Archive for September, 2007|Monthly archive page

An American at the Shaolin Temple

In Martial Arts on September 23, 2007 at 6:24 am

Book Review: The Monk from Brooklyn, An American at the Shaolin Temple

by Lang Reid

(Editorial note by Dante Scott: The first book ever written by an American who studied at the Shaolin Temple. This was the first in a long series of Asian adventures, which lead Antonio to hosting the new web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey, Click here: The Monk From Brooklyn – Kuntaw in the Phillipines)

Antonio Graceffo is an interesting author. Italian-American from Brooklyn, a former investment banker, martial arts expert and writer, The Monk from Brooklyn (ISBN 1-932966-10-2, available at chronicles his life in the Shaolin Temple in China, which is apparently the birthplace of Kung Fu.

In essence, the book is a diary that revolves around Graceffo’s time spent at the famed Shaolin temple in China, to learn their secrets in martial arts. These are the Shaolin monks that have amazed the outside world with their super-athletic feats displayed by their Kung Fu abilities, and to study there was Graceffo’s ambition.

Graceffo writes in a fairly laconic ‘hip’ style, with twists at the tail. “The novice and I hit it off right away. He is 25 years old and a good guy. Also, in the couple of hours I have been there, he hasn’t tried to steal from me.”

Author Graceffo is good at observing the Chinese culture as seen in the Shaolin temple (and as exhibited by visiting Chinese families) and examination of the reasons behind the apparent differences between that culture and his own. For example, the Chinese produced no trash, whilst Graceffo did. “”Everything they eat comes out of the ground. There is no waste at all. I have a pile of trash next to my bed and don’t know what to do with it. There is no mechanism for disposal of trash here.”

Very early in his training, Graceffo looks at the Chinese students with him and writes, “I keep wondering what is the point of all this. For me it is a diversion. I am here to lose weight, improve my health, and learn some kung fu. This program will add to who I am. But for the regular students this program is who they are.”

During this time of self-exploration for Graceffo he deduces one of the cornerstones of capitalism. “We Westerners derive much of our personal power from material wealth. In fact, we confuse purchasing power with personal power.” And a few pages later, “The power of money is amazing. But in the end, it is just a talisman. It is not real, though widely believed to be so.”

However, by half way through his three months training, Graceffo begins to see the realities of living in this Chinese enclave, the tawdriness, the dirt, the intrigue and the deliberate lies. The onset of the SARS epidemic is the final blow, as truths and half truths are manipulated to attempt to exonerate Beijing.

For me it was a very telling book, not so much explaining the intricacies of Kung Fu, but one that showed the chasm that exists between Eastern and Western philosophies. Whilst Antonio Graceffo did eat, sleep and work with the Chinese in the Shaolin temple, in the end, he was just a Chinese-speaking foreigner, as he points out in the epilogue. There are many lessons to be learned from Graceffo’s immersion in Chinese culture that can be applied to us here in Thailand, but not to the extremes, as experienced by this author. This is certainly no Lonely Planet. 

Cambodian Martial Art, Khmer Bokator on Web TV

In Martial Arts on September 17, 2007 at 5:10 am

By Dante ScottBefore there was Muay Thai, there was Bokator. Now, you can see Bokator On the web for free.  Bokator, the complete fighting art, developed by the Khmers during the Angkorian Empire. Bokator is the predecessor of modern Bradal Serey, Khmer kickboxing, also called Pradal Serey. Where kickboxing is limited to kicking, punching, elbows, knees, and head grapples, Bokator includes ground fighting, joint locks, manipulations, throws, weapons, and animal styles.  “Bokator, the Great Angkorian Martial Art” A new film, starring Grand Master San Kim Saen and Antonio Graceffo, will be debuting later this year, to show Bokator to the world. The film was directed by Tim Pek, an Australian Khmer film maker, most famous for his film of Khmer Rouge retribution and forgiveness, “The Red Sense.” Tim, a Khmer Rouge genocide survivor met Antonio while working on the film “Krabei Liak Goan,” (Buffalo Protecting Child). This Khmer Kung Fu movie pitted the hero, national Bradal Serey champion, Eh Phou thoung against Antonio Graceffo, who played the bodyguard of the villain.  “In addition to helping to make Bokator accessible to people all over the world, I enjoyed making this film because I didn’t have to die.” Said Graceffo, who originally came to Cambodia to find and write about Khmer martial arts.  A lifelong martial arts practitioner, Graceffo recently became the first foreigner to earn the Black Krama (black belt) in Khmer Bokator fighting. (Another American, Derek Morris, was the first foreigner to earn a Black Krama be certified as an instructor of Bokator.)  In addition to the independent film, San Kim Saen and his two American students have worked together on two shows for the History Channel, “Human Weapon,” and “Digging for the Truth.” Bokator will also be featured on the brand new web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey, hosted by Antonio Graceffo. The show follows Graceffo around the world, as he explores new and often obscure martial arts. The pilot is currently running on Click here to see the trailer for the movie, about Bokator Khmer martial art: To see the pilot episode of “Martial Arts Odyssey,” click here.

