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Landmines and Redemption in Cambodia

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 at 3:53 am

By Antonio Graceffo

Aki Ra risks his life and freedom in the face of political pressure in order to help landmine victims. He dreams of a day when there will be no more mines in Cambodia. The court says helping injured children is allowed, but you need a license to de-mine in Cambodia Mine Facts 1. It costs $3 to make a mine. 2. A child can lay mines. 3. It cost $500 to remove a mine from the earth. 4. Children step on mines. 5. Mines cost children their limbs. The tiny room was filled with bombs, rockets, bullets, and of course, land mines. “This is one is a Vietnamese mine.” Said Boreath, holding up the now disarmed weapon of destruction. He was holding it in his left hand, because his right arm was missing, from the shoulder down. Boreath pointed at what looked like a bear trap. “If you step on this one, and no one come to help you, two hours and all blood go from your body, and you die.” It was not hard to imagine the cruelty of those massive steel jaws slamming shut on your leg. There were some steel jacks, with spikes approximately three inches long. “They throw these everywhere on the ground. When you step on them, they get stuck in your foot.” Boreath explained nearly every weapon from the display. “This one is American, we call bouncing betty. Step on this one and it jumps up and blows your leg off. These are machine gun bullets. These bombs fall from the sky. This one comes from Russia. This mine is a Chinese copy of an American mine.” Boreath was an expert on explosives and the remnants of a war he could not remember, but to which he still fell victim. Fourteen year old Boreath is a happy, polite, clean cut Khmer kid who likes playing sports and spending time with his adopted family. Talking to him for just a few minutes you would realize that he is exceptionally bright and that he speaks excellent English. If he wasn’t missing an arm, he could be any child from a privileged Phnom Penh family, who can afford to send their kids to an expensive international school. Looking into his bright, smiling eyes, it is hard to imagine that he is from a poor family, with six children, born in a remote village, where there wasn’t even a school. “My village was near the Thai border.” Explained Boreath. The five provinces on Cambodia’s Thai border are some of the most heavily mined regions in Asia. “Seven years ago, I was playing, digging in the woods, when I hit the mortar bomb.” The fact that Boreath was playing in the woods nearly two decades after the end of the war did not keep him safe. Unexploded bombs and mines can remain active for up to 150 years. “Near my village there was no public hospital, only a private one and they didn’t want to help me because my family has no money. So, we went to the military aid station. I stayed there for one month.” Boreath’s story is all too common in Cambodia. The landmines are a tremendous social problem, as people, particularly farmers, are frequently injured by them. But Boreath’s story illustrates other issues facing the average Khmer family, namely the lack of money and lack of access to competent medical care. “My family not have school, not have money, not have anything. Three years ago, Aki Ra came to the Thai border to remove mines. He asked me if I wanted to come to Siem Reap and live with his family. And my family agreed.” Now, Boreath has a roof over his head, three meals per day, a school to go to, plus supplemental English and Japanese lessons taught by volunteers. He also has about twenty new brothers and sisters who live with him, all of whom are landmine victims. The man who made all of this possible is Aki Ra. Aki Ra is one of the great heroes of modern Cambodia. Born a Khmer Rouge jungle fighter, Aki Ra spent most of his youth putting mines in the ground. He was later forced into the Vietnamese army, and was employed to put mines in the ground, this time, fighting against the Khmer Rouge. Aki Ra eventually had enough of killing, came of out of the jungle, and surrendered. He served with the UN peace keepers, doing de-mining work. Later, he opened the land mine museum, where he displayed unexploded ordinance, so that foreigners could learn the horrors of the Cambodian genocide. He and his wife also opened his home to landmine victims, raising more than twenty of them as his own children. Aki Ra pays for their food, education, and medical care. Through the support of an NGO, called Handicapped International, he is also able to provide his children with prosthetic limbs. Aki Ra used to have his family living at the Aki Ra Mine Action headquarters, which was at his wooden house and compound near the river. The building wear I met Boreath was the new land mine museum, thirty kilometers outside of Siem Reap city. Although they have already had their grand opening, Stuart Cochlin, a volunteer architect, is helping Aki Ra complete the new center. “The museum is already opened, but we are still finishing the rest of the complex.” Explained Cochlin. “There will be a school, a clinic, dormitories and a shower block for the kids. There will be a house for Aki Ra and his family, and dormitories for the volunteer teachers.” “The way it stands now, the kids have to walk seven kilometers to primary school.” Said Cochlin. “The high school is even further away.” Seven kilometers is a long distance for anyone to walk, but particularly difficult for children who are missing a leg. The rainy season must be especially uncomfortable to undertake such a lengthy hike. “The school is extremely important.” Said Cochlin, “Many of the kids get teased at school. So, they lost interest in going. The rules in the new house, however, will be, go to school or find somewhere else to live.” The clinic is also important. On the way to the museum we passed the children’s hospital where hundreds of people stood in line, every day, just to see a doctor. Construction crews were hard at work on the new center, and hope to have it done in a few months. In the mean time, the kids said they are sleeping in hammocks. A seventeen year old boy, named Chet, told me he had been living with Aki Ra for three years. In spite of having lost a leg, Chet told me. “I can walk well and play football, but I cannot jump. And, my leg hurts often.” Chet was an orphan, living on the streets of Phnom Penh, shining shoes. About five years ago, when he was twelve, a man offered Chet a job, cutting trees in Battambong. “I was walking between the fields and stepped on a mine.” Once again, there was no hospital. The local people stopped the bleeding by wrapping the wound with Krama, traditional Khmer scarves. After Chet recovered, his