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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.


Steal, steal a lot, and steal from the best…..

28 Sep

The other day a guy who trains with me (and who has an extensive background and trains in a lot of different places) told me that one of the other instructors he knows told him he shouldn’t train with me because I steal stuff…..


If you know me, you probably already knew that would be my reaction… But more seriously, I have three different responses to this “attack”.

First, of course I steal stuff! I have stated MANY TIMES my opinion that if an instructor claims to have no influence other than their primary art/primary instructor they are either being dishonest or are unacceptably intellectually lazy.


It is impossible for one person to have all the techniques or the “answers”. Even an organization like mine, where I am friends with and continue to network with many respected fighters, coaches and trainers, we can’t make such a claim. That is precisely why you’ll find us consistently training with others.


Second, if you really think I “stole” stuff, ask how did I do it? How did I learn it, integrate it into what I do and how am I able to teach it? Let me put it another way, the instructor in question told my “friend” (won’t even call him a student) that I stole stuff from him (well, it is quite a funny story there, but that is another blog). My friend told him basically, “yeah, but he understands it better and explained it to me better.” So, I ask you, who really “owns” it? The person who thinks they “had it first” or the person who really understands it?


Third, how do you “own” anything for me to steal it? Does anyone really think there is one technique that only they and their teacher have? Human beings all have one torso, one head, two arms, two hands, two elbows, two legs, two knees and two feet. The reality is, NO ONE OWNS TRUTH. You might as well accuse me of “stealing” your air!


This stuff is really the product of small minds and insecurity. Never be afraid to attend a seminar or go to another school to train and learn something new. Take every opportunity you can to train with the best. If a famous fighter or teacher is coming to your town to do a seminar, or is a reasonable traveling distance from you take that opportunity. Don’t be afraid to “steal” and don’t be concerned with what others may say. The “purity” of certain traditional martial art traditions is not only an obstacle to your advancement; it is in fact a myth!

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.

Understanding my method (Lion’s Roar martial arts)

12 Apr

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
― Gustav Mahler


In order to understand my method, my thinking, I have provided a few statements here. However, as my thinking always evolves, as I am never the same person I was yesterday, of course these thoughts can change. But in a way that is precisely the point; martial arts is like a river, you never step in the same river twice. Martial arts is something living, it must continue to evolve or it becomes meaningless.


My method embraces both “fighting” and “health” or “physical culture”. It has never been, nor will it ever likely ever likely be an exclusive “either/or” proposition. I am identified widely for my success in training fighters, but I began my journey in the martial arts due to being deathly ill as a child (diagnosed with Leukemia at age six). Currently, my focus again in many ways has returned to using martial arts as health and corrective movement.


The essential foundation of my method, which allows for both of these divisions, is a strict adherence to always training with Truth. Truth transcends your style, system, tradition, lineage, teacher or school. You must embrace Truth regardless of the consequences. You must practice with Truth.


Most martial arts traditions have created a cult centering on the teacher. Disregard the teacher. In a minute, I will tell you why the very term is wrong! Disregard me, I am nothing but a clerk, a conduit; I have passed along information to the next generation. The messenger is not the message.


In reality, I can not really “teach” you anything. If I give you a laundry list of techniques, unless you understand them, can break them apart, put them back together and create your own technique, you have not really learned them. You have “borrowed them” from me and will likely soon “return them”. My job is to help you understand concepts, and help you along in the process of learning. I can help you, but ultimately I can not make you understand. I can only put you in front of the Truth.

Beyond the basics, there must be variety

24 Jan

An instructor must keep a close eye and a direct hand on the training of students. It is easy to fall into a set pattern, but such patterns mean the student will not have have well rounded training, will not learn the entire system and most importantly will not have the proper live training to apply the techniques.

A student learns a technique in isolation, then with resistance (on equipment such as a heavy bag or a pad), and then with a partner they learn the defense(s). Once the basic defenses are learned, it’s an instructor’s responsibility to constantly break down and rearrange the techniques into different combinations.


A proper defense drill not only introduces the technical defense, it also conditions the student for the reality of fighting. It must condition the student to become familiar with contact. Begin with very limited and simple drills; I have a drill I call “four shields” which begins the process of learning to get hit.

