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Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

Burma Martial Arts video Lai Tai 1

In Martial Arts on February 28, 2008 at 7:46 am

   

Martial Arts Odyssey : Lai Tai (Part 1)

The Kung fu of the Shan People of Burma

By Antonio Graceffo

 

The Shan people migrated from China to Burma centuries ago, brining with them their own special brand of Chinese Kung Fu. Travel with Antonio Graceffo as he makes his way into the war zone of Burma to learn this ancient martial art at the military headquarters of the Shan State rebel Army. See the first Lai Tai video ever

filmed.

 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=zbi74RJDN9Y

Meet twenty year old Kawn Wan who first learned Lai Tai from monks in his village. After the Burmese government burned his village and killed his parents, he came to live in Li Tailang, Shan State Army headquarters, where he teaches Lai Tai to the orphans so that the Shan culture will not die out.

 

Antonio Graceffo has been embedded with the Shan State Army inside of Burma. This article is part of the “In Shanland” project. To raise awareness about the plight of the Shan people Antonio will release one print article and one video per week for a year. He is giving these media away for free to ensure that they will reach the largest audience. You can watch all of the Shan videos released to date on youtube.

http://ie.youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo+shan+state+army&search_type=&search=Search

Antonio is self-funded. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal, through the Burma page of his website.

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm 

 

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Burma Martial Arts video Lai Tai 1

In Martial Arts on February 28, 2008 at 7:42 am

 

Martial Arts Odyssey : Lai Tai (Part 1)

The Kung fu of the Shan People of Burma

By Antonio Graceffo

 

The Shan people migrated from China to Burma centuries ago, brining with them their own special brand of Chinese Kung Fu. Travel with Antonio Graceffo as he makes his way into the war zone of Burma to learn this ancient martial art at the military headquarters of the Shan State rebel Army. See the first Lai Tai video ever

filmed.

 

http://youtube.com/watch?v=zbi74RJDN9Y

Meet twenty year old Kawn Wan who first learned Lai Tai from monks in his village. After the Burmese government burned his village and killed his parents, he came to live in Li Tailang, Shan State Army headquarters, where he teaches Lai Tai to the orphans so that the Shan culture will not die out.

 

Antonio Graceffo has been embedded with the Shan State Army inside of Burma. This article is part of the “In Shanland” project. To raise awareness about the plight of the Shan people Antonio will release one print article and one video per week for a year. He is giving these media away for free to ensure that they will reach the largest audience. You can watch all of the Shan videos released to date on youtube.

http://ie.youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo+shan+state+army&search_type=&search=Search

Antonio is self-funded. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal, through the Burma page of his website.

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm 

Antonio,graceffo,shan,state,amy,burma,Myanmar,martial,art,odyssey,lai,tai,kung,fu

 

New Burma Video: Overview of the War in Burma

In War in Burma on February 21, 2008 at 9:51 am

 

 

Overview of the War in Burma

A Shan Perspective

By Antonio Graceffo

 

Although many people in the west know about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the monk protests of 2007, they don’t understand the overall conflict in Burma (Myanmar). Antonio Graceffo made this video in the hopes of educating the west and raising awareness of the suffering inside of Shan State, Burma.

 

Watch it on youtube: http://ie.youtube.com/watch?v=mN5bXsR8l-Y

 

Robbed by the SPDC

In War in Burma on February 18, 2008 at 5:59 am

Robbed by the SPDC

 

By Antonio Graceffo

 

Every person living in the IDP camp at Loi Tailang has a story of the pain they suffered at the hands of the Burmese military. Every one of them has had some fundamental part of their life stolen.

 

Hseng Mun was twenty-three years old when he stepped on a landmine while fighting the SPDC inside of Shan State. His leg was crudely amputated at the knee joint. Field medics often lack bone-saws and are forced to cut through the tendons at the knee joint, with a knife, removing the entire lower half of the leg. He was brought to Thailand for treatment and his lived in Loi Tailang ever since.  

 

Another amputee says that he was a hunter stepped on a landmine while trying to get food for his family.  “We are being helped by the army now, so we don’t have to worry about food.”

 

Neither man has had any contact with his family, back in Shan State, in years.   

 

The SPDC robbed them each of a leg and of their family. They were also robbed of their livelihood as well as their freedom and dignity.

 

Hsai Wee is 10 years old, but he looks much younger. Malnutrition causes many of the children to develop late and to never achieve their full-height and weight potential. He’s been living in Loi Tailang for five months. “We came here because the SPDC always came to our village and destroyed everything. They took what they wanted. They took the animals, cows and pigs. We walked here through the jungle, it took four days.”

 

Hsai Wee doesn’t smile. He should be a normal, happy child. Instead, his child’s face looks tight with worry and his brow wrinkles as if he were deep in thought. Perhaps this is because his village was burned or because he was separated from his father and doesn’t know if he lived or died.

 

The SPDC robbed Hsai Wee of his childhood and his dad.

 

Kown Kydwa, 43 years old ,came to Loi Tailang three months ago after escaping from SPDC soldiers. At that time, he had been a porter for almost four years. He showed us the huge scars on his arm where Burmese soldiers tortured him with knife.

