The Applegate-Todd Connection

From a very young age I had known of the legendry Col Rex Applegate. He had been described to me as the expert of special operations cloak and dagger close combat, the type of subjects never found in the civilian publications.

I had met individuals that had corresponded with Col Applegate or who had met him at a trade show and had a quick photo taken with him, but no one who had trained from him in unarmed combat or CQB.

I contacted Col Applegate by phone and later in writing back in 1988 and continued to be in regular contact with him up until my visit to his home in 1990 and until his passing.

I received my invitation from Col Applegate in 1989 and instructions in 1990. Col Applegate took care of all my arrangements to the last detail. Before my visit I had to supply Col Applegate with my resume and an extensive videotape of the military close combat skills I instructed.

He informed me his knee was a little stiff but apart from that he was in good health. He asked if I had a senior assistant that could accompany me for practising purposes. I took my senior assistant instructor with me Howard Bell who to this day says it was an experience in his close combat career he will never forget.

Col Applegate requested I make a list of subjects I wanted instruction in and any information or material or supplies I required. I contacted Col Applegate I guess over one hundred times over the ten years from our first contact and have a correspondence file including over forty letters and faxes as well as over one thousand pages of printed matter.

Col Applegates residence during training visit, 1990

Col Applegate’s residence during training visit, 1990

Howard and I had difficulty finding our way to the Applegate residence but finally made it there for dinner with Col and Mrs Applegate. That night was spent with answers to my questions list and checking out some of the Col's most prized possessions and personal correspondence and personal weapons.

Col Applegates residence during training visit, 1990

Col Applegate’s residence during training visit, 1990

The following day began with a bit of a test having to evaluate a training video. After watching the video the Col asked me what I thought of it and I replied the truth is I thought it was down right dangerous in skills and far from military close combat. He replied to Howard your man knows his stuff and that he only wished a lot more Americans were as wise.

He referred to the subjects on the video as the flowing robe brigade. He said its good that civilians and cops were interested in practical methods but the stuff they done back in the OSS especially the CQB and assassins training was real combat and they may think they know about it but they really know very little.

The unarmed combat was one thing but the elimination skills like you have requested info on showed no mercy and how good some one could fight mattered not. He said your enemy should never even see you or know what has struck them. Col Applegate had just enlisted the services of a secretarial person to get all his files in order. He then ushered me to a box that he said the contents were to be destroyed as they had no use to him at his stage in life and he didn't want them left around. There was a lot of information on spies and assassins type material. He gave me free access to take notes on anything relevant to my work. While I done this he chatted to Howard regarding our facility in NZ and farming.

He was amazed how quickly Howard could shear sheep in comparison to the person he had shear his sheep. He told Howard of how Mrs Applegate had visited New Zealand some years earlier because of her work in agriculture.

Then he suggested we both look through the non-restricted paper war that was being filed and we did so. Then we were privileged to a guided tour of his treasured collection and had explained to us the relevance of individual special pieces. This included his riding crop concealing a long thin sword blade that he had used to penetrate a subject during World War 2 and that he said was his now late sons choice of exhibits.

He went through the knife collection and explained the models and year of manufacture as well as how they had come into his possession. He told us of the exhibition shooters of old and how he was part of the demonstrations as a young boy assisting his Uncle Gus Peret and others loading weapons. He explained the history behind the instinctive point shooting and how Sykes was the most important pioneer of this form of shooting.

Picture taken in Col Applegates private museum.

Picture taken in Col Applegate’s private museum.

He said I could see you're a keen shooter from your resume and we don't need to spend any more time than necessary on shooting but we will go over your instinctive shooting basics.

He then demonstrated and checked my stance target alignment etc. Col Applegate then took Howard and I to his private club for lunch and introduced us to several of his friends in the area.

After lunch we returned to his home and he explained to me about World War 2 attack dog training and how they selected and trained the dogs to be lethal weapons. He had three dogs on the property at the time a top bred White German Shepard that he had purchased after seeing its sire had just won a prestigious dog show and featured on the cover of an international magazine. He also had a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Rottweiler and he enjoyed very much the opportunity to go over the canine programmes, some thing he said no one had ever asked him of since World War 2.

