Friday, 27 March 2015

Interview with Jeff Rosser; Author of "Combative Elbow Strikes"

Interview with Jeff Rosser;  
Author of “Combative Elbow Strikes” 
By Ørjan Nilsen 
Originally published in the December issue
of Totally Taekwondo Magazine
A while back I got the pleasure of reading an article series on combative elbow strikes done by a man I had yet to hear about; Jeff Rosser. I was and still am very impressed with his writings, practical applications and learned a whole lot about elbow strikes and how to apply them after reading the series. Doing some light reading online I learned that he was on his way on publishing a whole book on the subject and I got curious to learn more about him, what he had studied to get to where he was and to learn a little more about the book project. Living in the informational age I contacted him on facebook and asked if he would grant me an interview which he did grant me. The product of our e-mail exchange can be read below. Q is me and A is Jeff. 

Q:  How long have you practiced the martial arts? 
A:  I have been training in the martial arts for about 23 years.  I started training back in 1991 at the age of 8. 
Q:  Did you start out in Taekwondo? 
A:  No, actually I started out training in Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karate and Kobudo.  Later, in college, I began training in American Open Karate and Shuri-te Jujutsu.  I didn't start training in Taekwondo until 2009 when I moved to South Korea.  I also started training in Judo here in Korea.  Now, my main focus in training and writing is Kukki Taekwondo however, my Karate and Jujutsu training continue to heavily influence my work.  I still train in Karate and Jujutsu whenever I can which is usually when I visit the U.S. 
Q: I have never heard about Shuri Te Jujutsu. Is it in any way related to Shuri Te Karate? 
A:  In a way, yes, it is related to Shuri-te Karate.  Shuri-te Jujutsu is heavily based on the fundamentals, methods, and theories of Shuri-Ryu Karate, under the late Hanshi Ridgely Abele, and Shinto-Yoshin-Kai Ju-jutsu.  Today, Shihan Troy Price is the present head of the system and continues to promote the art all over the United States and internationally as well.  Shuri-te Jujutsu is officially recognized by the United States Ju-jitsu Federation as a style of ju-jutsu. 
Q:  Do you remember why you originally started practicing the martial arts? 
A:  Yes, I do.  When I was about 4 or 5 years old, I remember watching the Karate Kid 2.  That was the earliest exposure to the martial arts that I can remember.  I wanted to learn Karate then but I lived in an extremely rural area in North Carolina and there were no dojos nearby.  Then, in the summer of 1991, when I was 8 years old, I attended a summer camp where I was picked on and bullied by some boys a year older than me.  I got into a few fights during that summer camp.  At the time, I was very small for my age and that made me a target for bullying.  When I came home from camp, my parents decided to take me to one of the only martial arts schools in the county which was in a nearby city.  That school happened to be a Shorin-Ryu Karate school run by Sensei Willie McIntosh who was also a city police officer.  We didn't really have any options with regards to where to go so this was my only choice.  It turned out to be a great decision as it was a great dojo.  I remember walking into the dojo for the first time with my parents.  While my mom was talking to Sensei McIntosh about lessons, I took some time to view the class taking place in the main room.  That's when I saw a few of the people who had picked on me at camp.  They were just white belts!  I mentioned it to my mom immediately while she was speaking with Sensei McIntosh.  I began training a few days later and never saw those two boys in the dojo again.  Back then, I started training to learn how to defend myself but Karate and the martial arts ended up becoming a part of my life.  I could not imagine my life now without the martial arts. 
Q: You seem to have an extensive background in multiple styles of Martial Arts before you started Taekwondo. Has these experiences shaped and influenced your Taekwondo? 
A:  Of course.  Karate is my base art so I tend to relate everything that I learn in Taekwondo back to what I already know.  I do try to keep an open mind and learn the differences that Taekwondo has to offer however, most of my understanding with regards to strategy, theories and principles of motion, generating power, etc. are based on my earlier experiences in Karate and Jujutsu.  I would say though that these arts are all more similar than different. 
Q: I hear you live in Korea these days. Is there an interesting story as to how you ended up in the homeland of Taekwondo? 
A:  I just wanted to travel and train in the martial arts in Asia to expand my understanding of the martial arts and the cultures behind them.  I had studied Mandarin and Japanese for two years each in college so naturally, I looked for ways to go to either of those countries first.  I found the possibility of living in China very intriguing however the pay for most teaching jobs in China was not very good.  I actually had an offer to teach at a university in Xuzhou with decent pay by Chinese standards, but it was still not enough to meet my financial obligations back home.  Japanese jobs pay much more but the cost of living is through the roof so you end up left with little.  Then, I just kind of stumbled into the possibility of living and working in Korea.  I had studied Korean history and culture in college so I knew some about this country but I had never studied the language and didn’t know Taekwondo.  Nonetheless, everything came together and I first came to Korea in 2009.  I have been here ever since.  

