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Muay Thai Sangha

In Martial Arts on November 30, 2007 at 11:34 am

 

Ancient Thai Art Combines Spirituality with Deadly Fighting

By Antonio Graceffo

 

“Some people have found their way. Others are looking for the way. I was a fighter once. I hadn’t found the way yet. It is ok. We will search and search until we find it. If people don’t know any better yet, how can we blame them? We have to allow them to search.”

Explained Kruu Pedro Villalobos. Originally from Madrid, Spain, Kruu Pedro had been both a Muay Thai champion and a Theravada Buddhist monk. He left the monkhood to continue his practice and teaching of the sacred art of Muay Thai Sankha.  

 

Muay Thai Sangkha combines the techniques of ancient Muay Thai (Muay Boran) with spirituality, philosophy and Krabi Krabong, fighting with sticks or swords. According to Kruu Pedro, Krabi-krabong dates back to the era of the Sukothai Kingdom, founded in 1238, following the decline and fall of the Khmer Empire 13th – 15th century. By this time, the Khmers, the Burmese, as well as Northern Thailand had developed fighting arts. King Rama I saw the skillful masters of the north and brought them to Bangkok to train the army.

 

In a small teak house, on a quiet soi, behind Wat Suandok, in Chiang Mai, Kruu Pedro Villalobos, a former Thai monk and professional Muay Thai champion, walks me through his shrine, explaining each of the fascinating artifacts of the Buddhist, Brahman, and Hindu Religion. It is here that Kruu Pedro meditates and prays each morning and each evening. Among his prayers, Kruu Pedro sends thanks up to his spirit teachers, asking them to open his mind so that he might be a better teacher of the Thai martial arts.

 

In demonstrating the effectiveness of his art, Kruu Pedro expertly kicked me with the ball of his foot, pinpointing nerve endings in my thighs, abdomen and chest. He put absolutely no power into the strikes, but it was still painful. I couldn’t imagine him hitting me at full force. The strike with the ball of his foot to the front of my thigh almost knocked me over.

 

“I teach when I can and I follow when I can.” His said in absolute humility. On his website, ancientmuaythai.com, Kruu Pedro has a list of the Ajarns, the spirit teachers who teach him his art.

 

“This one is Hanuman, the white monkey from the Ramayana.” Says Kruu Pedro, pointing at one of the many pictures adorning the altar. He points to another and says “This represents the five Buddhist elements: earth, water, wind fire and ether.”. I was about to snap a photo of one of the small statues, when  Kruu Pedro cautioned me.

“Please, no photos. This statue has a spirit in side.”

 

“This one was given to me by a cave monk. He is Pra Ubpakut, the doctor of the Buddha and the father of  Reiki and all of the healing arts.” Other images included Pra Ganesh, the elephant God of the Hindu religion. Kruu Pedro pointed to a likeness of a fierce warrior. “This is the Tiger King, Prat  Chao Sua. He went in disguise to the town and fought in competitions.”

 

Kruu Pedro explained about one very ancient looking statue. “This was given to me by the father of one of my students. In his family they had been Nak Muay (Muay Thai fighters) for generations. Before they fought, they always prayed before this statue.” Kruu pedro held the statue in great reverence, out of respect for the generations of merit and spiritual energy it contained. “This one has a fighting spirit inside.” He assured me.

 

To the side of the shrine was a beautiful sword. “I put bone and hair from a famous monk inside of the handle and sealed it with pure silver. Now there is a spirit inside of the sword.”

 

I had expected bags swinging people jumping rope and pounding the focus mitts. But what I found was a glimpse into ancient Thailand, made all of the more unusual by the fact that the teacher was a farang, a foreigner.

 

Kruu Pedro teaches his students his own form of philosophical wisdom, which I refer to as Pedroisms.

 

“I like people who walk, not people who talk.” He said, meaning he preferred monks who helped people, rather than monks who talked about helping people. In the fighting arena, he meant that he preferred fighters to people who only talked about fighting.

 

Another Pedroism was “What you practice, you will become good at.” He believed that practicing wrong made you wrong. “If we are Muay Thai fighters, we must run. But if we only run, we will be runners, not fighters.”

 

For myself, I would find out the next day that I was becoming better at writing about fighting than actually doing it.

 

In order to train with his team, Pedro required I become his student. The next morning, I was to report to him with the following items: 5 white lotus, white candles, 5 jasmine, and 9 incense.

 

While Kruu Pedro taught me the delicate art of folding the flowers to make them appropriate for the offering, he explained. “I only want to teach good people. I believe that if a teacher teaches a bad student, and that student hurts someone, the teacher gets some of the bad kharma.”

 

It came as a bit of a surprise when Kruu Pedro said, “Muay Thai is not a sport.” He went on to say. “We don’t fight for the ring. I think two people fighting is not a sport. I don’t like it. But if they want to, my students can go to the ring to learn to defend themselves.”

 

Training begins at 08:00. The students enter the house, and Pedro conducts the Buddhist  Chanting. Next, they skip rope, and do a structured workout until 11:00. The structured work-out consists of fifteen basic exercises which are designed to train the fundamental fighting skills. In this evolution of training, students will cross the training floor, hundreds of times: step 45, slide, step hop on one foot, drop, step, slide, step back, pivot, slide, turn, drop, jump, one foot, the other foot, no feet…

 

The workout routine was one of the best I had ever witnessed for laying down a solid foundation of movement. Many schools have students pounding away on a bag on their first day. Some never teach movement and angles. “People try to build house from the roof down.” Said Kruu Pedro. For this reason, the Muay Thai Sangha students were building from a solid foundation, up.

 

When this exhausting exercise was finished, the students practiced Krabi – Krabong, until noon. After lunch and a good siesta, they returned for afternoon training. They began by skipping rope, stretching, and shadow boxing. The bag work was another impressive evolution of training. Bag work was timed. Students train for three minutes, with one minute break, the same as they would in a real fight. During the break, however, they did pushups. At the beginning of each round, the lead student would call the specific techniques to be worked that round. For example, one round might be push kick, another might be elbows or round-house. Kruu Pedro had his students training without gloves. “I want them to learn power and endurance of pain.”  He said. After a few rounds of barehanded bag work, a new student would be bleeding from the knuckles. The seasoned students, on the other hand, had knuckles carved from stone. When those hands were later wrapped in a real fight, the opponent would feel them, like two daggers piercing the padding.

 

Bag work was followed by pad work, where Pedro dictated the pace of the training. Some students would get too aggressive or pushy, burning up their air and energy. To remind them to slow down, Kruu Pedro would kick them in the thighs, or slap them with the pads. “Calmate!” he yelled. The rest of the session consisted of sparring, running, and ground fighting. The training day ended at 19:00 with chanting and meditation.

 

“We must be hard on the outside and soft on the inside.” Pedroism

 

“Without self-respect so you cannot learn. Without compassion, you cannot teach.”

