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Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

Martial Arts Odyssey: Training With Shan State Army

In Martial Arts on December 22, 2007 at 7:45 am

 By Dante Scott

 

In the film Rambo III, Sylvester Stallone pretends to go into the war in Burma with one of the tribal armies. Antonio Graceffo did it for real.

 

The new episode of Martial Arts Odyssey is filmed inside of Burma, in a war zone, and features the first glimpse most westerners will have of the Shan art of Lai Tai Kung Fu.

 

Watch it on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCjNaHnk7Jw

 

“In the show I am always looking for new and exotic martial arts to feature in the show.” Says host, Antonio Graceffo. “I particularly like giving a glimpse into a martial art that most people have never heard of. So, I chose Lai Tai, the Kung Fu of the Shan people.”

 

The Shan people are one of many ethnic minorities, living inside of Burma, who are being subjected to brutal treatment by the military forces of the SPDC, the Junta that runs Burma.

 

“Since journalists aren’t allowed inside of Burma, the only way for me to do the show, was to go through the jungle, under the protection of the Shan State Army, and film on a military base.”

 

The Shan are a unique ethnic group, who have their own language, culture, and martial arts. The Shan State Army (SSA) is one of the ethnic rebel armies fighting for independence.

 

In every episode of the show, Antonio tries to tell something about the culture and the history of the country where he is filming. This show, however, has a political undertone. The Shan were independent for centuries, but are now waging a defensive war against the Burmese army who occupies their land.

 

“I normally steer clear of politics. But, this situation is so sad. The war has been going on for more than forty years. Almost none of the SSA soldiers were born in a time of peace. The Burmese forces (SPDC) use rape, torture, and terror as weapons to control and annihilate Burma’s many ethnic minority people.”

 

The Shan soldiers knew about the Rambo film.

 

“The Colonel asked me to bring Rambo when I came back.” Said Antonio. “He said if Rambo would come for just one day, it would make the soldiers know that the American knew about their struggle and that world hadn’t forgotten them.”

 

“The Shan dream of a day when their children can live in peace in a free country, called Shanland.” Said Antonio.

 

Sly, if you are out there, please contact Antonio Graceffo

 

Watch the show on youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCjNaHnk7Jw

 

Tags:

shan, Shanland, army, SSA, Lai, Tai, Burma, Burmese, Myanmar, Brooklyn, Monk, Antonio, Graceffo, Martial, Arts, Odyssey

 

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Driven from Their Homes

In War in Burma on December 22, 2007 at 7:43 am

Interviews with Internally Displaced People of Shan State

By Antonio Graceffo

 

The Burmese government does not issue visas to journalists. In order to interview the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Shan State, I had to enter the country under the protection of the Shan State Army, an armed ethnic group, rebelling against the Burmese Junta, the SPDC.

 

Three hundred and fifty IDP families are living on the Shan State Army (SSA) headquarters at Loi Tailang. Following are several interviews which will be featured in an upcoming documentary entitled, “A Life in Shan State.”

 

Gung Suk, 46 years old, is one of several men living in a hut for amputees with no families. Most of the men are missing a leg, victims of landmines. Many have other injuries, such as gunshot wounds. Gung Suk stepped on a mine while trying to escape the wholesale slaughter of their village, by the SPDC (government soldiers).

 

Gung Suk tells that the SPDC came and ordered his village, of more than 100 families, to move. This is a common tactic taken by the government. As the villagers are farmers, moving them mean separating them from their rice fields, essentially sentencing them to a slow death by starvation. They fired their guns, killing, men, women, and children indiscriminately. According to Gung Suk, some men tried to fight back, but they had no weapons.

 

“The situation was hopeless.” Gung Suk told us.

 

Gong Suk ran off in the night and joined the SSA. Most of the families sought refuge at SSA headquarters, Loi Tailang, or other SSA camps. Gong Suk was taken to Thailand for treatment of his landmine injury. It took days to get him to a hospital because, ducking the SPDC patrols, they could only move at night. Missing a leg, from the knee down, he was unable to provide for his wife and children.

 

“They went off to find food, and never came back.” He says, sadly. “I haven’t herad anything from them. I don’t know if they are alive or dead.”

 

After treatment, Gong Suk came to Loi Tailang. The SSA provides him with a food allotment so that he can live. He and the other amputees just sit around all day, playing checkers. They may be dreaming of happier times, but they never let on that their lives were destroyed by the SPDC.

 

An ancient woman, climbing up the steep mountain pass, carrying firewood on her back, took us to the home she shared with her middle-aged daughter, Tao Jaw and her grandchildren. She told us that they had lived in a village in Southern Shan State until March of last year, when the SPDC killed Tao Jaw’s husband. She had no way to provide for her two children. They had no food, so she moved to Thailand to try and find some type of work.

