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Posts Tagged ‘kickboxing’

Brooklyn Monk: Greco for MMA Video (Part 1)

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2015 at 11:58 pm

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In his first year at Shanghai University of Sport, Brooklyn Monk Antonio Graceffo, a wrestling major, was a member of the Chinese traditional wrestling team (Shuai jiao dui). In his second year, he began taking private training in Greco-Roman wrestling, with his coach, Hong Fang Yuan, as well as private san da, and judo training with other coaches. This video is part of a small glimpse into the research Antonio is doing for his PhD dissertation, comparing Chinese traditional wrestling to modern Olympic wrestling.

Watch the video on youtube: https://youtu.be/nLb88MOgHjE

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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 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

Greco-Roman Wrestling SUS (Parts 1 – 3)

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2015 at 9:56 pm

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In his first year at Shanghai University of Sport, Brooklyn Monk Antonio Graceffo, a wrestling major, was a member of the Chinese traditional wrestling team (Shuai jiao dui). In his second year, he began taking private training in Greco-Roman wrestling, with his coach, Hong Fang Yuan, as well as private san da, and judo training with other coaches. This video is part of a small glimpse into the research Antonio is doing for his PhD dissertation, comparing Chinese traditional wrestling to modern Olympic wrestling.

Watch it on youtube: Greco-Roman Wrestling SUS (Part 1) http://youtu.be/KimvmI3Eq-4
Wacth it on youtube: Greco-Roman Wrestling SUS (Part 2)

Greco-Roman Wrestling SUS (Part 3)

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

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

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SUS Wrestlers and San Da Fighters in the MMA Gym

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm

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By Antonio Graceffo

For the first time in about a year, I had no classes, no work, and no wrestling team practice for three days. So, I took my san da training mates and my wrestling teammates from Shanghai University of Sports to Fighters Unite MMA gym. In one night, we did boxing, san da, MMA, muay Thai, BJJ, submission wrestling, and freestyle. People from about 10 countries exchanged martial arts, techniques, and culture. It was an incredible experience for everyone involved, a chance to get to meet and train with new people, from different countries and different martial art backgrounds.

My wrestling teammate, Zheng Tong, has wrestled from age 9 to age 20, living first in a sports school, and then in the sports university. He was once a national high school champion in Greco Roman wrestling, but then because of a back injury, he was bedridden for two years and had to stop competing. Eventually, he trained his body back to some semblance of health and can now compete on our university’s traditional wrestling team (Shuai jiao), which is the “B” team at our university. The “A” team is the Greco Roman wrestling team, which competes at national and international level.

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He has no chance of moving up to “A” team. And after 11 years of doing nothing apart from wrestling, I suspect he is bored. So, he began cross training in san da. We actually met in a san da class, before our wrestling team began training last year. From the first time I met him, he has continually asked me about MMA. When I fought a few months ago, he asked if he could also fight on the same card. But with no boxing background, no submissions and really terrible san da, I didn’t think it was such a good idea.

About a month earlier, he received permission to begin training with the university san da team. The san da team is unique in that, although it is a university team, it is professional, not amateur. And the fighters fight in competitions for money. Most of them come from sports schools, where they learned nothing but san da for years. A few come from Tagou, a big san da school at Shaolin Temple. No matter where they come from, however, the one thing they have in common is that they have been doing san da their whole lives, much the way Zheng Tong has wrestled his whole life. Getting a late start makes it very unlikely that Zheng Tong could catch up.

On the way to the MMA gym, Zheng Tong took me and my san da training mate, Jiang Huaying to meet a retired san da champion. He had been retired for ten years, but he still looked powerful. His head and neck were perfectly square. His arms and chest were big. But his belly hung over his belt. He poked at it and said, “I really should start exercising. But I don’t want to. I don’t even want to work. It’s too hard.”
When Zheng Tong told him that I was 47 and still fighting, he instantly said, “You see! This is the difference between us and the foreigners. The foreigners have the inspiration to fight. But with us, Chinese people, someone has to make us fight. And we only fight for money.”
I told him that I once fought in Thailand for three dollars.