“Life was very difficult.” He said, sadly. He tells us that he was beaten repeatedly.

 

“They hit me with their riffle butts. The SPDC soldiers broke some of my ribs and they never healed properly.”

 

Kown Kydwa is now nearly deaf. “The soldiers restrained my hands and the officer slapped me in both my ears.”

 

On the day he was captured, Kown Kydwa was on his way to work in the fields. The soldiers saw him and arrested him, forcing to work as a porter. The SPDC soldiers only fed him and roughly 200 other porters the heart of the banana, an inferior food, which is normally only used to feed pigs.

 

“When the SPDC fought a battle against the Karenni they used us porters as human shields. They put rifles on our shoulder and hid behind us, firing.”

 

Once, when the soldiers sent him down the hill to haul water, he made his escape. He went into the jungle with no food or equipment. He moved through the jungle for seven days, sneaking and eating wild foods that he found himself. He hid in the day time and moved at night. He didn’t know where he was or where he was going, but he kept moving.

 

Eventually, Karenni soldiers found him. They took him to a field hospital where he was given food and clothing. Kown Kydwa counts himself lucky. “Other people who escaped lost their way in the jungle.”

 

Knowing that he was Shan, the Karenni soldiers then took Kown Kydwa to Loi Tailang, so he could live among his own people.

 

He looks around at the dusty bamboo hut he shares with other disabled IDP men and sums up his life. “I have no family. I have no extra clothes. I have difficulty walking because it hurts inside.” He points to his abdomen and to his ribs which were broken with a rifle-butt.

 

Kown Kydwa has four children, but has no information about them.

 

“I don’t know if my family is alive, and they don’t know where I am, only that I disappeared from the farm. Now, because I am deaf and injured I can’t go back in the jungle and look for them.”

 

The SPDC robbed him of his family and his health.

 

Sao Nong (not her real name) is a thirty-six year old woman whose hard life has aged her well beyond her years. She has two children, a four-month old son and a six-year old daughter. “SPDC soldiers always came to the village and took what they wanted they also asked money from the villagers. They came often. They killed some people in the village.” She said. “It’s better to live here than in the village. It is free and I don’t worry about food and no one asks us to pay taxes like the SPDC.”

 

She lost her husband. “I was working in the fields. When I came back my husband had been arrested by the SPD. I haven’t had any word from him yet.”

 

They forced people to be porters abut once a month and kept them for twenty days. They took five to six people each time.

 

The SPDC forced people to grow opium for their benefit. They have to pay tax on the opium. She grew opium SPDC made her. They said half was for them and half was for here but they took taxes from the half which was left for the villagers. Then sometimes they just burned what was left and the villagers got nothing. In the village 40 families half had to grow opium also grew crops but SPDC would destroy their other crops and punish them if they refused to grow opium.

  

In spite of the horrible realities of her life, Sao Nong still can dream of a better future.

 

“I dream that the SPDC would go away from our village. I also want freedom of movement. And human rights.”

 

Before I left, Sao Nong made a request.

  

“Please tell this story to other people.”

 

Antonio Graceffo has been embedded with the Shan State Army inside of Burma. This article is part of the “In Shanland” project. To raise awareness about the plight of the Shan people Antonio will release one print article and one video per week for a year. He is giving these media away for free to ensure that they will reach the largest audience. You can watch all of the Shan videos released to date on yuotube.

http://ie.youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo+shan+state+army&search_type=&search=Search

Antonio is self-funded. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal, through the Burma page of his website.

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm 

shan,state,army,burma,burmese,junta,war,rebel,shanland,antonio,graceffo

 

New Burma Video: Victims of the SPDC

In War in Burma on February 16, 2008 at 6:49 am

 

 

Victims of the SPDC, the latest video in the series A Life in Shan State, by Antonio Garceffo is now available on yuorube.com

  

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

 

In this new episode, Antonio interviews a monk, who is a veteran of the 1988 pro-democracy protest, the bloodiest protest in Burmese history. The video also features an interview with an innocent 14 year old Shan girl who describes the horrors of her torture at the hands of Burmese soldiers.

 

Antonio is self funded and humbly seeks donations to continue his Shan State video project.

 

“Many thanks for all of the support I have received so far. I hate to ask, but the only way I can keep up this project is if people would be willing to help finance my work to document the lives of the Shan people and to uncover the animal behavior of the junta.”

 

If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal. Through the Burma page of his website.

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm

  

Muay Lao, the forgotten art of kickboxing

In Martial Arts on February 10, 2008 at 7:48 am

http://photo.ringo.com/248/248900690RL389644958.jpg

 

 

By Antonio Graceffo

 

“You can gain extra power on your kicks by throwing your kicking arm down, but you need to protect your face with a cross arm defense.” Explained Adjarn Ngern, at the national kick boxing stadium in Vientiane, Lao.

 

In Tae Kwan Do and a lot of other kicking arts, the right hand comes down when you kick. This is the moment when a good boxer should step in and punch the kicker in the face. Adjarn Ngern was the first person ever to show me the cross arm defense, basically wrapping your free arm across your face to cover up when you kick. This gives you safety and power.