employer dropped him back on the streets of Phnom Penh, where he began shining shoes again. “I didn’t have a plastic leg then. I had to use crutches.” Said Chet, holding out his hands so I could see the permanent scars the crutches had left. “I didn’t have a house or a family. I slept on the streets. I didn’t go to school. Aki Ra saw me when he came to Phnom Penh, and he asked if I wanted to go live at his house.” Chety smiled. “Now, I go to school, play kick ball, and work as a guide. I also play music. I love the keyboard. We all learned English at the old museum from the volunteer teachers. And here, we have the other children, same as family.” I asked Chet if he walked the seven kilometers to school every day. “Yes, I walk. I cannot have a driver.” Another boy was missing a leg told us that although he was eighteen, he was only in the Seventh grade. Going to live wit Aki Ra was the only hope any of these children ever had of getting an education, learning English, or in some cases, having a family. When the center is completed, they will be living better than 90% of Khmer kids. Aki Ra and the Land Mine Relief Fund NGO are doing great things to help these kids. Richard Fitoussi, a war photographer from Canada, is the man most responsible for the existence of the NGO and much of the money which has come in. But once again, the very fact that such an NGO is needed suggests that the local government just doesn’t care about the people. A tourist lady from England barged into the museum, and tire past all of the displays, without even glancing at them. “Do you speak English?” She asked me, having given up on the child amputee who was guiding her. I was a little embarrassed to admit that I did. “Where is the portrait of Princes Diana?” She asked. “Diana did a lot for these people, I came all the way from England to see her portrait. But no one even seems to know her name.” It took me a minute, but then I remembered that Princes Diana had been instrumental in founding the HALO Trust, a de-mining NGO. Sadly, I had to tell the British lady that as far as I knew, there was no portrait of the princes in the museum. The woman turned, brushed past the bombs and wounded children, hoped back in her tuk-tuk and left. Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the lack of interest shown be the local government is the lack of interest shown by the developed world. It appears that the de-mining efforts of the Cambodian government are focused on de-mining the development areas and tourist locations, but the farms, which cover the vast majority of the Khmer landscape, are the lowest priority. Two years ago, while doing stories in Siem Reap, I stopped in, unannounced, at the old landmine museum, to interview Aki Ra. Since then, things have obviously changed for Aki Ra. For three weeks prior to coming to Siem Reap, I sent email requesting an interview. “There are three documentary film makers in town right now, all of whom want to do interviews with Aki Ra.” A spokesman for the Land Mine relief Fund told me. They finally agreed to let me have an interview with Aki Ra’s second in command, but couldn’t guarantee that I would get to see the man himself. As I pulled up to the museum, I saw Aki Ra in green army fatigues, getting into a jeep. I ran over, and asked for the interview. “I am sorry.” He said. “I have no time. I am on my way to detonate some mines.” “Can I come with?” I asked. He looked me up and down, eventually saying, “OK, get in.” In the vehicle were a Khmer driver, a Japanese de-miner, and a Japanese kid who claimed to be a tourist, but behaved like a journalist. Not to promote racial stereotypes, but both of the Japanese had better cameras than me. I, however, had a digital voice recorder. The Japanese did not have a digital voice recorder. Great success! As the vehicle made its bumpy way to a point out near the airport, Aki Ra explained the operation. “I now have 150 soldiers working for me, who I trained. We collect unexploded ordnance all month and store it in a safe location.” By a safe location, he meant a pit twenty meters behind the tents where the soldiers slept. But he was right. The location was safe. No one was going to be able to steal those mines. “Once or twice a month, when we have enough pieces, we carry them to another safe location and detonate them.” “Sometimes we have a hundred, sometimes more.” I am not a mine expert, but the thought of digging up a mine, moving it, storing it, and moving it again, sounded terribly dangerous. “No, we are careful, to hold them upright when we move them and not jiggle them from side to side.” If he had only told me that at the beginning I would have been glad to help. Aki Ra explained that the airport location had been heavily mined during fighting between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese, in 1985. “Many of the mines are American, taken from the Lon Nol Republican forces or from the Americans in Vietnam.” A group of soldiers were waiting for us at the camp, near the disposal location. The camp was nothing like the well-appointed and organized camps of American GIs. The Cambodian soldiers slept in hammocks. Most were out of uniform, a few were wearing sarongs. Some even had their families with them. Just a few meters away was the pit where the mines and munitions were stowed until they are moved to the detonation site. The pit held an array of unexploded ordnance, mortars, mines, bombs, claymores, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG), and baseball grenade and pineapple grenades. “The M-79 (a grenade fired from an assault rifle) is the most dangerous.” Pronounced Aki Ra. When I asked a question about mines, Aki Ra was quick to answer. “We don’t use the word mine. The government will get angry, because I don’t have a de-mining license.” For years, the government and a number of other organizations had been trying to shut Aki Ra down. The charges against Aki Ra were often non-specific. The most common ones were that he was stock piling munitions, or that he was de-minig without a license. Would either of these charges be a good enough reason to take the prosthetic limbs away from the orphans and toss them back on the streets? Stuart explained that new land mine museum is part of an NGO, called the Land Mine Relief Fund. “This is a real, legal NGO, with transparency and proper licensing and papers. Now, that we have the NGO, all of Aki Ra’s deming efforts are his private affair, outside of the NGO. We have nothing to do with that.” This separation should protect the children and the museum. As for Aki Ra as an individual, steps are being taken there as well. ”When the disarmed munitions were moved to the new museum, all the pieces were checked, numbered, and tagged by an expert