The next subject was the knife fighting and he said I see from your demo tape you use European straight line methods and then showed us the lost programme from the OSS SOE days. He called it the lost programme as the one off classified footage and accompanying programme had been destroyed back then.

He then while out side without warning said this is how you take a sentry out with a knife commando style and next to both Howard's and my surprise he was demonstrating on me.

He then explained the desired characteristics of riots sticks with particular attention to the position of the handgrip positioning from each end and the direction of the grip lines to reduce slip. I then asked him of the Fairbairn riot stick combination that my first unarmed combat instructor had told me of and had explained the basic components. He showed me the five-component combination and its correct order, something that is taught in its pure long and short forms as part of the Todd Systems baton training today.

For the rest of the afternoon we looked at the original military kill or get killed programme and manual that included considerably more preventative unarmed methods than the published book and of a lot of other content relevant to protecting others and special operations.

He requested in my military work and in my part of the world I promote instinctive shooting and gave me the programme and video footage. He then produced early samples of pepper spray and explained how it worked. He said you would have seen World War 2 OSS information in the paper war you looked through yesterday on how they had used pepper extracts and other chemicals to incapacitate or hide your trail and worse.

A visit to his bathroom in his home was interesting to say the least and showed how prepared and security conscious he was with a bull nose 44 magnum on the vanity unit. He asked me if I though it would do the job and then showed me his personal carry weapons.

He asked if I had any further questions on training skills and said you can always come back and we will keep in touch. He asked if I would like to assist him for demonstrations in the future or at trade shows should he need the help with close combat or knife work.

I said I would be privileged and he said the only reason I have given you such access to sensitive material and such instruction is because there are only some things you want to show a non military instructor no matter how good or dedicated they are. He then said something that I will never forget, you are one of the best I have seen in the business.

He then brought out his Fairbairn and Sykes files and gave me copies of some material including copies of World War 2 subjects. He told me of his first meeting with Fairbairn and how he had been told by the observing officers to attack Fairbairn who he referred to as a crusty old fellow. He said how he had explained he was worried he would kill him but was told to attack him.

He did and the next thing he knew was Fairbairn had evaded him and made him topple off the demonstration platform on to the observing Brass below. He said he made sure that never happened again.

He said Fairbairn was very commercial and Sykes was more a quiet professional. He told me he had only ever met O'Neill once in passing during the Vietnam era but was well aware of Charlie Nelson and his work in the self-defence field after World War 2.

We finished the evening with some history of close combat and Col Applegate gave me some treasured gifts that included a Smatchet and Applegate-Fairbairn knife and training knives and rare photographs. He offered me a licensing agreement for his video's that were to be released and said he trusted me and he would give me PAL master copies to reproduce them from if there was a market down under.

He talked to me of the need for an organization of military qualified instructors to keep the military aspects and sensitive aspects where they should be and to ensure continuation.

He requested I speak with other military qualified instructors and report back to him in regards to the response and gave me permission to use his name and indorsement of the association or federation concept.

This later led to the establishment of the International Close Combat Instructors Association (ICCIA) that the Col first named the Association of Close Combat Instructors and that he was a founding member and patriarch of.

Over the next ten years he had inquiries from several civilian instructors requesting he assist them with membership but he said even if he did they would not be allegeable for membership.

He was very proud of the association and publicly at the Soldier of Fortune convention in his speech stated, "you are the best of the best in military close combat," after the association dinner and he also during the filming of Extreme CQB stated the same.

We left late that evening and to this day I could remember so many details as if it was yesterday.

The following are extracts from correspondence between Col Applegate and myself in regards to instructing and projects and our friendship.

1990 he wrote me that he was going to send me an Applegate-Fairbairn folder and requested copies of some of the pictures we had taken together. He also asked for a copy of my book that was due to be published and included a photograph of the ancient picture he referred to as original combat. He included the letter regarding its origin and suggested we could use it for an association logo or letterhead.