Q: Do you teach Taekwondo in Korea (If so to whom and what do you stress in your teachings?) 
A:  When I lived in Gunsan, I taught Taekwondo to all ages.  Most of the year, I taught kids and a few adults however, in the spring of 2012, I taught ROTC cadets from Gunsan University.  I mostly focused on applications from the poomsae.  Now, I live in Seoul and do not teach regularly.  I only teach through seminars and workshops at the moment. 
Q: So you taught applications based on Poomsae to your ROTC cadets? From your articles I know your applications go beyond the "kick block punch paradigm" that you most often see when talking about applications of Taekwondo forms. How did the students respond to these "alternative" (for the lack of a better word) applications? 
A:  Most of them were pretty interested in the applications.  In fact, most of the students that I have taught here haven’t been exposed much to applications of any kind so it was something very new to a lot of them.  As a mentioned before, I mostly taught kids and teenagers who had learned the techniques but hadn’t studied applications, or ROTC cadets who were completely new to Taekwondo so I didn’t receive any resistance to the “alternatives” that I taught.  The owner of the dojang where I taught in Gunsan was intrigued by my study of applications and he is the one who asked me to teach the ROTC cadets.  He was in charge of training a large group of them every spring.  He would teach them for an hour four nights a week for about three months and he asked me to teach them for an hour one night a week.  I was given a lot of freedom with regards to what I wanted to teach so I focused on defensive tactics using the techniques that they had been learning. 
Q: These students were ROTC cadets so their interest in practical applications might be different from the mainstream. I have seen some videos you have put out on youtube where you were holding a workshop on applications. Are you normally met with a positive attitude? 
A:  Normally, yes.  I actually find that the students at workshops are more enthusiastic and interested that the ROTC cadets.  At workshops, most people are open minded, volunteer to attend, and many are already aware that the workshop will focus on applications and advance techniques.  As for the ROTC cadets, they are required to train in Taekwondo and attend class so I found that some of them were very interested in training and applications while others were just there because they had to be and weren’t quite as interested in Taekwondo. 
  Q: Do you think the Taekwondo you are learning in Korea differs from what the majority of Taekwondo students get? 
A:  If by majority, you are referring to the rest of the world, I would say that it is hard for me to answer that because I haven’t really trained in Taekwondo much outside of Korea.  Korean society is quite safe and violent crime rates are low.  As a result, people in general are less concerned with learning self-defense.  Self-defense is still taught in some dojangs here but not all.  Many dojangs focus more on the sport aspect of Taekwondo.  There are also a lot of dojangs here, just like in any country, run by inexperienced and poorly trained instructors who tend to ignore self-defense and instead focus on things like ‘Taekwon-dance’, acrobatic group demonstrations, and weapons like the nunchaku to make up for what they lack in terms of self-defense knowledge.  This really bothers me.  It is fine to teach these things but please don’t teach something that is not Taekwondo and label it as “Taekwondo.”  Their students are naïve and think that they are learning Taekwondo but they are not.  This is deceptive and these instructors are only concerned with money.  Usually, these are franchises that have dozens or even hundreds of dojangs across the country.  There are however, still some great instructors here, especially from the older generations.  I have done more hand conditioning here than ever before and a lot of power breaking. 
Q: There is an ongoing discussion in Martial Arts circles today whether Taekwondo is a Martial Art or a Martial Sport. What is your take on this? 
A:  In my opinion, Taekwondo is a martial art.  Does that mean that everyone who claims to teach Taekwondo actually teaches a martial art?  No.  Many teach a martial sport but do so under the banner of Taekwondo as a martial art.  These are two different things and should be labeled as such.  There is nothing wrong with teaching a martial art, a martial sport, or both.  What is wrong is when instructors teach a martial sport but then tell their students how to use the sport techniques and strategies that they have learned to deal with an attacker in the streets.  This is just wrong but I see it a lot.  The student leaves thinking that they know how to defend themselves in the streets but really, they just know how to score a point.  This gives a false sense of security to the student.  You can teach martial sport, martial art, or both as long as there is a distinction between the two.  My own experience in my first Karate dojo was that we focused on both self-defense and sport and made the distinction between the two.  We were an elite dojo in sport Karate and produced countless national champions yet we did not confuse our ring success with proficiency in self-defense.  My instructor was a retired police officer and many of our adult students were local and state police officers as well so we spent a considerable amount of time in the dojo actually working self-defense techniques.  No one was fooled by thinking that a gold medal in point fighting would save them in a street fight. 
