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Posts Tagged ‘ALG’

Children Vs. Adults, Language Learning vs. Acquisition

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2015 at 3:15 am

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By Antonio Graceffo

I largely reject the notion that children learn languages more easily or that if they do, or that this somehow gives them an advantage when learning a foreign language. David Long, the director of AUA Bangkok and the world’s leading proponent of Automatic Language Growth Theory (ALG) said, “We don’t believe children learn physics faster. So, why do we believe they learn language faster?”

All over the world people begin learning English as a child. Across Asia and Europe, English is a core requirement of the school curriculum. And yet all of the professional translators, linguists and people who speak English at a level appropriate to their age and education learned THAT level of English as adults and through study.

My belief is that culturally, our society, all societies, are set up in such a fashion that you teach things to children. I watch a mother playing with her child and she holds up an object and says “ball, ball” a million times. then maybe she says “This is a red ball.” I wish I could pay someone to do that for me. But even with this constant input, it takes years for children to acquire their native tongue. And, acquiring a language is very different from learning a language. Acquiring language generally only happens for the first language is learned in this manner. Here, I am using a loose definition of “first language,” to include all languages widely spoken in the child’s home country. For example, a Swiss person who speaks high German, Swiss German, and French is simply speaking the languages he or she is exposed to and which he or she acquired. Statistically, Swiss are terrible language learners.

At the ALG school in Bangkok, we tracked people by nationality and evaluated who learned Thai the fastest. Swiss were among the lowest scorers. Acquiring language and learning language are very different concepts. I actually had a person who was a PhD in anthropology telling me that he believed Africans learned languages faster. He said, “Africans are such great linguists. I have been in villages where everyone spoke six languages.” First off, a linguist is one who studies language, not languages. Secondly, these people acquired these languages. The test on whether or not an African can learn a language faster than say a Singaporean would be to send them both to school in Latvia.

As an adult, you can use your intellect, discipline, self-control and knowledge of what a language is, to learn a second language faster than any child.

In both Taiwan and Thailand I had friends who were missionary families. The parents went to language classes, while the children attended the international school. A year later, the parents poke the local language, but the kids didn’t. To a thinking man, it should be a no brainer that the one who attended classes learned, but the ones who didn’t classes didn’t. But there is a magical belief that children simply acquire language out of the air. This is clearly untrue.

As for adult discipline, in Taiwan, back in 2002, Chinese textbooks are generally only available in English medium, or occasionally in Japanese. Two Italian priests, who spoke no English, were attending Chinese classes. So they could neither understand the explanations or translations in the book, nor could the teacher help them very much. Where I was able to complete a chapter per day, they could only do one page per day because it took them about 8 hours each evening, to go through the following day’s page, using a paper dictionary, translating each and every word into Italian. Most children couldn’t do that. Had you put 2 ten year-olds in that class, they would simply have failed.

I have had a standing offer, which no one has taken me up on, but I challenge anyone in the world to send me and a 10 year old to a country chosen at random, where neither of us speaks the language, and test which of us learns the language faster.

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Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2015 at 4:38 am

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I’m Antonio Graceffo, the Brooklyn Monk, and welcome to my youtube channel. My two main areas of interest are second language acquisition theory and martial arts.

I am currently a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of Sport where I combine both my interests, taking them to a new level.

I am writing my dissertation, in Chinese, the topic of which is a comparison of Chinese traditional Shuai Jiao wrestling and modern, western wrestling.

As part of my field research, I train daily in several wrestling styles as well as san da and judo. Although I am nearly 50 years old, I still fight in competition from time to time.

Watch Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

My channel Brooklyn Monk1 is largely about my own journey though Asia, exploring and documenting languages, martial arts, and ethnic minorities. Beginning in 2001 through the present. I have lived in about 7 countries, learned 5 languages and studied and documented countless martial arts. Along the way, I also fought professionally and amateur, I wrote six books, several hundred magazine articles, published academic papers, appeared in movies and TV shows, and produced hundreds of videos which are available here on my channel. I have play lists dedicated to the various phases of my research including: Martial Arts Odyssey, Linguistics and Language Learning, Interviews, and the War in Burma.

