Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: Get Tough! by William Fairbairn

My parents, it must be said, were pretty cool.  No parental helicoptering for me - they largely left me to my own devices, and not pressuring me one way or another beyond making sure I wasn't going to get into too much trouble.

One cool thing my parents did was offer to pay for and get me to and from martial arts classes.  My dad learned of a jujitsu instructor in a nearby town, and so for a couple of years, we went once a week.  While I didn't progress very far in terms of rankings (and besides, I was only in junior high at the time), I learned many of the fundamentals of unarmed self defense; understanding stance, balance, the application of force and angles and using an opponent's balance and posture against them.  We learned falls, throws, locks, escapes, strikes, kicks, holds - all sorts of fun stuff.

A lot of "modern" self-defense experts pooh-pooh "martial arts" techniques as being too formalized and not realistic enough, but I think the important thing to take away from it all was not the indivdual moves but the holistic methodologies involved.  Whether you're learning jujitsu, karate, tai chi, kung fu, or some back alley MMA technique, the human body hasn't changed, nor have the ways to destabilize, topple, wrench, tear, and break that body.

This is the essence of William E. Fairbairn's approach to unarmed combat. Serving as a police officer in one of the nastiest, roughest ports in the world during the 20's and 30's - Shanghai, China - Fairbairn, who looks more like an accountant than a whirlwind of hand-to-hand destruction, learned from the School of Hard Knocks how to take on and defeat all manner of armed and unarmed bad guys.

So when some bad guys called Nazis came along in the late 30's, Fairbairn was enlisted to train British Commandos and SOE agents in the ways of kicking butt.  He created a series of simple, brutal, and effective moves that boiled down the art of close combat to something any fir and motivated individual could learn in a relatively short amount of time.  These techniques were then codified into an instruction manual, and Get Tough! was born.

The book itself doesn't seem like much.  A slim volume filled with short paragraphs of text and simple line illustrations showing strikes, throws, holds, and so forth.  But this is the key to the volume's effectiveness; I read it cover-to-cover in about an hour, it is easily understandable and very to the point; this isn't a book about "self defense", this is a book about kicking ass.  Or, more accurately, kicking balls, since over half the maneuvers in the book include a grab, kick, or punch to the junk at some point or another.  There's also a lot of palm strikes to the chin (favored by Fairbairn over a punch to the face since it won't wreck your hand in the process), finger rakes to the eyes, shin strikes, knee-breaks, and lots of other fun moves that can leave someone permanently crippled or dead. 

Along with the unarmed combat techniques, there are short segments showing the use of a chair, a short stick or cane (which would work very well with a carbine or Sten gun), the use of a fighting knife (this is a particularly gruesome segment, and leaves no doubt that this is NOT a "self defense" manual), and last but not least, the use of the Smatchet, a weapon devised by the Fairbairn for extremely direct hand to hand combat, particularly sentry removal.  Allow me to quote two of the best sentences in the book:

"The psychological reaction of any man, when he first takes the smatchet in his hand, is full justification for its recommendation as a fighting weapon.  He will immediately register all the essential qualities of a good soldier - confidence, determination, and aggressiveness."

If you have an interest in the history of military unarmed combat, I definitely recommend this book.  I would not recommend this book as a "self defense manual" because claiming in a court of law that you stopped a mugger using the same techniques taught to British Commandos for the purposes of killing Nazis will probably not help your case very much.

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