Q: What do you see as Taekwondo`s strong points as a Martial Art? 
 A:  That’s a tough question to answer because it depends on which version of Taekwondo we are talking about.  The term Taekwondo has become as generic as the name Karate and there are so many different styles and perspectives now.  From what I have studied in Kukki Taekwondo, I would say that the poomsae, when taught by a qualified instructor with a good understanding of applications, are a strong point.  I also think the focus on hand conditioning, kicking skills, and footwork are strengths of Kukki Taekwondo. 
Q: You are having a book published soon that will focus on the use of the elbows. What made you want to make a book and what made you choose to focus on the elbows? 
A:  I actually started writing a book a few years back on applications for Kukki Taekwondo poomsae.  Then, in November 2012, I started a series of five articles for Totally Taekwondo magazine which focused on applications for elbow strikes from Kukki Taekwondo poomsae.  The series was well received and I got a lot of positive feedback from it so I decided to expand on the series of articles and turn everything into a book.  I have always been interested in elbow strikes and they played a major role in my Jujutsu training.  My Jujutsu instructor, Robert Taylor, and his instructor, Troy Price, both emphasized elbow strikes as a means of striking, blocking, and locking.  I just took what they taught me, added it to what I had learned in Karate and Taekwondo from my other instructors, and expanded on everything with my own ideas and theories to create this book.  My instructors and their teachings are a constant source for inspiration in all of my writings and the things that they have taught me can be found throughout this book. 
Q: Making a book is often said to be a long process. How long have you been working on this book? 
A:  I have been working on this book on and off for about 2 years.  I started the series of articles in November 2012 and really started trying to turn it into a book in about April of 2013.  I finished writing the bulk of the book in June 2014 and since then I have just been filling in a few gaps at the publisher’s request. 
Q: Will you write more books in the future focusing on different aspects of Taekwondo? 
A:  Of course.  I’m going to turn my focus back to my book on poomsae applications.  It is a much larger project so I think it will take a few more years to finish up.  I also have a few other projects that I am working on that might end up being published in the next year or so. 
Q: You mention hand conditioning as one of Taekwondo`s strong sides when it comes to the martial art side of things. Can you tell me more about this? 
A:  Yes, in Korea, my Taekwondo training has included a lot of hand conditioning.  We conditioned our knuckles in my Karate dojos in the states too but not to the extent that we do in my Taekwondo dojangs here.  In my first dojang in Gunsan, we worked on hand conditioning daily and used logs, striking posts, and stones to condition our knuckles and the blade of the hand.  It seems that older, more traditional schools in Korea, particularly in rural areas do this but the newer ones with younger instructors don’t do this as much.  Nonetheless, power breaking with the hands is a major part of domestic competitions, black belt tests, and demonstrations.  In Okinawa, many Karate schools focus on hand conditioning just as much if not more but for me, Taekwondo was my first exposure to intense hand conditioning beyond just a makiwara. 
Q: In older Taekwondo books such as GM Choi Hong Hi`s 1965 book, Son Duk Sung & Robert J. Clark`s 1968 book etc we see an extensive usage of striking post, gripping jars and other old training methods. Are these still in use in the Dojang you study? 
A:  I’m not that familiar with all of those books but yes, we do still use some of these training methods today.  I haven’t seen the gripping jars here in Korea but I have seen striking post.  These methods tend to be more common in older dojangs especially in rural areas.  In Seoul, this is not as common. 
Q: I have been researching forms applications myself for a few years, and this is getting more and more popular in the Taekwondo comunity (a good thing in my personal opinion). I am wondering though if you incorporate your applications into your free sparring?  A:  I do incorporate my applications into one and three step sparring.  As for Taekwondo free sparring, I include some but for the most, no.  Basic poomsae applications are just punch/kick/block.  Unfortunately, it is hard to do much more than that in free sparring.  Advanced applications like joint locks, chokes, throws, take downs, open hand strikes, leg kicks, etc. are not allowed in sport competitions.  Sparring sessions in the dojang tend to mirror the style of sparring used in competitions.  In my jujutsu dojo, we do use some of the techniques as part of randori however jujutsu practitioners are more adept at falling and receiving joint locks so they can attack you, be on the receiving end of a lock or throw, and still get back up without being seriously injured.  I find that when sparring with Taekwondo practitioners, they aren’t able to do that and the risk of injury for them is much higher.  This is why one and three step sparring is extremely important and should serve to compliment your poomsae.  You should do live poomsae by taking a technique or brief series of techniques and practice working them against a live opponent using varying levels of resistance.  That way you can practice the more dangerous applications while lowering the risk of injury to your training partner.  