I hope you enjoy my channel and if you’re doing research and need some help. Please shoot me a message and let me know. Also, don’t forget to follow Brooklynmomk1 on Twitter.

I’m Antonio Graecffo from Brooklynmonk1 reminding you to get in the gym do your reps, do your sets, do your round work, keep training and fighting, and please get in the libery and read a book.

Follow Antonio on Twitter https://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk

Contact Antonio@speakingadventure.com

See Antonio’s books on amazon.com

Subscribe to https://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

Chinese Presentation: Chinese and Khmer Martial Arts (Chinese language) (Parts 1 and 2)

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2014 at 1:35 am

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A PhD research presentation (in Chinese), from Shanghai University of Sport, comparing Cambodian and Chinese martial arts. Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is writing his doctoral dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. Along the 3 year road to his dissertation, he is also writing shorter papers on various forms of comparative martial arts.

Watch: Chinese and Khmer Martial Arts (Chinese language) (Part 1)

Watch: Chinese and Khmer Martial Arts (Chinese language) (Part 2)

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
Email Antonio
Antonio@speakingadventure.com
website
http://www.speakingadventure.com
Twitter
http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk
facebook: Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)
http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Antonio Graceffo, Speaking Italian

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2014 at 10:04 am

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo loves studying languages. He has published about 200 articles and over 30 videos on second language acquisition and other aspects of language. He is currently a PhD student at Shanghai University of Sport, China, where all of his classes, exams, and research are conducted in Chinese.
Watch: Antonio Graceffo, Speaking Italian

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
Email Antonio
Antonio@speakingadventure.com
website
http://www.speakingadventure.com
Twitter
http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk
facebook: Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)
http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Antonio Graceffo, Speaking Spanish

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2014 at 10:02 am

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo loves studying languages. He has published about 200 articles and over 30 videos on second language acquisition and other aspects of language. He is currently a PhD student at Shanghai University of Sport, China, where all of his classes, exams, and research are conducted in Chinese.
Watch: Antonio Graceffo, Speaking Spanish

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
Email Antonio
Antonio@speakingadventure.com
website
http://www.speakingadventure.com
Twitter
http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk
facebook: Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)
http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Of Course Translation is Difficult

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2013 at 11:51 pm

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By Antonio Graceffo

The material for our modern coaching class is in English. The teacher assigned about twenty pages of reading for homework, but when class started, he wanted to translate, NOT discuss, translate the pages. So in a three hour class, we got through about a page and a half of text. Chinese are just too tied to the original words and do the worst translations ever. Why can’t they accept that a translation is about meaning, not words?

Not relying on a single translation, the teacher asked each student to come to the front and explain some of the English text we had read for homework. There was so much specialized and colloquial language in texts that I just didn’t see how my Chinese classmates could understand it. The Chinese students at the sports university aren’t really the sharpest tools in the shed. If they were smarter, they would be at a big name university, studying an academic subject. The homework had been to read about twenty pages. So, I had jotted down some notes, a very short summary of each page. When I got to the front, I did what I normally do when I’m teaching. I put my notes at the podium and I walked around, talking to the audience, teaching. Just after I started talking, the teacher said, “only do the first two pages.” I looked and my notes for those two pages were only about three sentences. So, I went through, reading each paragraph and explaining it in Chinese. Obviously, I have problems translating into Chinese. Sometimes I had trouble explaining because I was missing the specific vocabulary, but I explained my way around it.

After a bit, the teacher told me to sit down. I thought I had done OK. It was far from perfect, but honestly, none of the other foreign students could have done that well. And I was funnier than the Chinese students. I had the whole class laughing. Later, the teacher caught me in the hall and in very tortured, slow, school English he said, “You—-have—-difficulty—translating into Chinese.” I was blown away. What a retarded thing to say. Obviously I have difficulty translating into Chinese, it’s a foreign language. Translators generally only translate into their mother tongue. Also, it’s the first month of a three-year program. It should be clear that I’m not perfect yet. Going into this program, you go from HSK 4 level reading straight into PHD level classes with very specialized sports and health vocabulary, words like: athletic peak, recovery, explosive power…

I looked at the teacher, and in English, I just said, “Of course.”

