Style and objectives.

What is the objective of a particular fighting style? Many would give the somewhat flippant answer that the objective is to win a fight. While this answer has a core of truth to it, it is also an answer which is lazy and ill conceived. A Mongolian wrestler, an Olympic fencer and a boxer will all consider themselves martial artists, they will all be fighting to win, and they will all have completely different objectives.

Many fighting styles have techniques and principles in common, but what defines one particular style from another is which techniques they emphasise. This emphasis is determined by the objectives of the people using it, which in turn is often determined by the context they are fighting in.

A couple of years ago, I was going down various rabbit holes on the internet looking into a Fairbairn Sykes dagger when I came across a copy of Captain Fairbairn’s book ‘Get Tough’. This small but excellent book describes a fighting style (Defendu) drawn from different eastern styles, honed on the waterfronts of Shanghai in the 1930s and and then taught to British commandos in the Second World War.

It is a minimalist style, stripped down to its essential elements and designed to be taught to large groups of people to get the most results with the minimum of training time. The commonality between armizare and defendu are that they are both close range fighting styles characterised by an excessively brutal finish. Both authors explicitly state that this is what their objectives are.

In the introduction to his book, Fairbairn writes ‘you cannot afford the luxury of squeamishness. Either you kill or capture, or you will be captured or killed. We’ve got to be tough to win, and we’ve got to be ruthless – tougher and more ruthless than our enemies. … once closed with your enemy, give every ounce of effort you can muster, and victory will be yours.’

In a similar vein, Fiore writes in his introduction that his students should be ‘fighting for your life with every deception and falsehood and cruelty that can be done. … aim to hurt them in the most painful and most dangerous areas. In the eyes, in the nose, in the soft part under the chin, and in the flanks.’

It is interesting to compare these two style which have absolutely no cultural commonality at all, but share identical objectives. It is not surprising that the two styles share so much common ground in the techniques that they teach, given that their objectives are identical. Here are ten examples of commonality between the two.

Fiore’s 1st scholar of grappling compared to Fairbairn’s escape from a bearhug.
Fiore’s 8th scholar of grappling compared to Fairbairn’s hip throw.
Fiore’s 10th scholar of grappling compared to Fairbairn’s knee. Fairbairn includes groin attacks as frequently as possible.
Fiore’s 11th scholar of grappling compared to Fairbairn’s escape from a bearhug.
Fiore’s counter to the 7th scholar of the 1st master of dagger compares to Fairbairn’s back break.
Fiore’s 2nd scholar of the 3rd master of dagger compares to Fairbairn’s escape from a strangle hold.
Fiore’s 5th scholar of the 3rd master of dagger compared to Fairbairn’s handcuff hold. Fiore calls this the lower bind and uses it in multiple contexts throughout his book.
Fiore’s 5th master of dagger compared to Fairbairn’s escape from a stranglehold.
Fiore’s 1st scholar of the 9th master of dagger compared to Fairbairn’s disarm from the front. The mechanics of disarms remain the same regardless of the weapon.
Fiore’s 5th scholar of the sword in one hand compared to Fairbairn’s disarm from behind. Fiore calls this the middle bind, and uses it frequently.