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World War II
employed a
limited number
of simple but
chokes and
They were
because they
were deemed
good for
assuming the
enemy was
caught by
surprise. In
everyday hand-
combat, chokes
and takedowns
were supposed
to be applied
only after the
assailant had
weakened by
strikes. Even
then, as Lt. Col.
William E.
pointed out,
whenever you
commit to a
throw or choke,
you make
vulnerable to
especially if
there are
assailants. If
you are in
position to use
a choke or
throw on a
assailant, he
often said, you
are also in
position to

The tigers claw strike is used
to attack the face. As the palm
is driven into the target, the
fingers can gouge the eyes.

Carl Cestari (right) and the
Close Combat
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 youre 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.
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
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
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02/01/2011 Close Combat 1/5
position to
finish him off
with strikes.
Carl Cestari (right) and the
late Col. Rex Applegate.
Click For Next Image

Carl Cestari is threatened by
a knife-wielding opponent
(1). He pivots his body off the
line of attack and chops
downward onto the
opponents forearm (2).
Without retracting his right
arm, Cestari follows up with
an edge-of-the-hand strike to
the windpipe (3).
Click For Next Image

As the assailant (left)
approaches Carl Cestari and
chokes him, Cestari
immediately pins the other
mans right hand against his
chest, turns counterclockwise
and raises his right arm (1).
The close-combat expert then
drops his right arm to break
off the choke (2). Next, he
torques his upper body
clockwise and delivers an
elbow smash into the
assailants face (3). Cestari
then transitions into an edge-
of-the-hand blow to the neck
(4) and a side kick to the
knee (5).
Click For The Next Image

The defender (left) faces an
attacker armed with a
blackjack (1). Before the
attacker can advance and
strike, the defender darts
forward and executes a finger
jab to the eyes (2). He
immediately follows up with a
side kick to the knee that uses
the edge of the boot to make
contact (3).
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
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 Fairbairns
followers. Kelly also studied under Detective Dermot
Pat ONeil of the Shanghai Police, another of Fairbairns
top students and the one who would later become the
close-quarters combat instructor for the famed Devils
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
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 Darbys Rangers, the OSS and the First Special Service Force, also known as the
Devils 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
02/01/2011 Close Combat 2/5
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 worlds 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.
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
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 Fairbairns 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
Fairbairn taught that when youre facing a frontal attack, your best option is usually
the tigers 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
attackers 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 assailants eyes, while your palm and the base of your hand smash
into his nose, mouth and chin.
At close range, the tigers claw can be transformed into the chin jab. Rather than
coming straight into the assailants 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 attackers 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
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and pull it down into your rising knee, but most of the time his head will be out of
Deliver a side kick World War IIstyle, IIstyle, draw your kicking leg up to knee height
and drive it into your attackers 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 attackers shin, while
Applegate preferred thrusting the bottom of his heel into the other mans 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 techniqueseye gouges, groin grabs, elbow smashes, foot stomps,
biting and whatever else is availablefor 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.

02/01/2011 Close Combat 4/5
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