Posts Tagged ‘Bangkok’

Martial Arts Styles Do Exist

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2015 at 10:22 am


By Antonio Graceffo

Recently, I saw a Facebook video of a grappling competition, between a freestyle wrestler and a Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner. There are a lot of Youtube videos with titles like “Muay Thai vs. Kyokushin” or “Kung Fu vs. MMA” but what I liked about this particular video was that both practitioners were wearing the clothing appropriate to their art, which made them easily identifiable. The wrestler wore his singlet and wrestling shoes. The BJJ fighter wore a grappling shirt and shorts. The next thing that was special about this match up was that both men fought according to their distinctive styles. In this modern era of open grappling tournaments and MMA fights, most champion fighters are so well-rounded that the imprint of their original martial art is often barely visible.

The litmus test, for a fighter looking like his or her style, would be Ronda Rousey, who, in spite of being incredibly well-rounded, and in spite of having won her UFC 190 fight completely with striking, usually looks like a judoka. Watching her fights, it is generally clearly obvious that she comes from a world-class judo background. Lyoto Machida definitely owes much of his success to the fact that he fights like a karate man and both grapplers and strikers find it difficult to break inside of his unusual footwork. Another example would be Cung Le, whose san da background is evident in his MMA fights. But, when GSP defeated world-class wrestler Matt Hughes, did he really look like a kyokushin fighter? Or is there anything about Roy “Big Country” Nelson to suggest that his first martial art was kung fu?
In this video matchup between the wrestler and the BJJ practitioner, the BJJ guy kept trying to pull guard, to take the fight to the ground, where he would have the advantage. The wrestler was clearly looking for, and got, the takedown, which is his strength. Once he engaged, the wrestler executed a suplex, followed by a high-crotch takedown. He slammed the BJJ guy so hard that the referee stopped the match.
It was the comments posted on this video which caused me to write this article. “its not the name of the style… Its the practitioner”, “Jujutsu is wrestling, Judo – is wrestling”, “There are not ‘greco technique ‘ of ‘BJJ technique , ‘judo technique’ or ‘free style technique’ There are only ‘RIGHT TECHNIQUE’ and ‘WRONG’”.

Recently, I have heard a lot of people claiming that there are no martial arts styles, only “good technique” and “bad technique.” But this is simply not the case. Some techniques are similar across multiple styles, for example, a shoulder throw can be used in judo, shuai jiao, submission wrestling, or even san da. But other techniques are not. And if a particular style lacks a particular technique, the practitioners normally don’t drill the defense to that technique. Boxers, for example don’t practice sprawl, because there is no single or double leg takedown in boxing. Wrestlers don’t practice passing the guard, because that situation doesn’t exist in wrestling.
Styles definitely exist. And for that reason, when people wish to excel in mixed style events, like open grappling tournaments, or MMA fights, the best fighters tend to be complete fighters who train in multiple styles.

As anecdotal evidence proving the existence of styles, let me present the findings of my summer research. This summer, I travelled for three solid months training and filming Martial Arts Odyssey. My journey took me to Shanghai, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, New York, Singapore, and Johor Bahru. Along the way, I trained and/or filmed the following martial arts: san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, Kepap, catch wrestling, sambo, submission wrestling, judo, boxing, and Brazilian jujitsu.

In san da training, we spent an hour catching kicks. Kick catching is not taught in Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, catch wrestling, submission wrestling, judo, boxing, or Brazilian jujitsu.

In Greco-Roman wrestling we were practicing dropping to one knee and executing a fireman’s carry (without touching the opponent’s leg). This method is not taught in san da, shuai jiao wrestling or boxing.

In freestyle wrestling we were working on cat’s cradle pin. This technique is not taught in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, or boxing.

In freestyle, we also worked on ankle-pick which is not done in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, Kepap, judo, or boxing.

In shuai jiao wrestling we practiced jacket grabbing drills. These techniques are not taught in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, Kepap, catch wrestling, submission wrestling, boxing, or Brazilian jujitsu.

In kepap class the students were learning how to execute a knife attack. Offensive knife fighting is never taught in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, catch wrestling, boxing, sambo, submission wrestling, judo, or Brazilian jujitsu.

In Catch wrestling we were learning knee and ankle submissions. These techniques are forbidden, and thus not taught, in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, boxing, or judo.