 

It was my first day of learning Muay Lao and I wondered what else they had to offer.

 

For years I had been training off and on in Thailand and Cambodia. I had heard that the national sport in Lao was called Muay Lao, but I didn’t know anyone who had actually gone there for training.

 

Lao is a sleepy country. The population is less than six million and nearly all of the development is in the capitol, Vientiane, which is a cute, peaceful city which feels like a small town in the US from the 1950s. Apart from the docile feeling in the air, Lao is surprisingly good for training. There is a weight lifting gym located in a tenement block, beside the national sports stadium, where you can do your strength training for a small donation of fifty cents per day. You can get a bed in a dormitory for $3 a day or stay in a hotel, as I do, private room, TV, cable, hot water, private bath, and air-conditioning, for $12 per night. Food is excellent in Lao, French, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Lao or western, and most meals in a restaurant will cost you about $2.50.  You could probably live even cheaper if you wanted to eat the street food which would probably run you less than a dollar per meal. In Lao, they accept US dollars, Thai Baht, or their local currency, Kip. Muay Lao training costs 200 thai Baht, about $6 USD per session, for private training.

 

The travel guides were all dead wrong about the Muay Lao training. Most books said it was held at the national sports stadium in Vientiane. Actually, the Muay Lao training is held at the National Muay Lao stadium, which is located about fifteen or twenty minutes outside of the city. The stadium boasts a full size ring, a row of kick bags, and a row of uppercut bags mounted on the wall. The coaches are excellent in the ring working the pads with you. 

 

Adjarn Ngern, the head coach of the Lao National Muay Lao Team, told me that Muay Lao is a much smaller sport in Lao than is Muay Thai in Thailand. Professional fights are only held in the National Stadium twice per month. There are only a handful of registered professional fighters in the whole country.

“How is Muay Lao different than Muay Thai?” I asked.

“It’s exactly the same.” Said the Adjarn.

“Cambodians are angry abut the name Muay Thai. They feel they invented kickboxing and it should be called by the Cambodian name, Bradal Serey, not Muay Thai. What do you think of that?”

Without a second’s hesitation he answered, “Muay Thai was invented in Cambodia, but Thailand has the money and got famous.”

 

The Adjarn had me start with warm up exercise, a very complete stretching routine which covered all parts of the body, especially the neck and shoulders where injuries can occur in kick boxing.

 

He watched me shadow boxing for a few minutes then asked, confused “Do you also kick?” I think your fist martial art stays with you forever. You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the boy. No matter how long I train in Asia, I will always look like a boxer or street fighter.

 

We readjusted my stance. He didn’t want me to hold my hands next to my face like I do in boxing. Instead, he wanted the lead hand out in front and a bit lower than what I do for boxing. He also didn’t want the hands touching my face in case I was punched or kicked and it would force me to hit myself.

 

Next, we worked combinations on the uppercut bag one, two, and upper cut switching off left hand upper cut and right hand upper cut. He was excellent about correcting my form while I trained. Adjarn made me turn out my back foot on straight punches, and go up on my toes at impact. On the Upper cut, he also had me up on my toes, and made me turn my heel in.

 

We transitioned to kicks, on the bag. The important point which he kept stressing here was to get up on the toes of your base foot, and rotate the foot with the kick. Next, you must be careful to twist your hip and butt into the kick. The leg must travel parallel to the ground, and strike at an almost ninety degree angle, kicking IN not UP like in a Tae Kwan Do kick. Of course, in Muay Lao, like in Muay Thai, the roundhouse strikes with the shin.

 

Other combinations we worked on required me to kick off the front leg. A lot of teachers tell you to hop, scoot the front leg back, then kick with the front leg. Adjarn Ngern wanted me to minimize this hopping and leg shuffling. He told me to only to slide my left leg back slightly, then kick off of it. The right leg didn’t really move at all. It felt awkward at first, but it was a good technique. It was faster and less exhausting than the more common hop and shuffle. It just took a lot of practice for me to get it. To save even more time, he showed me that when the left leg hit, instead of bringing it back, just bring it straight down to the ground. Now you are in close so immediately throw an overhand elbow with the right arm.

 

With the knee kick, Adjarn Ngern always wanted to lead hand straight out. You could use this hand to measure distance, and time your strike. When your left hand just about makes contact with the opponent, step in and decimate him with your right knee. The extended arm is also a good defensive tactic. This way if your opponent takes this opportunity to throw an elbow or a punch, you could catch it with your lead hand, long before it hits you. In fact, you could catch/deflect his elbow with your floating lead hand, and still complete your knee strike. In that instance, the power would be multiplied by the fact that your opponent would be coming forward with his own strike. This would be one of those knees to the solar plexus which could end a fight.

 

Once again, when reaching out with your left/lead hand, you could either use your right hand to do the cross face defense, as you did in the kick, or you could throw the right hand down and back to add extra power to the knee. The lead hand can be used to grab the back of the opponent’s head and pull him into the knee strike. And remember to go up on the toes of the base leg to get those last few extra inches of extension and power.

