One of the lesser known figures in the world of combat handgunning was William Ewart Fairbairn. Born in 1885, this slender Englishman was in the British service by 1901 and the Shanghai Municipal Police by 1907. He served in this famous agency of Sikh, Chinese and English officers for more than 30 years, forever studying the martial arts to include close quarters pistol shooting. In that period, the so-called “International” Settlement was one of the most violent cities on earth. Administered by a joint commission of several nations, Shanghai’s police department faced daily episodes of violent crime and was an ideal laboratory for study.
Fairbairn rose to command the elite anti-riot section and engaged in scores of personal confrontations. He was as rough as a cob, but objectively studied mayhem as some study differential equations. When World War II broke out, he was tapped for duty as a trainer for the fledgling Commando battalions. This brought him to the attention of the OSS, who secured his training services for the United States.
As far as shooting handguns at close quarters is concerned, Fairbairn was the first to use a realistic indoor range (complete with sound effects and odors) that provided extreme stress to the student. His book, Shooting to Live with the One-handed Gun, is the seminal work on this vital skill as taught in the pre-WWII era. Some of the material is still taught in some of today’s training centers.
The training methods that came from this man are old, but still very good.