NGO. And now, no one can say anything.” Said Stuart. This should alleviate the issue of stockpiling munitions. But what about the second charge, demining without a license? Aki Ra has applied for a demining license, but has not been approved. Meanwhile, he is often asked to speak at conferences around the globe, as he is recognized as a leading authority on landmines. If the world accepts that he is an expert, why can’t the local government and demining NGOs? One theory is that the reason is purely financial. Five years ago, it was estimated that there were 6 million mines in Cambodia. Aki Ra has been known to take as many as 36 mines out of the Earth in an hour. He is personally credited with having removed tens of thousands of mines. The average cost for an aid organization to remove a mine is $500. Said another way, someone earns $500 for every mine that comes out of the ground. Aki Ra demines for free. Every mine he takes out of the earth is denying $500 income to someone. If there were no Aki Ra, the people who have a monopoly on the demining business could be looking at an income of $3,000,000,000 (6 million mines times $500). No one has come out and admitted that human suffering is a big business, but NGOs have justified shutting Aki Ra down on the grounds that “he will get someone killed.” Aki Ra has removed tens of thousands of mines from the ground. By doing so, he has saved countless lives. Even if he blew himself up tomorrow, why should the NGOs care? He would stop demining if he were dead. Professional demining teams normally remove one mine per day. Aki Ra, working alone, with a stick and a knife, makes the big boys, with their expensive equipment look bad. No one wants to look bad. One final, profit related motive that people may have for wanting to close Aki Ra down is that he is successful. “People don’t like you when you are successful.” Said Stuart. Cambodian society is prone to what Pol Pot and Mao called “tall poppy syndrome.” In a field of poppies, the tall poppy, the one who stands up or stands out, gets his head cut off. Aki Ra’s landmine museum may be seen as a direct competition to the government owned war museum in Siem Reap. Aside from the fact that the war museum is easily the least impressive tourist attraction I have ever seen, apart from the museum of barnyard oddities, another reason to give it a miss is that the money is not going to help orphans or disabled people. The rumor is that a high ranking general gets the money from the museum. Rumors aside, Aki Ra now has a legitimate NGO, which is helping people. The war museum is only an attraction. When I asked the guide at the war museum if they were associated with an NGO, he was quick to point out, the donation box. “You can put money in there for the Cambodian Red Cross.” Maybe I had judged them too harshly, clearly their humanitarian activities rival even Aki Ra’s. Although the government still does not officially support Aki Ra, he has some support from the army. “I have fifty men working for me here. Another group works over there. They destroyed mines earlier this morning. I call the two groups Khmer Rouge team and Vietnamese team.” I didn’t envy the soldiers working in the hot Cambodian sun. The enlisted men wore uniforms of coarse, horrible cotton, which didn’t breath. The rich officers wore uniforms of horrible polyester, which didn’t breath. “The soldiers only earn $30 a month, so I have to buy food for them.” At the detonation site, more than one hundred pieces of explosive ordnance were piled in a hole, about a meter and half deep. “We don’t have det-cord, so I make myself. We use a car battery, plus and minus, and at the other end is a detonator from a Chinese Bouncing Betty mine.” The hole full of explosives was filled in. Then we hiked twenty meters up a hill back to the road. I thought we would crouch behind the vehicles like in a war movie. “We have to go far away because of the fragments.” Said Aki Ra, getting into the vehicle. Thinking of all of those scary explosives I wanted to suggest we go even further away. The Japanese guys set up their cameras to fire from remote, so they could get a video of the explosion. I, however, couldn’t risk my camera. So, I took with me, to our safe place about a kilometer away. Now the Japanese had a lead on me, two to one. After the explosion, the smell of cordite was overwhelming. “I love the smell of cordite in the morning.” Although the hole had been filled in before the detonation, all of the dirt had been blown out, and the hole was now a smoldering crater, about two meters wide. Back at Aki Ra’s old house, he suddenly produced four mines which he and the Japanese guy would disarm. After removing the detonators, they had to cut off the outer casing. This they did with a hatchet. When I tried to take a photo, Aki Ra warned me, “No photos. This is not legal because I am not wearing a helmet.” I didn’t want to tell anyone their business, but if you are hitting a mine with a hatchet, a helmet probably isn’t going to save you. Then they used a nail and a hammer to chip of the bottom plate. They sprayed the housing with a lot of WD-40 spray oil to ensure it slipped off. Next, they put the mine in a vice and tightened it till their muscles bulged. When they began banging the mine with a hammer, I remembered another appointment, and made my exit. If you visit the Land Mine Museum you can donate money to the NGO and help keep the children fed and in school. You can also make donations t the Land Mine Relief Fund or contact them by email: info@cambodialandminemuseum.org Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries. See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe. http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1 Antonio is also on twitter, with the name, Brooklyn Monk. Follow his adventures and tweets. His books are available on amazon.com Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com His website is http://www.speakingadventure.com sign up for his mailing list on the site. Antonio now has a paypal account. The only way he can keep filming and writing is with the help and support of people who enjoy reading his stories and watching his videos. You can donate through Antonio’s facebook profile, or you can click on this link and donate directly. https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=HQJVMYFGNYX58 If you can help, thank you so much. If you can’t help, don’t worry about it. I know things are tough out there. But, either way, please keep watching and enjoying Martial Arts Odyssey. I never wanted this to become a huge business, and I wanted everyone in the world to be able to watch for free. 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Martial Arts Odyssey Volume One DVD Trailer

