Doctor Takes Recreational Activities to the Extreme

By Max Gross

Published February 18, 2005, issue of February 18, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

At a certain martial arts studio in Canarsie, Brooklyn, Tuesdays are known as “Beat Up the Jew Night.” At least, that’s what the Jew in question calls it.

Every Tuesday at around 8 p.m., Dr. Barry Grossman sheds his yarmulke and ritual fringes, puts a bite plate in his mouth and takes his place with his “extreme fighting” class at the Universal Defense Systems studio. The teacher, Ralph Mitchell, is a former Kung Fu champion; a cop, a fireman and a former boxing champion all take their turns fighting Grossman — and each other.

For those who never have seen extreme fighting, it can be called “fighting” in the same way that a hydrogen bomb can be called a “weapon”; it is the most intense synthesis of boxing, karate, judo and other martial arts imaginable, so violent that it has been banned in several states.

Such a dangerous sport can leave participants needing medical attention, so it’s a good thing Grossman is a doctor. “I’ve stitched up people” after fights, he said.

But Grossman is not intimidated easily. “Barry holds his own,” Mitchell said has he watched the 44-year-old student spar recently with an opponent roughly half his age.

Extreme fighting is not Grossman’s only source of excitement. He surfs and scuba dives, runs marathons and, perhaps more dangerous than anything else, rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle. These are not, he concedes, activities typically associated with Orthodox Jews.

Sporting a dark-brown beard, a black yarmulke and serene brown eyes, he was disarmingly mellow as he spoke to the Forward in his quiet, tidy internal medicine office in Stuyvesant Town, the massive Manhattan apartment complex opposite Beth Israel Hospital. On the wall was a picture of a bearded Orthodox Jew running through a swimming lane that had been parted by Moses.

“I just got back from Micronesia,” Grossman said late one afternoon, after his last patient of the day had left. “It’s one of the scuba hotspots in the world.” He raved about the diving, and explained that he had brought a suitcase filled with kosher food. He also brought his own hot plate and cooking pot.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Grossman began surfing and scuba diving when he was still a kid. “Malibu was the place to surf,” Grossman recalled with a grin. As a diver he would catch lobsters and trade them with non-Jewish divers for kosher fish. He got his junior scuba card when he was 14.

“They all thought I was crazy,” Grossman said of his family’s reaction. “They supported me 100%, [but] they were concerned with my safety.”

Raised in a Conservative household, Grossman opted for an Orthodox education when he was a teenager. He moved east to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the Lubavitch Hasidic enclave, where he still lives today. He enrolled in a Lubavitch yeshiva, where he learned to be a scribe and a kosher butcher, but after graduation he stayed at the school and taught biology and math.

At 30, Grossman decided he wanted to be a doctor. He enrolled in Brooklyn College. While working on his degree, Grossman rediscovered athletics. His partner in a chemistry course encouraged him to start running. Three months later she signed him up for the New York City Marathon. He spent the summer training and finished the race in five hours. (In the three marathons he has run since, he has slashed his time by an hour.) A photo of Grossman crossing the finish line hangs proudly in his office.

After medical school, Grossman finally decided to settle down and start a family; today he has 3-year-old twin daughters and an infant son, with his wife of four years, Jackie. But Grossman didn’t want to let a subdued family life make him go soft, so he decided to get back into shape. That’s what drew him to extreme fighting.

Grossman rode to his extreme fighting class last week on his Harley Davidson, with a Forward reporter perched nervously on the back. It was the reporter’s first time on a motorcycle. As they sped through the streets of Crown Heights, past Grossman’s black-hatted Hasidic neighbors, he turned to the reporter and shouted, “You know, if we fell off now we would probably die.” The doctor, the reporter mused, might have to work on his bedside manner.

When they arrived at Mitchell’s class, Grossman said the evening would be limited to training — no serious fighting. But after Grossman stripped down to a blue tank top and black shorts, he sparred with the other members of the class until he was sweaty and exhausted. As Grossman and his partner fought, one of the people in the class approached the Forward reporter and said, pointing to Grossman, “He’s the fighting Doc — that’s what we call him.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.