 

The majority of Burmese, and nearly all of the tribal people are without a Burmese passport. The government strictly controls who may enter and who may leave the country. So, applying for a legal visa to move to Thailand or any other country is out of the question for the Shan people. In Thailand, without a Thai ID card she had no rights and little opportunity to earn money. The average salary for an illegal worker in northern Thailand is around 2,000 Baht ($55 USD) per month.

 

The Thai police eventually discovered that she had no documents, and shipped her back to Burma. Luckily, they sent her back over the border, near Loi Tailang, rather than deporting her to Yangon, the capitol where she may have been arrested.

 

Tao Jaw’s father was the village leader. The SPDC murdered him.

 

“Most of the other men ran away from the village to avoid being taken as porters.” She said. “They took the rice and everything else that they wanted from the village.”

 

Tao Jaw’s brother brought their mother to Loi Tailang. According to Tao Jaw, most of the attacks started in 1996. She saw a lot of torture and forced relocations beginning at that time.

 

“The SPDC moved the villages so that they could build a military camp in a strategic location, giving them better control of the area.” She explained.

 

Said Tao Jaw. Now, the SSA provide food for Tao Jaw, her children and her mother. The children attend the school for free. It is the first time they have ever had access to education.

“I feel safe at Loi Tailang.” Said Tao Jaw.

 

The school at Loi Tailang has nearly 1,000 students, of which 250 are orphans.

 

A fourteen year old girl, named Song Mun, came to Loi Tailing because her parents and family were killed by the SPDC, in 2003.

 

“The Burmese soldiers came in the village and killed many people. The survivors ran away.”

 

Now she lives in the orphan girls dormitory, with 60 other young girls. Currently she is in sixth grade and her favorite subject is Shan language. Loi Tailang was the first place she ever had the opportunity to study Shan because in her village there was no school. According to many of the refugees, the SPDC prevented them from building schools in Shan villages. It is strictly prohibited to study the Shan language in Burma.

 

Song Mun didn’t even know how to write Shan language when she came to Loi Tailing. Now, she is very proud of the fact that she can read and write her native tongue.

 

For the internally displaced refugees of Shan State, the SSA headquarters at Loi Tailing is an oasis, a safe haven where they can have some co modicum of normalcy, raising their children in relative peace, and enjoying the expression of their own culture. Less than two years ago, however, the base came under attack from the combined forces of the SPDC and The Wa State Army. The Wa are another ethnic group, who are viewed as a proxy army, doing the bidding of the SPDC and killing other tribal groups.

 

The battle lasted 45 days. In the end, the SSA prevailed, and maintained control of Loi Tailang. But the attack leaves observers wondering what will happen next time? Will Song Mun be killed? Will Tao Jaw’s aged mother be forced to make a desperate flight down the sheer mountain side, across the minefields, and across the border in Thailand, where she would risk being arrested and returned to Burma? Will Gung Suk and the other amputees be summarily executed because they serve no purpose as porters?

 

For now, the people of Loi Tailang live in the moment, a moment of relative peace, and dream of a day when Shanland will become a reality.

 

Antonio is currently seeking donations to complete a non-commercial documentary film, entitled: “A Life in Shan State.” If you wish to help, please contact Antonio@speakingadventure.com

 

Donations can be made by paypal:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_xclick&business=moaningdogproductions%40comcast%2enet&item_name=Antonio%20Graceffo%20%2d%20Burma%20Adventure%20and%20Rescue&no_shipping=0&no_note=1&tax=0&currency_code=USD&lc=US&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF&charset=UTF%2d8  Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the author of four books available on amazon.com. Antonio is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” See the pilot episodes and all of his videos on youtube. http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=SearchContact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com 

Tags: shan, Shanland, army, SSA, Lai, Tai, Burma, Burmese, Myanmar, Brooklyn, Monk, Antonio, Graceffo, Martial, Arts, Odyssey

  

Driven from Their Homes

In War in Burma on December 20, 2007 at 6:48 am

Interviews with Internally Displaced People of Shan State

By Antonio Graceffo

 

The Burmese government does not issue visas to journalists. In order to interview the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Shan State, I had to enter the country under the protection of the Shan State Army, an armed ethnic group, rebelling against the Burmese Junta, the SPDC.

 

Three hundred and fifty IDP families are living on the Shan State Army (SSA) headquarters at Loi Tailang. Following are several interviews which will be featured in an upcoming documentary entitled, “A Life in Shan State.”

 

Gung Suk, 46 years old, is one of several men living in a hut for amputees with no families. Most of the men are missing a leg, victims of landmines. Many have other injuries, such as gunshot wounds. Gung Suk stepped on a mine while trying to escape the wholesale slaughter of their village, by the SPDC (government soldiers).

 

Gung Suk tells that the SPDC came and ordered his village, of more than 100 families, to move. This is a common tactic taken by the government. As the villagers are farmers, moving them mean separating them from their rice fields, essentially sentencing them to a slow death by starvation. They fired their guns, killing, men, women, and children indiscriminately. According to Gung Suk, some men tried to fight back, but they had no weapons.