After you have thrown the knee, you can step trough with an elbow because you have already closed the distance.

 

To help me get up on my toes and swing my hips, the coach and one of the fighters stood behind me, twisting my legs and hips and trying to get my position right. It was a lot to remember, and there was nothing natural about having two men twisting and prodding my body while I practiced. It was like a dance lesson gone wrong.

 

Adjarn had me hold the bag and do left right knee combinations, fast. But, he kept stressing that each of the knees had to be a real technique, a solid knee strike. Most people who practice the fast alternating knees on the bag just barely touch the bag with each knee, then shuffle and throw the next one. But this type of exercise has nothing to do with real fighting. It’s not just aerobics. In a fight every technique must be right. Every knee strike must count. 

 

Blocking, the knee can be used several different ways. One common option is to block a kick by brining the knee straight up, and allowing your shin to hit the opponent’s shin as he kicks. A more offensive block is to quickly raise your knee higher than the attacker’s kicking leg, and bring you knee straight down into his leg, hitting him with your knee on his thing, just above his knee. This could render his leg useless for the rest of the fight. Once, again, after you have blocked, you have already closed distance, so the quickest follow up is to bring your leg straight back to the floor and step in with a close elbow.

 

Some coaches tell you to knee strike with your foot at a 90 degree angle. Other coaches tell you to point your foot at the floor. Both camps claim that they get more power. I don’t think there is a clear answer on which is better. This coach wanted the foot pointed at the ground.

 

With both a knee and a kick one more thing to remember is to arch your back to get the extra extension and power.

 

The coach taught me a fake. He did a shuffle, as if getting ready to kick with his left, lead foot, but instead, he threw a punch to the face.

 

“If you see the punch coming you can use Teep to protect yourself because your leg is longer than his arm.” Explained Adjarn Ngern, teaching the push kick.  

 

When executing a push kick, the toes must be curled back and you strike with the ball of the foot. It is really hard to do because you have to develop the muscles in your feet. I can’t curl my toes back at will. Teep can also be done with the heel of the foot, but Adjarn Ngern claimed that it wasn’t as powerful. Muay Thai Boran practitioners find that the heel of the foot works just fine, however.

 

Very few people in Lao speak any English at all. Most people in Vientiane, including Adjarn Ngern, speak excellent Thai. So I was able to communicate with him in Thai. Thus far, I was impressed with Adjarn Ngern and how modern his training and thinking was. He was one of the few coaches I had worked with in Asia who could really analyze and discuss the sport of fighting. But his old-school training suddenly showed when he did the thing where he put rope in his mouth and used his neck to lift a heavy bucket full of cement.

 

He invited me to try it next, but one look at his used saliva dripping off the rope made me thing twice about it.

 

“Aren’t you going to boil that rope?” I asked.

 

We opted to move on to the next phase of training instead.  

 

In Muay Lao, as in Muay Thai the fighters often lock up, grappling. They grab each other behind the back of the neck and struggle to get dominance over the opponent. It is amazing how many throws a good fighter can do from this position. A significant component in learning Muay Lao is practicing grappling from the neck.

 

The goal in Muay grappling is to achieve the dominant position, which means, getting your two hands on the inside. The two fighters start with one in and one out, then they compete to get both hands inside. Once you have both hands inside, you can plant your elbows in your opponent’s chest, leverage his head and take him. In any type of fighting, if you want to control a man, grabbing the back of his neck is good because then you are pulling against muscle, not bone. Grabbing higher on the head gives you extended leverage, multiplying your power. Post your hips back, bend at the knees and bring your entire body weight to bear on his neck muscles.

 

Adjarn Ngern showed me how you could grab the back of the head with one hand and slide your hand down under the elbow for leverage. Then in one quick, jerking motion, you could pull down on the head and push up on the elbows at the same time and throw the man. In wrestling never let your legs stand square, one foot beside the other or you have no base no balance and can easily be knocked down.

 

Another exercise we worked on, one man held his hands behind his back and the other man tried to throw him. It is a simple technique, step out on the right, throw on the left. Step out on the left, throw on the right.

 

Training in Lao was just one more piece of the puzzle. The art of kickboxing is widely practiced in Lao, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. Only by training in all four countries could I get a good overview of the art. So, Burma was next.

 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 latest episode, shot inside of Burma with the Shan State Army rebels, is running on youtube, click here.  http://youtube.com/watch?v=rCjNaHnk7Jw  Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com   

Casualties of War in Burma

In War in Burma on February 10, 2008 at 7:47 am

The deaths don’t stop at the border. More tribal lives are destroyed after they flee the war zone.

By Antonio Graceffo

 

Soldiers and innocent civilians are killed directly in a war, but the human cost of the war in Burma extends to the millions of tribal people whose lives were completely destroyed when they fled across the border. How many became prostitutes? How many became day laborers, struggling to earn $5 for 14 hours of backbreaking work? How many were sold into slavery? How many became drug addicts? How many became alcoholics? How many were sucked into crime? How many just disappeared, another undocumented death that makes those who know breath a sigh of relief. How many were arrested? How many died in front of hospitals that refused to treat them?

