Many people describe martial arts as a kind of moving meditation, bringing body and soul in alignment. Many fighters and athletes have perfected their bodies but ignored their spirits. This story is about a former monk now a professional trainer, named Kru Pedro, who helps his students to find a balance. I hope it will lift your spirits. Antonio
What you Practice is What You Master
By Antonio Graceffo
“We are hard on the outside and soft on the inside.” Says Kru Pedro, who was once a professional fighter and a Buddhist monk.
Some professional fighters have trained their bodies to perfection, Kru Pedro helps them fill their spirit.
Kru Pedro Villalobos came to
Thailand and fought as a champion Muay Thai fighter. Later, he realized that his spirit wasn’t fulfilled by his ring success. So, he became a monk, and learned the precepts of Buddhism. He adopted the practices of chanting, meditation, and prayer. Later, he left the monastery so that he could return to fighting, but this time, as a teacher and trainer. He teaches his students the deadly arts of Muay Boran (ancient Muay Thai) and Krabi Krabong (Thai double-sword and stick fighting). Unlike other practitioners of obscure arts, Pedro takes a direct, no-nonsense approach teaching his students the skills they need to win fights in the professional ring. Along the way, he hopes they will learn from his example of how to bring health and growth to their spirit as well as their body.
Pedro calls his art Muay Thai Sangha. “The grappling in Muay Thai is limited. So, I added in grappling taken from other arts.” Pedro includes teachings taken from Brazilian Ju Jitsu and Filipino Arnis. This complete system is one of the most effective ring combinations I have ever seen. His school is located behind Wat Lanka, in
Chiang Mai, Thailand, where students train eight hours per day.
Pedro chooses his students very carefully. “I don’t want students who just want to win fights. I want students who want to grow. But, if my students want to go fight in the ring to test their skills, it is ok, they can go.”
Many of Pedro’s students have fought professionally, under his tutelage. The training and sparing is bare-knuckles. “I want the students to get the feel of hitting. Also, the pain is just part of the training. They must learn to absorb it and train past the pain.”
“Back in my home country,
Spain, I started training in fighting when I was 14. My mother died when I was 16. She had been a spirit medium who helped a lot of people. As a result, I was very spiritual. I tried a lot of religions, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness…but nothing satisfied me.”
“At 17 I began training full time.” Eventually Pedro went to
America to continue his training and his professional fighting career. “In
America, it was hard at first. I was working illegally. I did many different jobs. I washed dishes in a restaurant. I had a Mexican friend who helped me get a job in security.” All the while he continued training and fighting. In the states at that time there wasn’t as much of a pro-fighting circuit as there is today. So, Pedro fought in all sorts of competitions including boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai, and full contact martial arts.
“My English was zero. I never went to school. I had to just learn it on the streets. Eventually I became successful. I had a martial arts school, which was doing well. My fighting career was good. I had nice friends and people helping me, but I was still not happy inside.”
As he dedicated himself more to Muay Thai, Pedro went to
Thailand for training. “When I first came to
Thailand, I only learned fighting. There was no spiritual training. It was the same in the States. I only looked for the big gyms, famous for training fighters, so I could prepare for the next fight.”
Pedro won a championship in
Thailand and was even slotted to fight my hero, Nong Toom (Beautiful Boxer). The fight had to be cancelled, however, because Nong Toom was over the weight limit. He had bulked up to 85 Kgs of muscle.
“Martial arts only filled me 50%. It was time to step forward and find what I was looking for. So I came back to
Thailand and became monk.”
“When I was a monk I couldn’t train. The Mahayana Buddhism, practiced in China, Korea, and
Japan allows monks to practice martial arts. But, the Theravada Buddhism, practiced in Thailand,
Cambodia, and Lao, prevents monks form training. Instead, monks here have to keep 227 precepts (vows) and do meditation and chanting.”
Kru Pedro had always had a special interest in the very ancient and somewhat secretive art of White Magic. “I had to study about the Khom (old word for Khmer) script from
Cambodia.” Like Latin in Europe, Khom and also Pali (from India) are the basis for the religious writings in all of
Vietnam is an exception, because they follow the Chinese, rather than the Indian religion.)
Kru Pedro believes that you can’t find white magic or the true spirituality in the big cities. “You have to go to the small temples in the jungle, or near the border where cultures overlap.”
Kru Pedro spent years seeking out and studying with special teachers all over
Thailand. He found teachers for obscure martial arts, sword and stick fighting techniques long lost to the modern world. He learned religion and healing. His primary Krabi Krabong teacher, who he still follows, only has one student, Pedro. The teacher felt that with the condition of the world today, he didn’t want to give his art away. Sadly all of his knowledge would have died with him if Kru Pedro hadn’t become his student. “But I must always ask his permission before I demonstrate or before I teach anyone. And at any time, he could order me to stop.”
