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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.


Great Myths about “Self Defense”

6 Sep

This Sunday, September 9th, I am holding another self defense seminar. If you are interested you can learn more and register at I guess that is why these “great myths” about “self defense” come to mind.

#1: People will tell you that in “self defense” you want to use your open hand, i.e. your palm. They will tell you about how delicate the hand is and how you can break it etc etc. Yet, since we were first human beings we’ve been balling up our hands into FISTS. And when “sh-t gets real” we seem to still ball up our hands into FISTS.

#2: People will tell you that “real fights” are over quickly. Yet in the age of the cell phone and “worldstarhiphop” 🙂 we seem to see over and over again protracted fights in which often fatigue plays a large part.

#3: People will tell you that you don’t want to “grapple” in a “real fight”. Frequently the possibility of weapons is inserted into this discussion; yet the three most praised and proven knife defense methods of our era ALL are based upon GRAPPLING.

And weapons aside, we still see plenty of grappling. We can also find more than a few videos in which people with clear training in either wrestling or Judo used their skills in “real fights”

#4: And related to argument #3 and one of my favorites, is the idea there is no “ground fighting” in a “real fight”. To paraphrase a great author, “you might not be interested in a ground fight, but a ground fight might be interested in you”. So what would you do if you find yourself on the ground and you have no skills to escape?

#5: The greatest lie is that taking a “martial arts class” will get you ready for “self defense”. Most martial arts classes today have NOTHING to do with self defense!

So, again, if you are interested in self defense, free free to register for this Sunday, September 9th, self defense seminar. Learn more and register at

Sorry, you’re wrong, get over it…..

28 Aug

Another NSFW post, building upon yesterday’s blog and the responses from many. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

We are more than half way through 2017 and we still hear the same old tired non-arguments from so called “traditional martial artists” about how martial arts is about “real fights”. People say you are supposed to be polite and engage in conversations; but when people flatly ignore logic and display cognitive biases you aren’t really left with much else other than to call them out. In other words: Sorry, you’re wrong, get over it….

You want to talk about “real fights”? Fine. Let’s talk about how they frequently happen; an overwhelming barrage assault that overcomes the senses and frequently shuts down the person being attacked. That is precisely what it is designed to do. That is why PRESSURE TESTING is so important if you want your martial arts to be REAL. Learning to function with adrenaline response is the ONLY way to fight effectively. It’s why so called “sport fighters” are always going to be better prepared for a real fight than the guy who never leaves his traditional school. It is why military around the planet train with combat sports, even engage in “war games”, not the “games” part….

Studies by the FBI have consistently shown that when attacked with a knife, it is usually the last few attacks that do the damage and/or kill. IE again the way it works “for real” is that all too frequently a person attacked is overwhelmed and gives up.

Hate to break it to you, but it is not all that different than covering up the first few rounds in a match against an aggressive opponent, surviving their initial assault, letting them gas out / “blow their wad” and THEN “making them pay”.

If you really know anything about “combat sports” you’d know that in these matches things that the average martial artist cites as “deadly” happen all the time, with LITTLE EFFECT. The human body, especially on adrenaline, can take damage that most would assume would KO or kill you. NOT SO. People who talk about “real fighting” and then resort to “the deadly” can not be taken seriously.

So returning once again to yesterday’s blog about the Mayweather vs McGregor match; we can see that the average “martial artist” knows very little about how real fights happen, has no idea what fighting strategy is and clings desperately to their preconceived views. The fact things didn’t happen “their way” must mean it was fake, or worked, or a set up… The justifications and denial is astounding! And, sorry, I am not going to let it slide…

Late night thoughts on DEFENSE

26 May

We can not escape biology, psychology or physics. We must be constantly aware of them and work not only around them, but with them. The “fight or flight” response may be one of the most foundational; but at times flight is not possible and it can be detrimental to combat.

Shielding is probably the most instinctive response in defense. This is not surprising; gross motor skills are always easier acquired than fine motor skills. But shielding must be learned intelligently and correctly. There are correct ways to shield.

Shielding quickly allows the student to also become accustomed to contact. Becoming accustomed to pain and contact is essential to learning defense. Again there are correct ways to learn this.

Against linear / direct attacks, the parry is probably the highest percentage defense. That is, it is probably the easiest defense against linear / direct attacks for most people to learn.

Other methods of defense require awareness of angles of attack, and comfort with moving forward in the face of those attacks. That is what makes them more advanced methods.