 

“If People do wrong, no problem, as long as you want to improve. If you want to change your life I will help you.”

 

“Those who follow the religion and practice inside can teach, but he must have understanding, if not, he could never be a great teacher.”

 

Although no longer a monk, Kruu Pedro follows the Brahman precepts: love, for all people regardless of race, rank or sex, compassion, self-respect, and thinking before you take action. In addition to the Brahman precepts, Kruu Pedro follows the 5 precepts of Buddhism. Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t take intoxicants. And, don’t commit adultery

 

Every step of Kruu Pedro’s program is focus on some aspect of self-betterment. Taking a holistic approach to training, Kruu Pedro said, “We train, mind, body, spirit and heart. The mind is trained through meditation and chanting. The heart is made better by surrounding yourself with flowers, candles, incense and water. Helping people, sharing, talking and giving are all from the heart. Muay Thai trains the body. We help the spirit by studying the Dharma and the teachings of Buddha.

 

“A student doesn’t have to tell me he wants to improve. I can see it.” He went on to say, “My teachers taught me never tell people what to do. You teach by example.”

 

Pedro realizes the students live complicated lives, in a modern world. He doesn’t expect them to shave their heads and go cold-turkey on all of their indulgences.

 

“Step one is stop dong bad things. Step two is improve slowly, slowly.” He said, simplifying his philosophy.

 

“I don’t care if a student’s Muay Thai is good or bad. I only care when he comes back to me and says, Kruu, you changed my life.”

 

For the most part, Pedro’s students weren’t professional fighters and had little or no interest in becoming professional fighters. They were university graduates in their late twenties and early thirties who worked professional jobs in their home country, saving their money to come and train with Kruu Pedro.

 

Why would anyone subject themselves to this type of suffering?

 

Pedro explained that first his students learned martial art for self defense, health, and self-respect. “Later if he wants to fight pro, ok I can train him. Fight and win ok. Fight and lose ok. No problem, just do your best.” Once again, Pedro stressed that the motivation to train must come from inside, not outside. “You shouldn’t fight for money and winning fights. You fight to win life. We train to create a family and to support each other, which is so important in the world today.”

 

Kruu Pedro allowed me to get into the ring with one of his leading students, a 1.95 meter tall behemoth, named Titan. Titan followed the precept of compassion, and never hit me hard, although he could have killed me. After only a few months of training, Kruu Pedro’s students had achieved a level of fitness and technique which many fighters will never achieve. The reason for their success is simple, good fundamentals. When I closed on Titan, he was all knees and elbows. When I tried to make distance, he was all kicks and leaps.

 

Pedro explained, “The reason your western boxing doesn’t hold up well against Muay Thai is because when you come with in your punching range, (8-12 inches) Titan can hit you with elbows, which are much more effective.” When I stepped out to medium range, Titan’s punches could land, because Muay Sangha fighters are taught to use longer hooks and straight punches than classical boxers do. At long distance, of course, he could kick me at will.

 

“We train to fight at all distances and all angles.” Explained Kruu Pedro.

 

As an excuse to take a break from training, I asked Kruu Pedro a few general martial arts questions. First, what did he think of my hero Tony Jaa.

 

“Tony Jaa has a great body. His movies are good.” 

 

More generally, I asked what he thought about martial artists using their skills to make movies.

 

“I think it depends what Tony and his teacher do with the money they earn. Maybe they will help many people.”

 

Jackie Chan came to mind as someone who was using his money and fame to help people. Every time you turn around in Asia, you hear of some other program, sponsored by Jackie Chan. He is educating the poor in Cambodia, leading anti-smoking campaigns in Hong Kong, saving the tigers and rain forests, and teaching physical fitness to children everywhere. 

 

I asked how Pedro felt about trainers who had never fought.

 

“What you can do, what you can teach, and what you can apply may all be at different levels. Some people can be great at training and terrible in the ring. Some people can be great trainers but they were never great fighters.”

 

Angelo Dundee may or may not have even been a boxer but he is arguably the greatest trainer who ever lived. Angelo trained 15 world title holders, including the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali.

 

“People have a gift at birth, karma and they can develop. Their good deeds earn them merit, and help to determine their rebirth.” Explained Pedro. “Some people, very special people are born with an ability to teach, without ever having been a fighter, but these are very rare.” 

 

I have fought in about ten countries, but Thailand is one of the few countries in the world, where the national sport is fighting, brutal, hard hitting, bone-wracking fighting. And the Thais, in general, are some of the best fighters, pound for pound in the world. Thailand is one of the few countries where an 18 year old boy, 65 Kgs, will be matched with a heavyweight pro from Europe, and win.

 

The obvious question I asked Kruu Pedro was, why?

 

“A unique gift which the Thai people posses is a tremendous respect for the teacher. Spirit teachers, angel teachers, help to open the mind and help to develop their respect for the teachers and they learned more.”

 

North East Asia Japan and Korea, where I had trained for the last seven months, are famous for a number of grappling arts, such as: judo, sumo, sirrum, jiu jitsu, shoot wrestling, submission wrestling, pancrase, and many more. But In Thailand, and most of Indochina, no actual grappling art seems to exist. Muay Boran contains joint locks and manipulations, leg and arm breaking techniques, clinch, sweep, throw, and stand-up grappling. But they cannot fight on the ground, and there doesn’t seem to be a unique art of pure wrestling.

 

“The Thai arts were developed for soldiers to use on the battle field. Soldiers don’t want to go to the ground because they can only fight one opponent at a time, and going to the ground would expose their back.”

“Why are there so many martial arts in China, Korea, and Japan but really only one in Thailand?” I asked.

 

“In Thailand the art was used for fighting in wars and in the ring. So, it basically had a straight line development, over a period of hundreds of years, focused on succeeding at these two goals.”

 

At some point, there was only one goal and Muay Thai was used, nearly exclusively, for the ring. It is also significant that the Theravada monks, in Indochina, were not allowed to practice martial arts. In the Mahayana countries, China, Japan, and Korea, the reverse was true.

 

“Monks were allowed to practice martial arts, but they weren’t allowed to go to war or to fight in the ring. So, they began branching in countless directions of martial arts practice. Each branch became a separate martial art or form of martial arts.”

 

Today much of what is taught in traditional martial arts, such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Karate, or Hop Kido won’t actually work in a real fight or in the ring. This is because the arts weren’t actually designed for these applications.

 

These traditional arts were probably viable martial arts at some time in the past. If everyone used Hop Kido strikes and kicks, for example, then Hop Kido blocks would work, but if we use modern techniques, such as Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, western wrestling or boxing, the traditional arts are less effective.

 

This brought me to my favorite subject, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) such as UFC and the Pride Fighting Championships.

