The Fighting Irishman Major Pat ‘Dermot’ O’Neil

Major Pat O'Neil

When it comes to St Patrick’s Day most people think of the Irish, green beer and those heavenly delicious Lucky Charms, but for me it makes me think of my family all fighting Irish! But there is one other fighting Irishman I have long admired and been studying and even got the chance to represent him in a TV documentary called the “Devil’s Brigade” Major Pat O’Neil of the First Special Service Force and the OSS/CIA.

Pat O’Neil is a another long forgotten hero of WWII Comabtives yes a martial art’s master, a cop and a soldier. O’Neil was born in County Cork Ireland in 1905 to a Irish cop father. He ran away to sea as a young lad as a cabin boy working his way to Shanghai China and by the age of 20 answered the call to join the legendary Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) where he rose to the rank of Detective Sergeant.

By all accounts O’Neil was a fighter and took the opportunity of being in Shanghai to study martial arts, western boxing he had done in Ireland but at this time he had the golden opportunity to study Chinese boxing Tai Chi Chaun, Hsing Yi, Pa Kua and with the rather large Japanese population of Shanghai he also studied Judo and JuJitsu eventually earning his Godan (5th dan) from the Kodokan under Uchijima Sensi. By all accounts O’Neil would not back down from any challenge and this included life & death street fights so notorious for SMP officers in Shanghai in those days before WWII. He was well respected at the Kodokan especially for his prowess at ground fighting where he trained along side the likes of the famous Judo player Kamura also a student of Uchijima. O’Neil would leave the SMP in 1938 to become head of security for the British Embassy in Japan no doubt so he could pursue his Judo studies further and take up Kempo Karate. I recall stories from veteran FSSF whom he trained telling me about O’Neil easily kicking someone in the head with his foot. Sensing the troubles ahead he made his way to Australia before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor..

Lets not forget O’Neil was also a protegee of Colonel William Fairbarin the man I consider the father of all modern military/police combatives training. And because of him he received orders in Australia to report to the USA and to the OSS to train secret agents in the fighting tactics they created in the SMP. Once in the USA he was redirected to the First Special Service Force (FSSF) a Canadian/USA commando unit that would become our Special Forces Forbears and a unit Churchill would say, ‘was the most feared commando unit of the war’. Fairbarin had been asked to train the unit but at 62 considered himself to old and recommended the much younger O’Neil for the task. O’Neil had a great deal of experience teaching US Marines from the 3rd Division in China who worked with the SMP. And besides Fairbarin had absolute confidence in O’Neil’s abilities.

O’Neil arrived at Helena Montana’s Fort Harrison in 1942 to train some 2300 men to kill with bare hands, by knife and by any other means available. He was only on loan to the FSSF from the OSS but as the Forceman will tell you he insisted on going to war with them having said “I dam will trained them, I dam will go to fight with them”. Commissioned as a Captain he went to war with the FSSF guarding General Fredericks the FSSF commanding officer and even leading patrols to gather intelligence. Guarding the General was no easy task as he would end the war with the record of being the most wounded commanding officer of any US unit. Fredericks lead from the front and O’Neil’s job was to keep him alive. O’Neil ended up back with OSS after the FSSF was disbanded and after a stint as Provo Marshall he ended the war now a Major back in Japan working as a OSS liaison officer because of his knowledge of the people and the language.

Post WII O’Neil would work for the CIA and in the 50’s spent a lot of time again in Japan monitoring now Communist China and Vietnam. He continued to teach military combatives into the the 70’s for both the CIA and US Special Forces and continued with Judo reportedly earning a 7th dan. O’Neil had a big hand in the 50’s helping the Canadian Army develop its close combat programs working with many of the former FSSF members who stayed in the Canadian Army after the war. Many old soldiers call this the O’Neil method and I like many other Canadian infantryman got introduced to this method by some pretty tough old NCO’s who seemed to take great joy in kicking me in the balls and poking me in the eyes. From my first hand experience getting shit kicked by these WWII vets who either had been taught the Fairbarin method like my first instructor Harold Starin and my latter PPCLI instructors those FSSF vets the O’Neil Method was far more aggressive in closing with and killing the enemy something needed by shock troops vs clandestine secret agents who where taught a more escape and evasive style of combatives.

I am often asked today how effective was O’Neil’s or Fairbarin’s training compared to today’s combatives training and I can tell you from my experience the training today DOES NOT EVEN COME CLOSE to the level that was true WWII combatives. These men created the first mixed martial art based on years of martial art study and street experience which included real life & death shit. They whittled it down to the ‘must knows’, throw out stupid nonsense and any sense of fair play or sports rules and drilled the living crap out of you to kill. You bet you got hurt in training! Not a popular idea in today’s combatives but this intense level prepared me well and as a result saved my life on no less then three occasions. The speed, force and violence of action in training was a fitness builder that built the mind/body something the ‘cross-fit types’ today would love to think they have embodied in their workouts. Don’t believe me then just order my ‘Battleschool DVD’ and see for yourself or watch ‘Devil’s Brigade, ‘Camp X’ or Histories Toughest Soldiers’ the TV documentaries I recreated show casing O’Neil’s methods. O’Neil was hard by any of today’s standards and what I like to remind martial arts guys he too was a very accomplished martial artist who not only studied with the best of the best but lived and breathed the warrior lifestyle. He never shout praise or beat his own chest but rather wished to be remembered as just a old Irish cop. Over the years I have served with soldiers old vets who mentored me, men I hold with the out most respect who where trained with and fought along side O’Neil and they speak of him with great reverence and I have now spent more than 50 years building on what these men gave us! And now offer to you through my no nonsense programs, courses and DVD’s and hopefully keeping the legend alive and kicking.

So on this St Patrick’s Day as your eating your lucky charms for breakfast and later drinking your green beer. Take a minute and raise a glass to the memory of Major Pat O Neil (1905-1985) one hell of a fighting Irishman who help train thousands of allied soldiers to win WWII. “We train in the footsteps of that hero”