The need for balance in today’s martial arts community

28 Jun

For me personally, I “stumble upon” ideas over a period of time. The process for me seems to be that I begin with an idea, and toy with / experiment with it for a relatively long time and THEN, only then, does a more coherent statement of an opinion emerge. I am not sure how the process is for others, but this is how it works for me. I have already been embracing an idea for a few years now, but today I think I stumbled upon a more coherent expression of it after a conversation with a classmate of mine. Today’s martial arts community lacks balance, and a major contributor to this situation is a lack of perspective.


I don’t think it is overreaching to state that the introduction of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) at the very least acted as a catalyst in a process that was already going on in martial arts; the creation of very divergent approaches to martial arts training. Martial artists who had always been interested in practical application welcomed it, and many changed their approaches based upon it. Those who embraced martial arts as physical culture, as a way of life, as a spiritual pursuit or as a method of health maintenance largely had a negative response to it. For the purposes of my discussion here, I am NOT really interested in discussion the frauds, the con men and the fake methods NOR with those who are interested in its performance aspects such as movie choreographers, contemporary wushu stylists, “extreme martial artists” etc.


Based upon many years of producing fighters and focusing on practical application and training, many associate me with the “pro MMA camp” so to speak. I certainly embrace practical training and things like cross training. I firmly believe in keeping the fighting tradition alive. HOW I want to do that and what I mean by “ALIVE” are of course the subject of discussion here.


While I certainly know a lot of fighters and coaches, I also have many acquaintances and friends in the fields of “internal martial arts”, health, movement, corrective movement etc. In fact. I also run myself an extremely large and successful program based not on “fighting” but applying martial arts to health and fitness. As I have tried for several years to explain, I am most certainly NOT opposed to such approaches. What I am advocating is a balanced approach based upon proper prespective.


I see among those who practice for practical application a lot of injuries that are the natural result of such training. I see among those who say they practice just for physical culture or health a lack of martial awareness, which is mentally and spiritually “unhealthy”. We do not have “one argument” here, we have several, different approaches to make sure all are approaching their martial arts practice holistically.

Recently, as I dug out of the back of my mind Chan Tai-San’s “Gam Gong Lihn Gung” (金剛練功) practice and have been practicing it and showing it to my students, I am convinced more than ever the need to have BOTH practical training and training in health and movement awareness.

The Truth of fighting….

16 Jun

If I had $1 for every time someone told me that getting on a mat, in a ring or a cage is “just sport fighting” (or my other favorite term “prize fighting”) I would be a very rich man. Of course, one of my classic responses is to note that if I put you on a mat / in a ring / in a cage, point out the guy who is going to try to punch you in the face, and tell you WHEN (in like 3 minutes) AND you still can not stop him from punching you in your face, how “real” is your fighting ability?


These people want to talk about “dirty fighting”; stuff like eye gouging and biting, etc. Of course, I wonder, how often do you really practice that sort of stuff? Do you walk up and down the floor opening and closing your mouth to practice your biting skill? Perhaps you are the Asian equivalent of “Fonzie”, constantly extending your thumb to perfect your eye gouge? But in all seriousness, to “fight dirty” you must be IN CONTROL. Control comes from perfecting your basic fighting skills; watch some of the private challenge fights Renzo Gracie released and watch the man on top, in control (Renzo’s brother Ryan Gracie) stop a man from trying to gouge his eyes and then retaliate by biting his opponent’s ear off. You want to talk about fighting “for real”, you don’t get any more real than that.


The year is 2016 but you’d hardly know it talking to some of these people. If Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has taught us anything, it is that if you do not practice clinching, wrestling, fighting on the ground, learning to get out from the bottom and learning to stand back up then all the “striking” in the world may be meaningless.

"Master" of striking is helpless once taken down and controlled

“Master” of striking is helpless once taken down and controlled

Those who argue that a “sport” is more limited than a life-or-death conflict on the street are missing the point. It is IMPOSSIBLE to recreate those life-or-death situations, so how can we best prepare our students for a situation they have never faced before? Consider what you would need to survive a life-or-death conflict? First, you need the tools, offensive and defensive, to get the job done.


Second, you must be proficient enough in the techniques to use them upon an opponent who is knowledgeable, resisting them and also attempting to launch their own attack.


Finally, do you have both the physical and mental condition to engage in a struggle such as this? Will you fall apart under the stress and adrenaline rush, freeze and forget everything you have learned? It has certainly happened in the past to many practitioners. This is a reality very few students studying Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) are forced to deal with in current programs.