 

“The MMA took the best of everything and combined it. If your goal is fighting, then Muay Thia is the best thing. So far, there is nothing better. Then combined with some wrestling and it is the most effective way to fight. But that only helps you achieve the goal of fighting noithing else.”

“UFC is not art.” Said Kruu Pedro. “Because there is no spirit. When you get old, what then? I can practice till I am a hundred, because I am concerned about improving and doing the best that I can. So, when I am seventy I will do the best I can at seventy and that will be good enough.” Kruu explained that sport martial artists, such as in MMA or K-1, would reach a peak and then be in state of steady decline for the rest of their lives.

 

“Also, with MMA who are their students? Maybe they are bad people. I am very careful about who I will teach. If  the student is not a good person, I give him his money back and send him away. But, if you are a professional trainer, you care only about winning. So, you will take the strongest student, even if he is not the best person.”

 

Kruu Pedro was quick to point out that he didn’t dislike the MMA or K-1. “Some people have found their way.” He said. “Others are looking for the way. This is the same for teachers. If there are teachers looking for the way, I don’t interfere. I was a fighter once. I hadn’t found the way yet. It is ok. We will search and search until we find it. If they are teaching MMA or they are teaching everyone, including bad people, but they don’t know any better yet, how can we say they are bad? How can we blame them? We have to allow them to search.”

  

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” The Pilot episode, shot in the Philippines, is running on youtube, click here.  The Monk From Brooklyn – Kuntaw in the Phillipines Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

  

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Operations inside of Burma

In War in Burma on November 30, 2007 at 11:27 am

 An Interview with Free Burma RangersBy Antonio Graceffo  “If I get discouraged, I can go home, but the Karen tribe cannot.”  These were the words of one of the many brave volunteers who make up the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) a humanitarian service organization which works closely with the many tribal defense forces, resisting the repression of the Burmese government. FBR’s stated mission is to bring “help, hope and love to people in the war zones of Burma.” The group was founded in the wake of a Burmese Army offensive against ethnic minority peoples in 1997, which left countless dead, and over 100,000 homeless. According to statistics gathered by FBR, at the present time, more than 2,000,000 Burmese have been displaced.  The recent protests in Yangon have brought the plight of the Burmese people to the attention of the world. But for the tribal people, the war has been going on for nearly fifty years.  If you haven’t heard of this war, don’t be surprised, the Burmese junta, lead by General Than Shwe, has kept the country almost completely sealed. The internet, cell phones, and news media are under the complete control of the government. Email is censored. There is no foreign television. In the bets of times, the only legal entry point for the country was Yangon, the former capitol, where visas were required. Tourists were closely watched and generally mistrusted. Journalists were strictly prohibited from entry into the country. With the possible exception of North Korea, no country in Asia has been kept as much in the dark as Burma.  The Free Burma Rangers is one of many volunteer organizations, mostly comprised of westerners, working in cooperation with tribal armies, who enter Burma and document cases of human rights violations.  An FBR volunteer agreed to meet under the promise of complete anonymity. The Burmese junta is known to collect news clippings from around the world, using photos and names printed in foreign press to locate and punish dissidents within their own borders. If a ranger is detected, not only is his or her life endangered, but also the lives of any villagers who failed to turn him in to the authorities.  “The courage of the Karen people is inspiring” said the volunteer.  FBR is open to cooperation with any of Burma’s ethnic minorities, but the majority of the people FBR works with are from the Karen tribe. “They are the most unified, with the best political and military organization, and the best infrastructure.” One possible reason that volunteers and intelligence gatherers have given why they find it easier to work with the Karen tribe is because they had a much closer relationship with the British, during the colonial times. As a result, a large percentage of Karen are Christian and speak English well.   FBR operations include sending relief teams, with medical and food supplies to the afflicted areas.  “The teams provide medical relief and whatever we can give them to bring in plastic, cash for food, donated clothing, general supplies or other items which they can’t buy there.” While on site, the teams document human rights abuses, and return. The data is then made available to the foreign pres, the UN, and international governmental and non-governmental organizations. Often, the FBR reports are the only news that manages to escape the vice like grip of the Burmese junta.  In addition to giving immediate relief, the FBR run educational programs, where they train tribal people to run relief and intelligence teams.  “We work through local leadership” explained the volunteer. “The tribal organization, will pick people and send them to our course. We just train them and send them back.” The local leaders take command of the newly trained groups, and deploy them in the field. The volunteer felt this system worked out well, making the FBR into a cooperative, rather than competitive authority.  The training has long range impact on the tribal people themselves. “It helps build civil society because it gives the existing leadership a core of young, skilled, qualified future leaders. After the course, they have had training in communication equipment, modern technology, and basic medical. They learn to do interviews and to document human rights abuses.” For the tribal people, dealing with war and battling repression has been a central theme in their lives for generations.  “The Karen state bears the brunt of the government attacks. The Shan state also gets hit a lot. Other areas are ceasefire areas, so it is a little more clandestine.”  In addition to battling the government troupes, the tribal people are also faced by proxy armies, groups of tribal people who defected to the government side.  “Any time you have a hot zone like that, it is to be expected that people get burned out. Joining the government side seems like the easy way out.” The monk lead protests in Yangon haven’t changed anything for the tribal people.  “Most of the tribal people are either Christian or Animist, but everyone we know in the tribal areas supports the protests in Yangon. They held a rally and put out a statement saying that they supported the Burmese in Yangon who were defying the government.” Unfortunately, beyond sending prayers and messages of solidarity, the tribes have no way of aligning with the Yangon protestors.  “The military forces of the ethnic groups are just too small. They are defense forces, with a common goal of defending their territory.” The tribal people are severely outnumbered, as the majority of the country’s population is Burmese. To date, there doesn’t appear to be an armed Burmese resistance group. After the 1988 student uprisings, there were small bands of ethnic Burmese from the cities, who joined up to fight along side the tribal armies.  “They were very few, not well organized, and were never fully trusted by the tribal people.” In the wake of the recent protests, it was hoped that the government’s attention would be drawn toward Yangon and away from the tribal areas.  “We thought maybe the government would start pulling troops from the border areas, but it hasn’t happened. Now is the beginning of the dry season, so troop movement will increase.” A major offensive, begun in 2006 is still ongoing. “In 2006, they pushed harder than before. It was the worst fighting in ten years. Since that began, 30,000 people have been displaced. Over 300 – 400 were killed.” Of those displaced in the most recent push an estimated 4,000 – 7,000 have escaped to refugee camps outside of the country. Life in a refugee camp is more chaos, as if the poor victims have stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire.  “The camps just grew up overnight, with thousands of people living shoulder to shoulder. Only a little bit of aid can get in. Half the people registered in the camp don’t live there. And at least half of those living there are not registered.” Traditionally, tribal people do not leave their homelands. The animist beliefs will keep them there because they need to stay close to the spirits of their ancestors. Culturally, they feel more at home, surrounded by their extended family, and speaking their own language.  “Normally, the only reason they would leave their home is if they are going to starve. To see so many of them running away tells you that it must be something terrible.” The mass exodus of tribal people has caused a break in the agricultural cycle. With fewer people left in the villages, fields go unplanted, and the remaining villagers could go hungry. The volunteer believed that this was all part of the junta’s plan, for the slow annihilation of the tribal people.  “The Burmese government doesn’t attack headlong. One strategy they implemented was to build new roads, cutting the Karen state into fours.” The roads were mined and army encampments were built along these new thoroughfares, which bisected the walking paths local people used to trade with other villages.  “Now it is easy to control. Villagers have to travel to get basics like salt, which they can’t make themselves. If they come up on a patrolling Burmese army troop, they can be shot at, taxed, or impressed for forced labor.” The new controls have disrupted trade and communication between villages, further isolating the people and making them even more vulnerable to attack.  “It’s not necessarily always a hot war. Instead, it is a slow strangulation, a gradual decrease of the people’s normal breathing. And that has increased in the last two years.” The Burmese government is one of the most paranoid in the world. The army is estimated to have more than 400,000 soldiers, with defense expenditure equaling 50% of the national budget.   “The country has no external enemies at all, but they spend half their income on defense. It is an army created to attack its own people.” Perhaps the most peculiar action taken by the junta was secretly relocating the country’s capital, under cover of darkness, to a secluded area, known as Pyinmana. A recent refugee from Yangon said that government workers were so underpaid that they were completely dependent on their side jobs, which they lost in the move. They would have quit the government, but the junta ordered that it was illegal to resign a government post. As a result, families have been torn apart as the husband or wife who worked for the government was forced to relocate, but the spouse and children remained behind in Yangon.  “It seems like the time is right for the people to protest. It is probably not a coincidence that the people are taking to the streets.” As incompetent as the Burmese government seems to be at matters of human rights, quality of life, and economic policy, the one thing they are good at is maintaining control.  “They have managed to stay in power for fifty years, by creating enough fear and disunity in the country that no one could stand up to them..” “Last week, they burned a village.” The Karen army provided early warning to the people. So the majority of the villagers were able to run away. “Usually, the army comes in and loots, burns, or mines the village and moves on. It depends a lot on the individual local commander. He has a lot of autonomy and not a lot of accountability. The Burmese army is also very corrupt. On a given day, a troop could march into a village, burn it down, and the people run away. The next day, the people come back, rebuild and re-establish trade with the army, because the soldiers live there too.” At other times, the soldiers kill everyone in the village or take them away, as slave laborers.  “There haven’t been many mass killings in a long time. Most recent shootings have been people getting hit, while they were running away. In the Spring of 2006, the army forced 800 people to work as porters.” In the case of slave labor, the troop commander will come into the village and tell the headman how many workers he must supply. If he refuses, he could be tortured or killed.  “When they take away that many workers, everything going on in the village stops.”  Villagers can’t plant, and that adds to their suffering.  “The soldiers don’t necessarily feed the forced laborers, and they don’t treat them well. A lot of the statistics we have on people killed are based on the porters. They are required to carry heavy burdens, and they aren’t fed. If they don’t move fast enough or they collapse, they are beaten or killed.”  The abuses seem to be endemic to the system. “It is what you would expect when you have a power disparity and no accountability.” The soldiers, of course, come from the lowest ranks of society. “They are not treated well on their side either.” There are widespread reports of soldiers being abused by their superiors. Recent reports say that the army is taking younger and younger recruits. Boys, as young as 12 years old, are allegedly gathered up at the markets and forced to serve in the army. There is a lot of speculation on why this is happening. One reason people believe is that no Burmese would go willingly to the army if he believes he would be forced to kill a monk.  The volunteer described Burma as a problem with no end.  “On the one side, we are giving band-aid solutions. We can send in a medical team to treat malnutrition or malaria, and they can help. But after they leave, the people will be in the same position again.” As dismal as the situation is, there is still hope.   “The long term benefit of our work is that it provides encouragement. And, who can say how valuable that is. It lets the people know that they haven’t been forgotten by the outside world. It gives them hope that maybe an end will come. If you were sitting there, in the jungle, fighting, thinking no one knows anything about your struggle, it would be easy to lose heart.  But if someone comes from the outside and says we know you are here we know what is happening, it keeps you going.” “The other benefit is that our work is creating a core group of villagers who have training in modern technology. It gives them the ability to help their people. Right now if you are a young kid in the village, seeing this horrible stuff happen, and you think what can I do to help my people? The only option is joining the army. Now, our training gives them practical skills so if the government does change, their will be leaders waiting to take up the reigns.” “If I get discouraged I can go home, but the Karen cannot. I could go on with my life, but they have been doing this for years and haven’t quit. They are poor materially, but rich in spirit. In some places we see displaced people set up a camp, and a week later, the school is open.” In spite of battling against overwhelming odds, and in the face of an international community who has yet to give them any concrete help, the people of Burma, both tribal and Burmese, aided by a few brave volunteers, continue their struggle for democracy. Let us all be inspired by their courage.  Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” The Pilot episode, shot in the Philippines, is running on youtube, click here.  The Monk From Brooklyn – Kuntaw in the Phillipines Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com  

