Powerful women, the start of a new movement

23 Sep

I have the honor and the privilege of being surrounded by many strong women. Full disclosure, I certainly came from a world where initially women were rare and seldom welcome, the traditional martial arts world. I am not sure, no, I am positive; I had trouble relating to them initially. However, over time I found myself training more and more women.

It is a cliche, but having my daughter changed my entire life. In regards to my martial arts, it gave me suddenly a razor sharp, brilliantly clear vision of the role my martial arts and I play in the lives of the many women who came and continue to come through my door.

“Healthy” is not a number. It is not a number on a scale. It is not a dress size. The more science teaches us about our bodies, the more we must realize that we will most certainly not all look the same way. We are surrounded by unrealistic expectations and depictions to the point it can literally be overwhelming. But lifestyle choices are only one part of the equation, so are genetics. It certainly doesn’t help that so called “professionals” seem unable to advance their perspectives, of which I speak of things like “BMI”. It is often cited, Evander Holyfield was considered the best conditioned professional athlete of all time, using the most up to date methods of his time. According to BMI charts, he borders on morbidly obese!!!

We should all strive to be healthy, to lead a healthy lifestyle, eat correctly and those efforts should be reflected in things like check ups and blood tests. Healthy should also be about happiness. We should enjoy our lives, enjoy those around us. We should be happy with ourselves. We should feel confident. We should have confidence in ourselves and our ability to achieve our goals.

Finally, and as the father of a daughter this greatly concerns me, we should all be SAFE. I write this in the age of #MeToo. Certainly part of being SAFE is confidence and self esteem, but another part of it is the ability to physically defend yourself as well! So, for all these reasons, I see martial arts training as a wonderful way to achieve these goals and to produce generations of powerful women.



Reorganizing the MANY faces of the “Truth Project”

17 Sep

First there was this blog… And, of course, there is my Youtube channel.

The “secret group” on Facebook still exists. But we’ve faced challenges as we produced more content than their servers could handle (who knew?). This led me to setting up numerous offerings at https://new-york-san-da-martial-arts.teachable.com/, including the “Chan Tai San Archives” with rare footage you can not find any place else.

Of course, my most recent project has been a weekly Podcast, the Lion’s Roar, focusing on the discussion aspect of what I now call the “Truth Project”; The Lion’s Roar PODCAST (CLICK)

My personal branding website, www.SifuDavidRoss.com/ has existed for quite a while, but now it will be the official “hub”; i.e. there are links to ALL of my activities there now and I will be more and more directing people there. As a reminder, if you never opted in, doing so gets you a 100% FREE San Da instructional by two of my black belts!

#kungfu #chinesemartialarts #chantaisan #lamapai #martialarts #shaolin #wutang #taichi #siulam #wingchun #masters #dimmak #history #pushhands #chisau #brucelee

Forms practice in the martial arts

12 Sep

The podcast on “forms” is available right now at https://www.patreon.com/thelionsroar

Forms? Under various names in different traditions, form practice remains one of those topics that will generate not only a varied but also very heated discussion among martial artists. What role do forms play in martial arts training? Is it an outdated idea, whose purpose has passed us by?

kung fu

I’ve certainly learned my fair share of forms; in systems such as Taekwondo, Karate, Hung Ga, and Lama Pai. I even picked up forms in places I only briefly studied or from friends; Dragon style, Praying Mantis… One of the greatest ironies of my life is, when I first heard about Chan Tai-San, I initially thought I’d just pick up a few “cool” forms from him and that would be it. Oh how wrong I was on that count.

Kung Fu-3

In retrospect, my martial arts career had just as much training WITHOUT forms; the western boxing I did at the PAL, the few months of Judo I did as a child, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, all that mixed martial arts (MMA) cross training…..

So, what can we say about forms training? Is it “practical”? In what sense? Or is it, like an outhouse, a function of a more primitive society, whose use we’ve long outgrown?


We can start with the most obvious; forms practice is NOT “fight training.” You can know a pile of forms, practice them daily, be excellent at them, and have NO ABILITY TO FIGHT AT ALL…..

While many people hold what they assume are “traditional” forms (many practice sets that have been SIGNIFICANTLY MODIFIED in very recent years and/or are actually very recent inventions and yet hold them to be “ancient secrets”) very close to their hearts; there IS a very strong argument that forms exist because martial arts were often practice by illiterate or semi-literate people and they were the best way to “catalog” the contents of a particular tradition. In this context, we ask if they are still relevant in an age when most of us can read and write and we have advanced storage systems. Most of us even carry a video camera with us wherever we go!