September 1991 he wrote I tried to secure a copy of Fairbairn's Defendu for you as I do not have a copy in my own library without success but will see some Fairbairn collectors at the SOF convention.

April 1992 I wish to congratulate you on the new member of your family Jessica. Jessica is the same name as my oldest Granddaughter. My best and that of Mrs Applegate to your wife and new daughter. I am engaged in cataloguing and authenticating my gun and knife collection, this is quite a job but must be done for estate purposes. I have noted your successful training in Thailand and that you will probably be in the States later this year on matters having to do with the association. My best to Howard Bell who in our opinion was a dead ringer for crocodile Dundee etc.

October 1992 have been away for two weeks on riot matters, attached are a number of articles for you, will get to the other questions later. I am doing a home made video on combat shooting and knife fighting next month.

March 1993 have been away and will be on the road on riot matters for the next several months. I will be unable to accommodate new ventures in 1993. I am going to investigate the probabilities and follow up with my opinion and that of others in a longer letter in a few weeks. Tried to fax you and left message.

October 1993 Sent you my scouting and patrolling book. I note you will be in the US next month for the association convention and I have informed SMG Jordan that I will be on hand as things now stand. I'm off to the International Association Chiefs of Police meeting the middle of the month and have kept the calendar clear for the Association meeting. The AF fighting knife is now in commercial production. Factory informs me that they have several thousand sold already and more on back order. Smatchet scheduled for next year.

I was inducted into the Cutlery hall of fame in June in Georgia, this was a big surprise. We are glad your little girl is progressing so well and I am sure the pitbull will do the protection necessary in your absence.

January 1994, I met Pat O'Neill during the Vietnam war period. He was travelling the army bases with a companion teaching and demonstrating close quarter combat, much was of the Fairbairn School etc.

I enclose a picture of Sykes taken from his 1931 passport. It was sent to me by his nephew and is only one of a few around, I also enclosed copies of letters Sykes sent me.

I also knew Col Biddle USMC, I enclose a picture of myself taken a year or so ago and I don't know if you have this one. Also one from World War 2 period. I appreciate the minutes of the Association meeting from Dallas and note Steve Matoon and Bob Spear are new members and I know both and would concur. I have received the handsome Association plaque from SMG Larry Jordan and it is much appreciated and takes place of honour in my trophy room.

I will be at a terrorism conference next week in Las Vegas and then the NRA meeting. I have been nominated for the board of directors of the NRA with its three million plus members.

I am in the middle of my riot control book third revision and also some interesting new developments on lasers with handguns that look like they will be revolutionary.

July 1994 I just returned from a conference on the use of tear gas and the new pepper spray and your message was awaiting me. Your new military chief instructors appointment is well deserved and I am glad this has come to pass.

Enclose article and new AF folder that will be commercially manufactured by Gerber next year and will await hearing from you in more detail.

October 1994 I have been very busy this fall with the SOF convention and the NRA and Police chiefs' convention. I was pleased to receive and enjoyed the Oct issue of your magazine and the information you included with that package. With respect to your knife design, it looks like a good one.

The Todd CQB dagger with Applegate Coat of Arms inlaid into the hand grip from Col Applegates collection.

The Todd CQB dagger with Applegate Coat of Arms inlaid into the hand grip from Col Applegate’s collection.

I presume that the flat grind on the one side that you list as 10cm,which we would call a false edge in this country, can be ground by the recipient of the knife. I note you have been busy travelling and instructing. I enclosed a copy of an article, which will undoubtedly cause a lot of controversy.

Next week I will put the five minute introduction to the 1944 US Army film on combat hand shooting due to be released by Paladin the first of the year. I enclose more knife literature and note you have the wheels set in motion for next years SOF convention, Mrs Applegate sends her kindest regards and so do I Keep in touch.

