You can't always use--or even get to--your gun.
This gives some great advice for that situation:
by Robert Bolt
To be effective, close-quarters combat must be simple, straightforward and brutal. It must work under battlefield conditions in which you are tired and frightened and gross-motor skills may be all you’re capable of. It must be easy to learn and easy to use without warning in any environment.
One of the figures who shaped that notion of close-quarters combat was Lt.
Col. William E. Fairbairn, an Englishman who worked his way up from conand stable to assistant commissioner of the Shanghai Municipal Police prior to World War II. Along the way, he developed a system of armed and unarmed combat that enabled his officers to survive some of the toughest streets on earth.
BACK IN TIME
In the early 1900s, Shanghai was the most violent city in China, if not the entire world. Muggings, armed robberies and kidnappings plagued its population, while gangs ran amok and opium dealers did whatever was necessary to ply their trade. One night in 1908, Fairbairn was patrolling the brothel district when he was nearly beaten to death by a gang of criminals.
He awoke in a hospital and fortuitously noticed a placard near his bed that read, “Professor Okada, jujutsu and bonesetting.” Upon checking out, Fairbairn embarked on a course of study that would include jujutsu, judo and various Chinese arts. He eventually earned a black belt in judo and jujutsu, and in 1910 he was promoted to sergeant of musketry and drill, which meant he was now responsible for training recruits in the techniques they would rely on to save their own lives. Fairbairn decided to seek out further instruction in a variety of fighting systems, especially ones that dealt with the situations his trainees might face on the street.
In his 30-plus years with the Shanghai Police, Fairbairn was involved in or personally observed more than 200 violent encounters involving weapons and an even greater number that saw the use of only fists and feet. From his studies, observations and experiences, he developed a system of selfdefense and arrest-and-control techniques which he named defendu. Its arsenal was composed of moves borrowed from various martial arts and then simplified so the average person could readily learn them. Fairbairn also took a keen interest in knife combat and gunfighting; he subsequently developed a realistic system of firearms training, which was adopted by the Shanghai Police.
Fairbairn retired in 1940 at age 55. He then returned to England, where he was charged with training commandos and elite members of the home guard. His curriculum was designed to provide soldiers and operatives with the skill and confidence needed to defeat an enemy in close combat. He also instructed various American and Allied commando units, including the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA.
Although the system Fairbairn originally taught to the police contained a variety of restraining holds, the skills he passed to the military focused on strikes. Police officers were supposed to arrest suspects, he reasoned, while soldiers and agents were required to dispatch their enemies as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.
Hand-to-hand combat was extremely important to OSS agents because they frequently had to operate in occupied areas while masquerading as foreign nationals. Because they often encountered German checkpoints, they could not carry firearms and thus had to rely on the empty-hand training provided by Fairbairn and his instructors.
These days, it is virtually impossible to find an instructor who trained directly under Fairbairn. One man who can trace his lineage straight back to him is a World War II veteran and former Marine hand-to-hand combat instructor named Charles Nelson.
Nelson trained under Sgt. Kelly, a Marine who served in Shanghai in the 1930s and was one of Fairbairn’s followers. Kelly also studied under Detective Dermot “Pat” O’Neil of the Shanghai Police, another of Fairbairn’s top students and the one who would later become the close-quarters combat instructor for the famed Devil’s Brigade.
Nelson also studied under the late Col. Anthony Drexel Biddle, another Marine unarmed-combat instructor who was mentored by Fairbairn. Nelson bunked with John Styers, yet another Marine hand-to-hand combat guru who trained with Biddle and penned a classic titled Cold Steel.
After the war, Nelson returned to New York City, where he taught self-defense for more than 45 years. When he retired, the direct link to World War II close combat would have been severed were it not for the existence of a student named Carl Cestari. Having conducted more research on the close-combat methods of World War II than anyone else alive, he has established himself as the premier purveyor of the timeless teachings of Fairbairn and Nelson.
Although not widely known in the martial arts community, Cestari is arguably the most significant person today in the field of authentic World War II combatives because of the key role he has played in preserving and disseminating those concepts and techniques.
He was instrumental in training noted knife expert and hand-tohand specialist Bob Kasper, as well as in introducing John Kary, the founder of American combatives, to World War II-style close combat.
After studying with Nelson for several years, Cestari temporarily slaked his thirst for knowledge by embarking on a mission to locate and interview surviving members of World War II units that had trained in the Fairbairn methods. They included men from Darby’s Rangers, the OSS and the First Special Service Force, also known as the Devil’s Brigade. In addition, he began a long association with Col. Rex Applegate, who had studied under Fairbairn longer than any other American.
Applegate died in 1998, but he is remembered as the most influential American hand-to-hand combat instructor of the second World War. Cestari also investigated a wide variety of other sources, including rare hand-to-hand combat books written by early 20th century experts and old films of close-combat training taken from the Library of Congress. His goal was twofold: to trace the roots of the fighting style and to formulate questions to ask the veterans he interviewed. After nearly two decades of research, Cestari succeeded in using the knowledge he had acquired and the judo, jujutsu and karate training he had undergone to reconstruct the world’s most formidable fighting art.