Of course, there is also something to be said for the fact that forms require us to perform the basics of our system hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. It is a sneaky but effective way to make us do those repetitions that many of us would normally avoid. I learned over 50 hand sets under Chan Tai-San, and in them I must have done the basics “fist seeds” hundreds of thousands of times!

If we view forms in this regard, there is something to be said for them. That is, if we also accept and assume they will be accompanied by just as much hands-on, practical, two person drilling. I’d suggest the challenge for the modern martial artist if finding the time to do this; today in traditional schools we more frequently see a lot of time devoted to solo technique practice and forms practice with very little time devoted to “alive” partner practice.


I’ve long suspected that forms practice has served another purpose. When I think back to those hours I spent with Chan Tai-San, him performing a technique, and my copying his movement, to remember the sequence and then replicate it over and over again. I was involved in movement study. I was learning to move, HOW to move, HOW to acquire new skills. I know that later in life, studying other things, many instructors found it fascinating how I could just watch something and then pick it up. This applied to ALL of Chan Tai-San’s senior students. I remember when YC Wong did a seminar in New York City, teaching a Pek Gwa set. Chan Tai-San’s seniors all picked up the set the first time YC Wong walked them through it. YC Wong commented that usually it took him 2 to 3 hours to teach this set, and we had all learned it in about 15 minutes….

The counter argument, the flip side, is that many people can NOT learn this way. Years of Chan Tai-San’s students trying to run their own schools demonstrated that many people aren’t only unable to learn this way, the ONLY way they can learn is by a slow, almost painful, “dumbing down” of the material.

And, of course, this still does not account/negate the fact that for fighting, you STILL need those hours of hands-on, practical two person drilling and sparring.


Random Thoughts PODCAST is LIVE

10 Sep

First podcast now available at https://www.patreon.com/thelionsroar

The new PODCAST to accompany the blog

9 Sep

A new kind of martial arts podcast by author, educator, combat sports coach, and martial arts master Sifu David A. Ross, David has trained over 40 years and spent three decades helping the public have a better understanding of real martial arts and helping thousands of individuals achieve their goals and live their dreams. The beauty of his vision is that it is NOT just for those who want to compete or be a champion; he has proven time and time again that REAL MARTIAL ARTS are for everyone and everyone benefits.

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 https://events.membersolutions.com/event_register.asp?content_id=76051. 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 https://events.membersolutions.com/event_register.asp?content_id=76051.

Lie, sit, stand, walk and run: “internal” in steps…

9 Aug

Generalizations and/or stereo types are ugly things, but often they have some truth to them! Western minds tend to want things categorized. The Chinese mind often seems syncretic. So, in theory, Buddhism and Daoism should be two separate, distinct traditions. Yet, in China, things are never so easily defined.

In Indian traditions, such as Yoga (but certainly NOT limited to “yoga”), you see “stillness” in essentially three stages; lying on the ground, sitting and standing. In Indian Yoga, it has been said that of the two most difficult Asana (positions) to master on is the corpse (lying on the floor).

“Savasana” or the corpse posture

The corpse position, to lie on the floor, appears so simple. It is an excellent example of how hard “stillness” is, how true stillness is probably impossible and probably not even what we really want. If you have done “Savasana” (usually at the end of a Yoga class) then you probably realized that you didn’t really stay perfectly still. Your body “settles,” readjusting which is probably an ideal thing for it to do. As long as you stay “in the moment” and focus on that settling, you should feel your entire body. You should learn awareness of the entire body.

In this asana, the object is to imitate a corpse. Once life has departed, the body remains still and no movements are possible. By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But – it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.
– The Illustrated Light on Yoga, B. K. S. Iyengar

It is often said that the Chinese dislike being on the ground. This is to suggest the plethora of standing practices and the relative scarcity of practices sitting and lying upon the ground. If we follow the initial suggestion that Chinese nature is to avoid being on the ground, we might wonder if those practices came from the “outside”, particularly from Buddhism that originated in India. Certainly, several versions of “18 Lo Han” exercises include lying, sitting and standing. Yet things often understood and labelled “Daoist” also have these exercises. The Chinese mind is syncretic, and the culture defies easy categorization.

By comparison the lying practices, there is certainly no shortage of moving practices. You might even argue that some “martial arts” such as Taiji Quan are no longer even martial arts anymore, but just moving internal practices? At this point, for this article, we mostly want to focus on two things; balance and perhaps sequence?

