Investigating a Suspicious Book Cover


Just who are these gentlemen?


This post documents my investigation of the men in the photo above. It is a version of the cover of a 2020 book by Marc Lawrence titled The Scientific Study of the Shanghai Municipal Police Methods Manual. The cover presumes to show two famous proponents of combatives, namely Captains Fairbairn and Sykes, plus two men who were their instructors -- professors Okada and Tsai. The former specialed in jujutsu and the latter in Chinese boxing. This article offers a few details.

The cover as shown at Amazon appears below.

The Scientific Study of the Shanghai Municipal Police Methods Manual, Marc Lawrence, 2020

The problem with this photo is that half of the labels are demonstrably false.


First, the gentleman labelled William E. Fairbairn is actually Harold Peck. 

The original photo can be found in the Historical Photographs of China collection as "Harold Peck with three men." 

We can identify the man as Harold Peck by searching the collection and finding other photos like Harold Peck with handcuffed men, Shanghai and Harold Peck at a Police Station, Shanghai.

Who was Harold Peck? According to the Historical Photographs of China collection, "Harold Edwards Peck (1881-1967) was a policeman in the Shanghai Municipal Police (1908-1936). [The collection contains] 120 images from an album (HPC ref: Pe01) and some loose photographs (HPC ref: Pe-s). The photographs date from the 1880s to 1920s, taken or acquired by Harold Peck."

So what did Fairbairn look like?

We can check his 1931 book Scientific Self-Defense, which offers the following at the very beginning.

Scientific Self-Defense, WE Fairbairn, 1931

A close-up of the photo at left shows the author with "Professor Okada."

Scientific Self-Defense, WE Fairbairn, 1931

This photo provides two bits of information. First, we now know what Fairbairn looks like. He is not the man labelled in the photo, who we know as Harold Peck. 

Incidentally, Fairbairn's earlier 1926 book, Defendu, offers the same photograph of the author with Okada.


Second, we now know what professor Okada looks like. To me, that gentleman does not look like the one labelled "Prof. Okada" from the Marc Lawrence cover.

Probably not professor Okada, as labelled on the Marc Lawrence book

I found a better quality version of the Fairbairn - Okada image at this site.

Fairbairn and Okada, Wisdom of the Body, Robert Allen Pittman

I used facial recognition software free from Betaface to compare the two photographs.

Betaface Results, Confirmed Okada vs Book Cover

Betaface resulted in an 80% match, which is higher than the next example (see below). However, side-by-side, these gentlemen don't like anything alike. I think the shape of their noses and length of their faces are easy to spot. 


What about the other two gentlemen in the photo?

First, I could not find any photographs at all of Tsai Ching Tung, also known as Cui Jingdong. He may or may not be the person in the cover.


Finally, it is possible that the gentleman labelled Eric A. Sykes is indeed Eric Sykes.

An article on Captain Sykes shows what appears to be the only known photograph available. This is usually referred to as the 1931 passport photo.

Presumed Sykes 1931 passport photograph

To determine the authenticity of this "passport photo," I spoke to two sources. One found the photo in the book No Queensbury Rules: Fairbairn & Sykes: Fathers of Modern Close Combat (1940 - 1942) by Paul R. Child. The source personally does not think the Sykes of the passport photo is the man in the Marc Lawrence book cover.

A second source, PQ from Xochi's Bookstore & Gallery on Abebooks, found the photo in the book The First Commando Knives (The Shanghai Fighting Knives) by  Kelly Yeaton, Samuel S. Yeaton, Rex Applegate, and Jim Phillips. Chapter 8 of the book covers Captain Sykes' life and includes a full-page version of the passport photo, credited to the "Applegate Collection." 

Therefore, I am convinced the passport photo is an accurate depiction of Captain Sykes.

However, is the man in the cover photo the same as the man in the passport photo?

Sykes or not?

The jury is out on whether this is Sykes. I used the free Betaface service and got a 71.2% match. 

Betaface Results, Book Cover vs Confirmed Sykes

That is apparently low for facial recognition software. However, I do see similarities between them, especially if one accounts for aging.


I'm not sure how someone publishes a book with demonstrably false information on the cover. For example, just contacting the copyright owner for the Historical Photographs of China collection would have shown that the "Fairbairn" figure is actually Mr. Peck. 

Also, I'm not sure how confident I am in the Betaface service. Here are the results of a comparison between confirmed photos of Peck and Fairbairn:

Betaface Results, Confirmed Fairbairn vs Confirmed Peck

Side-by-side they look similar, and the match is 81%, which is apparently still low.

I am still learning how these algorithms work. To test Betaface, I uploaded a few pictures of myself. It gave a 89.3 % match between those photos. That was the highest result yet, but surprisingly it was not in the 90th percentile. 

Thanks to the members of the Vintage Martial Arts Media and History Facebook group for their assistance and comments.

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