Trailer for the first ever Bokator movie has been released

In Martial Arts on November 29, 2007 at 1:27 pm

By Dante Scott

 

“Before there was Muay Thai, there was Bokator”

 

The trailer for the new film about Khmer Bokator has just been released and is available for free on youtube.

 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=vb8f0K9Jdyg

 

The ancient Cambodians didn’t leave many written records to tell us how they lived. Fortunately the history was somewhat preserved in the stone carvings on the walls of Angkor Wat and in the arts, handed down from generation to generation.

 

Grand Master San Kim Saen is the man credited with surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide, and then returning to Cambodia to revive the dying Khmer Martial Art of Bokator. Today, he works closely with writers and film makers in an effort to document his country’s art and share it with the world.

 

Film producer, Tim Pek, of Transparent Pictures, whose family endured the hardship of the Pol Pot Regime, was a child refugee to Australia. Now, as an adult, he has returned to his home country to make films, giving a voice to a people in a desperate need to tell their story.

 

The release date of the Bokator film was delayed because Tim was working on another Khmer film, called “The Red Sense.” Shot in Australia, the story revolves around a young woman who discovers that the Khmer Rouge soldier who killed her father, is alive and well in Australia. She is torn between wanting to take revenge or if in forgiving her father’s executioner, she could bring healing to herself and her people.

 

Both films show the deep cultural and religious roots of the Khmer society. Bokator is about martial art, but it tells so much more.

 

The first half of the Bokator film is a documentary, telling the origin and nature of the martial art. The second half is a mini-film, starring martial arts and adventure writer Antonio Graceffo, called “Brooklyn Bokator.”