Self defense is bull—t…….

26 Aug

The idea goes like this; people who aren’t interested in studying martial arts still need self defense, everyone needs to be able to defend themselves. So for years, people have offered self defense seminars and short term self defense programs. But the sad reality is, most of it is total bull—t. In fact, the entire idea is mostly bull—t.


Consider this, for centuries men who spent their entire lives training to be warriors, who trained with weapons, who went into battle with those weapons, with armor, fought and DIED. It is simple and it is straightforward, no amount of training can totally prepare you nor guarantee your success in a real fight. What is a “real fight”? Assaulted by surprise, by multiple attackers, conditioned criminals, larger, stronger, with weapons? How many people have fallen victim to the new “knockout” trend, where dumb (I mean really stupid) kids just walk up and punch someone?


Harsh reality, the best defense is to not be there. It’s awareness of the reality. It’s situational awareness. It’s not being a deluded dimwit like the 100 lbs woman who was a Taekwondo black belt and “sparring champion” (in POINT FIGHTING) who thought she was such a badass she’d hang out in bars and talk crap to men twice her size. She was found dead in a ditch along the road one day.


Of course, if you are in a profession where your life is regularly threatened; a police officer, a correction officer, etc…. you need specialized training. But without the awareness, it’s fantasy role playing. Note one of the best programs for this sort of thing, called “DIE LESS OFTEN“. I love the name, and the strange look on people’s faces when they first hear the name. DIE LESS OFTEN. It’s fu–ing brilliant. And we don’t have much brilliance in the martial arts community…..

The role of Chinese martial arts in a modern society

29 Dec

To simplify a rather complex history, it is relatively safe to say that Chinese martial arts, like martial arts across the globe, originated as combat method. It was used on battlefields, and then as self-defense method, for dueling/personal honor and other “private” motivations. In China, it became associated with the JiangHu (江湖), literally “rivers and lakes,” a marginalized sub-culture. All this is to say that in ancient China, martial art training was frequently the defense against an often cruel and savage world. In short, the men who originally practiced these methods lived in a world very few of us alive today would recognize or understand.


During the Ming Dynasty, empty hand fighting techniques merged with gymnastic, meditative and other spiritual practices. Teachers began to see connections between Buddhist and Taoist concepts and their martial arts practice. In the modern period, both the New Culture Movement and May 4th Movement also caused the reevaluation of the roles of Chinese martial arts in society. They became physical culture, exercise, cultural preservation, and recreation. All these trends co-existed, intertwined, cooperated and conflicted, and often never clearly vocalized nor with a conscious awareness.


Of course, the original intent, unrestricted combat between trained fighters was never completely severed from the tradition. Nor did it really lose its utility. Our society has remained violent and is still inhabited by professional criminals. Street effective self-defense skills remain a relevant aspiration for all people, regardless of their age, sex, social condition or profession. In a minute I will also discuss another important role keeping our fighting skill plays in the larger picture.


All this is to say, that in today’s modern society, martial arts can indeed be seen in a larger picture. Once, only as fighting skills for the able-bodied men who could endure the training, today martial arts can offer benefits such as the improvement and maintenance of health, the development of ethics and virtue, self-discipline and confidence. The training can benefit everyone, regardless of age, sex or physical condition. However, I must stress this point. It must retain its usefulness as practical self-defense.


When a student joins a martial arts school, regardless of their other interests or goals or whether they say it or not, they expect to learn to defend themselves. They trust their instructors with their lives. How often have we heard about martial arts students being seriously injured or killed in street confrontations? The answer is all too frequently and this is unacceptable. It is unethical and immoral to advertise self-defense training without offering instruction that accepts the reality of true self-defense.


Additionally, for all their talk of spiritual development, etc., those who embrace the mystical and ignore the practical application fail to understand that martial arts without the fighting aspect is an empty practice that leads to self-delusion. Taking a thrashing and learning ones real skill level is in itself a Buddhist lesson. A hard one, but an important lesson none the less. Insecurities hide behind elaborate facades that are best torn down by live training. Nothing crushes the ego more than knowing your real place in the grand scheme of things.

NY San Da
NY Best Kickboxing

Nothing lasts forever… 組合老和新技術方法

22 Dec


CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC…. 3, 2, 1 … I am done with the fight business!!! Well, NO, not really, I have people alredy scheduled to fight in the New Year. But if you know me you know that my emphasis has changed over the past few years. I used to have 20+ active fighters and we went to events every weekend. We sometimes traveled across the country and were everpresent in regional combat sports. The past few years, I have had a few fightes and we do events every few months, mostly all local.