Of all of his many teachers, Pedro had a particular respect for cave monks, monks who have completely retreated from the world and cloistered themselves away, dedicated to a life of meditation and prayer.
“Religion has helped me tremendously in Muay
“Actually fighting and religion are not related, but you can learn fighting and use it in a good way. I don’t believe in religion. I believe in good morals, good actions, and good thoughts. Religion is something on paper. For me, it is a philosophy of how to do things. Buddhism comes from the Buddha’s teachings of how we can grow.”
“Muay Thai is related to this philosophy. We use the skills to promote self control and self defense. People who study martial arts should study the spirituality too because they have to learn the philosophy as a way of living.”
Can someone make it as a fighter if he doesn’t study the religion?
“Yes, if he fights, of course he can get good at fighting. If you do something often, you get good at it. It depends on the person, what interest he has. If he wants to fight, he gets better at fighting.”
Why would someone chose to train in both the religion and fighting?
“Before, I only trained for fighting. I changed because I was empty inside. When I practiced inside…I don’t want to use the word religion, but if you practice inside as well; chanting, praying, making offerings, and keeping the precepts, if you dedicate yourself to one philosophy, you can see more clearly, the whole cycle of life. If you can see things clearly, perhaps you can change. One who practices the religion is not better or worse, only he can see.”
“It is up to you. You do according to what you are ready to do, every one on his own level. If I see another person, with different actions, I know this person has a different wisdom. No one is wrong, only they are at different levels.”
A great teacher once told me, you cannot teach anyone anything. The teacher can guide, lead and show, but the student must learn on his own.
“I do what I can to help people. I show what I do. If people want to follow, I give advice, or I explain. But, it is up to them if they want to change or not. If they change instantly, then they wouldn’t be learning they would be obeying. It is better if I show and they think, I want to do it, or, I don’t want to do it. The change has to come from inside.”
In Theravada Buddhism, monks are taught to have compassion and patience with all people, and not to impose rules on the general public. That changes, however, in the relationship of teacher and student.
“The only people who have to do what I say are my students, because they affect me as a teacher. If the person comes in the gym, I show them how to do and how to behave and how to help each other and make a good clean environment. I discourage drinking, drugs, and prostitution. I cannot eradicate everything, but I say, please put more effort into the training and stay in at night so you will be rested. According to what they do, if the person does not want to change, then I don’t put effort into teaching them.”
Students sometimes ask about the Buddhist concept of rebirth.
“We are in a cycle. The only thing we know is when we are born till when we die. And, in that period of time we should do the best we can. Some people say there is something after death. Some say no. But, it doesn’t matter. Whether you believe in after life or not, you need to concentrate on this life and do the right thing. My personal belief is that our rebirth depends 50%, on the merit we accumulate in this life. Ok, you don’t believe? No problem, then just concentrate on this life.”
“We don’t have the power to change anyone, only the power to show, and they will decide. I like people who walk, not people who talk.”
The Martial Art
The basis of teaching of Muay Thai Sangha comes from sport Muay Thai but the grappling comes from many style outside of
Thailand. “Thai grappling is very limited.” Explains Kru Pedro.
In North East Asia; Japan, Korea, and even
Mongolia, grappling is very popular. For the most part,
South East Asia, however, doesn’t have grappling on the ground.
Pedro’s had two theories on why the Theravada countries don’t have grappling. The first was based on the religion. “In Buddhism, the feet are considered dirty and the head is considered pure.” Because it is closest to God. “Thai people don’t like to be touched on the head, because it is a sacred chakra.”
His second theory was more closely related to fighting. Martial art in Thailand developed through centuries of experience in wars with Burma and
Cambodia. “In combat you don’t have time to go to the ground. If you go to the ground with one opponent, you will be stabbed in the back by the others.” So, the Thais developed an art that reflected their needs.
Why are there so many fighting arts in China but essentially only one main art, with a few subtle branches, in Thailand,
Cambodia, and Lao?
“This is just my opinion.” began Kru Pedro, who was always quick to point out that he was not an expert. “In
China, the martial arts practitioners were monks, who were not permitted to fight in combat or to fight in a ring for sport. So, they have many teachings but they lack pure practice in application.
Thailand is the opposite, few teachings but real applications in fighting. In
China, a lot of the movements don’t apply in a real fight. Many things are just talk but not walk. In
Thailand they were constantly fighting, and improving on the art’s effectiveness. Kung Fu developed many branches. In
Thailand, the development was in a direct line.”