 

Always the baddie in Asian action cinema, Antonio plays a boxer from Brooklyn, with a bad attitude and a fat belly who gets beat up by an old man. Seeking revenge, he returns to boxing trainer, played by his real-life coach Paddy Carson, asking his coach to get him in shape so he can beat up the old man.

 

“If an old man beats you, then you must not fight him, you must learn from him.” Says Paddy.

 

“As always, I was honored to play in a Khmer movie. I am so grateful for all of the email and support that has come to me from Khmer people around the globe.” Says Graceffo, who receives countless emails, daily. “The actual acting was pretty funny. I play a big out of shape boxer from Brooklyn. It wasn’t much of a stretch. The story is in a lot of ways, based on my own experience of coming to Cambodia to train. For example, in the beginning of the film, my character doesn’t speak Khmer. And he gets a little sick when his training brothers ask him to eat spiders. By the end, he gets used to all of that and he learns to respect the spirit of Angkorian warrior.”

 

      

Boxing Till Fluency

In Linguistics and Language Learning on November 27, 2007 at 11:29 am

Thai Language Growth in the RingBy Antonio GraceffoThe ALG method (Automatic Language Growth) of language learning, concentrates on listening, and says the student will speak when he is ready. Last month, when I was in Surin, I needed to speak Thai everyday, but it was very difficult because so many people were speaking Khmer. I got confused and never used a complete sentence from either language. Maybe I wasn’t ready yet, or maybe the situation was just too difficult. The last three weeks, I was working in Chiang Mai, and needed to speak Thai. I was working in a Thai environment, where people honestly didn’t speak English. My listening, of course, is much better than it ever could have been, thanks to ALG. By getting people to relax, and speak to me in Thai, as they would speak to each other, I am able to get better stories, and better, less self-conscious information. Even if I don’t understand everything they are saying, it is better for me to have people rattle on in Thai, and I will catch what I can. This is essentially what happens in an ALG classroom. And now, because of the program, I am comfortable with this. At the end of the day, I am recording these conversations anyway and can always play them back and get them translated later if I need to. It is hard to convince Thai people that you can understand Thai but cannot speak it. The concept is hard even for westerners, but in Thailand, where abstract thinking doesn’t exist and where innovation is discouraged, they only measure your linguistic ability by your ability to talk, not listen. To get people to talk to me in Thai, I had to speak just enough to convince them I could speak the language, without speaking so much that I tripped myself up. It began slowly, with broken sentences and isolated words. After about a week, I was coming out with enough appropriate language, that people would say “Wow! You do speak Thai,” and then comfortably rattle on with me as if we had known each other for a thousand years. Normally in Thailand, if you speak any Thai at all, you receive an empty compliment, “Oh, you speak Thai so well.” Then the people continue speaking to you in English. If they continue in Thai, however, then I take this to be a bit more sincere. With my boxing trainers, I really needed them to speak to me in Thai. First of all, there is a limited amount of language which repeats, daily, and which I would eventually master if they would speak to me in Thai. I don’t need to answer back, only do what they tell me to do. But when they try to speak English, I often have no clue what they are asking of me. And when they are forced to speak English, the things they teach me are limited by their vocabulary and fluency. Which means, they actually teach me more things when they are speaking Thai. 90% of the time I can understand them from body gestures, movement and intuition, so, as ALG teaches, most of the communication is non-verbal. But they wouldn’t even attempt this communication until they falsely believed I was fluent in Thai.  Example: Antonio throws a kick. The teacher says in broken English, “turn your hip into it.” After the teacher is led to believe that I understand Thai, he says, “raise up on the toes of your base leg, and bring your weight forward.” He never made that correction when we were speaking English because he lacked the vocabulary, and he was afraid of losing face. When the teacher is calling combinations he will use numbers, combination one, two or three. But when he is speaking Thai, he invents new and more complicated combinations, which he lacks words for in English. At this point, for most trainers, the things they would know how to say in English aren’t very helpful for me, since their English is more basic than my Thai. Example: The teacher says in Thai: “I want you to blah, blah, blah, your left arm, two times.” The blah, blah, blah is the part I didn’t understand. When I tell the teacher I don’t understand he says in English. “I want you to blah, blah, blah left two.” The blah, blah, remained in Thai because he didn’t know it in English and I didn’t know it in Thai. We are actually worse off in English than we were in Thai. Miss communications and misunderstandings can occur between two native speakers of Thai. In that event, the teacher doesn’t suddenly try to explain in English, a language he is 10% fluent in. Instead, he explains in Thai. And this is my struggle, getting them to restate or explain in Thai. Now that I can fool them into thinking I understand, I can get them to restate in Thai. Often, on the second or third explanation, and using intuition and non-verbal, I can understand. To keep things going smoothly, I pepper my listening with chai, chai, chai, and kaboom, and kap, kap kap, kao jai, kao jai. Occasionally, I ask an incredibly obvious question just to keep the conversation a two way street. Not just in boxing, but other friends I met through my work just felt more comfortable talking to me in Thai. Luckily, we aren’t doing surgery or sending men to the moon, so it is ok if I miss some of what is being said. Each of these conversations is like the ALG classroom. The first trap many foreigners fall into is that when they hear from every Thai person, “Oh, your Thai is so good.” They stop trying to learn, because they think they have mastered the language. At worst, they are hearing a polite, automatic response to a foreigner speaking Thai. At best, they have mastered the art of the daily routine of ordering in a restaurant or telling the taxi driver how to go. The next trap is when you reach the point I am currently at. You can sit and listen endlessly, and understand enough to occasionally make an appropriate comment, or ask a question. This fools the listener into believing you have understood most of what was said, when in actuality, you have only understood 10 – 20%. Such as, your Thai friend tells you a really long story and at the end, all you understood was that the story was about rice. That is not effective communication. The answer is, you need to keep going to school. After sparring the other day, my Muay Thai teacher and I were sitting with a Japanese fighter named Riki. Riki is married to a Thai girl and has been living in Bangkok for five years. The teachers always speak Thai to him because they don’t speak Japanese and probably because they have known him for years. Part of whether or not people understand you as a non-native speaker is dependent on familiarity and trust. I brought one of my classmates, whose Thai is much better than mine, to my Muay Thai gym, but my teachers asked me to translate, rather than speaking Thai to my friend. Riki has a 5 year old half-Thai son, who he talks to in Thai. I always just assumed Riki’s Thai was good, especially since they always asked him to translate for me when I first came to the school. This was funny because Riki doesn’t speak English. He was translating my Thai into Thai that the teachers understood. Yesterday was the first time the three of us had a lengthy conversation in Thai, as equals. I was able to participate the whole time because we were talking about Muay Thai, K- 1, and other forms of fighting, which I am familiar with. So, the conversation followed my intuition and expectations, and I appeared to be a competent speaker and listener. I know that if we had been talking about anything else, I would have been much less prepared. Again, this is the trap of confidence through familiar situations. I discovered Riki’s Thai has huge, holes in it. The teacher asked Riki why Sumo wrestlers are so fat. Riki wanted to say, “Because they eat five times per day.” He kept saying the number five in Thai, but didn’t know how to say five times. Instead, he switched and said “They eat soup for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two more.” But he used the English words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Riki lives in Thailand and functions all day. Obviously, Thai people aren’t speaking to him in Japanese, so he is using Thai to communicate, but at what level is he communicating? And, if this is how he speaks at the end of five years, he probably won’t change at the end of eight or ten years. Another interesting point was that at times, Riki and I got so excited, talking about our favorite fighters in K-1 and Pride, that we were talking a mile a minute, in Thai. We understood each other, but our teacher was completely left out. Possibly he was left out because our pronunciation was so bad, that he as a native speaker couldn’t understand us. But the real problem was cultural. I realized that Riki and I, Japanese and American, were much closer culturally, than either of us were with the Thais. We are both from developed, first world countries, with good education systems. We had watched all of the same fights on TV and had opinions on them. For the Thai instructor, Brazil, Jiu Jitsu, even the K-1 was a blurry foreign mix which he had only experienced as legend. For the Japanese and Americans, our scope is global. We can comfortably talk about fighters and martial arts from Brazil to China and Korea. For many Thais, the entire world outside of Thailand is just Farang. The Japanese also internalize a lot of foreign words, sport words and names, they just write them in Japanese script. This meant that when we talked about the names of martial arts or the names of countries and fighters they were close enough in both of our languages that we knew what we were talking about. This experience drove home, once again, that communication is non-verbal. It is more cultural than linguistic. And, although it may not be the best way for everyone, martial arts is an awesome way to learn a foreign language.

