History of Self Defense: The Origins of Fairbairn's DEFENDU – The Self Defense Company

History of Self Defense: The Origins of Fairbairn’s DEFENDU

History of Self Defense: The Origins of Fairbairn’s DEFENDU


The first appearance of the term DEFENDU was as the title of W.E. Fairbairn’s 1926 publication on his method of “scientific self-defence”. We are further informed that this treatise is the “official text book for the Shanghai Municipal Police, Hong Kong (sic) Police and Singapore Police”.

The usage of DEFENDU is found twice in the forward of the 1926 edition. However, in this context it would be important to remember that Fairbairn claims almost complete originality in the methods presented, stating however that they are drawn from several different sources. In this regard it would not be applicable to use Asian terms or nomenclature, i.e. “Jiu jitsu” or Western descriptive phrases such as “Chinese Boxing”. Fairbairn claims originality in the methods presented, hence an “original” descriptive term would be apropos.

This situation however caused confusion among readers of this edition and hence in the 1931 edition of Fairbairn’s work the title was changed to “Scientific Self-Defence”. This was done to make the content of this edition more clear to the average individual.

The term DEFENDU is found again in Biddle’s work “DO OR DIE”(1937). Fairbairn is credited with developing this method. It is interesting to note that Biddle makes a clear distinction between “Jiu-Jitsu” and “Defendu”. The 1944 edition of Colonel Biddle’s book also uses the term DEFENDU and the text is virtually the same as in the earlier edition. Excepting one important point: In the later edition Biddle refers to Fairbairn’s book “GET TOUGH”. However, he does not correct the fact that Fairbairn by this time was a Major serving with US Forces(not Assistant Commissioner of the SMP). There are of course obvious reasons for this lapse.

The point however is that the term DEFENDU relates too much earlier methods espoused by Fairbairn and did not reflect his thinking at this time (1944). The British edition of “ALL IN FIGHTING” also mentions DEFENDU, but just as a passing comment in reference to Fairbairn’s earlier works. “GET TOUGH” the US reprint of “ALL IN FIGHTING” refers to the close combat fighting method present as the “Fairbairn System”.

So what is the point? Well here it is……… I believe that the changes in terminology referring to LT. COLONEL (NOT CAPTAIN, NOT MAJOR, as so MANY ill informed individuals refer-DO YOUR DAMN RESEARCH!) Fairbairn’s methods reflect a CHANGE (growth if you will) in his COMPLETE ATTITUDE regarding close combat.

In describing his MOS for paperwork detailing his duties and responsibilities in connection with being awarded the “Legion of Merit”, Fairbairn refers to his methods of close combat as “Gutter-fighting”. Consider if you will the change in attitude from “Scientific Self-Defence” to “GUTTER FIGHTING”. Fairbairn further elucidates his feelings by describing two key elements: VEHEMENCE and ARTIFICE! “SCIENTIFIC” self defense this is NOT!

Now for those who have proposed that DEFENDU remains the POLICE “version” of the Fairbairn method and make a distinction as to the military method, well consider that after WWII the manual of choice used by POLICE agencies under Fairbairn’s consult was “GET TOUGH”, reprinted in the language of that particular agency.

Now as to the possible origins of the original term DEFENDU. I have over the years heard several stories. Some were simply ridiculous in light of the facts we KNOW! Two however stand out as possible(and very plausible) candidates. First, is the simple use of DEFEND combined with the well known term jiu-jits”U”. Hence, DEFENDU. Aside from what others may claim, Jiu Jitsu(of this period) influenced Fairbairn far more than even he was willing to admit. And that goes for the staple methods of the edge hand, chin-jab, and even the “tiger” claw. Jiu jitsu had these very blows and gave great credence to their effectiveness in “real” combat (YES! this can be verified by books, manuals, etc. in the writer’s possession) these “rock crushing” blows HANDS OFF, however predated by usage in turn of the century Jiu jitsu manuals describing these Atemi) were extant in “real” Jiu jitsu for centuries. As far as the claims of GREAT influence by “Chinese” boxing methods, such as Chin-Na, Ba Gua, Hsing-I, etc., I feel that the evidence denies this (Yeaton’s letter concerning Fairbairn’s thoughts on the matter).

Hence, the use of DEFENDU pays some homage to Jiu jitsu, as well as giving the Western flavor to Fairbairn’s methods.

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Published by Damian (Instructor)

Founder, The Self Defense Company

Join the Conversation


  1. Very good article. Concise, well written NO BS.. Same as SDC methods and instructor MOI, Well done.

  2. Thank you for this very informative article. DEFENDU worked and still works very well as a multi-lingual play on words, and I suspect that W.E. Fairbairn was aware of this fact.
    – First of all, the nod to Jiu-Jitsu would have been very clear to those who knew about such matters when Fairbairn’s book was first published in 1926.
    – Secondly, as a Western European educated readership would have known quite widely at the time, the word DEFENDU was (and is) the French word meaning “Forbidden”. It would have suggested to such readers that the subject matter of the book was somehow unorthodox and officially frowned upon, a suggestion which has long added a certain marketing allure to self-defence and martial arts materials alike.
    – Finally, in American English in particular the word DEFENDU would easily suggest the topic of self-defence (as in, DEFEND-U).

    1. Thanks Christopher. It makes total sense with the French foreign legion being present throughout the World at that time and Asian Martial Arts being forbidden from being taught to caucasians, that Defendu might have been a term Fairbairn used to describe his scientific methodology to Self preservation..

  3. Thanks once again Damien, for bringing Truth to the forefront. I much appreciate the time and attention to detail that you put into your presentations.. Clean and concise.

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