Scientific Self Defense – Book Review

January 21, 2018

In 1931 D. Appleton and Company published Colonel W.E. Fairbairn’s book, Scientific Self Defense, which presents the Fairbairn fighting system known as Defendu.  Colonel Fairbairn developed his fighting system through a scientific study of most of the methods of self defense.

Colonel Fairbairn’s Background

Colonel Fairbairn earned a second degree black belt from Kodokan Jui-Jitsu University in Tokyo, Japan.  He was the first foreigner living outside of Japan to do so. He also studied Chinese “boxing” with TsainChing Tung, who instructed the retainers to the Chinese Dowager Empress.

Twenty-three years with the Shanghai Police Force gave W.E. Fairbairn experience in handling violent confrontations. His traing in Jui-Jitsu and Chinese boxing stood him in good stead because in the early 1900’s Shanghai was a lawless, violent international port. He was an Inspector with the Shanghai Municipal Police Force and was responsible for apprehending pirates, drug dealers, and other violent criminals.

Fairbairn became the Instructor in Self-Defense to the Shanhai Muncipal Police Force. He also trained members of royalty and several high ranking Jui-Jitsu experts in Japan. In March 1925, Fairbairn went home to England on an eight month furlough for the purpose of writing a book on his fighting system, Defendu.

The fairbairn fighting system was adopted by the British military’s Strategic Air Service (SAS) and intelligence services. The British commandoes used Fairbairn’s fighting system during World War II and introduced it to the United States’ military.

Author Sgt. Jamean Berry

Defense Against Unarmed Attacks

An assailant may grab their victim from in front or behind and obtain a hold on any part of the victim’s body or clothing. The most common places are the victim’s wrist, neck, hair, waist, coat or belt.  The victim’s may also be grabbed in a “bear hug” or strangled.

Author Onbekend/Publiek Domein

Colonel Fairbairn provides simple, effective responses to these attacks.  HIs methods for close-in fighting are best described as brutally effective. The responses include, but are not limited to:

  • striking the assailant’s testicles, “Adam’s apple”, or back of the neck;
  • bending or twisting little fingers until they break;
  • stamping on his feet;
  • hitting him in the face with your head;
  • throwing the assailant by his head, wrist, arm, hip, leg, or instep.

Defense Against Armed Attacks

Colonel Fairbairn taught that an unarmed victims are capable of defending themselves against someone who is armed.  He wrote, in Scientific Self Defense, “…a man who “holds” you “up” with a pistol or other weapon, to use a slang term, ‘throwing a bluff’ and is far too cowardly to commit murder; otherwise he would shoot you on sight and rob you afterwards.”

In his book, Fairbairn teaches how to disarm an assailant armed with either a gun or knife.


      • From in front: hold your hands above your head as far apart as possible and pretend you are afraid, swing your hand to knock the gun past your body and turn sideways, seize the gun and assailant’s hand from underneath, then force them upwards and backwards.
      • From behind: hold your hands above your head and pretend you are afraid, turn inward very rapidly and wrap your arm around and under the assailant’s gun arm, hold his arm firmly against your body, knee him in the testicles while striking him in the chin with the heel of your palm.


      • Kick the assailant in the testicles or stomach
      • Run
      • Seize the assailant’s wrist and bend his arm at the elbow towards him, pass your arm around the upper part of his arm and seize his wrist with your hand above your other hand, force the upper part of his arm against your body and his elbow into your chest so that it is at a right angle to your body, then jerk his wrist towards the ground.
Author Sgt. Chetwyn, No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit

How to Fall Safely

In Scientific Self Defense, Fairbairn wrote:

“Japanese Jiu-Jitsu experts consider the art of falling correctly, i.e., without hurting one’s self, of more importance than the ability to secure an effective hold or trip, and it is owing to this that they are able to fall and be thrown about in competition in such a manner that, to a stranger, appears to be asking for a broken limb, yet they no sooner hit the ground then they are again on their feet.

“The fact that falling backwards down a flight of stairs can be accomplished without the slightest injury by anyone who has made a thorough study of this art, clearly demonstrates that a little practice at a few simple but very useful falls, etc., will well repay the student for his trouble.”

Colonel Fairbairn includes instruction for rolling dives from kneeling, crouching, and standing positions), side falls, front falls.  He also privides information on how to get up from the ground after being thrown or falling.


I highly recommend W.E. Fairbairn’s book, Scientific Self Defense. His techniques are simple, effective and the instructions are written in a manner that is straight forward.  His book has plenty of pictures to assist the reader in understanding how the techniques work.

I also recommend a book written by a practitioner of Fairbairn’s fighting system. Barry Davies is a former SAS instructor. He wrote a book titled, “SAS Self Defense” in which he provides very practical advice on responding to violent assaults. He warns that defending yourself from violent assault is very different from a sport, in which rules and referees protect participants and reduce injury.

Please keep in mind that although most states permit the use of force to protect your life, becoming an aggressor is not legal.  It is not permissible to instigate the violence, continue fighting when the other party has ceased fighting, chase after the other party for the purpose of continuing the fight, or to increase the level of force above that used by the assailant.  Force should only be used in response to another person’s physical assault, only to the level necessary to stop the assault and/or preserve life, and must cease as soon as the other person stops fighting. Continuing to use violence, of any kind, on the assailant after he or she has stopped fighting, constitutes aggression and is illegal: the victim then becomes the aggressor.





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