Martial Arts Odyssey, the new Web TV show

In Martial Arts on September 6, 2007 at 6:08 am

Announcing the launch of Martial Arts Odyssey, the new Web TV show, starring Antonio Graceffo (The Monk from Brooklyn) as he travels through Asia, training and documenting martial arts.


By Dante Scott


The first episode was shot in the Philippines, and features Master Frank Aycocho, teaching Antonio the art of Filipino unarmed combat, Kuntaw. The pilot episode is airing on youtube but the full length series will be airing on a martial arts related Web TV Network to be announced after the contracts are signed.


“I love exotic martial arts.” Says Antonio. “The show gives me the opportunity to go anywhere I want in Asia and introduce a worldwide audience to an art that most people haven’t heard of. Kuntaw is a good example. Even in the Philippines many people don’t know about Kuntaw, and it is part of their cultural heritage.”


Graceffo is most well-known for his work to revitalize Bokator, the Cambodian martial art, which was decimated during the Cambodian Civil War. “I have done books and articles about these martial arts, especially Bokator, but Web TV gives me a whole new forum. The power of Web TV is nearly limitless. First of all, unlike my magazine stories, it can be enjoyed by people who don’t speak English. And unlike DVDs or magazines, people can watch for free. Some of the countries where I practice are quite poor. And I am grateful that web TV provides a medium which allows the local people to watch and learn. It also instills pride in people, when they know that the whole world will be looking at their martial art.” Said Antonio.


Currently, episodes are being filmed featuring Bradal Serey (Khmer kickboxing) and Bokator. Other shows in the works for October include Voth Vietnam, MMA, Muay Thai, Muay Boran, and Philippine grappling and kick boxing.


“Through the power of the internet, we now have the ability to preserve all of these ancient arts and make sure that none of them fall into extinction.” Says Graceffo


Click here to view Martial Arts Odyssey, Kuntaw


You can contact Antonio Graceffo through his website


Bradal Serey, Putting a Modern Spin on an Ancient Art

In Martial Arts on September 1, 2007 at 1:25 pm

bradal11.jpgLearning Khmer Kick Boxing with Paddy Carson

By Antonio Graceffo

“We have to remember why we are in that ring we are there to hurt the other guy we aren’t in there to make love to him. So, the quicker we can hurt him, the better. You want him to think I don’t want to get hit like that again.” Paddy Carson.

The pads POP! As a Khmer fighter nails them with a series of perfect round house kicks. When the Khmers kick, the leg comes around like a baseball bat, and the shin smashes into the target, decimating it. This is not Ta kwan Do or Karate, this is Bradal Serey, Khmer kickboxing.

“It’s all technique. You have to get the technique right first, then you will get the explosion on your punches and kicks in the fight.” Says Paddy Carson, the owner and principal trainer of Paddy’s Gym, in Phnom Penh.

Khmer pop music blares as Paddy’s stable of about twenty Khmer boxers go through their paces. The assistant coach Socheat blows the whistle signaling the beginning of the round. The fighters always train three minutes on, one minute off, just as in a real boxing fight (in western boxing). Many trainers live by the adage “you will fight the way you practice.” Timing your workouts will prepare your body a professional fight.   

Sports research has proved that western boxers have the most powerful punches of any combat sport athletes. Paddy’s fighters use western boxing as a base for their Khmer boxing.

“You should learn to punch like a boxier but kick and elbow like a Khmer boxer. Then you will have the whole package.” Says Paddy, who has trained over 14 world title holders.

Before coming to Cambodia, Paddy worked as a trainer in Thailand for 13 years. The first foreigner who was ever granted a professional boxing license, he came to Cambodia to help support Khmer boxing and has a dream of building a Khmer fighter into a world title holder.

“I think elbows are better in Khmer boxing than in Muay Thai. Unfortunately, Cambodia has had all civil wars, and the Bradal Serey instructors were killed by Pol Pot. So, throughout the Twentieth Century, Cambodian boxing went up, and then down, and then up and down. Thailand has gone continually up and up. Thailand have marketed the sport all over the world. Thailand has joined the international bodies and have produced world title holders. If Thailand and the Philippines can produce world title holders, I believe that Cambodia can too. The Khmers are tough boys. They come from the provinces with nothing. Some of them don’t even have money for food, but they train hard. They are respectful to me and the assistant coach. They always bow when they see us. And now they know that if they listen to what I teach them, they can win.”

In addition to his professional Khmer boxers, Paddy has a number of westerners training with him. It has almost become a cliché for westerners to go live in a camp in Thailand and study Muay Thai. But in Cambodia, there aren’t a lot of gyms which are really equipped for westerners. The average westerner who is starting to learn Khmer boxing is already past the age that Khmers will retire from the ring. Plus, the training and fighting style need to be modified to match our larger bodies and lesser flexibility.

Some coaches stress high kicks and head kicks. They make you stand at a bang and smash it as high as you can with your shins. Paddy disagrees with this type of training.