The retired san da champion had an amazing way of reading people. When I sat down, he said to me, “Your legs are very powerful, but have no flexibility, so your kicking must be very bad. But, your entire body is proportionate, your shoulders, arms, and back are all as large as your legs, so you are probably good at wrestling and boxing.”

He had apparently watched Zheng Tong learning san da at the university and said, “Zheng Tong is very powerful, but he lacks movement, flexibility, techniques, and mindset to learn san da. He can never do it.” While I thought that was a bit harsh, I agreed. My guess, however, was that Zheng Tong could learn MMA, and I told him so. In addition to his wresting skill, Zheng Tong has two very positive attributes. He is strong and fearless. I really think you would need a very large gun to stop him if he decided to come after you. With minimal boxing training…correction, not boxing, just punching…with very minimal punching training, I believe Zheng Tong could learn to use his wrestling, take guys down, control them on the ground, and ground and pound them to take the win.

The retired san da guy had apparently watched a lot of MMA videos. MMA seems to be a staple of the new, younger generation of Chinese athletes, especially the fighters. He understood some of what he watches and he said. “I believe the most important skills in MMA are wrestling and boxing. I think kicking is almost useless because it’s too easy for people to catch the kicks and just take you down.”

He was an interesting guy, with a lot of opinions and a lot to say about fighting, strategy, mindset…He reminded me of one of those old kung fu masters in the movies, except that he was only 32 years old. He poured tea and told us the facts of life, san da style.

“In a fight, you have to relax. Just relax and breath. If you are too nervous or too excited, you will use up your energy too quickly.” He explained. “People think fighting is physical, but it is mental. You can’t just be like a muscle machine. You have to use your brain and think. You have to see how your opponent is, what he does, and adjust your techniques.”

The retired fighter cooked us a huge meal, which we appreciated. Living in the dorms at the sports university, we don’t get home cooking too often. Afterwards, we headed to the MMA gym.

That night, I got to spar about 6 rounds of stand up, 1 round of MMA and countless rounds of submission wrestling, where I was submitted, an equal number of times. It was cool seeing my SUS teammates and classmates sparring and training with the MMA guys. A lot of foreigners who live in China live in a bit of a white bubble, where they don’t have much quality interaction with Chinese people. Other than their girlfriend they may not have any Chinese friends. So, I was glad the western students had the chance to meet my awesome teammates. Similarly, my Chinese friends were so happy for the experience. At the university, I am the only foreigner in wrestling. And my friend AJ and I are the only foreigners in San Da. It’s still a novelty for the Chinese athletes to train with foreigners. Afterwards, I heard Zheng Tong bragging to some Chinese friends, “I sparred with foreigners. There was even a black guy.”

Zheng Tong and I did both MMA sparring and boxing. And in both cases, I really couldn’t believe how bad his boxing was. He just ducked his head and ran at me swinging wildly. Then he would crash into me and try to take me down. In MMA, he would get the takedown, but from the ground I would always take him down and get the win. In boxing, when he crashed into me, we would have to break. Each time we broke and reset, I would get about two really solid, clean punches on his face. Then he would crash into me again, and we would break and reset. Eventually, those two solid punches, every thirty seconds or so, added up. I could see the retired san da guy shaking his head, like, “This is never going to happen.”

Afterwards, the retired fighter scolded Zheng Tong. “Your legs are too strong and stiff, so you can’t kick. Your movements are all wrong because you have been wrestling your whole life. And you can’t learn the san da movements because it’s impossible for you to undo what you have practiced for so many years.”