 

I witnessed tragedy firsthand this week. This one will be reported, because foreigners were present to do the documentation, but worse scenes are played out daily, with no one there to tell the tale.

 

On a narrow mountain pass, near the Burmese border, a Lisu tribesman lay dying in a puddle of his own vomit and blood. Soldiers in starched fatigues step over him, careful not to dirty their American-made jump boots, as they ask about the two foreigners and what we were doing in the border region. My friend is loosing blood quickly. A Shan soldier, Lieng, is about to be captured. My head is pounding and I can barely stand. I want nothing more than to just lie down and sleep for a thousand hours, but I seem to be the only one who knows anything about battlefield first aid. 

 

Two Shan soldiers had been taking another journalist and me into the war zone. When we reached an army check point, the Shan explained to us that, to avoid arousing suspicion, the two foreigners would have to go through on a single motorcycle. The Shan would follow a half hour later, on one motorcycle. After that, the two Shan would continue to act as our drivers. The problem was, neither of us journalists knew how to ride a motorcycle off-road. Literally thirty seconds after we got on the bike, we were hit, head-on, by a Lisu man who had been drinking.

 

I check the Lisu man’s airway, and make sure he isn’t choking on his own vomit. I crawl over to my friend, Unten, a photo journalist and artist from the United States who has come to do a sculpture project about the Shan people and how they suffer under the Burmese SPDC military forces. His hand is shattered and he is already worried he will never be able to work again. I am more worried about the blood pouring from his wound. He says he feels faint. I feel faint. I ask a soldier if he has a pressure bandage, but he only has an M-16. He can kill, but he has no idea how to save a life. What’s more, he doesn’t know that it is normal for American soldier to be trained to do both.

 

I wasn’t sure which system made less sense, theirs or ours.

 

A group of desperately poor Lisu, probably the man’s family, gather around the periphery of the action. Their colorful tribal dress is covered in mud, reminding me that they haven’t just put on a costume. This is how they dress when they work the rice paddies. But today, they aren’t working the rice paddies. Instead, they have come to watch in silence as their relative slips closer and closer to death.

 

They do nothing. They say nothing. They are undocumented tribal people, refugees from the war in Burma, living at the whim and generosity of a country who hates them.

 

The soldiers continue to question Lieng, our Shan soldier. He is my friend, and I have worked with him during all of my trips into Shanland. I forgot that he was undocumented and subject to arrest. I forgot about the Lisu man. In fact, I forgot everything, except that I needed to try and stop the bleeding on Unten’s arm.

 

Unable to find anything better, I grabbed a mass of newspaper and wrapped the injury. It wasn’t even a pressure dressing. I was too out of it for that. I felt like I was drunk or more accurately, like I do when I have been given a standing eight count in boxing. I felt fuzzy and slow. I knew that I knew things, but my brain refused to work. I forced that sluggish organ to think, but all I could manage to do was wrap the wound with filthy newspapers. The other Shan soldier hands me a bungee cord, which I use to hold the newspaper in place. I tell Unten to elevate the wound, holding his arm across his chest.

 

“I’m fine. I can keep going up the mountain.” Unten tells me.

 

No way! He needs to get to a hospital.

 

Within minutes, he tells me he is starting to feel like passing out. I envy him. The two Shan soldiers are in civilian clothes. The Army has only singled out Lieng because they thought he knew us and would know what we were doing there. Now, they are checking him for documents, and of course, he has none. The other Shan soldier has escaped detection. He needs to go, quickly, before someone realizes he is not Lisu. I could set Unten onto the back of the motorcycle, and have the Shan soldier drive him to the hospital, nearly 40 km away.  But there is a high probability he will pass out, and wind up splattered all over the road. If he stays where he is, resting at the side of the road, he will continue loosing blood and could slip into shock. At the moment there were only two soldiers in uniform, investigating. They were probably illiterate farm boys, or lads on their national service. Soon, their superiors would come. And they would be men with experience on the border war. They would be instantly suspicious, and hard to fool.

 

The Shan soldier implores once again, telling me has to go, instantly. We put Unten on the bike with him and they speed, down the trail, toward town. I pray that I won’t see Unten slip off and die because of the choice I made.

 

Minutes later, a pickup truck arrives, overloaded with tribal people heading to the city to see if they can find day labor for $1.50 per day. In the tribal area, their cash income tends to be less than $15 per month. They make room for me, and I tell the driver to take me to the hospital. At no point did anyone consider putting taking the Lisu man with us. I am as guilty as the rest. The tribal people are invisible to the average person.

 

Since I began the “In Shanland” video project, documenting the war in Shan State, people have been writing me from all over the world asking about the Burma videos and stories. The rebels need as much press as they can get, so I have been open to taking other journalists across the border, to help raise international awareness of a nearly forgotten conflict. Familiarity with the situation has led me to be a bit lax on matters of security, and I sometimes forget that war zones are dangerous places.

 

My most recent attempt to cross over and report on the war ended in tragedy, reminding me how desperate the situation really is. Once again, the message came home to me because I was touched personally, as one of my friends was severely wounded, and another was captured.

