Charlie Nelson and His Little Red Book of Self Defense

Today it seems like there's a martial arts school on every block and many of them are of dubious quality. Most of the students are children, and they're taught some form of combat sport. Some schools offer self defense training or promise a good workout, but few teach real combat martial arts.

There was a time though when people did learn the practical skills they needed to survive a real street fight. Among the few instructors who truly understood combat martial arts and self defense was Charlie Nelson who took what he learned during World War II, and used it prepare the average citizen for hand to hand combat. Charlie Nelson's story begins in upstate New York where he grew up in a Catholic orphanage, and he joined the United States Marine Corp at the age of 19.

While with the Marines he would receive the best close combat education possible. Before any close combat training, Charlie was good boxer. The first chance he had he joined Marine boxing team.

This is when he learned from Colonel Anthony Drexel Biddle who had trained Marines in hand to hand combat for World War I. Biddle, and was teaching FBI agents at Quantico at the time. As fate would have it, while at Quantico, Nelson would bunk with John Styers an expert in blade combat who would later author Cold Steel an excellent book on close combat with weapons. It was probably here that Nelson first learned the truth about self defense that would shape his life long view on combat; a street fight is completely different animal than a sports match. Colonel Biddle wouldn't be Nelson's only teacher while in the Marines though.

He would train with Sergeant Patrick Kelly who had served with the Fourth Marines stationed in China. Kelly had trained under Dermott O'Neill who also served in the city of Shanghai which at the time had the well earned reputation as the most violent city in the world. The Marines along with troops and police officers from many other nations assigned to the international city regularly battled violent street gangs and other criminals as they tried to maintain law and order as well prevent insurgences from taking the city. It was here the Marines would learn many important lessons from William Ewart Fairbairn and the Shanghai police department. Even though Nelson wouldn't meet Fairbairn directly, Fairbairn had a profound influence on how Nelson would learn to fight. During Fairbairn's time as a police officer in Shanghai, he made an extensive study of many Asian martial arts in an effort to create a simple and effective combat martial arts system.

He drew heavily on his Judo and Jujutsu experience, and stripped away any unnecessary ritual and movement, revealing a simple system for combat called Defendu. In addition to hand to hand combat training he also taught effective shooting and edged weapons methods (the Fairbairn fighting knife). He would later train spies and commandos in WWII.

Nelson would draw on all of his influences in order to create his system for self defense, but he always gave credit to his mentors. After serving honorably in WWII which included taking part in the battle of Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division Nelson retuned to New York and setup the "Charlie Nelson's School of Self Defense Combat Jujitsu and Karate." At the second floor school on West 72 Street in New York City the students would learn how to street fight, and Nelson abandoned traditional martial arts uniforms in favor of street clothes because he said that what people really wore when they fought. Every move he taught could be used by anyone regardless of size or strength, and all his training scenarios were grounded in reality based of his research into actual crimes. He taught people how to "fight not play games". Charles Nelson like some many others of his generation is no longer with us, but his work lives on with us in The Red Manual.

The book is filled with useful techniques that will work against even the most violent assaults. Nelson makes martial arts practical to for the average citizen and teaches them how to deal with attackers armed with knifes, baseball bats, and even firearms. Even experienced martial artists like former Army Ranger and police officer Carl Cestari was taken down by his dirty fighting techniques by a much older Nelson.

Cestari was so impressed he would become certified in Nelson's system and include many of his techniques in his own. Unfortunately not everyone took notice of Nelson's system, but if people did the criminals would be the ones living in fear. Nelson's methods of self defense are all but forgotten. There are a few who still teach some of the principles handed down by these for fathers of modern day self defense and reality martial arts.

One such organization is The Self Defense Company. A global network of instructors dedicated to teaching the systems of proven self defense in programs that combine these valuable methods of combat with modern day systems of training.

This article is courtesy of the Self Defense Network featuring Martial Arts in Renton Washington, Martial Arts in United Arab Emirates and Martial Arts in Alberta Canada.

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