Basic drills progress to more free form drills, approaching sparring. We call these “survival drills”

Parrying, shielding, slipping and ducking will progressively lead to clinching and/or “shooting” (takedowns involving seizing the legs). In particular, the shielding drills lead well into both neck and body clinching and these methods are extremely functional methods of defending against a better striker.


However, I believe equally in the importance of footwork as a form of defense. Be careful not to stress clinching to the exclusion of evasive footwork. Evasive footwork is also an excellent defense against those trying to clinch.

– Never move backward in a straight line, use lateral movement
– Do not “run away”, stay in range to counter
– Move to your right against an orthodox fighter
– Move to your left against a “south paw”

Let’s examine the most basic boxing drill; parry vs. jab.

First, make sure the structure is correct. Both students have to be in the correct stance, the correct execution of the jab, the correct execution of the block, etc.

Second, the drill must be done with movement; you don’t fight standing still so don’t drill that way.

Third, even though this is a partner drill there is impact; the punch is thrown to actually connect and is actually blocked.

Fourth, all the basic drills will eventually be practiced with appropriate counters so that the students are used to the resistance (counter attack) of a real opponent.

Fifth, introduce every drill within context. Explain both why the technique is used and when it is used.

It is important to understand that all drills have “two sides”. Doing parry vs. jab isn’t just about defense. Every jab needs to be thrown correctly, i.e. you are practicing your jab as well. Of course, drills are not sparring and there is NO EGO. Never injure your partner doing drills.


Is there a proper way to “cross train”?

15 Jan

I’ve met those who identify themselves as traditional Chinese martial arts stylists who feel “cross training” is wrong and perhaps even not “traditional”. Considering how many systems practiced today are derived from cross training, and how certain systems (such as Hsing Yi and Bagua) are now frequently practiced together, I think that’s a hard position to maintain. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I know quite a lot of people doing “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) whose approach is random, haphazard and often contradictory. Is there a proper way to cross train?


Before the first event, I read about the UFC in Black Belt Magazine. I wondered if the event was going to be staged, like professional wrestling. It seemed to me that with virtually no restrictions, someone who was well trained could do some serious damage to another person. In some regards, I was still naive about the reality of martial arts, but in another respect I was somewhat correct. The first three UFC’s, which I watched all one night on a VHS tape, weres sloppy and full of people who were very limited in their training. It was the age when you could really label someone a “striker” or a “grappler”. Even Royce Gracie, who was well trained in his family’s system and well prepared for the matches, demonstrated a one dimensional game.


While the UFC’s left me somewhat interested in what it was that this Gracie family from Brazil was doing, the real significant moment in my life was when I saw my first Shooto event. You have to remember (or go back and re-watch) that in the first few UFC events, the “stand up” was not too good. There were not many people trained in Muay Thai and its clinch, and the wrestlers had yet to show up. But in Shooto, I saw fighters who had impressive stand up skills AND were also fighting on the ground. So, honestly, I had a lot more respect for Shooto and its stand up.


Put another way, I saw Shooto and said to myself “well, with my existing training, I have a lot of the elements of stand up, what I need is ground training”. It may be hard to remember, but at that time, just cross training in Brazilian Jiujitsu was NOT an option. It was a time when it was “us against them” or “the Brazilians against the world”. So I started looking at Judo, Sambo, wrestling and eventually some “catch wrestling”.


So how does this relate to the title of this blog? Well, I began with an already existing frame, the method my teacher had taught me. I wasn’t just randomly training in things; I was looking for thing to fill the “gaps”. I was attaching additional material to an already existing frame.


The more I trained, the more I was exposed to different methods. And while initially I was most interested in the “ground”, along the way I learned more stand up in the form of standing wrestling, Muay Thai clinching, etc. But as I explained many times before, often I wasn’t learning something totally new as much as learning to look at them different ways and learning new ways to train them. A western wrestler may not know (nor care) about the many terms and concepts we have in Chinese martial arts, yet they are there in their pummeling and grappling.


Finally, I like to think I just didn’t randomly chose what I continued to practice and integrated into my method. I chose thing that were not only good fills for the “gaps” but also which, I think more importantly, worked with my already existing base method. I use the term “internally consistent“.