Thailand is still in the trunk. In
China, many people have moved into the branches.”
Arguably, there is no country in the world with such a developed fighting circuit as
Thailand. Muay Thai is the official national sport. When I was training and fighting in
Thailand in 2003, there were 65,000 registered professional Muay Thai fighters. Today, Kru Pedro believes the number to be much higher.
“On every street, there is a school with 15 or 20 fighters, fighting pro every month.”
The number of pro fights in
Thailand is huge. Outside of
Thailand, the UFC, K-1, Pride, and MMA competitions have increased the popularity of Muay Thai in the world. But, in many ways, this is why the old Muay Thai philosophy and religion is being lost.
“My teachers taught me that when you grow, the old cycle breaks. You have to give it up and start a new cycle. When you are developing the fighting art, you loose many things. Also, they try to be popular, to get more people to participate. They change the rules so less people get hurt, and so people can fight more often. This is where sport Tae Kwan Do, for example, comes from.”
Always finding the good side of things, Pedro went on to say what he thought of Tae Kwan Do and strip mall variety martial arts.
“It is very, very good. It makes martial arts available to many people.”
A few years ago, a man named Billy Blank, made a fortune from a Muay Thai based exercise form and video series he invented, called Taibo. Shortly afterwards, fitness boxing and cardio Muay Thai became standard exercise classes at gyms around the world. Today, when you say Muay Thai in the States, every one thinks you are talking about some form of aerobics.
“At least now people have heard of
Thailand and they don’t think all Asians are Chinese.” laughed Kru Pedro. “When I first moved to the States and said I was from Spain, they asked what part of
Mexico was that?”
“Billy Blank is good because he makes people exercise. Everything that makes people exercise is good, as long as the schools don’t teach people the wrong way. When we use the word Muay Thai, though, we should be careful because sometimes we use it for commercialism. It is not bad if we are teaching Muay Thai, but we shouldn’t use the word without teaching it.”
Billy Blank made up his own name, Taibo, so he is not misusing the word Muay
“It is good that people like Bruce Lee and Billy Blank made martial arts available to everyone, but for me, I only want a few students. I only chose students who want to grow. I don’t want to train pro fighters. If my students want to fight pro to test themselves, ok, no problem. They can go, and I will help them. But I don’t want people who are trying to make a lot of money from fighting. We all need to make money to live but not more than that. My teachers taught me not to take a lot of students because you don’t want the skills going to the wrong people. I look before I teach. If a student does bad, the teacher gets some of the bad karma.”
“People think they can buy the teachings, but they cannot. I will, however, give opportunity to anyone.”
Pedro follows the Brahman Biharas. “Mehta means love and kindness. I give an opportunity to every person who comes.”
“Karuna, compassion, if a person is willing to follow the teachings I follow, I have compassion and I teach him. If not, I give them their money back immediately, and I can give them a recommendation to another school.”
“I am not a teacher-master. I am a teacher-student, who can help you a little. When you come to my level, we can wok together.”
In nearly thirty years of martial arts practice I don’t hold a single belt. And in articles circulated around the world, I have stated publicly how much I hate belts. Pedro was more forgiving.
“Belts are ok if people want to have them. The black belt is the white belt who didn’t quit. It doesn’t matter the color, only hat people learn. It is ok to reward their achievement. People feel good when they earn a belt. But, if the teachers give belts as part of a business, I don’t support this. Before, I did it because before, I didn’t know better. But then I learned better, and I didn’t do it anymore. I cannot say they are bad. I will say only they don’t know yet. They are not bad. They may change later, but we should give them opportunity. Give opportunity to every person to change. If after they learn, but refuse to change, that is one thing. But, if they decide to change that is good. That is very good.”
“I walk. If you want to come with me, ok, we will go together. If you don’t want to come with me, ok, I cut you out, even if you are my family, my friend, or my student.”
“Once, I kicked out a student, who refused to change. I gave him his money and sent him away. He complained, what about the customer policy. I told him, there is no customer policy. There are no customers, only students, and I am a student too.”
Kru Pedro had a single piece of advice for people around the world.
“According to your actions you will have your consequences.”
“I don’t need to say more. That says everything. If you do good, you will have good. If you do bad, you will have bad.”
If you practice fighting, you will be good at fighting. If you practice fighting and neglect the spirit, the spirit will be empty. If you train spirit and body you will be filled.
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in
Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website http://www.speakingadventure.com
You can reach Kruu Pedro through his website, http://www.ancientmuaythai.com/teachers/teachers.htm