By Antonio Graceffo
I just finished my first two-week intensive training in Chinese traditional wrestling, in Beijing, and am headed back to Shanghai. In my second week of wrestling, I completed 12 training sessions. My final day was comprised of two hours strength, conditioning and basics, in the morning and about two and a half hours wrestling in the afternoon. I literally have no idea how many rounds I wrestled. But traditional wrestling rounds are short. You wrestle till someone gets the takedown. Most rounds tend to last about a minute or two, or even less. They kept changing the opponent every three or four rounds, by the end, I was completely exhausted. Every day, week, my schedule included strength training in the mornings. Then, I either did strength training again in the afternoon, or four days a week, the old Sifus would come watch us do competitive sparring. There was a lot of pressure to perform in those sparring matches, because the Sifus were watching and would clap if you had a good win and occasionally, get up and beat you with a wrestling belt if you did something stupid.
I did a lot of stupid stuff and got beat with a belt. “Thank you, Da Ye, may I have another?”
In the first several days of sparring, I relied largely on freestyle wrestling techniques I had learned in MMA, such as body lock, double underhooks, grabbing one or both of the opponent’s legs, taking neck or back control… On the final day, I forced myself to grab the opponent’s jacket, instead of using my body locking and head grabbing. Next, I used a lot of the new techniques from both traditional wrestling and Shaolin Temple San Da grappling. In one of the bouts, the opponent tried to defend the take down by wrapping his foot around the inside of my thigh, something I learned in Shaolin San Da, as a takedown defense. Because of the Shaolin training, I knew how to simply step around his locked foot and complete the throw. Another time, when I had done a leg-pick, but couldn’t get the opponent down, I trapped his leg between my thighs and rotated my body, till he fell. In Shaolin Chin Na training, I learned two throws from the headlock position. I never thought that would come up, but in traditional wrestling, my opponent grabbed my belt, at the small of my back, and I suddenly found myself in almost the same position as I would be in a headlock throw. I simply pressed down on his closest knee and he went flying, face first, into the mat.
Thanks, Shaolin Temple, for teaching me these surprisingly useful skills!
I am confident that many of these techniques will eventually transfer over to MMA. But, I have to continue practicing the basic exercises for several more months, so I will have the basic strength, flexibility, and balance to do the techniques correctly. After that, I want to experiment, doing them on an unwilling opponent, who is not wearing a wrestling jacket.
I am so sold on the basic exercises that when my training brothers try to teach me a new throw, I refuse to learn it, till AFTER I have learned the accompanying exercise. And if I can’t do the exercise correctly, I tell them to wait a few weeks before teaching me the throw.
With this Chinese wrestling, I don’t even want to guess at how to use a technique till after I have practiced the associated exercise a million times. I saw it when. I wrestled my Se Ge, older brother, for the first time. He has been with Sifu for countless years and is one year older than me, so I have to pay him respect. In the first round, when he swept me, I felt the incredible strength of his legs from years of doing the basic exercises. His legs were like rigid, iron poles, with no give to them. Legs that powerful can sweep you down or lift you up in the air, no matter how much you resist.
There is zero doubt that I am infinitely stronger than Se Ge, and also in better condition for any other form of wrestling. BUT, if we talk about the exact strength necessary to do those exact techniques, he is incredibly powerful and my strength is laughable.
In the second round, however, I leaned on him, held him, mauled him, and wore him down. Several of my training brothers had worked with me on jacket grabbing techniques that approximated body locks that I am used to, so I could just lean all my weight on the opponent, and break him down. All of these guys smoke and drink, don’t run or cross train, and ONLY have strength for the exact movements they practice. Also, I am the only one who trains twice a day, every day. I wore him down, then swept him. He hit the canvass hard and didn’t get up for a long time. Once again, poor conditioning made him take the sweep a lot worse than if he were in shape. He looked like he needed a paramedic, and didn’t train for the rest of the day.
Although Se Ge has good technique and is strong in the specific muscle groups, he never completes a day’s training. He usually wrestles a few rounds, wins, and then goes out for a smoke. This is another point I have about the Chinese athletes. I am in my late forties and training to compete. If I stick with the training, I am sure I could be a good competitor. For the Chinese guys, although they keep the technique and strength, even into their sixties and seventies, they are so unfit, they don’t normally compete or train.
The techniques of Chinese traditional wrestling are wonderful, and I want to learn them. That being said, I don’t know why these guys refuse to be healthy and strong, or why that wouldn’t be a benefit for them.
After I wrestled Se Ge, they put in young guy, after young guy, round after round. Eventually, I was too tired to even defend myself anymore. I lost both of the final two rounds of sparring quickly and in the most humiliating fashion. But I know from MMA training, those final rounds of wrestling are the most important. That’s why in MMA, we always exhaust ourselves before starting sparring.
Now, I will train basics, alone, in Shanghai for a week and then return to Beijing to continue.
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
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