In sambo we were learning knee compression submissions. These are not taught in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, Kepap, judo, or boxing.

In submission wrestling we worked on turtle defense and reversing an opponent who was turttled up, so you could get the pin. Turtle position doesn’t exist in san da, shuai jiao wrestling, Kepap, or boxing.

In judo we learned how to use the opponent’s gi top to choke him. This is not practiced in: san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, Kepap, catch wrestling, submission wrestling, or boxing.

In boxing training, my coach, Paddy Carson, was helping me improve the rhythm of my three-punch combinations. Punching isn’t taught in Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, catch wrestling, submission wrestling, judo, or Brazilian jujitsu.

At Brazilian jujitsu class we were learning spider guard. These skills are not taught in san da, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, shuai jiao wrestling, catch wrestling, or boxing.

Styles clearly exist. For this reason, to be a complete fighter, one must study multiple STYLES.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, 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.
The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at His book, Warrior Odyssey, chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army, is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Brooklyn Monk: Thailand Judo (Parts 1 through 3)

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Just a few weeks into his formal study of judo PhD candidate, Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo, a wrestling major, heads to Bangkok, Thailand to train judo with pro MMA fighter and judo instructor, Shane Wiggand.
Watch Brooklyn Monk Thailand Judo (Parts 1 ) on youtube:

Watch Thailand Judo (Parts 2 ) on youtube:

Watch Brooklyn Monk Thailand Judo (Parts 3 ) on Youtube:

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 The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Email Antonio
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

Brooklyn Monk in 3D
Order the download at
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Muay Thai Chakrit

In Martial Arts on October 20, 2007 at 5:54 am

A Brooklyn Monk Training in Bangkok

By Antonio Garceffo


Coach Adjan Chakrit moves in circles, holding up the focus mitts, he calls out the commands. “One, one two.” I throw a straight left, right combination. “Four!” That means, left, right, hook, straight. This part is easy for me. I have been boxing since I was twelve years old. But now he calls for two kicks on the right side, followed by two kicks on the left side. The energy required to throw a kick, versus a punch is incredibly draining. My balance is off now. My weight is all over the place. More punches, more kiks, a series of elbow strikes.


“Block!” he yells.


Instinctively, I drop my elbow to protect my mid-section. Wrong move! His kick catches me just below the ribcage. This is Muay Thai, not boxing. I have to remember to block by brining up my shins, instead of bringing down my elbows.


“Front kick.” He yells, before I regain my balance.


“Knee, knee, straight, block.”


In addition to dealing with the unusual commands in the foreign language, I am fatigued, and my brain is not working as sharply as it should be. There is a long delay before I can react to the commands. Once again, the coach’s shin catches me in the mid-section.


Muay Thai is an ancient martial art which a lot of people believe was developed first  in Cambodia, and later adapted by Thailand. The Khmers are angry that the Thais have put their name on the art. Monks and scholars I have spoken to in Thailand believe it is very possible that many of the techniques or refinement of this form of combat were adopted form Cambodia. It is certain, however, that there was some type of unarmed combat technique in Thailand before the Khmer influence.


Written records of Muay Thai date back approximately five hundred years. At that time the bouts had very few rules. The competitors fought essentially bare-fisted with their hands wrapped in ropes.


During the 1920s and 1930s, when Thailand was modernizing, the art was further refined into a professional sport. The first stadiums were built and the ring and gloves were added. This period is really the birth of modern Muay Thai. Today, Muay Thai is a big professional sport in Thailand, with somewhere in the order of 60 – 90 thousand professional fighters. In the west, we would expect good professional fighters to have worked their way up from the amateur circuit, but in Thailand there isn’t much of an amateur Muay Thai circuit. For the most part, Thai people can’t see the point of getting beat up for free. As a result, there is nearly exclusively professional Muay Thai.


Muay Thai has been added to the SEA Games (South East Asian) and it will most likely be added to the Asian Games, which will probably promote an amateur version of the sport. Thailand and Cambodia have had a long running feud because Cambodians feel the art should be called Bradal Serey or free fighting. They are angry about the fact that in Thailand branded the art as Muay Thaii. As a result, Cambodia refuses to compete in the Muay Thai championships in the SEA Games and refuse to join the World Muay Thai Council which governs professional Muay Thai. As a result, Cambodia can’t fight for the championship. Vietnam and Lao are both Communist and support Cambodia, by also refusing to compete in Muay Thai in the South East Asian Games.