Learn more about my method in my book “The Master Text” available on AMAZON

Six Gate defense and how to train it

8 Jan


Fighting must be rational.
Do not be reckless, giving no thought to defense.
“Do not be a caveman”

There are many methods or schools of thought on defense. In the kickboxing structure we first introduce a method we call the “six gate defense system”. The name derives from traditional Chinese martial arts theory that divides the body up into six gates.

First, the body is divided down the middle by the center line into left and right. There are then three gates corresponding to the area above the shoulders (“heaven gate”), between the shoulders and the hips (“man gate”) and the hips down (“earth gate”). The six gate defense system involves parrying (redirecting an attack) and shielding (covering up using the hardest parts of the body, the elbows, the knees and the shins). We believe this is the easiest method for beginners to learn. In addition, it introduces students to the idea of getting hit.

– Keep your hands up, your chin down and your body erect
– In 6 GATE METHOD, stand your ground, don’t back up
– Small movement produces greater result (don’t overextend)
– Movement is continuous (don’t hide in your arms)
– Block actively, not passively

Teaching the 6 Gate Defense System with the basic strikes and kicks
In the beginning, the easiest ways to teach defense is to teach the basic striking and kicking techniques with their corresponding defenses. They can be introduced progressively, each round adding another attack which also introduces basic combinations. In each round, the student both attacks and defends. Normally we use three minute rounds with a one minute rest.

Lion’s Roar Martial Arts: The Master Text (click here)

On the proper training of martial arts skills

2 Jan

Interested in learning more about my method? Check out my newest book Lion’s Roar Martial Arts: The Master Text


Over the years, I would say I fluctuated between being a hard core “traditionalist” and a progressive. It is too complicated a story to sum up in a few sentences, but for the purposes of this blog, I will state that I began the process of creating what is now “Lion’s Roar San Da” around 1994. Among the things that people ask me is not only how I created the training program that I currently use, but how I have had so much success in training people to fight.


People have been taught that each martial arts system is special and unique. The “fundamental training” / jibengong (Mandarin) / gebongung (Cantonese) is special to that system, etc… However, having trained in both Asian and Western / European martial arts, from Chinese and Korean to Russian and French, from traditional to modern “combat sport” I really do not believe that to be true.


We are all humans, our bodies only work certain ways. Combat is combat, only certain things work in real combat. A prime example is wrestling. Every culture on the planet has developed it’s own wrestling tradition and ultimately they develop the same tactics and techniques. There is more in common and similar in real martial arts than differences. Differences are just “marketing.” In a competitive market place, a teacher looking for students wasn’t going to say what they taught was the same as the teacher across the street. They taught a unique system and the secrets could only be learned after years of training (and years of paying dues).


Developing my “system” or training program was actually pretty easy. I sought answers to the problems of combat, i.e. kicking, striking, clinching, wrestling and ground fighting. Obviously, certain traditions had more developed approaches to different areas, but every martial art offered answers to the many problems of combat.


The only problem, and it ultimately turned out to be only a small one, was sifting through the material to find the real stuff and separate out the “fluff” and useless crap. To that end, I developed a rather straightforward and simple approach.


After an initial period in which the basic techniques are introduced in isolation, they will be drilled using the following live training principles. If training follows these guidelines, you will be able to discover which techniques are both practical and functional, and a majority of the student body will see appreciable benefits in a reasonable amount of time.


Guideline #1: “Structure”
The foundation of the program is learning the proper position and the proper execution of the techniques. Most of the problems students have in applying technique are found in the incorrect execution; the wrong position, the wrong distance, the wrong angle, etc.


Guideline #2: “Movement”
Since an adversary will not stand in one place during a real fight, all the drills must incorporate movement to replicate real conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, footwork, real distance, distance control, level control and head movement.


Guideline #3: “Impact”
While many traditional martial arts place a heavy emphasis on doing techniques without impact, the reality is that hitting an adversary is quite different from hitting the air! Our program includes a significant time devoted to working with various pieces of equipment so the student becomes familiar with the feeling of impact and develops power and focus.


Guideline #4: “Resistance”
Each drill must include or simulate the resistance (or counter attack) of a real opponent.