In Martial Arts, Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 6:00 am

Martial Arts Odyssey Volume One DVD Trailer

The long awaited DVD coming soon, “Martial Arts Odyssey: Volume One”

“Martial Arts Odyssey” has been a web TV show for nearly three years, and 160 webisodes, spanning nine countries and countless martial arts. Now the web TV show is moving to an artfully edited DVD series edited by filmmaker, Charlie Armour and of course, starring Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo.

“Martial Arts Odyssey: Volume One” will feature never before seen footage, interviews, and photos all shot on location, in the exotic world of Asian martial arts.

Coming soon.

Watch the trailer for free on youtube

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Silat Tomoi DVD Coming Soon

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2010 at 7:00 am

Featuring Kru Jak Othman and Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo.

Silat Tomoi is an ancient form of Malay martial art which combines kickboxing with blade fighting. The art originated from the northern part of Malaysia and the southern part of Thailand, a region which was once unified as a single kingdom. Silat Tomioi is a deadly component of the Muay arts (Muay Thai, Bradal Serey, Muay Lao, Muay Chaiya, and Lethwei). Tomoi focuses on destroying your opponent’s body with powerful elbow and knee strikes. But then, using the Silat component, fighting bare-knuckle, you move in, tearing and ripping your opponent with your hands, or you grapple and lock him to the ground, forcing submission or finishing him off with joint manipulations and chokes.

As deadly as the art is, unarmed, there is also a bladed combat component to Silat Tomoi.

The art comes from the place where Thai and Malay culture meet. And, it looks like what it is, a hybrid art, marrying Silat with Muay Thai. Many of the postures even look like Muay Thai Chaiya, which originated in Chaiya, the former capital of the ancient kingdom.

Antonio’s partner on this video project is Kru Jak Othman who is a leading figure in the Silat. As a young man, Jak studied in Kelantan which is the fighting region of Malaysia, where Silat and Tomoi mix. Professional Muay Thai and Tomoi fights are a favorite pastime in the Kelantan. Jak is the owner of Jak Othman Muay Thai schools in Selangor and was the award winning film maker who produced the video, “Inside Silat.” Locally, he is known for his TV show, “Maha Guru.”
The video was shot on location in Malaysia, by a professional film crew. The final product will be 45 minutes long. It was shot in HD and is high enough quality for TV broadcast. The video is being edited now, professionally, and will be released in June. Outside of Malaysia, the DVD will be available on amazon.com as well as other websites. Inside of Malaysia the show may run on TV.

The content is part documentary and part how-to, but shot on several interesting locations in Malaysia, so it has a feel of travel and adventure. It deals with culture as well as hard-hitting elbow strikes that crush bones.

The Silat Tomoi DVD will be the first in a long series. There will be other Tomoi videos, as well as videos about other martial arts, both inside and outside of Malaysia. Currently, Antonio is studying Silat Kalam, a deeply religious form of Silat. Antonio is the first non-Muslim ever to be permitted to study the art. Silat Kalam will be featured in at least one of the coming episodes. The first non-Malaysian art Jak and Antonio plan to feature is Cambodian Bokator, and it will be the first Bokator video ever done.
Silat Tomoi DVD featuring Kru Jak Othman and Brooklyn Monk Antonio Graceffo, coming soon.

Special thanks to the kids at PJ and Subang, you guys are all warrior tigers! And remember, elbow strikes protect you from catching cold in the rain.

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe.

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

His books are available on amazon.com

Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com

His website is www.speakingadventure.com

This episode was edited by Antonio Graceffo and features the official Martial Arts Odyssey intro and outro by Andy To.

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Getting My Butt Handed to Me

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 at 5:57 am

By Antonio Graceffo

I came back to my apartment in Malaysia, bleeding, exhausted and disheartened. During a long hot shower, I blew the blood clots of my nose and stuffed my nostrils with toilet paper so the bleeding wouldn’t start again.

Laying on the bed, I guzzled several liters of water, trying to rehydrate, while holding an ice pack on my eye. The first paid gig I’d had in weeks was starting in two days time, when I would be hosting a video series about Silat Tomoi. I was praying the director wouldn’t cut me from the shoot because my eye looked like hamburger.

The first time I remember coming home beat and bleeding like that was when I was twelve years old, when I first took up boxing. Much of my teen-years and nearly all of my early twenties were spent recuperating from fighting injuries. Now, in my forties, the injuries are more frequent, and it gets harder to recuperate. The schedule I had been keeping since arriving in Malaysia was also not helping matters. I was training twice a day and filming several times a week. Two weeks previously, I had injured my left foot sparring in a pro Muay Thai gym. So, I switched to only kicking with my right leg. A few days later, I injured the right shin doing Kyokushin karate. So, I switched to only throwing straight kicks and back kicks which impact on my feet rather than my shins. And of course, throwing any kicks at all was risking my knee which was already permanently injured.

Much of my life, since age twelve, has revolved around fighting and training for fighting. And at the end of all of the hard work, discipline and pain, there are still people, professional fighters, who can absolutely play with me, without risking injury at all.

How does one become a master? And what does that mean? And, can you still call yourself a master if there are large numbers of people in the world who can beat you?

