combat began to be “trimmed” down to those fundamentals that proved MOST effective OVERALL and most applicable to ALL TRAINEES across a wide and varied spectrum of physical attributes and skill.
Applegate was perhaps the most vocal of these advocates owing to his exposure in the INFANTRY JOURNAL and the publishing of “KILL or GET KILLED”. And he was NOT without his critics, as was Fairbairn.
Some courses were so short in duration that they involved ONLY SEVERAL HOURS of instruction. Others were quite involved and very complete in their syllabus content. Many are familiar with the Navy V-5 programs and the training at Benning, but lesser known is the very EXTENSIVE training at places such as Fort Meade and at the Hawaii Jungle Warfare complex, just to name two! Here at these locations, and such training was conducted from Brooklyn to California, a very complete and MIXED program of “combatives” was taught. From the CIC training center in Chicago to the Army training camps in Colorado, from Parris Island to the Ranger/Commando schools in the Hawaiian Islands, from the training bases in England prior to D-Day to the “Killing” school in Palestine, the METHODS taught ran the FULL gamut of man to man tooth and nail “combatives”. From the complex to the “instinctive kill” (a method designed to take FULL advantage of so-called natural “animal” killing instinct) ALL these methods, systems, and approaches FALL under the definition of COMBATIVES! Even the OSS personnel training at Area B were shown the methods of SIAMESE boxing (read Muay Thai)! From Anglo Boxing, wrestling and grappling, French “foot-fighting” (including Assaut Vite savate), Indian Varma-adi/Varmannie, Chinese boxing, “Roman” boxing, Japanese Judo/Jujutsu and Karate, Siamese boxing, Burmese boxing-Bando (remember the CBI), western fencing, Filipino edged weapons and ANY and ALL other systems (including almost every weapon known to man) deemed effective in DISPATCHING one’s enemies to the hereafter were STUDIED, RESEARCHED. IMPLEMENTED and TRAINED! One WWII era US hand to hand combat manual makes reference to INDONESIAN “methods”!
This IS the legacy of COMBATIVES! This is the TRUE DEFINITION of COMBATIVES! And to those who need to “pigeon hole” others into the “box” of “only” doing World War II “combatives”………………………..well, applying the above definition based on the TRUE historical RECORD, then HELL YES!…………………I do follow the LEGACY of WORLD WAR TWO “COMBATIVES”!
Note: If there is sufficient interest we will also be pleased to cover ALL of these topics in FULL detail based on OBJECTIVE historical facts.
Future newsletter articles will go into depth on history, training and method covering armed and unarmed combat as well as topics on various subjects from Shanghai to “Shangri-La”(for those still wandering around in La-La land).