 

At the hospital, it was determined that Unten had shattered his hand, and would need surgery to implant pins, which would hold the fragments together until they mended. The Lisu man finally arrived in the hospital and was still vomiting, while doctors tried to force a tube down his throat to keep his airway open.

 

The Shan soldier who delivered Unten slipped away in the crowd when the police arrived.

 

“Who was driving the motorcycle?” The policeman asked.

When I told him Unten had been driving, he lost interest in me. He didn’t take a statement from me or record my name or information. The first question he posed Unten was, “Were you going to Shan State Army headquarters, in Loi Tailang?”

“No, we were going to look at the waterfalls.” Said Unten, repeating the story we had rehearsed.

 

The interview lasted less than ten minutes. Unten had given his passport to the doctor, so was unable to give the number to the police officer.

 

“I must go investigate the accident scene.” Announced the policeman, with gravity. He got back in his car and drove to Burma. This was the last we saw of him.

 

The Lisu man was loaded into an ambulance at 4:00 PM when it was announced that he was in critical condition and needed to be taken to the big hospital in the city, nearly 200 km away. Unten and I would be riding in the same ambulance, as Unten would need emergency surgery on his hand. He was in extreme pain, but the doctors couldn’t give him any drugs because of his upcoming operation. We wouldn’t arrive at the next hospital until ten o’clock that night. Like a real trooper, Unten endured excruciating pain in silence, frequently asking after the health of the Lisu man.

 

The Lisu continued fighting for his life as the inept hospital staff prepped him for his long journey to town. At 5:30 the doors of the ambulance finally closed, and we were about to begin our trip. The ambulance rolled about ten feet when suddenly the Lisu family in the back decided that they needed to get out. The milled about the parking lot, babbling in their language for another thirty minutes before getting back in and allowing us to take the man to a better hospital. It was 6:00 PM, two hours since he had been loaded into the ambulance, three hours since the accident.

 

En rout, we had to stop several times, so the nurse could stabilize the patient. She repeatedly vacuumed out his throat, sucking up large quantities of pink blood, which collected in a glass beaker.

 

“Do you think they have any idea what they are doing?” asked Unten.

“I don’t see why they would.” I answered.

 

A few minutes outside the city, the nurse apologized to me.

 

“I am so sorry. We will have to take the critical man to the state hospital first. After that the ambulance will take your friend to the big, private hospital. Sorry for the delay.”

 

She was genuinely sorry that the foreigners had been inconvenienced by the death of a tribal person. This single event illustrated the callousness which added to the misery of people escaping the war in Burma.

 

The Lisu man was left at a state run hospital, where he may or may not receive treatment. Foreign aid workers have told horror stories of trying to bring tribal people to the hospital and being turned away. Unten was taken to a large, private hospital, where he immediately went under the knife. I jumped out of the ambulance and disappeared into the city. I was Unten’s only link to the rebels. If he should be questioned by the police, he could honestly say that he knew nothing.

 

The next morning, I sat at breakfast with my friends, telling them what had happened. I had a black eye and was pretty certain I was suffering from a mild concussion, probably from where the back of Unten’s head smashed into my face. The Lieutenant called to say that the Colonel had intervened in favor of the Shan soldier, Lieng, and that he had been released from custody. If he had been captured on the Burmese side of the border he would have been tortured and killed. In fact, if the accident had happened on the Burmese side of the border, we would all have been tortured and killed.

 

I couldn’t go near the hospital for fear of implicating Unten. When I called, he said that he had his surgery and was told that he would need two months to recuperate. He was still worried that he might not be able to continue his career as an artist. His main concern, however, was that he wanted to find out how the Lisu man was doing. Unten wanted to pay the man’s hospital bill and give some money to his family. So far, it seems impossible to find the man. We don’t know his name. He has no ID card. And the hospital staff may not even have filed a report. I once took a tribal boy to a hospital to bring food to his father, but the boy didn’t know his father’s name, and the hospital didn’t bother to record his admission. The father was there for several weeks till we found him.

 

If there was no war in Burma, the Lisu man and his family wouldn’t have been driven off their land. They would still be farming rice in Burma, happy and safe. If it wasn’t illegal to help the tribal people in Burma or report on their war, Unten and I would never have taken a stupid chance, driving a motorcycle on a precarious mountain road. If there were no war in Burma, Lieng, would never have risked being arrested by crossing the border to take us in so we could report.

 

We don’t know if the Lisu man lived or died. But at the very least, his family will suffer great economic hardship as a result of this accident. After a long recovery, Unten will be Ok. I am always OK. But the tribal people of Burma will continue to suffer.

 

This was the first tragedy I witnessed first hand. Until now, I was just a tourist in a war.

 Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” Currently he is working inside of Shan State, documenting human rights abuses, doing a film and print project to raise awareness of the Shan people.  To see all of his videos about martial arts, Burma and other countries: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=SearchAntonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm  

If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal. Through the Burma page of his website.