Once again, I mostly agree with the retired fighter. I don’t see how starting at less-than-zero Zheng Tong is going to be able to learn san da well enough to compete against guy who have been doing it their whole lives. But, in MMA, if he can get the takedown against me, he will definitely get it against guys who have less wrestling training. And as I said, I was usually only able to hit him twice before he took me down. A better fighter might be faster or more accurate and could maybe KO Zheng Tong on the way in, but we could teach him to cover up. Also, he will improve in his speed and takedown ability. We were sparring with boxing gloves on. With MMA gloves, he may get the take down faster.
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The other guys I brought with me that night was my san da training partners Jiang Huaying and Ren Zhiying, The san da guys at the university have all heard of Muay Thai, but never got a chance to see it up close or experience it. Ren Zhiying really enjoyed learning some techniques from the Muay Thai coach. Nowadays, some san da tournaments allow knees. So the Chinese fighters need to learn them. But the Thais are the real masters of the knee. The Muay Thai coach showed Ren Zhiying how to step out at a 45 degree angle with the back foot, before throwing a front knee. This takes you out of the way of any answering punches, and puts you right in your opponent’ blind side, for your follow up punches and kicks.

The huge, powerful, hard-core Muay Thai coach, Karl, was willing to get in the ring and spar with Jiang Huaying, who only weighs about 65 kg. One of the big differences between Muay Thai and San Da, which the coach was able to teach Jiang Huaying was to catch and kick.

In san Da, they practice catch and throw drills a lot. When you catch the opponent’s kick, you throw him to the ground. In Muay Thai, they use some of the same catches, but when they catch, they often kick the base leg. This was new for my training mates and they instantly saw what a deadly weapon the catch and kick was

Next, Zheng Tong did submission wrestling with my MMA coach Silas Maynard. Everyone was impressed that Zheng Tong. With no jujitsu experience at all, he was able to get the take down and stay in dominant position, holding off the submissions for a long time. All of the Greco guys on my wrestling team have a handful of power submissions which come from Greco Roman wrestling. The most common ones are a kind of arm triangle and a couple of neck cranks, which cut off your breathing. But the Greco chokes, while scary to normal people, usually won’t tap out someone with BJJ or MMA experience. Bjj/MMA people know to just relax. On top of that, the Greco choke is not tight enough to completely stop your breathing. Zheng Tong got one of these chokes on Silas, but obviously, Silas was able to wait it out and escape. At one point, Zheng Tong wrapped his arms around both of Silas’s legs, lifted him off the ground and slammed him. In the end, Silas won each of the submission rounds, usually with a neck crank. But it was clearl that Zheng Tong could learn MMA.

I wrestled both Silas and one of the students, named Tyler. Silas choked me, neck cranked me, and otherwise submitted me every single round, and was never in any sort of danger. Tyler got the better of me in most of the rounds we wrestled because we were both confused about the rules and both were disqualified several times. We only did one round of submission wrestling, and I won, largely because I controlled his legs. When I was at wrestling camp in Cambodia, earlier in the year, they taught me how to grab the opponent’s legs, continue to hold the legs, and use the legs to control and pin him. I wasn’t sure if holding a leg was such a great idea in BJJ, because maybe you were setting yourself up to get submitted. But once we started wrestling, I saw that if I controlled the legs, I avoided triangle chokes and arm bars. So, I snaked up Tyler’s body, controlling the legs the whole way, till I found full mount.

On our wrestling team at the university we often cross train in shaui jiao (traditional wrestling) and freestyle wrestling. Most of my teammates have a background in Greco Roman wrestling. A lot of the guys ask me to teach them some MMA wrestling, and a few, like Zheng Tong and me, cross train in San Da. With guys like Jiang Huaying, who only learn san da, I teach them traditional wrestling or MMA techniques that they can use in San Da to get a better takedown or as a better defense against the takedown. Brining these guys, with all of these martial arts backgrounds to the MMA gym, where they were exchanging techniques with Muay Thai, BJJ, and submission wrestling was the truest spirit of mixed martial arts. I am seriously grateful for this opportunity.