Guideline #5: “Context”
Each drill must include context; why the technique is being used, when the technique is being used, how the technique is being used, etc. This also includes discussion of our basic theories such as “leaks”, “continuousness”, “gates”, “bridges”, etc.

Interested in learning more about my method? Check out my newest book Lion’s Roar Martial Arts: The Master Text

How did I get here? DUMB LUCK!

26 Dec

I have told the same story a hundred times. I have no idea WHY, but I do know I have been a very lucky person over the years.


Knowing virtually NOTHING about the martial arts, I happened to walk into a school run by a direct student of Hwang Kee (founder of the Moo Duk Kwan). That instructor, the late Pong Ki Kim, was also a 6th degree black belt in Hapkido and knew praying mantis kung fu. He taught a very well rounded program, including a lot of full contact with little pads.

red belt

A few years later, also by pure chance, I studied Hung Ga with a person from the Tang Fung lineage. Hung Ga is a pretty straight forward kung fu system but added to this was the fact that this sifu (teacher) was HUGE on basics.

tiger claw

Again, by pure dumb luck, I ended up studying Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) with Jeng Hsin Ping, one of the most accomplished teachers of that method.


Finally, I ended up studying with Chan Tai San. Rest assured many (perhaps MOST) of my blogs will end up being about Chan Tai San.

paau choih

I can’t tell you why, but I also seemed to question early on the things that most people took for granted. At 15 I spent long hours with my teacher, Pong Ki Kim, asking him WHY we did certain things, and WHY we did NOT do other things. I similarly aggravated and frustrated and argued with Chan Tai San for almost two decades.

scissors catch

My thoughts and approach to martial arts have always been different. These blogs will be about this journey


Why “Lion’s Roar Martial Arts”?

7 Oct


“It is said, upon the birth of the Buddha, he stood up, pointed one finger to the sky, pointed the finger of the other hand to the earth, and roared like a lion to announce he had arrived”.
– The Lantern Passing Record

The lion is considered a divine animal of nobleness and dignity, which can protect the Truth and keep off evils. So, perhaps people can understand why in the Ming Dynasty, a martial art associated with Buddhism was called “Lion’s Roar”. But for my personal method? Is there more to it?

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti


I have developed in my approach to martial arts the idea that one must always train with Truth. Yet Truth is subtle and elusive, and as Krishnamurti stated in so many variations, it is impossible to organize in a static form. Thus, my method is always adapting and changing. If it were not so, it would not be a living thing, and it would cease to be practical and relevant.

In retrospect, my interest in practical application of the martial arts and in training fighters inspired the process by which I came to this conclusion. In combat, you become interested in what works. If something is ineffective, regardless of its origins, you rationally discard it. A major theme of my method is that it is not what you practice; your style, system, tradition, lineage, teacher or school. It is HOW you practice. You must practice with Truth.


For more than twenty years, I have been known for producing fighters. To many it appears I run a school and have a curriculum that is far removed from traditional Chinese martial arts. I certainly have never been anything less than completely forthright about my cross training and my incorporation of different material, especially non-Chinese martial arts, into my teachings.


Yet, I still consider the core of my teachings the material that Chan Tai-San taught me. I have compared it to a human body; Chan Tai-San’s methods are the skeleton, the connective tissues, and the heart. My cross training has certainly filled in certain areas, but in other cases all that it did was give me a deeper appreciation for material I already had learned from Chan Tai-San. I had never abandoned my teacher or his methods; I had simply expanded and evolved them.

There are those who learned the same system, even those who studied with the same teacher; but who do not teach how I do and have not produced the same results. It is clearly not WHAT they practice. It is HOW they practice. In this book, I examine traditional Chinese martial arts and ask if there is anything inherent in them to account for those who cannot practically apply them? The answer is NO. It is not the material, it is the PROCESS.


I am completely comfortable with my method and my approach. I have already tested and proven it in many different venues. I strongly believe that I have never abandoned my teacher or his methods; I have simply expanded and evolved them. My current method combines old (traditional) and new (modern) methods. It combines both Chinese and non-Chinese methods. This is because I am dedicated to Truth, and Truth transcends any tradition, any school, any lineage, or any teacher.

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