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm   

New Shan Burma Video Colonel Yawd Serk

In War in Burma on February 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm

In Shanland: Interview with Colonel Yawd Serk, Commander of the Shan State Army

Antonio Graceffo

 

See it on youtube.com http://youtube.com/watch?v=BJlL4GyPjH4

 

Genral Khun Sa, the original commander of the MTA Mon Tai Army, made his way onto the FBI most wanted list as the largest drug dealer in the world. The US sought to extradite him from Burma to stand trial in America, but Kun Sa surrendered to the SPDC and lived under government protection in Yangon, in opulence, until his death.

 

In Shan State, a new army was formed, under Colonel Yawd Serk. The SSA (Shan State Army) has adopted a non-drug policy. At present, the SSA has between 6,000 and 10,000 troops. SSA has two large permanent bases near the Thai border, Loi Tailang and Loi Krovan. Both camps have become islands of safety for IDPs (internally displaced people) driven from their villages in Shan State.

 

Travel with Antonio Graceffo as he interviews the Colonel and finds out about his anti-drug policy, as well as the broken promises made by the Burmese government, and his people’s suffering at the hands of the SPDC. The Colonel hopes that one day, the Shan people will gain their independence and establish a democracy, and that they can return to their villages and live in safety and peace.

 

Antonio is self funded and will continue the “In Shanland” film and print article project until he is killed or captured. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal through the Burma page of his website

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm

  

Tags: Shan, State, Army, Burma, Burmese, War, SPDC, SSA, Antonio, Graceffo, Shanland, Yawd, Serk

    

The War in Burma, a Shan Perspective

In War in Burma on February 9, 2008 at 4:45 pm

An introduction to the displaced people of Loi Tailang and my work with them

By Antonio Graceffo

 General information about Burma 

The war in Burma has been going on since before the end of the second world war. The Burmese independence army sided with the Japanese, fighting against the British and tribal forces who were defending the colony from invasion. After the war, Burma was given independence. Under British rule, Burma was the richest nation in Southeast Asia and had the highest levels of education and development. Today, under military rule, Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world. One of the largest exports from Burma is human beings in the form of asylum seekers, refugees, slaves, and prostitutes.

 

The entire country has been subjected to much suffering at the hands of the military junta. Burma is home to countless tribes and ethnic minorities, with Burmans making up somewhere between 40%-60% of the population. The tribal minorities have been singled out for especially sever treatment by the Burman majority lead army, the SPDC (State Peace and development Council).

 

Tribal people are frequently driven from their homes, with their villages and crops burned. Ethnic minority people are used as forced labor, slaves, human mine detectors, and porters who are beaten and even killed if they can’t work fast enough or if they collapse from lack of food. Gang rape is institutionalized by the army and used as an instrument of terror to control villagers. Ethnic cleansing has been sanctioned by the government, and Burmese soldiers are paid a bonus for marrying tribal girls to thin out the bloodlines.

 

Burma borders on Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Lao and China. Most of the cross border aid work is done from Thailand, where more than 2 million Burmese and ethnic people have taken refuge. There are, however, significant numbers of refugees in other countries, such as Bangladesh, who remain undocumented and unreached by western journalists and aid workers. The country is divided into seven ethnic states, but the total number of ethnicities runs into double digits. The states are not independent or autonomous in any way. They are simply administrative divisions under a single military rule.

 

In 1962 General Ne Win overthrew the democratic government of Burma. Since then, the SPDC has ruled the country with an iron fist. In 1988 monks lead a peaceful pro-democracy protest. The government’s reaction was to kill thousands of unarmed civilians. In 1990 an election was finally held, and the National League for Democracy, lead by Aung San Suu Kyi won more than 60% of the vote. The election was subsequently nullified by the military regime who refused to step down. Aung San Suu Kyi has remained under house arrest, off and on, since 1988. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She is currently the only Nobel Peace Prize winner who is in jail.

 

The Burmese government, lead by General Than Schwe, has complete control on the internet, TV, and all media. The people of Burma are denied the rights of free speech and assembly. Universities have even moved to distance learning format, to avoid having large groups of students meeting one another and organizing.

 

In addition to its policies of repression and terror the military government has taken some strange steps such as changing the official name of the country from Burma to Myanmar and changing the name of the capitol from Rangoon to Yangon. Recently, the government took the further inexplicable step of secretly relocating the capitol to a remote mountain location, in the middle of the night. The new capitol is called Naypyidaw.

 

In September of 2007 monks lead peaceful pro-democracy protests in Yangon. Hundred of protestors were killed and thousands of monks have since disappeared.

 

The level violence inflicted on the Burmese in Yangon, in the face of their protest, is what the tribal people have been faced with on a daily basis for nearly sixty years.

 

The war in Burma is largely financed through the production and sale of drugs, particularly opium and Ya Ba (Methyl Amphetamine). Many of the tribal armies have been guilty of engaging in drug related business in the past. Today, the SPDC is by far the largest drug dealer in the country. The KNU and the SSA (the two largest resistance groups) both profess a non-drug policy.