While Fairbairn originally drew a great deal from jujutsu and judo, the brand of close combat he taught during World War II emphasized the atemi, or striking aspects, of the martial arts because they are easier to apply and have a more lethal effect than do throws and locks. Many of those blows are similar to traditional martial arts techniques, but Cestari claims subtle differences exist. The most important characteristic of World War II close-combat strikes, he says, is that they are composed of simple gross-motor movements.
They are also non-telegraphic because they originate from wherever the striking limb is. No chambering or cocking is involved. In each strike, the weapon takes the most direct route to the target. “Any time you bring your hand away from an attacker, you are alerting him,” Cestari insists.
Above all, World War II close combat stresses the need to pre-emptively attack as soon as a threat becomes apparent, Cestari says. In his Notes for Instructors on Close Combat, Fairbairn stressed the importance of hitting first, and Cestari adheres to that philosophy 100 percent.
Cestari also highlights the need to be alert and stay away from potential threats. But once you determine an attack is imminent, you should explode into the assailant, thus augmenting the power of your strike with the momentum of your body. Your energy will drive him backward and keep him offbalance, making it difficult for him to deliver an effective counter.
EDGE-OF-THE HAND BLOW
An essential component of World War II close combat is the edge-of-thehand blow, alter- natively known as the ax hand, the chop or the hack. The strike is similar to the shuto (knifehand) of karate and the tegatana-ate of jujutsu. To execute it, open your hand and tighten its muscles, Cestari says. Your thumb should point up as you strike with the fleshy part between the knuckle of your little finger and the base of your palm.
The blow is most effective when delivered in a backhanded hacking manner from wherever your hand happens to be. It derives its power from your forward momentum, torso torque and body weight. The technique is generally delivered horizontally with your palm facing downward, but it can be applied from other angles as well. The most vulnerable targets are the throat, side and back of the neck, philtrum and nose.
The biggest difference between Fairbairn’s strike and the traditional martial arts version is the perpendicular orientation of the thumb. Holding it that way increases tension in your hand and firms up the striking surface.
It also prevents your hand from cupping on impact, which merely dissipates your force.
Fairbairn taught that when you’re facing a frontal attack, your best option is usually the tiger’s claw blow. To execute it, Cestari says, you should curl your fingers and spread them as though you are trying to grip a shot-put. Deliver the strike into the attacker’s face using a piston-like motion.
The technique can be combined with a forward step (using the strikingside foot) to put your body weight into the technique, Cestari says. Your splayed fingers should be driven into the assailant’s eyes, while your palm and the base of your hand smash into his nose, mouth and chin.
At close range, the tiger’s claw can be transformed into the chin jab. Rather than coming straight into the assailant’s face, the strike travels upward from beneath his line of sight, slamming into the underside of his chin and jaw much like an uppercut, Cestari says. To execute it, angle your hand as far backward as possible and spread your fingers. Bend your arm slightly as you hit with the base of your palm. Your fingers can be used to inflict a followup eye gouge.
The blow must be thrown at close range without any cocking of the arm. The main target is your attacker’s chin, which when struck forcibly can induce a concussive knockout. However, the chin jab can also be used against the nose or cheekbones. It is particularly effective as a follow-up to a knee to the groin because the attacker may expose his chin as he doubles over, and striking someone who is bending forward amplifies the power of the blow.
The next technique involves propelling your knee upward as though you are trying to lift your attacker off his feet, Cestari says. As soon as you make contact with the target, plant your raised foot where he was standing. The groin is the primary target, but the technique can also be used to impact the stomach or thigh. If your attacker is off-balance or leaning forward, you can use both hands to grab the back of his head and pull it down into your rising knee, but most of the time his head will be out of reach.
Deliver a side kick World War IIstyle, IIstyle, draw your kicking leg up to knee height and drive it into your attacker’s leg in one swift motion. In general, strike with the leg that is closest to the attacker.
Fairbairn favored using the edge of his boot to blast the attacker’s shin, while Applegate preferred thrusting the bottom of his heel into the other man’s knee to dislocate or severely damage it.
The men also taught a non-telegraphic front kick to the groin and an inside-edge-of-the-boot kick to the lower shin or ankle. Launched with no visible chambering, the techniques have their roots in an old form of street savate.
The combat method Cestari teaches focuses on overwhelming the assailant before he can get off his first shot, rather than reacting to his attack and then countering. This strategy of “offensive defense” also works against common grabs and holds. Even though some systems teach drawn-out sequences for every potential grappling attack, you should avoid them, he says. “You will not have the time or the wherewithal to remember specific multi-step defenses.”
Instead, Cestari advocates concentrating on stopping the attacker using the most brutal and effective techniques you know. To that end, he teaches a variety of close-range offensive techniques—eye gouges, groin grabs, elbow smashes, foot stomps, biting and whatever else is available—for use when things get ugly.
Like Fairbairn before him, he emphasizes simplicity, directness and gross-motor movement. The complex responses that many of his contemporaries teach serve only to distance their systems from their roots and reduce their overall effectiveness.
World War II close combat has been criticized as overly simplistic or even outdated, but Carl Cestari has made it his mission to remind us that the simple, proven methods devised during the first half of the 20th century can be relied upon in any life-ordeath encounter that crops up in the 21st century.
Robert Bolt is a free-lance writer and practitioner of reality- based martial arts.