April 1995 I have just received your PAL Tape, which I will have transferred to VHS (US format in Portland.) Been busy the last few months with handgun shooting, bombing, and terrorist matters. I have noted your request for additional footage and will try and provide it. I have heard of your success with training special operations in close combat congratulations.

Peder Lund who owns Paladin is a good friend and has published all of my books they have a lot of material on the subject of close combat. I have just been instrumental in creating a new interest in combat shooting and the controversy is raging at this time. Please let me know what material you want and I will forward it to you.

As a board member of the NRA I am now working on getting point shooting established as part of the training curriculum for not only Law Enforcement but their civilian training as well.

I enclose the tape and an article from SOF opening the whole philosophy again to practical close quarter use of the handgun and other articles. This summer I am going to make a new video for Paladin on combat shooting. Mike Janich who is quite knowledgeable on close quarter combat and related matters heads the video division. Later we will make one on knife fighting disarming and related subjects.

I am hopeful that you will be able to attend the SOF convention the end of September in Las Vegas. I will be looking forward to the next association newsletter.

May 1995. Please find enclosed the subject information. This should have been mailed out along with the tape, which was sent out earlier this week. Please read the enclosed information before viewing the tape also enclosed OSS handgun info.

July 1995 I have been tremendously busy and my correspondence is suffering accordingly. My director's duties of the NRA and other items demanding immediate attention seem to be increasing. I'm glad that you received the tape on shooting and with regard to the sheath material information request I have two contacts included. I have just received a letter from Larry Jordan and will try to answer today.

August 1995 I have just been in contact with Lefty Wilson of SOF who is in charge of all conventions. He suggests you write him at once re participation in training at the 1996 convention, Use my name. I wish you luck with securing your said instructing post.

November 1995 I have talked with Lefty Wilson he informed me you had been in touch. If you do not hear back from him fax me. My son is at present in Italy with the US Armed forces and I have given him Larry Jordan's name and address as I believe they will be in the same vicinity.

I hope this pending operation will not interfere with Larry's plan for retirement.

With respect to the name I favour the International Association of Close Combat Instructors.

I have just finished the final review of my video "Shooting for Keeps" and I'm sure it will be of interest to your member's, military, police and security forces world over. Best regards and wishes to you and your family for the holiday season.

July 1996 I note the Association confirmed name and agree. With regard to the situation at the Soldier of Fortune convention the following is the reasons. I will be attending as I have for the past fifteen years. I have been in contact with Larry Jordan. My son is also in Bosnia and I have been in communication with him recently. My congratulations on your Hall of Fame induction, (Master Instructor of the Year for Unarmed Combat) I note that you have been quite active in training the military and this is certainly a very worthwhile endeavour.

The magazine venture also looks very interesting. Please send me a copy. I also note that you have been working in Australia. My efforts during the past six months have been devoted towards re-introduction of combat style shooting into the military and law enforcement in this country, and I'm pleased to say we are succeeding.

I enclose some material, which might be of interest, and also a title of a new book, which I think, you would find of value and interest from the instruction level.

The new Gerber knife is selling heavily and is on back order. I can secure a few of these if you are interested. Enclosed speeches, forward and brochure.

October 1996 I am sending you today by air a small packet with three tapes on combat shooting that you would use for training purposes and three photos of unarmed combat of the past. I have looked over you new magazine with interest and I might have something in the future to contribute.

The magazine looks like a well-presented publication that is capable of covering both armed and unarmed subjects. The Applegate-Fairbairn fighter will be produced by Boker of Germany in 1997, I could arrange to ship this to you.

November 1996 I am glad that you received the tapes and knife and I can arrange for some for your students.

I called the office of SOF today re next year's Association convention, you or Larry should write a letter; use my name as a recommendation.

In March I will be going to Germany for the big European trade show. I appreciate the fact that you have to cater to the flowing robe brigade in your magazine, but do hope you can insert more practical methods as time goes on. I might be able to do something in the magazine after the first few months of next year.

Kill or get Killed has been adopted as a training manual by the US Marine Corps. I enclose a copy of the forward in case I did not previously.