There certainly must be a balance; you must practice lying, sitting, standing (“stillness”) and moving. It does NOT appear any particular grouping or order is really necessary. Rather, in Daoist fashion, you must “feel” your way to the correct practice for yourself and that practice inevitably MUST change as you change.

Finally, there must be balances between “soft” and “hard”, or, in another consideration, their must be “flexibility” in these practices.

“Internal” in a modern context? (AKA “no Qi, just me”)

8 Aug

Do you know how airplanes fly? I certainly didn’t, until my friend who is literally an aerospace engineer visited me in Washington DC and in the Smithsonian explained to me how they work. It didn’t just amaze me, it gathered a large crowd who stopped and stood for his entire explanation!

Imagine that you were able to take an airplane back to Medieval Europe. Would most people understand the physics of it even if you explained it to them? Or, would they think it is some sort of “magic”?

Most of the things we think of in Chinese martial arts as “internal”, obviously people developed these movements (they did NOT descend from Heaven on stone tablets!). They “felt” things while doing them. They experience changes, actually “improvements”, as a result. But did they understand the anatomy and the physiology involved? The answer should obviously be NO! As a result, they explained them in a language they created to try and explain them; Qi, Shen, Dan Tian, or Chakra, Prana, etc etc….

Even access to modern science has not changed the way most people approach this stuff; people still think you develop “chi” (“qi”) from standing practice and that the “power” in strikes, etc comes from that “chi” or “qi”. The reality of course is that standing practice teaches you body awareness. Body awareness is essential to properly using your body. The proper use of the body generates power. As Luo Dexiu stated to us at a seminar, the power isn’t developed by standing, the power is already there! You “find” the power by standing practice, not develop it.

Today, many of us (myself included!) may not have the scientific, anatomical or medical knowledge and training to identify the processes at work in our practices. In that sense, we are similar to our ancestors who could describe movement and say they felt “something”. However, as modern human beings we should be different in that we can understand there really is no “chi”, no “prana”, no “chakra”, no “dan tian”, no “magic”. We should certainly be more intelligent and advanced than the ignorant, superstitious “boxer bandits” who thought martial arts could be a form of magic that could make you invulnerable to bullets!

Of course, for some people denouncing “chi” is heresy. To some it makes us “haters”. Some think it means we completely discard the practice. NO. Not at all. The practice indeed persisted because it produced benefits, improvements, etc. I’d suggest we would be better served to look at it from a modern, scientific perspective. But at the very least, we shouldn’t be passing on superstition as fact.

Equipment and format matters

25 Jun

FIRST: You have to understand that even if an event is not a “real fight”, it is the best, most reasonable way to train to fight. I have covered this a LOT (I have covered it to DEATH). Search “randori” or “real fight” on this blog and you will have to take a few days to read it all. Until you reach that point in your mind, the rest of this blog will likely not impact you.

Unless you were there, considering the current state of things, it is hard to explain to people that in the 1970’s and 1980’s Taekwondo was a pretty hardcore art. When I first started, only a mouth piece and cup were required. Kicks, especially to the head!, were expected to be full contact, they even told you that if they were not they would not score. Picture Kyokushinkai without the knee strikes and SUPPOSEDLY without the low kicks* and you’d see old school Taekwondo. Not surprising if you know Mas Oyama was an ethnic Korean.

* “Low kicks” were “illegal”, except when they weren’t! A round kick to the thigh followed immediately by a jumping round kick with the other leg was NEVER called. Other old school Taekwondo tactics involved stepping on the opponents thigh!

If we are going to discuss headgear, I have to confess I have a very uneasy relationship with the subject. I used to be a HUGE PROPONENT OF PEOPLE WEARING HEADGEAR. In New York, I was butting heads with a lot of early Muay Thai promoters who said “they don’t use headgear in Thailand”. First, for the most part these were amateur matches and in Thailand it is most professional. Second, I had very strong feelings about headgear because I had been active in the old school full contact Taekwondo when the “summer of death” happened; three US students died from head kicks.

Headgear is NOT a replacement for proper defense. And frankly it has only one real application, to prevent those “secondary impact” deaths. That is why I despise the “face cage” headgear which doesn’t really protect the fact and doesn’t have the proper padding to prevent “secondary impact” death.

IWUF Sanshou required headgear, but with the grappling element most of the “Big 6” teams quickly learned that only some headgear were appropriate. Pretty much everyone ended up using the “open face” USA boxing approved models (above). NOTE it is “open face” so you still need defense, real defense, but it has the USA boxing approved padding specifically for “secondary impact” death prevention.