He jstared at me. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know the word “of course” but his expression definitely conveyed that he didn’t feel I had answered his question. So, I repeated, “Of course.” And I walked away.

Thinking back on the incident, and similar snafus I have had at this university and during my 12 years in Asia, this is what I came up with:

  1. They seem incapable of evaluating our Chinese level. While my translation and presentation in the front of the room wasn’t perfect, it should be obvious that I had to be at a relatively high level to be able to do even that well. So, the sentence “you have difficulty translating into Chinese,” could have been delivered in Chinese.
  2. They are incapable of evaluating their own linguistic level: One reason I gave him the simple response “Of course”, was because it was obvious he would not have understood a thorough explanation in English.
  3. Because Chinese people would never admit their own failings, they seem to not get it when I say, “I can’t do it” or “Yeah, of course I can’t translate high level English into Chinese.” But it’s like this with everything, even sports training. On the wrestling team they told me to do a cartwheel, then a hand stand, then a forward roll, then a forward roll into a split. “I can’t do that last one.” I said. “No, I mean forward roll into a split.” The trainer explained. “Yes, I understand what you want, but I can’t do it.” He demonstrated. “Like that.” And waited for me to copy him. “I can’t do it.” I repeated. It went on and on with him simply restating and re-explaining. “I mean do a forward roll, but when you land, land in a split.” They don’t seem to be able to accept it when I say that I can’t do something. By the same token, maybe they don’t know when they can’t do something, like using that English text book in coaching science class. How the hell do they believe they are getting anything out of it?

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

website

www.speakingadventure.com

Twitter

http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk

facebook

Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

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

 

Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

 

Learning Thai in Bangkok

In Linguistics and Language Learning on October 16, 2007 at 5:32 am

 Automatic Language Growth, a new approach to absorbing a hard language.

By Antonio Graceffo

 

“The way we found out that our mother had diabetes was that ants would appear every time she peed.” 

The teachers had been standing at the front of the room talking about bodily functions and toilet humor for nearly an hour. The next story was a Thai legend about a half woman and half snake spirit monster, which fed on human waste. I would have been appalled, except that it was all in Thai, and yet, after only a few weeks of study, I understood what they were saying. Maybe it would have been better if I didn’t understand. I could have tuned out. But I had paid money to learn the Thai language through this innovative approach, and apparently it had paid off.

 

The shocking humor of the subject matter forced me to remember the new language.

 

The lessons weren’t always so unappetizing. Sometimes they were down right fun or silly. The teacher would say the Thai word for ambulance and the students would have to make ambulance noises. Or, she would say the Thai word for train and we would all make choo-choo noises. We were alowed to shout, laugh, get up, and act out. The one thing we were not allowed to do was to speak Thai.

 

If a student answered a question in Thai, he would immediately get told off by the teacher.

 

Sometimes it was difficult, Thais have less of a sense of political correctness than we do. More than once a Thai teacher, named Hom, would pull his slacks up to his nipples, squint his eyes nearly shut, stick out his buck teeth and pretend to play golf. “Look, I am Japanese.” He would say.

 

The first week of class I thought everyone associated with the program was insane.

 

“If I wanted to listen to two hours of racist banter, and get yelled at for speaking my mind, I would just go have dinner with my father.”

 

After I understood the concepts behind the program, it began to make sense. Soon, it was like joining a cult. People who believed in the program couldn’t believe there was any other way to learn Thai. And now I think they are right.

 

The program, called ALG (Automatic Language Growth), was developed by an innovative American linguist, named Dr. J. Marvin Brown. ALG was based on a much earlier theory, dating back to the 1920s, called the Silent Way and later called the Natural Way. Basically the commonality between these theories is that they were listening based, and that they started by observing the way children learn language.

 

Chinese, Arabic, Thai, Korean, and Japanese are considered some of the hardest languages to learn, and yet small children in these countries speak them fluently. What is more, the children never sat in classes, learning their mother tongue. So, how did they learn it?