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” The Pilot episode, shot in the Philippines, is running on youtube, click here.  The Monk From Brooklyn – Kuntaw in the Phillipines Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

       

Martial Arts Odyssey, Inside Khmer Bokator

In Martial Arts on November 15, 2007 at 5:11 am

New, In Depth Bokator Video on Youtube

By Dante Scott

  

This is the first production video ever done about the Khmer Martial art of Bokator. It stars Grand Master San Kim Saen and features Antonio Graceffo. The narration is provided by Antonio and is the most thorough explanation of the origin and spirit of Bokator to date. The video production was done part by a local company, in Cambodia and part by Soso Whaley, the producer of Martial Arts Odyssey.

 

Martial Arts Odyssey is the youtube show hosted by Antonio Graceffo, adventure and martial arts author. The show follows Antonio around Asia, as he trains with masters of ancient and sometimes lost arts, and as he tries to discover the perfect martial art.

 

Antonio had this to say about his participation in the show. “Life is a journey of development. The road I have chosen is martial arts. The show gives me an opportunity to share my path with people from around the world.”

 

Khmer people and martial arts fans from have already begun writing in, leaving comments and encouragement. To find out more about Bokator, take a look

 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=LJQA6P4xzCo

 

martial,art,arts,khmer,bokator,bradal,serey,pradal,muay,thai,Cambodia,Cambodian,Antonio,graceffo,Brooklyn,monk,Phnom,penh

The Last Thai Sword Master

In Martial Arts on November 5, 2007 at 6:11 am

By Antonio Graceffo Flashes of steel the clank of metal, blades blazing like fire: This is a practice session for Kru Pedro Villalobos and his trainer, Adjarn, one of the last living masters of Krabi Krabong, the Thai art of stick and sword fighting.  “If I do not block, he will definitely hit me.” Says Kru Pedro Villaobos, the founder of the school of Muay Thai Sangha, a religious form of Muay Thai Boran, in Chiang Mai. For years, Kru Pedro traveled around Thailand, finding and training with the best masters for the various forms of Muay Thai, Muay Thai Boran, and Krabi Krabong.  While professional, sport Muay Thai slowly drives all other historical and artistic forms of Muay Thai into extinction, Krabi Krabong is quickly disappearing. Many of the teachers dont take new students. Some dont take any at all. The Adjarn is considered to be one of the last great masters. He hadnt accepted any students in years, but after seeing Pedros diligence and extreme desire to learn, he agreed to take him on, as his last student.  For myself, I was grateful for this rare opportunity to watch the practice. Before Pedro could even pick up his swords, in the presence of outsiders, he had to ask permission from his teacher. “If I demonstrate to anyone, without his permission, he said he would never teach me again.” The two men fought, with one, real, heavy metal sword in each hand, swinging, blocking, advancing and retreating for a half hour. By the end of the session, Pedro, who is in world-class physical condition, was dripping sweat. The Adjarn looked barely winded, which is amazing, considering his age of around sixty.  In a rare interview, the Adjarn imparted the wisdom gained from a lifetime of studying the sword.  

“Real fighters have to use their intellect.  They approach each other not just for show. You have to practice your sword techniques on your partner.  Know when he advances and know when to parry.  He goes for your head, you go for his leg. Each person has their own gracefulness.” Here, the Adjarn was talking about how we all have our own style and ability.    “If you’re talking about the ancient sword fighting, that’s not how we practice today. For them, sword fighting was life and death. They practice throughout their entire life as well. Every facet of their life revolved around the sword technique. The ancients engaged in massive sword battles, consisting of hundreds of fighters. Today, we practice two forms (katas), and the fighters are already tired.  If they tire so easily, they don’t know the real way.  In the old days, fighters knew they would be cut, or die. So, they made their skin thick, and the swords slipped off on contact.  Then they could do real battle quickly.  Here we practice for art. But, in earlier times the practice had a purpose, war.”   “The same is true of Muay Thai. It used to be for real fighting, not only just for gambling and money. They knew how to defend in all situations. They knew how to avoid the unnecessary battles as well, and only engaged the enemy when needed.”   “If you engaged in too many sword fights, the blades would chip and split. The swords had to be of high quality. And they infused them with blessings and other ancient magic. The written histories are full of sword fighting and splitting swords.”   I didn’t even begin to believe I was worthy of studying with Pedro’s Adjarn. But I wanted to get a  taste of Krabi Krabong, so I traveled to Surin province, where I took some lessons with Adjarn Sak Chai, a trainer of Khmer movie fighters. He is an expert of Muay Thai Boran, Krabi Krabong, and gymnastics, all aimed at performing in Thai action cinema.   