Training in Vietnam a few weeks ago, I discovered that they didn’t have any kickboxers or professional fighters in the whole country. Consequently, their refusal to compete in the SEA games is not so significant.


Thailand and the Philippines are doing extremely well on the international fighting circuits, in the lower weight divisions. Japan hosts the K-1 which is basically the Super Bowl of professional kickboxing. Now, they have opened smaller weight divisions to allow Southeast Asians to compete. Japan is, in a way, becoming neutral ground for the politically charged sport of Muay Thai. There is also the ISKA, a professional kick boxing league, based out of the USA, which is also seen as a neutral title. Cambodia, Vietnam, and Lao could compete in the ISKA or K-1 without using the name Muay Thai. While Thailand has been quick to join international boxing leagues such as WBA, WBO and others, the neighboring Southeast Asian nations have been reluctant.


Although Muay Thai encompasses a lot of religious, cultural, and political concepts, in practice, it is essentially Thai kickboxing. They hit with punches, kicks, knees, and elbows. The kicks are very special because they are hitting with the shins, not the feet. The elbows and shins are very hard and can cut you wide open. When someone tries to kick you with their shin, you can’t use your hand or your arm to block because you will get hurt. The way we block is by using our shin bone. You raise your leg up and take the impact shin to shin. You can imagine how much that hurts. As a result, a lot of the Muay Thai training deals with toughening the shins, deadening the nerves, and building up scar tissue. We call it hardening the shins.


In provincial training camps you will find poor Thais who see boxing as a way of earning money to help their family. They go to live in a camp and become pat of the stable of fighters. The camp arranges fights for them and takes a percentage of the purse. In return, the boys get free room, board, and training. In these camps you will see people doing all manner of crazy exercises to harden their shins quickly. They kick trees, kick bamboo, or kick metal poles. At night they sit around hitting their shins with sticks or with bottles. They smear all sorts of traditional medicines, potions and lotions, on the skin to quicken this hardening process. This type op training does work. They can go from zero to totally hardened shins in about 90 days, but it is a terrible experience, and the shins will be all cut, open, bleeding, and infected the whole time.


Modern coaches, such as my Bradal Serey (Pradal) coach in Cambodia, Paddy Carson, believes that your shins should just be allowed to harden naturally, over time by kicking the pads and kicking the bag. This is the same as we do for our hands and elbows.

In hardcore gyms the bags are hard to help you toughen up. In some of the foreigner gyms, the bags are softer and the coaches will do things like fall down or act like you have hurt them to pump you up and make you feel good. But take it with a grain of salt. Remember you re paying them a lot of money for that praise.


When you come to Thailand, you will have the choice between training in Bangkok or training in the provinces. If you train in the provinces you will be surrounded by poor Thai guys trying to earn money for family. Living conditions will be difficult. Training will be Spartan, but not necessarily better. The coaches in the provincial camps aren’t usually trained as coaches. They were chosen because they were winning fighters. Champion fighters aren’t necessarily the best coaches.


Provincial Thai people are very welcoming and will probably invite you to train with them. They may not charge you anything and just ask that you contribute for food. A provincial camp could be a great cultural experience, but if you are serious about learning to fight, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, or one of the more developed areas may be better for you. In a provincial camp, if you don’t know how to box already, you may not learn anything. Your training will consist of a lot of running and bouncing on tiers or jumping rope. You will be told to kick the bag but probably won’t be taught HOW to kick the bag. You may or may not get face time with the coach in the ring, working the pads. And you won’t get a lot of instruction. Also, if you don’t speak Thai, they probably won’t be able to communicate with you.


If you train in Bangkok, the average cost seems to be about seven to eight thousand Baht per month. And that is just for your training. Food and lodging are extra. The advantage is that a coach is assigned to you and get a lot of one-on-one instruction. At Muay Thai Chakrit, where I have been training, I can have as many rounds with my coach on the pads as I want. We usually do three or four rounds of just hands and two of kicks. In better gyms, the coach will also watch you shadow boxing and working the bag, refining your technique.  Some gyms actually offer courses where you can learn step by step and even take exams and earn certificates. But many of the gyms in Thailand which cater to foreigners are making the assumption that you have had some training before. And in fact, it is a valid assumption. A lot of the foreigners are here because they are competing in MMA or Muay Thai in their home country and want to get some training experience in Thailand. So, the training in the gym is focused on practice and conditioning and refining technique, but not necessarily on teaching step-by-step, from the ground up.