February 1997 Just returned and contacted Bob Browns office of SOF today re the association participation at the upcoming convention. This is the POC you should contact to fill you in on the mechanics of the seminars at SOF he knows I am involved.

I have been at the big sporting goods dealer convention in Vegas. While there Boker of Germany introduced my new fixed blade fighting knife (Applegate-Fairbairn) it features a new kydex sheath and one side a serrated blade. The entire production sold out.

October 2nd to 6th was spent at the soldier of fortune convention with Col Applegate. This included attending the association official dinner where Col Applegate gave a speech in respect to the association being the world leaders in military close combat and how we had to maintain our high standards and ensure only military qualified instructors graced our ranks. He stated how proud he was to be a founding member and the patriarch of the association. He also stated he had met a fare share of civilian enthusiasts over the years but this was the true elite of close combat.

Col Applegates Booth, Soldier of Fortune, 1997.

Col Applegate’s Booth, Soldier of Fortune, 1997.

He said there would be those out there envious of the official body and that the rusty wheel often made the most noise. He said he had had plenty of detractors over the years and advised instead of not taking kindly to such fools simply don't give them the time of day.

He said he had enjoyed working with me over the past ten years and thanked me for working so hard to make this all possible. He ended by saying you would not find a more deadly bunch of true close combat instructors anywhere in the world.

The next several days I spent all my spare time outside of organising association participation and instructing the seminars and assisting with the filming of extreme CQB assisting Col Applegate in his booth. He got me to demonstrate his knives and we talked extensively of special operations training and future plans.

I advised him on the TSB 45 baton I had invented and showed him the draft plans. He at first thought it was not offensive enough but when I explained that it had been designed specifically for defensive capabilities and street weapon disarming in countries where firearms were not general issue, he agreed it was excellent and wanted to know how it worked.

He asked me if I knew of different close combat people and what I thought of their skills levels and what I knew of their backgrounds. There were two insignificant situations that happened while at Col Applegate's booth that made him smile. One was when he asked me to show a flowing robe boy as he put it how to get out of a strangle commando style and discreetly slipped me a folder. I made safe the immediate strangle threat then drew the folder from my pocket opened and proceeded to demonstrate how to cut your way out of the strangle.

The second came when adverse comments were made about the Col to a seminar goer by some one not very successful in attracting attention or business at the convention. I requested he repeat his comments in front of Col Applegate and then be prepared back up. He immediately apologised and explained his situation. When Col Applegate heard of it he smiled and told me once again instead of not taking kindly to fools I should not give them the time of day.

He was very pleased to be part of the making of extreme CQB and having fellow association members around him. We attended the Paladin press cocktail party and Col Applegate very much enjoyed the camaraderie and horseplay that went on in to the early hours.

He gave me more paper work on close combat while we were there and asked if I would assist him with projects in the future. He asked how the instinctive shooting programme he had assisted me with for the military elite was going and what other modules we were instructing.

He asked how Charlie Nelson was and if I would see him on this trip State side. I told him I was off to New York after the convention to film Charlie for the extreme CQB video.

He said he was going to work with Mike Janich editing the video over the next several months and would keep me advised of the progress. He was very interested in the late Harry Baldock and how my facility was as he called it the oldest private school of dirty tricks he knew of.

After five days and late nights at the convention I bided Col Applegate farewell not knowing this would be the last time I would be in his company. We kept in close contact right up until his passing and I regularly contacted him to bring him up to date with progress reports on training and various projects.

I received the call from Larry that the Association had been advised that Col Applegate had taken ill and had passed away. This was a very sad day for me personally and a great loss to the close combat world.

He had mailed me a large package of material before leaving for his last engagement that arrive after his death. We were close to finishing work on a special operations programme and the last chapter of information from Col Applegate was never completed.

I forwarded tributes from the Association and from the Todd Group membership, Howard Bell and I as well as from the Military Group close combat team I trained and that Col Applegate had assisted.