A few weeks ago, back in Cambodia, I was awarded a black belt in Khmer boxing. It was my third black belt to date. My friend Robert Stark, who is just a few years younger than me, was promoted to brown belt in the same test. It made us feel good, but at the same time, we questioned whether or not we deserved it. In our gym in Cambodia, Paddy’s Fight Club, we have a core of about five or six guys who are like me. They have had some pro-fights or amateur fights, they train as pros, five days per week, religiously, but don’t intend on making fighting a career. We also have five or six resident pros, and we spar with them regularly. And, the Cambodian version of the TV show, “The Contender” called “Kuhn Khmer Champion” is shot in our gym. The contestants are fourteen extremely tough Khmer boxers with ten or less professional fights behind them. We, the guys in my category, are expected to be able to spar with those guys, but not be able to beat them in a pro bout.

We also have a group of about 12 “regular people” who attend what I call “Civilian Khmer Boxing Class.” These are normal people, with jobs who just train Khmer boxing for fun and fitness. Obviously they are never asked to spar with us.

So, basically, in my gym in Cambodia, I feel like I am somewhere in the middle. I’m not as good as the pros but better than the civilians and hang in there, training and sparring with the other guys in my same category.

But any time I would feel good about myself and my ability, I would glance across the training floor to where the TV show was being filmed and realize any of those pros could knock my block off. So, how good am I?

I spend most of my year training in Cambodia and Thailand, two countries where Khmer Boxing and Muay Thai are the national sport, and where I train in professional gyms, full of Lumpini fighters. Last year, I left Cambodia and Thailand, and headed to Taiwan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. I realized right away that being in Cambodia and Thailand surrounded by professional fighters and training on a professional schedule five days per week wasn’t the norm. The vast majority of people training elsewhere were training two or three times per week and some gyms only had one or two pros. Sparring with those kinds of people I was doing pretty well. Vietnam was the most extreme of my experiences. Apart from the K-1 Fight Factory in Ho Chi Minh City I couldn’t even find martial artists who could fight.

Back in Cambodia, Robert asked me about our belts. I told him about how easy it was sparring in other countries, where people don’t get the training we had in Cambodia.

“So, what you are saying is, if you spar with people who don’t know how to fight, you can win?” asked Robert.

He was right. It’s not a fair comparison. But the flip side is, should the standard for ability be whether or not you can hang with professional fighters and win?

Now, I am back in Malaysia, training at three gyms regularly and filming at several others. At my Silat training, I would assume that I could beat most of the Silat guys because they don’t have the experience of ring fighting. In my main Muay Thai gym, I am one of the better fighters and I teach classes to help the other students improve their fighting skills. It is a humbling and joyful experience to be recognized as an expert, but at the same time, I know that in another gym, I am just average. And in another, I am sub-average. Sometimes I feel like an impersonator when I am teaching.

In the pro Muay Thai gym where I train in Malaysia, I am at a good level for the “regular people” but the pros just play with me and laugh when we are sparring. For my web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey” I have to constantly go to new gyms, doing different martial arts, and fight. When I visited the kyokushin dojo for the first time, a female black belt beat me up. In fact, I didn’t spar any of the children, but I am sure they could have beat me too.

Doing kyokushin is different from Muay Thai. You can’t punch in the face, so I couldn’t do combinations or capitalize on my boxing. Kicking them in the body or legs was useless because they were so thoroughly conditioned. And, every time I hit them, I hurt myself. Not hitting them was also not a good strategy, because then they hit me.

I went home after the first kyokushin class and asked how I could call myself a fighter if I was so easily beaten by so many people.

Doing “Martial Arts Odyssey” I frequently get my butt handed to me. I am always fighting in someone else’s club, their rules, their art… and I frequently lose big. The show we did on Muay Chiaya was one of the most painful losses I had. And the one I did on Savate made me look like a sickly girl.

I could make excuses, but the bottom line is, shouldn’t you be able to fight with anyone, no matter what the style?

Yesterday was the worst humiliation to date. I went to shoot a show about boxing at a gym run by a former Russian amateur fighter. The former Soviet Union and Cuba are known for producing the best amateur boxers in the world. The guy I got in the ring with was a 20 year-old Malay, 6 foot 2 and 95 kgs. He had only had one pro fight, but it was a six rounder, and he won. Because this was training, we did one round, hitting only with the left hand and one round hitting only with the right. By the end of it, my nose was bleeding, my eye was black and I was defeated internally. The coach, Alex actually asked me if I had ever boxed before because everything about my style was wrong. My stance was wrong, my foot placement, my body wind up, my punches, defense, head movement… It was all wrong. So wrong that the pro said to me afterwards, “I didn’t mean to hit you, but you were open the whole time and you moved right into my punch before I could stop it.”

The pro had that style and movement, the body mechanics that I absolutely admire in well-trained boxers. Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson both had it because they trained for years as amateurs before turning pro. For me, I skipped all of that stuff and just became a brawler. My strength in Muay Thai or Khmer Boxing is my boxing. But against a real boxer, I was easily made to look like a fool.

So, what is a master? How do you get there? Do other people who call themselves masters or black belts have the ability to walk into Muay Thai, Kyokushin, Silat, and pro boxing all in the same week and win?

And if you are constantly getting your butt handed to you, can you still call yourself good?

Most importantly:

Forget the black belt tests. How do you grade yourself? After all, the only grading that matters is the one you give yourself.

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe.

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

Antonio is also on twitter, with the name, Brooklyn Monk. Follow his adventures and tweets.

His books are available on amazon.com

Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com

His website is www.speakingadventure.com sign up for his mailing list on the site.

Antonio now has a paypal account. The only way he can keep filming and writing is with the help and support of people who enjoy reading his stories and watching his videos.