The Adjan taught me some techniques fromKrabi Krabong, the Thai art of double sword and stick fighting. He practices by attacking a tire, mounted on a wooden pole, which serves as a wooden man. The long stick is similar to bo the staff used in other martial arts, but it is very heavy, not flexible like the ones at Shaolin Temple. Often, the Adjan took the long staff by the end and swung it like a baseball bat.   The short sticks were heavier and longer than Arnis sticks. The important thing to remember here, is that they aren’t sticks at all. They are swords. If you were a master of Arnis you probably couldn’t apply your skills to these longer, heavier weapons. The Adjan taught me a basic patter; strike to the left shoulder, strike to right shoulder, strike to the top of the head. When you swing the sword in Krabi Krabong, you have to get a real wind up swing, twisting your body and reaching far back behind you. Then you let it fly and the weapon cuts your opponent in half.   After doing the basic three strike combo on a tire for a while, I was permitted to practice with a live partner. I attacked, stepping forward with each strike. The opponent defended, stepping back at a forty-five degree angle, blocking as he went. Then he attacked, and I retreated and blocked. We practiced again and again, until we could do the patter at speed.  In rehearsing for movie fighting, we did the same, basic pattern. On film, however, you use a lot more energy and add in a great deal of shouting and snarling. It looks really mean in the cinema. But it was fake. Pedro’s Adjarn was the real deal. Pedro’s Adjard said.  

“In ancient times, when an enemy appeared out of the blue, they had to face off and see whose style was superior.”   “Bang! Boom! Pssshhh! The best and fastest one would win! This is the real fighting. Today, fighting is all a big show. It’s not real, only exercise and theatre. We must attempt, now, to preserve the old sword fighting methods, not just make a show of it, practice the real way.  You must be serious and not slap each other with the blades like if it were a game. You must practice with all your heart and devote your time to it like it was your life, as the old practitioners did.  If some one wants to come study with me, I must first examine their behavior and dedication. Otherwise, they will waste their time and mine.  This style is mostly one of defense and not offense.    “The sword is a weapon, but the fighter is the brain. The pain of loss could lead to your death.  I even fear for my life at times.”  

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” The Pilot episode, shot in the Philippines, is running on youtube, click here.  The Monk From Brooklyn – Kuntaw in the Phillipines Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

 

Inspirational Speaking on Youtube

In Motivational on November 4, 2007 at 6:43 am

Perception and Reputation: You are who you are.

New inspirational message from motivational speaker Antonio Graceffo.

By Dante Scott

“The monks taught me, you are who you are. You are fine the way you are. Don’t let anyone bully you into changing.”

More than six years ago, Antonio Graceffo, left his position as a financial consultant in New York City to pursue his dream of being an adventure and martial arts author traveling around Asia. He lived with monks and hill tribes, practiced martial arts, climbed mountains, kayaked on the ocean, trekked into dense jungle, learned four new languages, and canoed down rivers. Along the way, he published four books and several hundred articles in magazines.

Now, he has incorporated all of those experiences into his professional motivational speaking. 

“The whole time I was traveling I was constantly writing and taking pictures because I wanted to share the stories and images with people who were like I used to be, chained to a desk, unable to go out and see for themselves.” Says Garceffo.

A turning point came for Graceffo when he reported on an entire village of families living in a garbage dump outside of Phnom Penh.

“The smell was horrific. Most families only earned about a dollar and a half per day, scavenging garbage. They couldn’t afford to buy bottled water, so they were drinking the fetid ground water, which I didn’t even want to get on my skin. It was no wonder they were all living in a constant state of illness.” Said Antonio.

“That story, as well as several stories about Burmese Refugee Hill Tribes being slaughtered made me realize I wasn’t just watching more TV. I was experiencing, even if as a tourist, other people’s real lives and emotions. But the editors didn’t want anything but cold facts.”

Journalists are expected to be neutral, sending back bland reports about other people’s suffering, with no hint of emotion or personal experience.

“Some of the magazines wouldn’t even let me write the word I in my stories. They said first person perspective was unprofessional. But I was there. I felt. And I was learning life lessons that I wanted to share with others.”

The lessons Antonio learned from experiencing foreign cultures, as well as his frequent periods of consulting with Buddhists monks, have created a rich inventory of stories and anecdotes which Antonio now imparts as part of his motivational speaking.

“I have friends in these countries who earn less than $30 a month. Suddenly, this puts your own money troubles in perspective. There are Burmese and Laotian refugees in camps through out Asia who can’t go home because their government will kill them. What are my troubles compared to theirs? I know monks who spend every waking minute in meditation, prayer, and study. How much time do most of us dedicate to any of these? My martial arts masters and friends spend countless hours, over a period of years trying to reach physical perfection, for no reason other than they feel led to do so.”

“Speaking gives me an opportunity to tell people about my experiences, but at the same time to help them to draw conclusions about their own life and hopefully help them to find a way of living which works for them.”

 Antonio Graceffo speaks professionally as often as possible. For people who he can’t reach face to face, he has produced a CD, entitled “Around the World and Back to Your beginnings.” Working together with independent film maker, Soso Whaley, he has managed to put several of his inspirational videos on youtube, which people can watch and enjoy for free.

“Your dreams are right. Follow them. Live the life that suits you best. If you try to live the way someone else forces you to be, you will be miserable. Live the best way that you can. Use your time to learn and experience, and grow. Help people along the way. You are fine the way you are. Don’t ever let anyone bully you into feeling bad about yourself.”

You can see Antonio’s recent videos at youtube

 An brief version of the full length CD, “Around the World and Back to Your Beginnings” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAhgguavJs8 “Perception and Reputation” Antonio’s speech for the semi-finals of the World Championships of Public Speaking.” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2634503499100948903 See Antonio Graceffo’s website, speakingadventure.com    

Me and Mickey D: Super Size Me in Reverse

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2007 at 6:42 am

Me and Mickey D: Super Size Me in Reverse 

Eat at McDonalds and Lose Weight

By Antonio Graceffo

  

In her revolutionary youtube film, “Me and Mickey D,” independent film maker, Soso Whaley, ate nothing but McDonalds for thirty days and lost weight.

 

While the film gives good advice on nutrition and dieting, it also deals with a number of important social issues. First of all, we all believe what big media tells us, simply because they are big. And second of all, why shouldn’t the little guy, the low budget film maker, also have his or her say? The Declaration of Independence declared that all people are equal. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech. In practice, we you have the right to talk all you want, but Americans listen to Hollywood. By taking advantage of youtube, Soso put the power back in the hands of the people. She made a valid, well researched point, supported by expert interviews, but most importantly, she made the information free and easily available.

 

Enough soap boxing! Now let’s talk about Big Macs. Let me begin by saying, I love McDonalds. I love fast food. Fried chicken, pizza, Big Macks, Count Chocula, Captain Crunch, HoHos and chocolate Yoo Hoo have been staples of my diet since I was a kid.

 

Contrary to what Morgan Spurlock, in his film, “Super Size Me” would lead you to believe, I am still alive, as are a great number of other people who enjoy eating at McDonalds, including Morgan Spurlock. Not only am I very much alive, but I am 40 years old and still compete in professional sports. Another point, I have more muscle in my left bicep than Morgan has in his whole body. So, I am not sure if he is really the goto guy for advice on diet and exercise.