We tried using headgear in an early version of our amateur MMA, it never worked out. When we teamed up with the late Paul Rosner and the USKBA to pitch amateur MMA to New Jersey, we did so with no headgear. The debate about the pros and cons continue as in this article about Olympic boxing dropping headgear. It seems the tide of EDUCATED opinion is that other things insure fighter safety.

Another thing that I seem to have arguments with about people is shin padding. Muay Thai people frequently say “they don’t use them in Thailand” while STILL missing the obvious fact that are professionals. Also, most of the time those are not tournament fights. They are single matches. Personally, I LOVE tournaments. I know they build the best fighters. But they are also on their way out.

IWUF official shin pads were pretty meager. At best you hoped they prevented cuts. So one of the major challenges in international competition was to keep your legs as intact as possible with these little pads over the course of 3 to 6 fights over two to three days. That is, again, tournaments make tough fighters, IF YOU SURVIVE. People who made it through those events are some of the toughest fighters I know. I also know guys who got so badly injured they never fought again, and THAT is a consideration.

Honestly, not sure why people are opposed to shin padding. Most combat sport is always going to be amateur level. Do we really want to see amateurs get so badly injured? The shin padding issue is NOT one of making your kicks less effective, if anything, I can kick HARDER and more often with shin pads on. When a certain coach tried to pressure amateurs to fight “like the K1” a lot of the coaches, not just me, noted that not only was K1 paying VERY GOOD MONEY (and this event was paying NOTHING), but K1 got progressively less interesting as an event progressed because injured fighters (and these were the world’s BEST PROFESSIONALS) kicked less. Even from a promoter, spectator and/or sport point of view, shin padding is better.

Chest shields are a completely different matter, one that could take up even more space!

Using the technique of ruthlessness (殘)

6 Jun

Today’s martial arts community is certainly full of “positive thinkers”, “do good”-ers, “feel good”-ers and “don’t worry”-ers. At some point, a lot of martial arts people adopted these sorts of things as a theme in the martial arts? This may be especially true of Chinese martial artists, in particular the granola chomping, tree hugging so-called “internal stylists”.

Of course, there are also those elements that represent the “dark underbelly” of the Chinese martial arts; with origins in the Jianghu (江湖), bandit gangs, red pole enforcers, and other disreputables. While these elements were the target of early 20th century efforts to revise and remove them, they were never totally successful. It is probably not a coincidence that they survived (flourished) in contexts where being able to fight were still important; police, military and of course criminal activities.

It is said that when Wong Yan-Lam erect is wooden stage in front of the Hoi Tong Monastery (海幢寺), “Either the challenger was maimed or killed. (Wong) was a master of using the technique of ruthlessness (殘)”. Ruthlessness (殘) remains one of the four essential theories of Pak Hok Pai and I’ve certainly seen it referenced in Hap Ga as well, but in my personal experience it is most cultivated in Lama Pai lineages. I have frequently and openly discussed my teacher Chan Tai San, but I also had an opportunity to study with another Lama Pai instructor. That instructor by comparison actually made Chan Tai-San seem like a boy scout! Tha is to say, while I was interested in the material he was offering, I was never comfortable around him.

Ruthlessness (殘) is an important part of traditional training, and pretty much essential within traditional training to combat effectiveness. I certainly used it in early fighter training, especially when we were still training for Chinese style tournament fighting. But make no mistake, it is a double edged sword. If you’ve ever felt a martial artist was abrupt, angry, opinionated, rude, etc etc you were probably correct! And it was probably related to some degree to ruthlessness (殘). I suspect it accounts in some part for many of the dark, brooding and at times unbalanced martial artists we’ve seen over the years.

I pondered this tonight after I (not physically) threw someone out of my facility tonight. Oh, make no mistake, they were a rude arse whose inflated sense of self-importance merited their removal, but there were probably (definitely) better ways to address it; ie I responded how we used to back in the “old days” or the “Chinatown days” when martial arts schools weren’t quite schools, they were more “social clubs” and their business was not necessarily signing up new martial arts students.

In any discussion of “traditional” vs “modern”, training to fight, incorporating modern training and/or “combat sports, one point really can not be escaped. Ruthlessness (殘) was an essential part of traditional fight training and it had many drawbacks. It was not a “scientific method”. It did not work with all (most?). It created negativity in the individual and the culture. By contrast, modern training not only produces more predictable results, in has less “side effects”.

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