Q: I understand that you do a lot of conditioning of your hands I am wondering if you also do any conditioning of other body parts? The forearms and shins for instance?  A:  I mostly focus on conditioning my hands.  Most of my conditioning for other body parts over the years has occurred naturally through one and three step sparring, free sparring without pads, and heavy bag and makiwara training without gloves or other pads.  Banging forearms with your training partner during one and three step sparring is an excellent form of conditioning.  I never wear any protective foot gear and I only wear gloves when sparring but not when working a bag.  I will tape my wrist sometimes before an extended session on the heavy bag but I don’t like to wear bag gloves.  This gives me the best feedback and helps to condition my knuckles and wrist.  

Q: Do you have any tips for those reading this who are new to conditioning and want to start incorporate it into their training? A:  I don’t really consider this one of my areas of expertise so I don’t feel that I am the person to give a lot of advice in this area.  I always just did what my instructors did.  I would say though that you should try to use the same movements in conditioning as you use in fighting.  That means using your whole body and your hips and not just punching with your arm.  Thousands of repetitions of a bad punch on the makiwara are not very helpful.  Also, understand how much power you should put behind your strikes when conditioning.  You want to work your way up to delivering powerful strikes but early on, you need to pull back on your power until your hands and wrist are strong enough to withstand the impact.  Good technique and structural integrity are also paramount.  If you have bad alignment in your technique and strike hard, you will feel that in the feedback that you get.  I would also not recommend intensive conditioning for anyone under the age of 18 and you should be an advanced practitioner with many years under your belt as well.  This way, you ensure that your muscles and bones are fully developed and your techniques include good structural integrity.  

Q: You have practised both Karate and Taekwondo (among other martial arts), do you feel that Taekwondo students would benifit by importing one or more Karate forms into their training? A:  Not really.  The founders of Kukkiwon Taekwondo have already done that.  They drew upon the Karate forms when they created our poomsae but, they altered the techniques to fit their own theories, philosophies, and strategies.  Karate kata are excellent and similar in some ways to poomsae but the strategies and philosophies that go along with those forms are very different.  A Taekwondo practitioner doing a Karate form is not really learning Karate.  Whether intentionally or not, they will adapt and change the footwork, blocks, targets, timing, chamber, etc. often without even realizing it.  Just subtle changes make a big difference.  I do think that an advanced student could benefit from studying a Karate style as a whole but not by just adding a kata or two to their Taekwondo training.  

Q: Having researched forms applications do you notice any different emphasis between the Karate forms and Taekwondo forms you study? A:  Of course.  Taekwondo forms and Karate forms may look similar on the surface but the principals and theories of motion and power, strategies, and philosophies of each art are different and therefore, the way in which applications are studied and the resulting interpretations are different based on those factors.  Even within Karate, different styles have different approaches.  

Q: Could you name your 3 favorite martial arts books of all time and the reason why? A:  That’s a tough question.  My favorites would be Gorin-No-Sho (The Book of Five Rings) by Miyamoto Musashi, the Kukkiwon Taekwondo Textbook, and The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do by Shoshin Nagamine.  I don’t usually hold on to books very long.  I typically buy a book, read it, and then pass it on to someone else.  These books however, I have kept, read many times, and continue to use as resources.  Gorin-No-Sho is my overall favorite and I have probably read it 5 or 6 times from cover to cover and each time I learned something new and interpreted the material differently.  

Q: When is your book available for purchase and where do I get one? A:  The book goes on sale November 9th  (2014) and softcover copies can be purchased through Barnes and Noble,, and all major book retailers.  You can also download the book from Kindle, iBook, Amazon, and Google Play stores.  To order from Amazon, visit: 
Q: Do you have a website with more information on the book or additional Resources? A:  Yes, my website address is  You can also find more info on the book at 
Q: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to interview you. I have learned a lot these last few days in our e-mail exchanges. I am especially pleased that the old ways of training are being kept alive in the rural areas of Korea since most of my own exposure of Taekwondo in its homeland has been to the sport variety. 
A:  It was my pleasure and I have thoroughly enjoyed this interview as well.  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share. 

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