 

As a pop-culture side note, the new movie, “Rambo IV” is the first movie made about the tribal war in Burma. In the film, Sylvester Stallone teams up with the KNU (Karen National Union) one of only two armed resistance groups still fighting the junta. The other, less written about group is the one I am attached to, the SSA (Shan State Army).

  The Shan People 

The Shan people are a Tai ethnicity which live primarily in the Shan State of Burma. They are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the country. The population of Shan State is approximately 7.5 million, and includes approximately 1 million Palong, a significant number of Wa, as well as small numbers of Lahu and Pa-O people. There are an estimated two million Shan living in northern Thailand. The Shan originated in Southern China and migrated down to Burma more than one thousand years ago. They lived as an independent kingdom until the death of the last Shan king, approximately 500 years ago. From the 16th century onward, the Shan were divided into the Shan States, which were each ruled by a prince. This system continued even under the British rule. The Shan only came under Burmese rule shortly before Burma gained independence from Britain. Under the Panglong agreement, the Shan were given permission to succeed from the Burmese union after ten years. General Ne Win nullified this agreement, denying the Shan their independence.

 

In the early 1960’s the Burmese government cracked down on the Shan States, killing most of the Shan royalty. Those who survived sought refuge in foreign countries. Today there are a number of Shan princes and princesses living in the USA, UK, and Canada. The Shan formed a defensive army to resist government attacks.

 

Genral Khun Sa was the original commander of the MTA Mon Tai Army. He made his way onto the FBI most wanted list as the largest drug dealer in the world. The US sought to extradite him to stand trial. Kun Sa surrendered to the SPDC and lived under government protection in Yangon, in opulence, until his death.

 

In Shan State, a new army was formed, under Colonel Yawd Serk. The SSA (Shan State Army) has adopted a non-drug policy. At present, the SSA has between 6,000 and 10,000 troops. SSA has two large permanent bases near the Thai border, Loi Tailang and Loi Krovan. Both camps have become islands of safety for IDPs (internally displaced people) driven from their villages in Shan State.

 

Loi Tailang, the focus of my project, is home to 350 refugee families. There are nearly 1,000 students at the school on the base. The dormitories house more than 600 unaccompanied minors. Two hundred and fifty of them are actual orphans. The others may have one or two parents still living, but their families have given them to the SSA, so that they could continue their education and live in safety.

 

The government schools inside of Shan State are terrible, with the worst teachers and the least resources being made available to the minority peoples. It is illegal to teach Shan language inside of Burma, so most Shan children only learn to read and write their native tongue after coming to Loi Tailang. In addition to Shan language, the children at Loi Tailang learn Thai, English, and Burmese. It is arguably the best school in Shan State. 

 My project, “In Shanland” 

Defying the Burmese government’s ban on journalists, Antonio crossed the border under the protection of the Shan State Army, and began filming interviews with IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within the war zone.

 

When Sai Lieng came back to his village he saw the head of an old man hanging from a tree. His father was already dead. When he found his mother, she was still breathing, so he dragged her to the temple and asked the monks if they could help her. She died a few minutes later. After the next attack, he found his sister dead in a pool of blood behind a hut. Unable to care for his six year old brother alone, he left his brother at a monastery. Eventually, Sai Lieng made his way to the Shan State Army headquarters at Loi Tailang, where he attended school for the fist time in his life.

He was ten years old.

 

This is only one of thousands of stories at the Loi Tailang camp.

“In Shanland” video project will document the lives, joys, and suffering of the internally displaced people, orphans, soldiers, and civilians living at the Loi Tailang facility. The Shan young people are intelligent, literate and thinking. This project will allow them to tell their story to the world, a world that has ignored their suffering.

 

The original plan for the “In Shanland” project was to publish (for free) one print story and one video per week for twelve weeks, then to make a full length movie, entitled “In Shanland” put it on a DVD and make it available to pro-democracy and Burma organizations as well as human rights groups. But, now the project has changed a bit. I still plan to produce a final DVD movie, “In Shanland” by the end of April or beginning of May. But, I am planning to continue posting one video and one story per week for a year.

 

Click here to see all the youtube posts to date:

http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo+shan+state+army&search_type=&search=Search

 

This is a unique project which will hopefully gain momentum and help build awareness about the Shan and the war in Burma.

 

So far, we are into about the eighth week of the project.

 

The youtube posts will continue until the end of the year unless I get killed or captured. I had a bad accident on the border this week which made me realize that anything could happen and I need to get the DVD finished as soon as possible so that if I am killed or captured my silent partner could continue doing the posts.

 

To continue this work I need donations to finance travel in and out of Burma, food and accommodations, internet access fees, and money to pay for film editing service. I also need to get a better quality, HD video camera, because I am currently shooting with a low quality home video camera donated by a kind person in the USA.

 

If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal. Through the Burma page of his website.

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htmAntonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” Currently he is working inside of Shan State, documenting human rights abuses, doing a film and print project to raise awareness of the Shan people.  To see all of his videos about martial arts, Burma and other countries: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=SearchAntonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm  

Antonio is self funded and will continue the “In Shanland” film and print article project until he is killed or captured. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can do so through paypal through the Burma page of his website

http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm