Belts, ranking and other thoughts on organizing martial arts

6 Dec

As I have announced, one of my biggest projects has just launched! The Lion’s Roar martial arts curriculum is now being presented online at It is a combination of new footage with re-edits of previous archival material. It will present new material each week and will eventually be an entire system online.

Probably one of the first thing you will notice when you visit the page is how I have organized the material into “belts”, AKA “ranks.” Let me be perfectly clear; this is a completely arbitrary arrangement, not to be taken as Truth in any way! All you have to do is read one of my most famous blogs, “Capturing truth in a bottle?”, to know I do not think you can really “organize” Truth. Yet, just as the blog describes, this is a form of expedient means. And, frankly, it will also make it easier for those already in that frame of mind to absorb the material.

There are some “interesting” stories in the martial arts world regarding rank. One stated that in the “beginning” there was only white belts and black belts. I strongly believe this is metaphorical. But it does serve that purpose. Making us consider what ranking really means? What is a beginner? What is advanced?

In the late 1970’s, before I even met the Shuai Jiao people, I read an article in Black Belt magazine that claimed that belt ranking came from Shuai Jiao. It IS a form of jacket wrestling and belts ARE worn. A white belt is clean, the student hasn’t really practiced much yet. Yellow comes from wear and sweat. Green is from grass stains. Brown is from the dirt, when the grass is worn away from the practice area after years of drilling. Black is the accumulation of all the blood, sweat and dirt…

There is probably some reliable evidence that Judo’s Kano invented the first real belt ranking scheme. He also apparently used the method the Brazilians are still using; white, blue, purple, brown and black. Was there a significance to these colors? I don’t know. Anyone out there?

In the Korean martial arts, they were really big on applying concept to the colors. I was originally ranked and taught the belt colors as

– White representing purity
– Yellow, representing a seed responding to the light of the sun
– Green, that seed actually growing
– Red, that plant reaching for the brightness of the sun
– Brown we were taught meant danger, ie you have technique but not necessarily good control

I am not sure I want to tell you that the ranks I just created for the online program mean anything. They either do or they don’t; and it doesn’t really matter either way

Martial Arts Frauds, “martial virtue”, “respect” and other BS…..

5 Dec

Human nature such as it is, I suppose we should not be shocked that the martial arts community (like all communities) has its share of con men and frauds. With the Chinese martial arts in particular, this has become a bit (no, an outright) problem. Perhaps we should ask WHY we have these con men and frauds?

If you’ve read my book, “Chinese Martial Arts: A Historical Outline”, you will already know that for much of Chinese martial arts history, martial artists traveled frequently in the same circles as con men and frauds. The “JiangHu” was full of street performers and snake oil salesmen, as well as outright thieves and bandits. For every teacher selling real Dit Da Jow, there had to be at least three selling utterly worthless brown water (or worse). Still, we would suspect that most of those in the JuangHu, even the con men and frauds, still probably had some martial arts skills. They did after all have to defend themselves.

Later in my book, we look at the so called “boxers”, and there is strong evidence that much of this movement were not orthodox martial artists, but rather ignorant peasants convinced that spirits had taken over their body. Their so called “martial arts” were often nothing more than flowery movements they had copied from local opera performances! So, clearly, we can find evidence of outright fraud and “quackery” even in the “good old days”.

The problem is, it is relatively certain to say that con men, frauds and “quackery” has EXPANDED in recent decades in Chinese martial arts circles. Some of it frankly boggles the mind; grown men acting like fools to sell the BS of some obvious fraud? And let us never forget that increasingly these days, these con men survive because increasingly they are NOT called to task.

Of course, something negative CAN be said of challenging an “old man” to a fight. There is this embarrassing example. And even some legit schools these days may not really want to “go there” with paying students there for classes that are supposed to be going on, etc etc. However, exposing facts and discussing the truth is a big departure from kicking a 70 year old in the head. Yet, we have those who will rattle on about “martial virtue” and / or “respect.”

If you know me, you know where I sit on these issues. Frauds and con men should NOT be hiding behind false claims of “martial virtue” or “respect”. Their is nothing virtuous or respectful about lies, fraud, nonsense and staining legitimate lineages. And, frankly, if you are not part of the solution, you ARE the problem.

The online martial arts curriculum is HERE!

30 Nov

I have a lot of ideas, and usually three or four projects going on at the same time. Of course, there is a down side to this, often I admit I lose focus. Things get delayed or just do not get done. However, right now one of by biggest and most ambitious ideas is now a reality! A complete curriculum is now being filmed and made available online via a monthly subscription on my teachable page.

If you know me, you know I am never short on content to share with you. So take a look at what I put up in just ONE DAY!

You might say that I already have a ton of content out there, much of it for FREE. You would be partially correct; this online curriculum is going to be very particularly organized and progressively offered. Much of my current online content is just random samplings of my ongoing classes and seminars.

Furthermore, as the teachable online curriculum grows, I will be REMOVING much of the free content you can find on the web in places such as youtube. NO, I am not going to take it all down, but a lot of the random stuff will be removed. And a lot of the more detailed stuff will be reintegrated into the online curriculum. So I guess I can suggest two things;

1. Enjoy the free content while it lasts


2. SUBSCRIBE NOW to the online curriculum. It will NOT disappoint you! I promise!

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.


1 Oct

Unless you are in a cave, and without internet access, you must know there is a lot going on around us. It is perhaps (hopefully?) a time for the beginning of significant change. But in the meantime, I can understand how people can be on edge and how the flat internet can make people hard to read. All that said, I still strongly objected when recently I was called a rapist. More precisely, someone made the claim that “most men” are rapists.

As I have already said; I have female friends, I’ve trained and continue to train many women, and I am the father of a daughter. As I said in response to the above comment; men are sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends of women. To dismiss them all as rapists serves no one.

That being said, I am also reminded (vaguely?) of something that Malcolm X said as he made his momentous change in positions. He had previously disregarded all white men, but modified his position. He would accept them in a sense, they could help his movement, but they were not PART of it. Something to this effect (?). And this is precisely how I feel about all this.

I would like to think I can make a positive contribution to this all: from ongoing classes, to self defense seminars, to helping to produce a positive community in which much more can happen. But be gentle with me as I proceed. And I ask not only for your help, but your insight and your contributions.


My Qin Na / Kah, Na seminar now available online

27 Sep

Missed my recent Qin Na / Kahn Na seminar on concepts vs practical application? No worries! You can learn all the awesome Qin Na I covered in my seminar online at

I have over 40 years of training, most of which under the direction of the late master Chan Tai San. This is REAL Qin Na (AKA Chin Na or Kahm Na); joint locking, escapes, chokes, neck locks, etc. The BEST close in fighting you will ever learn!

#kungfu #chinesemartialarts #chinna #qinna #chantaisan #lamapai #lionsroar #sifudavidross #nysanda

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, 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, 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

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

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