 

“The situation was hopeless.” Gung Suk told us.

 

Gong Suk ran off in the night and joined the SSA. Most of the families sought refuge at SSA headquarters, Loi Tailang, or other SSA camps. Gong Suk was taken to Thailand for treatment of his landmine injury. It took days to get him to a hospital because, ducking the SPDC patrols, they could only move at night. Missing a leg, from the knee down, he was unable to provide for his wife and children.

 

“They went off to find food, and never came back.” He says, sadly. “I haven’t herad anything from them. I don’t know if they are alive or dead.”

 

After treatment, Gong Suk came to Loi Tailang. The SSA provides him with a food allotment so that he can live. He and the other amputees just sit around all day, playing checkers. They may be dreaming of happier times, but they never let on that their lives were destroyed by the SPDC.

 

An ancient woman, climbing up the steep mountain pass, carrying firewood on her back, took us to the home she shared with her middle-aged daughter, Tao Jaw and her grandchildren. She told us that they had lived in a village in Southern Shan State until March of last year, when the SPDC killed Tao Jaw’s husband. She had no way to provide for her two children. They had no food, so she moved to Thailand to try and find some type of work.

 

The majority of Burmese, and nearly all of the tribal people are without a Burmese passport. The government strictly controls who may enter and who may leave the country. So, applying for a legal visa to move to Thailand or any other country is out of the question for the Shan people. In Thailand, without a Thai ID card she had no rights and little opportunity to earn money. The average salary for an illegal worker in northern Thailand is around 2,000 Baht ($55 USD) per month.

 

The Thai police eventually discovered that she had no documents, and shipped her back to Burma. Luckily, they sent her back over the border, near Loi Tailang, rather than deporting her to Yangon, the capitol where she may have been arrested.

 

Tao Jaw’s father was the village leader. The SPDC murdered him.

 

“Most of the other men ran away from the village to avoid being taken as porters.” She said. “They took the rice and everything else that they wanted from the village.”

 

Tao Jaw’s brother brought their mother to Loi Tailang. According to Tao Jaw, most of the attacks started in 1996. She saw a lot of torture and forced relocations beginning at that time.

 

“The SPDC moved the villages so that they could build a military camp in a strategic location, giving them better control of the area.” She explained.

 

Said Tao Jaw. Now, the SSA provide food for Tao Jaw, her children and her mother. The children attend the school for free. It is the first time they have ever had access to education.

“I feel safe at Loi Tailang.” Said Tao Jaw.

 

The school at Loi Tailang has nearly 1,000 students, of which 250 are orphans.

 

A fourteen year old girl, named Song Mun, came to Loi Tailing because her parents and family were killed by the SPDC, in 2003.

 

“The Burmese soldiers came in the village and killed many people. The survivors ran away.”

 

Now she lives in the orphan girls dormitory, with 60 other young girls. Currently she is in sixth grade and her favorite subject is Shan language. Loi Tailang was the first place she ever had the opportunity to study Shan because in her village there was no school. According to many of the refugees, the SPDC prevented them from building schools in Shan villages. It is strictly prohibited to study the Shan language in Burma.

 

Song Mun didn’t even know how to write Shan language when she came to Loi Tailing. Now, she is very proud of the fact that she can read and write her native tongue.

 

For the internally displaced refugees of Shan State, the SSA headquarters at Loi Tailing is an oasis, a safe haven where they can have some co modicum of normalcy, raising their children in relative peace, and enjoying the expression of their own culture. Less than two years ago, however, the base came under attack from the combined forces of the SPDC and The Wa State Army. The Wa are another ethnic group, who are viewed as a proxy army, doing the bidding of the SPDC and killing other tribal groups.

 

The battle lasted 45 days. In the end, the SSA prevailed, and maintained control of Loi Tailang. But the attack leaves observers wondering what will happen next time? Will Song Mun be killed? Will Tao Jaw’s aged mother be forced to make a desperate flight down the sheer mountain side, across the minefields, and across the border in Thailand, where she would risk being arrested and returned to Burma? Will Gung Suk and the other amputees be summarily executed because they serve no purpose as porters?

 

For now, the people of Loi Tailang live in the moment, a moment of relative peace, and dream of a day when Shanland will become a reality.

 

Antonio is currently seeking donations to complete a non-commercial documentary film, entitled: “A Life in Shan State.” If you wish to help, please contact Antonio@speakingadventure.com

 

Donations can be made by paypal:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_xclick&business=moaningdogproductions%40comcast%2enet&item_name=Antonio%20Graceffo%20%2d%20Burma%20Adventure%20and%20Rescue&no_shipping=0&no_note=1&tax=0&currency_code=USD&lc=US&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF&charset=UTF%2d8  Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the author of four books available on amazon.com. Antonio is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” See the pilot episodes and all of his videos on youtube. http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=SearchContact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com