Trial opens Friday for Kung Fu master charged with sex abuse

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Frank DeMaria (left) taught a move called the “tiger claw” so his martial arts students could defend themselves against attackers. But Westchester County prosecutors say the move, when it involved grabbing DeMaria’s groin, was an excuse to have 8- and 10-year-old girls fondle the 67-year-old kung fu grandmaster at his Croton-on-Hudson studio.

Jury selection began today for DeMaria, an Ossining resident who founded the American Center for Chinese Studies. His felony sex abuse trial will open at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow before county Judge Barbara Zambelli.

He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, both felonies, and four counts of child endangerment, a misdemeanor.

He is charged with abusing four girls, all under 13 years old. Prosecutors say he would have the girls face away from him, reach around and then repeatedly grab, squeeze and pull his penis. While the girls followed instructions, she said, DeMaria would gyrate his hips. Those actions, they argue, is not a legitimate martial arts move.

DeMaria told Croton detectives that his students were taught to grab the eyes, throat and groin of their attackers. He said he taught students to grab the groin when they were in an arm-lock or choke-hold position. When police told him that some of his students complained that he enjoyed being grabbed in the groin, DeMaria reportedly said, “I can’t control what my groin does. It’s a physical reaction, it’s not on purpose.”

Defense lawyer Andrew Quinn said his client, a retired Westchester County police officer, is the third-highest ranked grandmaster of his type of martial arts in the world. He said DeMaria teaches physical street-fighting moves so people can defend themselves, and has demonstrated “tiger claw” defense moves in videos and booklets. Quinn also said the parents and students who sign up for his martial arts courses sign waivers acknowledging that there will be physical contact in the classes.

DeMaria wrote a book on Chang-style tai chi and was head instructor for self-defense at the Westchester Police Academy. He has also taught courses at the State University of New York at Purchase.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker joined The Journal News in March 2004. She covers Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe, and was previously the state and county courts reporter in Westchester County. In prior jobs, she covered the Town of Greenburgh and Rockland County government and politics. Before coming to The Journal News, she was a municipal reporter for newspapers in New Haven, Conn. and Warren, Ohio.