You can donate through Antonio’s facebook profile, or you can click on this link and donate directly.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=HQJVMYFGNYX58

If you can help, thank you so much. If you can’t help, don’t worry about it. I know things are tough out there. But, either way, please keep watching and enjoying Martial Arts Odyssey. I never wanted this to become a huge business, and I wanted everyone in the world to be able to watch for free.

Antonio,graceffo,Brooklyn,monk,kuala,Lumpur,selengore,selangor,malay,Malaysia, martial,arts,odyssey,muay,thai,boxing,silat,kru,jak,Othman,kalam,calam,Mazlan,Man,Guru,Bangkok,Thailand,thai,Chinese,thai,Thailand,Bangkok,Chinese,hokkien,khmer,boxing,paddy,fight,club,bokator

My Malaysian Masters

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2010 at 7:29 am

Silat Kalam, Silat Tomi, and Kyokushin Karate

By Antonio Graceffo

The first time I trained in Malaysia was in August of 2009. At that time my Chinese-Malaysian friend, Sheung Di, arrange for me to train and film at several locations and in several arts in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. On that first trip, we hit: Boxx Warrior, Kru Jak Othman Muay Thai, Silat Guru Azlan Ghani, and Silat Kalam with Guru Mazlan Man. On my return trip, in March 2010 I revisited each of them and added several new ones.

We began our Malaysian martial arts odyssey at Boxx Warrior, Ampang which is a pro Muay Thai gym. The owner, Kirsty, a bright, and educated Malay woman is a huge fan of Thai boxing. She brought four trainers from Thailand and runs her gym exactly like gyms in Thailand. The Gym opened at 5:00 PM. I went in, warmed up and worked the heavy bags. Next, the trainers, who were all happy to talk to me in Thai, took me on the pads for three rounds of Muay Thai and two of boxing. What I really appreciated about the training was that the trainers made corrections. They watched my form and explained to me where I was off and what I need to improve on.

Kirsty told me, “My instructors know if they aren’t good, I will send them back where they came from.”

After pad work, we sparred. Once again, the trainers were excellent sparring partners, making you work for your supper, but they didn’t injure me or any of the other students. Of course, out of frustration, I often took cheap shots.

In addition to taking their fighters to Thailand for competitions, Boxx Warrior, Ampang is involved in promoting professional Muay Thai tournaments in Malaysia. Their leading boxer is Ediey Selendang Kunning (born Moho Zandi Bin Mohd Zawawi) from Kelantan, where all of the great Malay boxers come from. He weighs 63 Kgs of solid muscle and zero fat and has had 55 fights with only 4 loses. He fights often in Lumpini stadium in Bangkok, and during my second visit to Malaysia Ediey fought, and defeated Zidov Dominik, the Croation Muay Thai fighter who was featured on the TV show “The Contender Asia”.

Next, we trained with Kru Jak Othman who owns a chain of Muay Thai schools. Kru Jak is also a recognized, high level Guru of many Silat styles. So, we shot multiple shows with him. Kru Jak and I hit it off extremely well, because he had trained in Kelantan, which is the fighting region of Malaysia. Kelantan, in north Malaysia, borders on Thailand and Muay Thai or Tomoi as the Malays call it, is extremely popular. He grew up training Muay Thai and could also speak Thai. So, when we met, we were able to connect on the basis of both having been fighters and on understanding Thai culture.

Because of my first book, “The Monk from Brooklyn,” my nickname on the internet and in the press is often, Brooklyn Monk. Kru Jak is funny because he insists on calling me Monk. He also tells his students, “When the Monk is around, show him some respect.” Kru Jak also gets a kick out of the fact that I always call him Kru, which is the title for a Muay Thai teacher, and never Guru which is the title for a Silat teacher.

The Muay Thai program at Kru Jak’s place was really interesting. His students were primarily college students or working young people with executive jobs who needed to release stress. “They come to my club and punch it out.” Said Kru Jak. Jak knows that it is an interest in hard-core professional Muay Thai that brings people into the gym, but in his words, “If you put them through a real Muay Thai workout on Monday, you’d be all alone on Tuesday.” He recognizes that Muay Thai training is hard and injuries and pain are inevitable. The only reason Thais, Khmers, and Kelatanese do it is because they need to go fight in a ring to earn money. But middle-class Malaysians aren’t motivated by a need to earn $60 USD in a fight. They want to have fun and get in shape. If the program was as injurious as pro Muay Thai training, students would quit right and left. And Chinese parents would never allow their kids to practice a sport where they might get kicked in the head.

In response to the needs of the students, rather than to the stated needs of the students, Kru Jak developed an innovative training program to suit the modern educated, city dwellers. The program starts with Phase One, where students learn cardio kickboxing. I say cardio kickboxing, but this isn’t Thai Bo. They actually learn real kicks and punches and use the pads and gloves, but the intent at this level is to teach very basic techniques and fitness. At Phase Two, students put on belly protectors and body guards, and they practice hitting each other with set combinations. Eventually, at Phase Four they start sparring and can also fight in professional or amateur Muay Thai competitions.

In addition to Muay Thai, Kru Jak has special evening seminars where he teaches Muay Boran or ancient Tomoi techniques to his students. He also teaches Silat Tomoi. Many of the Silat styles taught in Malaysia involve one or more blades. Kru Jak’s hands move at the speed of light, and with a knife in each hand he absolutely shreds anything he attacks. In Silat Tomoi, the same techniques are added to Muay Thai. So even in unarmed combat, Kru Jak moves in close and shreds his opponent with his hands, elbows and knees.