 

People like things that taste good. Eating things that taste good is one of the joys of life. I would sooner drive six inch nails through my face than live on a diet of tofu and wheat grass.

 

“I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne.” From “The Pina Colada Song”

 

Eating happy things started when we were kids, as did our education on how to eat. Children eat candy. It is a fact. Children like candy. And parents, other than a few very weird ones, give candy to their children, but they give it in moderation. Didn’t your mother ever tell you, “Don’t eat that cookie now, we are having dinner in an hour.” That was reasonable advice. It is OK to eat a cookie, just not a few minutes before you eat. In my house we had a quota system. We were allowed to eat two cookies a day at lunch, two after school, and two Scooter Pies per week. We had ice cream for desert, after dinner, on Fridays. With five kids being raised by a single parent, you can believe everything was counted and measured out. But it set a precedent for the rest of life, it is ok to eat things you enjoy, but do it in moderation.

 

I guess Morgan Spurlock’s mom never gave him that same advice. I asked my ten year old nephew if it seemed like a good idea to eat a super size three times a day for thirty days and he said. “It sounds like fun, but probably not a good idea.” If Morgan had just consulted with my nephew, he wouldn’t have gained so much weight and destroyed his health.

 

Soso Whaley was in her late forties when she decided she needed to lose some weight. She does a lot of work with animals and film. When she saw that she was looking pudgy on an Animal Planet show, she decided to take action.

 

“In April 2004, film maker Soso Whaley embarked on a journey. She made a decision to eat less and exercise more, to improve her health. What made this diet unique was not her simple rules, to eat 2000 calories per day, exercise moderately, and make healthy choices, her diet was remarkable because it was successful, and it all happened at Mickey Dees.”

 

This is the opening text of her film, “Me and Mickey D.” Before starting the “diet,” Soso interviewed a McDonalds store manager, who said that he had been eating at McDonalds more than once per day for a period of years. Not only was he not dead, but he wasn’t fat. Soso also interviewed a number of nutrition experts and doctors, pretty much all whom agreed, it isn’t so much what we eat, as how much we eat. Another important point that they all brought up is that exercise is essential to maintain health and a good body weight. Morgan Spurlock eliminated all of his exercise in “Super Size Me.” I have yet to see a McDonlads as which suggest that we should eat McDonalds three times a day and abstain from exercise.  

 

One of the experts, Dr. M Rayner Dickey, said, “We are intended to eat a variety of foods.” Two implications here are, one, it’s not natural for human beings to abstain from eating meat or some other food group. At the same time, it is also unnatural for us to eat only one food group. And by implication, it is unhealthy to eat exclusively Big Macs. But there is no reason why Big Macs can’t be part of your diet.

 

Someone had challenged Soso to make a film, where she ate a vegetarian diet, but gained weight. Since she wanted to help, not hurt, her body, she chose the McDonalds weight loss film instead. But this is an important point. Vegetarian is not necessarily healthier.

 

Eating a lot of healthy green vegetables and fruits is a good idea for all of us. But, once again, switching to a single food group is contrary to our nature. Also, vegetarians, in practice, do not eat only fruits and vegetables. They often get most of their calories from starches, breads and rice. I lived with a vegetarian for four years. When she was in a hurry, the fastest food she could grab would be some form of bread. When we were traveling in the USA, and she couldn’t find anything she could eat on the menu, she wound up eating French fries for dinner and then complaining that the food in America was so unhealthy. I would always get angry and retaliate with, “There were lots of great things on the menu. You just chose not order them.”

 

I have known a lot of fat vegetarians. Also, you need protein to build muscle mass. Yes, peanuts and beans have protein, but you would have to eat pounds of these substitutes to get the same amount of protein you would find in a single chicken leg and thigh. I have also known vegetarians who condemned me for eating meat, but who smoked cigarettes or marijuana, or they drank alcohol.

 

The bottom line is, and as Soso has demonstrated, we were intended to eat a variety of food. And an excess of anything is no good.  

 

Dr. M Rayner Dickey also said, “We see so many diet books out there, but the bottom line is we have to eat less than we burn, or burn more than we eat.”

 

“We have to eat less than we burn, or burn more than we eat.” This simple truth could easily be a mantra by which healthy people live. The intent of “Super Size Me,” was to frighten you. Soso’s intent is to help you learn how to make good decisions.

 

Soso made rules for herself during her McDonalds diet, just as Morgan did. She ate 2,000 calories a day. Morgan actually increased his calories, to 5,000 per day, eating nearly double what he had eaten before. Once again, it is obvious that doubling your calories will make you fat, even if you eat healthy foods.

 

“Doing even a little exercise makes your body more efficient.” Said Soso. During her diet, she exercised regularly. She didn’t become an Olympic athlete. She didn’t run ten miles a day. But she made a conscious point of walking with her dogs or engaging in some outdoor activities, to help burn calories. Morgan sat on the couch.

 

Another expert said, “Take personal responsibility for food and exercise choices.” She went on to ask, “Why do Americans try to sue away our obesity?”

 

Once again, as children we are taught to take responsibility for our own actions. If adults over eat at McDonalds or anywhere else, they are responsible. McDonalds doesn’t force you to over eat. Super Size is an OPTION not an OBLIGATION. People wanted to force McDonalds to eliminate the super size option, but at the grocery store, you are permitted to buy as much food as you want.

 

It would be difficult to prove, but I would be willing to bet money that more people are obese because of food they bought at the grocery store than food bought at McDonalds. Should we sue grocery stores? Should we sue couch manufacturers or cable TV providers? The beauty of a democracy is that the options are all available to us. It is up to us which ones we chose.

 

“I disagree with what you say, but would defend with my life your right to say it.”

Maybe we could change this slogan to, “I disagree with what you eat, but would defend with my life your right to eat it.”

 

By decreasing her food intake to 2,000 calories (which just happened to be purchased at McDonalds), and by increasing her exercise, Soso Whaley hit her target weight in thirty days. By increasing his calories to 5,000 per day, and eliminating all exercise, Morgan Spurlock gained weight. He frightened the public, and now he has his own TV show. Morgan sold his film to us for millions of dollars. Soso is giving hers away for free. Hopefully she will inspire others to take charge of their life, take charge of their diet, and take charge of their voice.

 

As for the diet issues, “Soso asked people on the street, does McDonalds make you fat?”

The best answer was from an elderly couple who said, “Eating too much of anything makes you fat.”

 

Soso Whaley is the producer of Moaning Dog Productions see all of the “Me and Mickey D” episodes on yuotube.

http://youtube.com/results?search_query=me+and+mickey+d&search=Search

 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Onv62b88_mQ

 

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” The Pilot episode, shot in the Philippines, is running on youtube, click here.  The Monk From Brooklyn – Kuntaw in the Phillipines Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

 

Antonio Graceffo eats at McDonalds regularly.