Nothing lasts forever. In fact, if you live long enough you should probably expect a lot of changes in your life. In the 1980’s I was looking for the right Chinese martial arts sytem. I trained with quite a few good teachers, and eventually settled with Chan Tai-San. To say I am a lucky man to have trained with Chan Tai-San is an understatement. He was a unique person who taught me incredible stuff. I was completely dedicated to Chan Tai San and between 1989 when I published my first article about him until 1994 I was tireless in promoting him and his system, Lama Pai.


In 1994, I began training fighters. I pick this date because it was the year we promoted a Lei Tai (platform) style Sanshou fight for the USA WKF organization and we put a student on the platform in an organized full contact fight for the first time. I wasn’t happy with the result and the UFC had already caught my attention. I began figuring out (yes, literally trial and error) how to train fighters. Initially, I was also interested in “proving Chinese martial arts.” This was the early MMA era, the “NHB era,” actually, and everyone was in the “us against them” camp mentality.


I would say that I quickly outgrew this thinking. I did indeed find tons of totally useful and practical stuff in Lama Pai (and other Chinese martial arts), but I also wanted to learn western wretling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Truth be told, we were already influenced by Muay Thai. No martial artist, especially kung fu person, interested in any full contact wasn’t aware of Muay Thai and influenced by it. I quickly stopped caring where stuff came from, just that it worked. I put together a very nice collection of material from different sources and we did very well in all fighting formats.


However, as I told one of my classmates under Chan Tai San recently, I feel I have nothing left to prove. 19 years of producing fighters who have done very well, I can safely say I know what works, how it works and how to train it. I have sorted out the real Chinese martial art from the nonsense. I have found what works well with it (wrestling, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing, etc). I am increasingly now thinking about legacy, tradition, and the next generation.


In March, I will be teaching a “kung fu class” again. That is to say, teaching the material I now know is valid, having trimmed not only the “fluff” but also some unnecessary repetitions and having settled on a few “handsets” instead of the more than thirty that Chan Tai-San taught in his lifetime. I see my new vision as a combination of “old” and “new” methods and I think something quite valuable will come of it….

Everybody wants to rule the world….

12 Oct

Is the “tears for fears” reference too old? Well, f–k it, it came to me in a wave of inspiration. Today’s wisdom? The internet sucks, but it’s all we got….


I’ve said it before, the internet deludes everyone into thinking that their opinion is valid and encourages them to share it as if it is some sort of truth. The problem is, the internet hasn’t changed the reality of the world, i.e. that most people are just plain ignorant. Take note! NOT STUPID! Ignorant, as in not properly educated…..


Traditional Chinese martial arts (i.e. kung fu) people never leave their caves. They think everything they do is unique to their style and that they have learned secrets. If they can’t fight now, it’s ok, because in 10 more years they will then have learned the right secret or developed enough “chi” to be a great fighter!


Mixed Martial Arts people think that all the traditional arts are plain crap. They forget that everything they are practicing comes from a traditional art. Most aren’t old enough to remember that “in the day” traditionalists did in fact fight, full contact. They never met some of the legit deadly bad-arses who were in traditional arts “back in the day.”


Mixed Martial Arts also feeds the “fan boy mentality” and the “young punk” ethic. They think it is cool to be disrespectful. They think everyone has to be young or they don’t count. I can’t even count the number of times that someone tried to insult me by calling me OLD. I am OLD because I SURVIVED. I survived Leukemia at age 6. I survived cancer TWICE. I survived being in gyms where predators thought I was the smallest guy and likely the best victim (they were wrong). I survived life. Being old isn’t an insult to a warrior ….


The truth is always elusive, and it’s always in some gray corner going unnoticed. I learned plenty of valuable and completely practical stuff from my traditional teachers. I IMPROVED that stuff by opening my mind and cross training and studying with more modern, MMA based teachers. But I laugh when people fail to realize the base of what I do and teach is TRADITIONAL….


I was teaching before there was such a thing as “Mixed Martial Arts” and I am not teaching much differently really. We lost Chinese language and silk PJ’s. Yeah, we lost weapons and practicing forms… but anyone who knew me in my “kung fu days” knows I wasn’t a big forms person or a big weapons person. I learned a lot of weapons from Chan Tai San, but I REALLY only learned a few, in the sense of really being able to use them…. and that was more than most kung fu people ever did…


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