 

Children learn through listening. Children hear their mother and other adults speaking for months on end before they start speaking themselves. Obviously, you can’t be expected to do something correctly until you have seen it done several times. The same is true with learning a language. If someone tells you a Thai word once, you won’t remember it. If they tell you fifty times, you may remember it, but you will mispronounce it or misuse it. The only way to correctly learn a Thai word, or anything for that matter, is to hear it used, correctly, in context, repeatedly.

 

If you call someone, but they are already talking on the phone, you say the line is busy. If you are staying in a hotel and you don’t want the maid to enter, you hang a sign which reads, “Do not disturb.” If someone is using the toilet on the airplane, the sign reads, “Occupied.” If you want to sit at the movies, but someone is holding the place for a friend, he says “This seat is taken.”

 

Busy, do not disturb, occupied, taken all have similar meanings, but it would seem strange to us if you called someone and “the line is taken” or if the seat at the movie theater was “do not disturb.” You make linguistic choices everyday, when to use which of many similar words. If you think back, there was probably never a time in your past when you wrote out these four examples and memorized them.

 

You never wrote the phrase, “Always use occupied for the bathroom,” fifty times in your notebook. And if you did, it wouldn’t strictly be true. If you are in the bathroom in your house, as opposed to a public toilet, when someone knocks, you say “I’m in here.” Not, “occupied.”

 

When you tried to learn French or Spanish in school you probably did write out lists of when to use certain phrases and words. And, you probably got them wrong most of the time. Moreover, you would get frustrated when you discovered that every rule had fifty variations and twenty-seven exceptions.

 

Language existed for thousands of years. Rules have only existed for hundreds. Language is organic. It grows as we need it. Rules are static. And they are only amended long after they are out of date. Have you texted someone recently? The spell check on your computer tells you that word doesn’t exist. But we use this word every day. It may be years until the rule matches the reality.

 

So, how did you learn these intricacies of the English language?

 

“Experience is the best teacher.” Says David Long, head of the Thai language program at AUA, Ratchadamri. David came to Thailand nearly twenty years ago to study under Dr. Brown. Since Dr. Brown’s death, David has been continuing his work.

“To learn something, we have to have a meaningful, transportable experience.”

 

In other words, you learned “Occupied” because you flew on an airplane twenty times and needed to use the toilet. This was a real experience, and it was meaningful. You never forgot the experience of dancing around, waiting for the bathroom to be unoccupied.

 

“Something taught through experience is infinitely better remembered than something taught through school.” Says Long.

 

Homework, tests, and dialogues are all school concepts, not life concepts, so they are absent from the ALG program. ALG creates experience through teacher student interactions. The teachers stand at the front of the classroom, acting out stories. One  hour of sitting in class is exactly one hour of listening, because the teachers talk constantly. More importantly, the teachers speak perfect Thai. So, the students are exposed to a perfect model. Is students were permitted to speak Thai, then the other students would be hearing an improper model.

 

In lower level classes, the students interact, but not by speaking Thai. The interaction may be that they are asked to perform tasks or make noises. The concept here is that we can have meaningful interaction without speaking.

 

“Words are overrated.” Says David Long. “We use them so much, they have no meaning.”

According to David, studies show that we only hear one of five words spoken in our native tongue. This suggests that 80% of our communication is non-verbal.

 

If we communicate in our native tongue non-verbally, why then would we expect to communicate in a foreign language using words? That is the first question ALG asks of language learners. Until your level of Thai approaches your level of English, you shouldn’t expect to be able to communicate effectively in Thai.

 

“Most Thai people have had several years of English at school. It is not logical that you would be able to communicate better than them after only a few weeks or months of Thai lessons.”

 

A major key to ALG is, we don’t want to start speaking too early.

 

If we ask the average westerner to imitate a Chinese person speaking English, he will inevitably reverse his Ls and Rs. “Oh, me so solly.” The belief is that Chinese people can’t say the letter R. But Chinese babies adopted by western parents have no difficulty saying the letter R. So, it is not genetic. It is a question of learning, of modeling, hearing, and observing. Once again, Chinese babies adopted by western parents will listen for at least a year and a half before they start talking.