Training in the other developed cities of Thailand can be much cheaper than training in Bangkok, but may offer the same quality of instruction. If you train in Chiang Mai there are live in camps which are as cheap as 8,000 to 10,000 Baht per month including your lodging


“Muay Thai is not just about fighting for money. It is our art, and I believe Thai people need to practice it. If we don’t, we will lose it.” Said Bom Apiwat, a university-bound student, practicing Muay Thai in Bangkok. In the remote parts of Thailand, professional boxing is seen as a last-ditch effort to get out of poverty, but a new generation of Thai young people are joining expensive gyms in Bangkok, training alongside crazy Farang (foreigners) training for the love of the art.


“I want to go to college and work in tourism, so I can travel the world.” Says Bom. “But first, I want to have at least one professional fight, so I can have the experience.”


Having experience in pro boxing or MMA can be a double edged sword when you are training in Thailand. While you are here to learn their art, you may not want to lose yours.


One of the arguments I get into with my coaches is that they want me to turn my hand over when I hook. Professional boxers don’t turn the hand over on a hook. My Bradal Serey coach in Phnom Penh, Paddy Carson also believes that the hook should not be turned over. He believes the reason all of the Asian martial arts turn the hand over on the hook is because their only experience in the past was amateur boxing. Whatever the reason, I don’t want to undo the things I do which work for me. I want the coaches to improve  my kicks and elbows and knees but leave my hands alone.


The next argument was that they wanted me punching form way out, more than eighteen  inches. But in boxing, I throw hooks and upper cuts from three inches. Working the pads the way they had me doing it in Thailand I was throwing out my shoulder. Some coaches told me that you can’t use the three inch punch in Muay Thai because you will get hit with knees and elbows. Now, I am waiting to see; are they telling me this because it is right, or telling me this because this is what they have always done? This is often the question you have to ask when you are training in Thailand; are we training to be more effective fighters or training to learn the art of Muay Thai better?


Today, the argument was that the coach said I was pressing him too much when we were working the pads in the ring. Every time I hit, I slide forward a bit. I do this to keep my weight moving into the punches and to make distance as an opponent will often back up when being hit. He said, “no you shouldn’t be moving forward like that.” But again this is a strategy that works for me. If I stay at a distance, the kicker will have an advantage. By coming in close, I can neutralize the kicker’s advantage and maximize my strengths which are boxing and grappling. This is what I have done in kickboxing in other countries. But again, I can’t say for certain that I am right, because maybe in Thailand, with the knees and elbows, this is not the best strategy. What I need, is to hear from the coach he has done research, and thought it through, and made an analysis leading to an answer based on fact, rather than “We teach you to do it this way because we have always done it this way.”  


You must be aware that a lot of coaches train everyone the same way. A good coach needs to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the fighter and tailor each fighter’s training to his abilities. Everyone is not a 19 year old Thai guy who weighs 60 kgs and has 0% body fat. A lot of the foreigners training in Thailand are heavyweights and tend to be in their late twenties or early thirties. In fact in my gym, the average age of foreigners is probably around 35. And most are my size or larger. Nearly all have experience in another martial art, boxing, kickboxing, or grappling.


You need to constantly ask your coach why you are doing this or that. Make sure what they are teaching you will work for you.


For example, the coaches wanted me to bounce. They said, “You have to bounce. Muay Thai fighters bounce.” I said, “no way!” I weigh too much. Bouncing would destroy my knees and I would tire out in less than one round. If you watch K-1 those guys don’t bounce if they don’t want to. You have to fight your fight.


Training in Thailand is a great experience. When you come here, you are free of all the other distractions in your life, like working, and you can concentrate on training, eating, and sleeping. If you chose a good gym or great one, either way, you will be getting hours upon hours of training which you never had in your home country. You don’t have to be rich to come to Thailand. The flight is a bit pricey, but once you land, everything is cheap. Excellent Thai food can be had for less than one dollar per meal. Lodging can be found for between three and five thousand Baht per month. Don’t wait till you are rich, or you will never come. Just hop on a plane and get in the ring.


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 Contact him see his website


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.


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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 Contact him see his website