In the old days, in Kelanatan, this is how professional fights were done. There were no gloves. Fighters wrapped their hands with cords and then they fought, using kicks, punches, knees, elbows, grappling, and Silat style, ripping and tearing.

One of my projects on this second trip to Malaysia is that Kru Jak and I are producing a professional quality DVD on Silat Tomoi which should enjoy a US and Australian release in June of 2010.

Another Silat teacher I trained with on my first trip was Guru Azlan Ghanie who teaches Silat.Melayu, an internal style of Silat which is good for health and could almost be considered a Silat version of Tae Chi. In addition to his special style, he was knowledgeable about a number of Silat styles and weapons. In fact, his office looked like a cutlery factory, with swords, knives and bladed weapons of every description.

When I trained with him, Guru Azlan asked me to get him various wrestling holds, and in spite of being much smaller than me, he was able to break free. It was a very interesting style and reminded me so much of Chinese styles where old men and women are able to preserve their health but also break free of the grip of much younger assailants.

On that first trip, I also trained with Guru Mazlan Man, who teaches Silat Kalam, a highly practical fighting form of Silat. Silat Kalam included a lot of grappling and locking, as in Hop Kido and practical, no energy throws, like Aikido, but the locks and finishing holds were very unique, different from any other martial art or MMA style I had been exposed to. Guru Mazlan was very religious, a devout Muslim, and only agreed to let me train with him after a lengthy interview process. During that interview, he told me that everything we do in life, all good things, are because of God. “We breath because of God. We walk because of God. And we can use Silat, because of God.” I liked that phrase and it became the title of our video, “Martial Arts Odyssey Because of God.”

Guru Mazlan Man invited me to return to Malaysia and become his fulltime student and work as his assistant. And that is what I am doing at the time of this writing. Each day, I train with the Guru in the afternoon, then I train with Kru Jak Othman, learning Muay Thai and Silat Tomoi. Guru Mazlan’s style includes a limited number of movements and only takes a few months to learn, but of course, to truly use the techniques you need to practice intensely and over time. The Guru wants me to be ready to help him teach courses to the Malaysian national police force, beginning in two months time.

One of the very special aspects of my relationship with Guru Mazlan is that he has never agreed to teach his style to a non-Muslim before. I feel very honored. And we both agree that his teaching me sends a signal of inclusion to the different races and religions of Malaysia and to the world. Right now, the government of Malaysia is pushing a slogan of “Satu Malaysia”, or “One Malaysia.” Malaysia is an amazingly unified and stable country, considering that it is home to some many completely different languages, races, and religions. My association with the Guru embodies this spirit of unity.

Because the art is so closely tied to religion, I also receive daily lessons in the religion and language of the Muslim people of Malaysia. I feel extremely honored and lucky because not many westerners have had an opportunity to be so closely associated with this important world religion which plays so deeply on our foreign relations.

Guru Mazlan hopes that we will be doing a series for Malaysian TV about my training with him. After that, in addition to working as an instructor here he hopes that I can spread the art outside of Malaysia. “Send it to the world.” He said. “You will spread the teaching, either through your direct teaching or through your videos and books.”

Inshallah.

In doing Martial arts Odyssey, I travel form place to place, meeting different masters. Some I film with and interview. Others, I actually stay and study with. The brand new styles that I have added to my own repertoire during these many years include: Khmer Boxing, Bokator, Kuntaw, and Muay Chaiya. But now I have added Silat Tomoi, Silat Kalam, and Kyokushin Karate to my list of arts I am actually studying and hope to absorb.

On the Malaysian Island of Penang, I met with Grand Master Anbananthan, a teacher of the Indian martial art of Silambam. Silambam is an Indian stick fighting art, which has nearly died out in India. In all of the research I have done, every source has credited Grand Master Anbananthan and his team in Penang as having preserved the art. The Grand Master returned to India recently and said that the Silambam he saw practiced there was no longer pure, it had become influenced by other martial arts and possibly movies.

Silambam is a very unique form of stick fighting in that the stick is an odd length. In most other martial arts, you use a long stick, such as a staff, which is close to the height of a man. The stick is held in three sections and is wielded with two hands. Or you use two short sticks, one in each hand. But the Silambam stick is shorter than a staff but much longer than two short sticks. It is also wielded with two hands, but normally the two hands are close together and you swing the length of the stick at your opponent. The practice is all about learning to control and direct the stick on these huge, lightning fast swings.

Finally, on this trip, we visited Kyokushin Karate and I immediately added it to the list of martial arts I am now practicing. My first exposure to Kyokushin came from my Khmer boxing trainer, Paddy Carson, who is a Second Dan or second degree black belt in Kyokushin. Paddy loves western boxing and had been involved in professional western boxing as well as kick boxing, Muay Thai and Khmer Boxing for more than forty years, but he always spoke with love about the ten or more years he was involved in Kyokushin.

Kyokushin is full contact karate. They fight barefisted and they kick with their shins, like Muay Thai. The only thing they can’t do in a fight is punch in the face, but they can kick in the face, and they whale on each other’s bodies with punches, knees and kicks. The founder of Kyokushin is Mas Oyama, who is on my list of top five greatest martial artists who ever lived. His personal training regime was insane and I never tire of reading biographies about him.

In Malaysia the primary Kyokushin school is located in Selangor, minutes from my apartment, and is run by Shihan Michael Ding. Before we began training, I watched Michael doing his conditioning work. He was pounding a bamboo post with his shins and fists to harden the bones and toughen the skin.

