Ross Defensive Methods – on “self defense”

24 Oct

For as long as I have done martial arts, I have had very mixed feelings about “self defense” training. I know many people who practice martial arts, as much as two or three sessions a week, who are woefully unprepared for a real conflict. Of all the things that matter if you must defend yourself, technique is perhaps one of the least important. You must deal with the adrenaline dump and you must have experience with being hit, really being hit. Most “martial arts” programs either do not address these aspects correctly, or at all.

If you have followed me at all, you know that I do not believe anyone has a monopoly on Truth. If you are looking for source material for “self defense” you can find it in many places, but certainly a major resource is pre-war Judo. The politics of Japanese ultra-nationalism, the resulting war in the pacific and the American occupation all had direct impact upon the history of Judo and it might be hard now to understand that pre-war Judo was very much a martial art about fighting and self defense. It was the source material for the Gracie family’s jiujitsu in Brazil and for the pioneers of “self defense” in the west; American, English and French.

Pre-war Judo was perhaps the first mixed martial art as we now understand it, and it was fertile ground for, perhaps it even suggested, mixing with western boxing, western wrestling and French savate. A resurgence in interest in “combatives” means we can now find pictures, copies of the old manuals and even video of these many projects. They would be rather familiar to most modern mixed martial artists, but that is also one of my points here. Early attempts at “self defense” in the West were often not that different from the works produced by their Asian instructors. Asian and Western techniques were integrated and the program was directed at Westerners but really they were just another form of “martial arts” training.

Among the western pioneers of “self defense,” William E Fairbairn stands tall. Fairbairn was a British Royal Marine and police officer who developed hand-to-hand combat methods for the Shanghai Municipa; Police (SMP) during the interwar period, and for allied special forces during World War II. He also created his own fighting system known as “Defendu”. Among his source material was most certainly pre-war Judo, along with boxing, wrestling and savate. Of course, many focus on his years with the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) where of course he was exposed to Chinese martial arts.

A number of things made Fairbairn unique, but among them were both his practical experience and his scientific approach to the subject of fighting. He observed and recorded actual conflicts, noting what was actually used and the outcomes. His methods were not supposition, they were statistically derived.

Those who practice Chinese martial arts often focus on the Chinese martial arts influence upon Fairbairn’s work. They miss the point. As a historian of Chinese martial arts with good connections in Shanghai, I can tell you that the men Fairbairn observed, members of Chinese organized crime, were in fact well trained in martial arts. They were often actually members of various sects / pai / schools. Yet what Fairbairn observed, indeed focused upon, is what they actually used in real conflicts and which of those things actually worked! That is to say he could have cared less what “school” they belonged to or what they practiced as part of their “tradition” but rather what they actually did when a conflict occurred.

I often cite the Dog Brothers’ brilliant “DIE LESS OFTEN.” When it comes to real conflict, there are no guarantees. Ideally, a person should be training in a real martial art for both their fitness / wellness AND self defense. Certainly, my campaign towards more realistic and productive martial arts training is well known. Yet there will be people who are not going to pursue that sort of ongoing training. And those people also need “self defense,” increasingly so in this world! I am the father of a daughter and so I ponder these issues now daily.

In keeping with the above observation that no amount of training offers any guarantee, I have still created “Ross Defensive Methods” to offer realistic and practical training for the average person who is only going to do casual training. We will continue to offer seminars at my location in New York City, and begin to offer short-term courses as well. I will also begin a book on this subject. As always, I will do what I can to improve my little corner of the world.

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