After Col Applegate's funeral Mrs Applegate sent me a Bolo tie of Col Applegate's that is one of my most prized possessions.

This is but extracts from correspondence to me from my mentor, the legendry Col Rex Applegate. I had endless conversations over the phone with Col Applegate as well as being given thousands of pages of material and my instructor certification in his Kill or get Killed close combat system.

Tank pictured with prize possessions including Col Applegates bolo tie gifted by Mrs Applegate and the Smatchet given to him by Col Applegate.

Tank pictured with prize possessions including Col Applegate’s bolo tie gifted by Mrs Applegate and the Smatchet given to him by Col Applegate.

This is the only such certificate he presented post world war two and I have had world respected military elite forces expert instructors see it gracing the walls of my facility and state what a lucky man I was to have such a rare prestigious object of recognition presented by such as legend. I am truly proud to have had such a long association and been given so much assistance and information so feely from such an expert.

He would be proud to know that the extreme CQB video that he arranged and assisted with as well as was part of the editing of has been a top ten seller and continues to sell as one of the most popular titles.

To have been considered a close friend and assistant to Col Applegate for over ten years was an honour and to be instructor certified by him is some thing I will always cherish like his word.

Col Applegate's greatest wish was to see his work continued especially in special operations where he had been such a pioneer and I continue with this project today. When I first visited Col Applegate from little old NZ down under he was amazed I had travelled so far to learn from him, so humble was the giant of close combat excellence.

He said apart from the odd contact from civilians no others had taken the time to visit him for training. I was honestly surprised and knew I was extremely fortunate to in my career to have learnt from the best of the best. I will some day when retired from military instructing publish more material on the Applegate-Todd combined systems and some of the lost programme components that I teach on course.

While there is nothing mystical or magical about the skills and principles they are certainly battle tested and proven and provide only what works and works the best for special operations.

Time has seen new threats and advances in weaponry and this has brought about modifications in skills and the research and development of new required programmes inclusions.

However the basis of the core of the programmes content was well established by Col Applegate and the continuation now lies in our hands as military special operations close combat instructors at this point in time. We all owe so much to the legendry king of close combat Col Rex Applegate.


Interested in Close Combat Training? Todd Group Depots are located throughout New Zealand and at various overseas locations.

For more information on Todd System of Close Combat see the following books, dvds and cds:

  • Close Combat Books
    The Do's and Don'ts of Close Combat – Tactical C&R – Control and Restraint – No Nonsense Self Defence – Military Close Combat Systems Phase One – Combative Masters Of The 20th Century
  • Close Combat DVDs
    Self Defence of the Elite – 80 Years of Combative Excellence – Primary Option Control & Restraint – Military Unarmed Combat – Phase 1
  • Close Combat CDs
    Technique To Command – Combative Code of Conduct

Article written by Tank Todd

Special Operations CQB Master Chief Instructor. Over 30 years experience. The only instructor qualified descendent of Baldock, Nelson, and Applegate. Former instructors include Harry Baldock (unarmed combat instructor NZ Army WWII), Colonel Rex Applegate OSS WWII and Charles Nelson, US Marine Corps. Tank has passed his Special Forces combative instructor qualification course in Southeast Asia and is certified to instruct the Applegate, Baldock and Nelson systems. His school has been operating for over eighty years and he is currently an Army Special Operations Group CQB Master Chief Instructor. His lineage and qualifications from the evolutionary pioneers are equalled by no other military close combat instructor. His operation includes his New Zealand headquarters, and 30 depots worldwide as well as contracts to train the military elite, security forces, and close protection specialists. Annually he trains thousands of exponents and serious operators that travel down-under to learn from the direct descendant of the experts and pioneers of military close combat. Following in the footsteps of his former seniors, he has developed weapons, and training equipment exclusive to close combat and tactical applications. He has published military manuals and several civilian manuals and produced DVDs on urban self protection, tactical control and restraint, and close combat. He has racked up an impressive 100,000+ hours in close combat.

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