In my training with Shihan Michael and a senior student named Chris Tan, I was asked to do countless knuckle pushups on the hard, wooden floor. I say “asked” because I only manages about fifty, when I thought my knuckle bones would come through my skin. After that, we did a number of painful drills, including drills where you stand still and let someone kick you and punch you. Then you switch, and your partner stands still and you kick and punch him.

It was brutal, wonderful, and tough. I loved Kyokushin and now I am making arrangements with Shihan Michael so I can train on a regular basis while I am in Malaysia.

I took an apartment in Selangor, right behind Kru Jak’s club so I can train everyday and also so I can attend practice for the DVD filming. The apartment is near the train, so I can go see Guru Mazlan each day. Hopefully we will find an acceptable way to work Kyokushin training into the routine. And, of course, I continue to do Martial Arts Odyssey episodes about other martial arts.

Antonio now has a paypal account. The only way he can keep filming and writing is with the help and support of people who enjoy reading his stories and watching his videos.

You can donate through Antonio’s facebook profile, or you can click on this link and donate directly.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=HQJVMYFGNYX58

If you can help, thank you so much. If you can’t help, don’t worry about it. I know things are tough out there. But, either way, please keep watching and enjoying Martial Arts Odyssey. I never wanted this to become a huge business, and I wanted everyone in the world to be able to watch for free.

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe.

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

Antonio is also on twitter, with the name, Brooklyn Monk. Follow his adventures and tweets.

His books are available on amazon.com

Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com

His website is www.speakingadventure.com sign up for his mailing list on the site.

Antonio,graceffo,Brooklyn,monk,kuala,Lumpur,selengore,selangor,malay,Malaysia, martial,arts,odyssey,muay,thai,boxing,silat,kru,jak,Othman,kalam,calam,Mazlan,Man,Guru,Bangkok,Thailand,thai,Chinese,thai,Thailand,Bangkok,Chinese,hokkien,

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Parts 1 through 3)

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 4:22 am

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Part 1)

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo travels to Selengor, Malaysia, where he meets Shihan Michael Ding, Malaysia premier instructor of Kyokushin. Billed as the world’s hardest karate, Kyokushin is one of very few traditional martial arts which is well respected in fighting circles. In Kyokushin they condition every part of their body for toughness and spar bare-knuckles, full contact. Watch Antonio wince as he absorbs bare-knuckle punches to the chest and abdomen. Punches to the face are not allowed, but kicks to the head and face are. Antonio’s primary trainer, Paddy Carson, is a second degree black belt in Kyokushin and recommend that Antonio seek out this incredible art, originally developed by Mas Oyama.

Join Antonio Graceffo on facebook.com

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Part 1)

Watch it for free on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71FTcE_JQcI

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Part 2)

Watch it for free on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByiTA4aGuMs

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Part 3)

Watch it for free on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QIr6N4296w

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Part 2)

Senior students put Antonio Graceffo through his paces, conditioning hands and shins. The students also continue with their sparring.

Martial Arts Odyssey: Kyokushin Selengor (Part 3)

Antonio Graceffo gets hus butt kicked by a girl. He interviews Sensei Michael Ding about the importance of conditioning.

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe.

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

His books are available on amazon.com

Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com

His website is www.speakingadventure.com

This episode was edited by Antonio Graceffo and features the official Martial Arts Odyssey intro and outro by Andy To.

martial,arts,odyssey,Brooklyn,monk,brooklynmonk,Antonio,Graceffo,kyokushin,karate,Malaysia,malasian,Michael,ding,sensei,shihan,full,contact,muay,thai,kick,box,mas,oyama

Martial Arts Odyssey: Orphan Boxers (Parts 1 and 2)

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

By Antonio Graceffo

Martial Arts Odyssey: Orphan Boxers (Part 1)

Paddy’s fight Club Cambodia, Antonio Graceffo trains with the “Big Trainer” (Bu Menia) a man mountain of a man with a heart of gold who helps Paddy Carson train the young, up and coming boxers. The boys come from poor families and are missing one or both of their parents, so “Big Trainer” supports them. They live with Big Trainer’s family and he trains them for free. Paddy sponsors them for their training, but their overall standard of living is extremely low. None of the boys can afford school fees, to attend high school, but they have a dream of punching their way out of poverty.

Watch it free on youtube

Martial Arts Odyssey: Orphan Boxers Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BGpn0BChXU

Watch it free on youtube

Martial Arts Odyssey: Orphan Boxers 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xabhhYavj8s

Martial Arts Odyssey: Orphan Boxers Part 2

Paddy Carson talks about the need for sponsorship for aspiring boxers in Cambodia. Employment options are minimal in the country and without a college degree and not being able to speak English, the boxers could only hope for a salary of $50 USD per month. But as boxers they have a shot at someday earning enough off a single fight that their whole family could be raised out of poverty.

Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the book, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

See all of Antonio’s videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send him a friend request or subscribe.

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

His books are available on amazon.com

Contact him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com

His website is www.speakingadventure.com

This episode was edited by Antonio Graceffo and features the official Martial Arts Odyssey intro and outro by Andy To.

Antonio,graceffo,Brooklyn,monk,Cambodia,khmer,boxing,kickboxing,kick,bradal,serey,pady,paddy,Carson,gym,orphan,Angkor,martial,arts,odyssey,cambodian,muay,thai,Phnom,penh,Angkor,wat,boxing,gym,kickboxing,kick,khun,yuthakun,yuth,kun,angkorian,professional,training