I know a lot of people are interested in WW2 combatives and so I thought this book might be of some interest to forum members. I do book reviews every once in a blue moon, so I hope this isn’t too clumsy an effort. The book is better than the review!

The Legend of W.E. Fairbairn, Gentleman and Warrior: The Shanghai Years

By Peter Robins with Nicholas Tyler
Compiled and Edited by Paul R. Child

The name of W.E. Fairbairn probably needs no introduction. Along with E.A.Sykes, he designed what is probably the most famous combat knife in the history of man. He also authored several close quarter combat and self defence books, of which ‘Get Tough’ is still in print today. ‘Shoot to Live’, co-authored with Sykes, is also still in print. Together they played a vital part in training special military and espionage units for the allies during World War 2, along with other luminaries such as Rex Applegate.

While Fairbairn’s work during WW2 has been fairly well documented, his earlier work with the Shanghai Municiple Police Force has not. Because much of what Fairbairn and Sykes taught during WW2 was based on their experiences in Shanghai, this has left a void of information for enthusiasts and researchers. Various bits of information and conjecture have found their way out, but a serious scholarly account has been missing, until now.

For the better part of 20 years, Peter Robins spent his own time and money researching WW2 combatives, both their practice and history. He sought out veterans of both the SMP and WW2, primary documents and family members of both Fairbairn and Sykes. His work was acknowledged by authorities such as Bob Kasper, Peter Consterdine and Dennis Martin among others. Above all else, Peter was someone held in high regard by those who encountered him as a genuinely nice person.

Sadly, Peter died in 2003, before he could complete the book. Fortunately for the rest of us, Peter’s family and friends have completed this work and a huge amount of credit must go to them.

Before going any further, it is important to state from the outset what the book is, and what it is not. It is NOT an instructional manual. The book charts Fairbairn’s life from when he was born through to his retirement and return to England with Sykes in 1940. The book covers Fairbairn joining the Royal Marines while still only 15 years old, his subsequent joining of the Shanghai Municipal Police and his working through the ranks to the eventual rank of Assistant Commissioner.

While certain techniques and methods are detailed where appropriate, tactics rather than techniques are covered. The reasons behind why Fairbairn developed his training are clearly documented.

Of particular interest is the detailed information on how Fairbairn revolutionised the tactics and training of the SMP. The book details how he introduced effective firearms, equipment and tactical training in spite of the usual bureaucratic obstacles.

The roots of Defendu are covered in detail, along with how Fairbairn was greatly respected by the local Japanese community for his contribution to the Japanese martial arts. Indeed, among his officers and the Shanghai community at large he was well respected, this being shown by local newspaper articles of the time and photographs upon his retirement.

Contrary to popular rumour, he was also a family man, who would go on holiday in the countryside with them to a cabin retreat. He was also a keen bowls player who was later to represent his county at national level. Quite different from the single minded dour figure that is often portrayed!

The book is hardcover, 10 X 7.5 inches. 248 pages. ISBN 0954949404. There is no dustcover, but the book is printed on quality paper. The design and layout are very well done, with the text being broken up by numerous photographs, period articles, relevant statistics and quotes from sources. It has clearly been well proof read and printed, as I only noticed one typo. All in all, an excellent professional effort by all involved.

Contents are as follows:

Book Dedication
SMP Officers
Chapter 1 The Early Years
Chapter 2 Shanghai Beckons
Chapter 3 Shanghai School of Shooting
Chapter 4 The SMP Armoury
Chapter 5 Defendu
Chapter 6 WEF Manuals
Chapter 7 A Mob Fighting Unit
Chapter 8 The Old Small Cat
Chapter 9 USMC in Shanghai
Chapter 10 Return to England
Profile Peter Robins
Appendix One: WEF Promotional Record and SMP File
Appendix Two: Shanghai Statistics and Timeline
Appendix Three: SMP Statistics, (Police strength chart –1908, SMP casualties, SMP Honour Roll, Medal Cover, Medal Inside Page, Police Medals)
Appendix Four: SMP Incidents, (Incidents, Armed Robbery Chart, Non – Armed Robbery Chart, Kidnap Log (1930)
Appendix Five: SMP Miscellaneous

It is clear that a massive amount of research has gone into this book. The acknowledgements themselves read like a ‘who’s who’ of the CQC world, with names such as Rex Applegate, Charles Nelson, Bob Kasper, John Kary among others. Family members of both Fairbairn and Sykes were consulted. Contemporary photographs, many never published before, are used through out the book as is primary documentation and statistics.

Having studied history at university I can say this book is as well researched as any I have seen, while avoiding the ‘dryness’ normally associated with such books. I managed to read the whole book in one afternoon, without having to reach for the dictionary or feeling the need to put it down!

For anyone interested in WW2 combatives in general, and the work of Fairbairn in particular, this is a must have book.

You can order it direct from the publishers via their webpage:


International orders can be made using a credit card via Paypal:


The book can also be ordered via:



Also, here is some further information regarding the author:

http://www.ghca.org/index1.html see the ‘In Memory’ sections and ‘CODA’ in the Links section
http://www.americancombatives.com/cqchistory.htm An overview of WW2 CQC work done by Fairbairn and authored by Peter Robins

P.S. Please note there is no information regarding the knives supposedly carried by some members of the SMP, and which have been mentioned as being part of the genesis of the FS knife. I’m pointing this out so that anyone buying the book is not disappointed by such an omission.