 

Thai is a tonal language, which means, changing the tone of a word completely changes the meaning. I asked a taxi driver to park the car, and instead, he kissed me. I felt flattered till I found out the difference between the word kiss and the word park was just a matter of tone. The next problem with learning Thai is that Thai has at least three times as many vowels, both long and short, as English. Once again, a small mistake in vowel choice can be disastrous. It can mean the difference between riding a horse and stepping in dog pooh.

 

Hearing a word once or twice won’t help you to pronounce it correctly. You need to hear it in context and in some memorable and meaningful way, many times before you can remember it.

 

When I was a young lad in school, we had to make sentences with vocabulary words and memorize them. This was completely meaningless. As a result, of thousands of big words we were forced to “learn” at school very few of them became part of our English vocabulary.

 

Children learn the words they need, when they are ready to learn them. If you have a two or three year old at home, you have no way of predicting what they will learn on a given day. The child will decide. ALG allows adults to learn the same way. What one students learns on a given day may vary dramatically from what another student learns. But they are both learning.

 

The ALG Thai program lasts about 2,000 hours. Classes begin early in the morning and continue till late in the evening. Students can come and listen as many or as few hours as they like. Some students try to do two hours per day, others do six or seven. The program is perfect for busy people. As a travel writer I am constantly leaving Bangkok for periods of weeks or even months. When I come back, I simply walk back into the classroom and start learning again. Students are even encouraged to take breaks of several weeks to give their brain time to process what they have learned. Often, after a break of several weeks, a student finds his listening ability has improved.

 

Why are skeptics so resistant to a method that requires them to listen, without speaking?

 

“There are pride issues involved.” Explains David Long. “People want to speak and get positive reinforcement. If you say anything at all in Thai, Thai people will say to you, oh, your Thai is so good. Even if they have no idea what you said.”

 

Another common criticism of ALG is that it is 100% teacher centered. But looked at from another way, having a leaner centered classroom is also the wrong model because we are focusing on the ones who don’t know the language instead of focusing on the experts, the teachers.

 

David Long feels ALG is learner centered. “Our way is learner centered because students decide what they will learn on a given day.”

 

A professor of mine, at University of Mainz, told me, “I can’t sit down with my four year old and say, ok today honey we will learn the third conditional.” The child will just pick up the language, because the child has a constant perfect model.

 

My sister took her four year old to the Bronx Zoo to see the lion. While the tour guide was explaining about the eating and sleeping habits of the massive cats, my niece turned to my sister and asked, “Mommy, how do they make a web like that?”

 

“Lions don’t make webs.” My sister answered, a bit perplexed.

 

“Not the lion!” exclaimed my niece. “I mean the spider.”

 

My sister looked where the little girl was pointing, and sure enough, there was a spider, building a web in the corner of the lion’s cage. The adults had planned a lesson about lions, but the child chose to learn about spiders.

 

Should this be called a failed lesson? In a traditional classroom, this would be considered a failure, because the daily learning objective was not met. In an ALG classroom, the day would be considered a success, because the student had learned something useful, even if it wasn’t the intended lesson. At the end of the day, a teacher’s intent is not important. The purpose of education is for a student to learn. If the student learns, the education is successful.

 

David expanded on Dr. Brown’s work and created a concept called Cross Talk. In the cross talk seminars, two people, who do not share a common language, are paired up and taught to communicate with one another. By the end of the first session, they usually come away knowing each other’s life story.

 

“In Crosstalk, you can have genuinely interesting conversations with native speakers because you are concentrating on the content and meaning rather than the language. The communication becomes the focus not the language. We need to do the same in language teaching.”

 

If you do your homework while you are watching a movie and cooking diner your grades will be lower and your comprehension of the movie will be lower. If we divide our attention, we under perform. The same is true of a language learner trying to have a conversation in a new language. If he concentrates on language as well as content, syntax, pronunciation, and meaning…the outcome will be poor communication, and enjoyment will be zero.

 

Enjoyment, meaningful, experience, fun, freedom these all sound like appealing aspects of the ALG program. From hard linguistic standpoint, the idea of listening, not speaking, being the key to learning definitely makes sense. Anyone who has tried to learn an Asian language, especially Thai, knows the frustration of saying all of the words, but no one seems to understand you. Listening more and speaking less may make the difference.

 

Contact David Long: david@auathai.com

 

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