“We are all built differently in this world. Some people can do double flying spin kicks or whatever, but some people can’t. If you aren’t a high kicker then what do you want to do high kicks for? You do what you were built to do. If you can’t do high kicks, then do low kicks. In Thailand, I told my foreign fighters, don’t train and fight like the Thais.”


“It is stupid to try and kick your opponent in the head in the early rounds when you are fresh and he is fresh. You are never going to get it. How often in fights do you see the guy get knocked out with a high kick? Almost never. Wait till he is tired. Wear him down. Work the body. Work the legs. In the later rounds, when he gets tired, and you are still fresh, then you go for the head kick.”

Working the legs means repeatedly kicking your opponent’s thigh with your shin. A normal man can only withstand two or three kicks to the thighs, before his leg will buckle and he will go down, involuntarily. Even a seasoned fighter can be chopped down, like a tree, if you repeatedly land the same kick on the same portion of his leg, again and again.

“My fighter, my world champion, was very short and he used to fight people who were a foot taller than him. He wasn’t a high kicker, so I told him go in there, work the legs, work the legs, and throw combinations. He knocked his opponent out.”

Paddy wasn’t suggesting that high kicking is a bad thing, only that it must be appropriate for your ability.

“If you were a high kicker then I would train you that way. Not that I couldn’t teach you that, but why do that all the time. Go for the body, go fro the arms.”

Very few fighters go for the arms. This means kicking your opponent in the biceps with your shins. Very few people can stand up this type of punishment. The arms will quickly become useless. Eh Phou Thoung, Cambodia’s greatest kick boxing champion, is known for kicking his opponent’s in the biceps. In his career, he has broken the arms of several of them.

“Ninety percent of head kicks don’t reach their target. The opponent sees it coming and he blocks with his leg or his shin, and possibly, you hurt your leg. Don’t do that! Wait till he throws a high kick, then attack.”

“I like a high kicker, the higher the better. During a high kick, he is wide open and it takes longer for the leg to come down. He is defenseless and off balance the whole time. When the opponent does the high kick, kick his base leg.”

Another opportunity that many fighters miss is kicking the inside of the leg or kicking the base leg. When an opponent throws the high right kick, his left leg, the base leg is a wide open, inviting target. You can lea your head or duck your head slightly, to avoid the high kick. At the same time, shoot a kick in and hit the inside of his left thigh or calf muscle. With all the weight on that one leg, there is a good chance the man will go down. At the very least, he will be in a lot of pain.

“When I was fighting I was a take down artist. I would catch the kick, trap the leg, and kick the base leg out from under him. This is something we don’t see enough of here. You also don’t see a lot of inside low kicks. I tell my guys smash the inside kick just above the inside of the knee.”

Brining modern innovations to a centuries old sport, which is so steeped in tradition and national pride can be difficult. Reasonably, the Khmer fighters are resistant to adopt new techniques, brought to them by a westerner.

“I teach Richard, my foreign fighter, all the new techniques first. Then, the Khmers see him improve, and they pick it up and improve too.”

Having an extensive background in both western boxing and professional kick boxing in the west, Paddy stresses movement and position.

“When you kick, the foot has to come back to perfect position again so you can throw another technique. Some of the Thais and Khmers throw a kick and it is thirty seconds till they do something else. You need to be moving and doing something all the time. If you watch the big kick boxing matches on cable, and listen to the foreign commentators from Australia they are saying if the Thais don’t start doing combinations they will not be able to keep up with the western fighters. I have been doing that for twenty years, teaching my guys combinations.”

Kicking is almost the only thing that many coaches teach. Once a guy has a decent kick, they put him in the ring and expect him to win.

“Richard is still a novice, but he is kicking like a guy who has had thirty fights. But now he needs to get the ring craft. When you get in the ring on fight night, with all the lights and TV cameras, you get nervous and lose thirty percent of your energy from nervousness. It is only when you have been in the ring a lot getting in the ring again and again that you will calm down. And you will fight in the ring the same way you practice.”

“This is an advantage of Khmers and Thais. Many of them have had seventy five fights, and they don’t get nervous at all. But they have other problems. Now, we have Thais going to England with 70 fights and losing to a guy with thirty fights.”

“The Thais and Khmers are quite static when they fight. They get knocked out sometimes by punches that wouldn’t knock out another fighter. In the west, the sport is being dominated by people with boxing and kicking background. But here, they aren’t learning the boxing. I have seen fighters here knocked out with a jab.”

Having trained and fought on both sides of the border and both sides of the globe, Paddy sees the strengths and weaknesses of the Thai fighters and believes that with his help, the Khmers can exploit those weaknesses and become world champions.

“If a western boxer can learn Muay Thai and go to Thailand and win a title, then  I believe that Khmer boxers could do it.”

Once the Khmers start winning international competitions, then they will be able to reclaim the name, Bradal Serey, and tell the world the true origin of kick boxing.


If you are going to Phnom Penh and you want to train with Paddy, contact him:

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 Antonio was the first foreign student of Bokator, in Cambodia. Contact him see his website