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.
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
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

Wrestling for San Da

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

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By Antonio Graceffo
It’s no secret that MMA in the US is dominated by former wrestlers. In fact, 8 of the 10 current UFC champions are former collegiate or high school wrestlers. In China, MMA is dominated by san da fighters. MMA in China pays a lot better than san da, which attracts a lot of fighters, even if they lack the ground skills. One reason there haven’t been a lot of Chinese fighters in MMA outside of China is because China MMA pays better than anywhere else in Asia, at least for beginners and journeymen.
Before coming to China to study san da and wrestling, my thought was that, if you stay on your feet with a san da fighter in an MMA fight, they will head-kick you and knock you out. They have very tricky kicks. They are lightning fast and incredibly strong. Also, the pros have serious experience. China is a bit like Thailand, where you have guys in their early twenties who have already had 40 fights. There are san da fighters who grew up in Tagou, Shaolin Temple school or in one of the many sports schools, who have been training over ten years by the time they turn eighteen.
Before coming to China I believed the way to win against a san da fighter in MMA was to take him to the ground. The problem I identified, however, was that san da also includes throws, so the experienced san da fighters have good takedown defense. Now that I have been training in China for nearly a year, and had a chance to fight, spar, and wrestle with a lot of san da guys (although, admittedly, not the top tier guys) I still agreed that the way to beat them in MMA is to take them down. As for the second part, about them having good takedown defense, that is true, but only in san da rules.
In san da, you can only clinch or attempt a throw for about three seconds before the referee will separate you. So, in my first many months here, I found that if I just hung on the guys, and hung on them, forcing them to carry my weight and defend the takedown for ten, twenty or thirty seconds, I could eventually wear them down. At some point, you will feel their strength leave them, and you can complete the throw. In MMA, however, you need to be careful when employing this strategy, because they could be hitting you with knees and elbows while you are waiting for them to fall.
What I have decided in the last few months, since my wrestling has improved, is that the san da fighters only have takedown defense against san da throws. While san da does allow body lock throws, throws from the clinch and throws employed as part of an attack, 80% or more of throws in a san da fight come from catching the opponent’s kick and then sweeping or tripping him. One of the things that made Cung Le such a unique and successful san da fighter was that he fully utilized his collegiate wrestling skills in the san da ring. Cung Le was famous for using body locks, as well as suplex wrestling throws. These are techniques that most san da fighters have no answer for. Because 80% of san da throws are related to catching kicks, 80% of the san da takedown training is also dedicated to the kic- catching throws.
At Shanghai University of Sport where I train, we have never worked on any of the san da throws that are unrelated to kick catching. When I trained at Shaolin Temple, we learned a double-leg takedown and a body lock, lift and toss throw. But that was it. And we didn’t practice them that much. Most of our time was spent doing catch and throw drills.
Once again, my experience may not be typical of everyone who studies san da, but even if we allow an error margin of 20%, we can still see that most of san da grappling training is related to catching kicks.
Someone once said rules made styles. And now that I am constantly switching codes of fighting, I can agree. Last year, for example, not counting matches that were part of our university wrestling training, I had 7 amateur fights: 3 san da, 2 MMA, one boxing, and one wrestling. My wrestling team at the university specializes in Chinese traditional wrestling but we also cross train in freestyle wrestling, including doing internal matches in both styles. With the exception of boxing, all of the fights involved some wrestling, but they all had different rules. Different rules will force you to employ different techniques.
The first difference between san da wrestling and freestyle or MMA is, as stated above, the time difference. In a san da fight, a san da fighter only has to defend the takedown for about 3 seconds. That is a lot different than having to defend for ten or more seconds in wrestling and virtually unlimited in MMA. Even with the kick-catching throws, the ones where the san da fighters have the most experience and skill to avoid the takedown, they are only used to hoping around on one leg for three seconds. Try hoping around on one leg for twenty seconds while someone your same weight is trying to pull you down. The time factor is a game changer.
Another important factor is what I like to call the do-or-die factor. In san da, if you throw your opponent you can get one, two, or three points. And points are nice, but they aren’t worth dying for. In MMA, if you are a grappler, getting your opponent to the ground may be the difference between winning or losing the fight. So, when you go for the take down, you are fighting with do-or die ferocity. Once again, the san da fighter may not be used to this. When a san da fighter agrees to fight MMA obviously he will change his training. He may have an MMA coach and a Brazilian Jujitsu coach. He may train hard. But the reflexes and skills that helped him win in san da are second nature to him. They are ingrained behaviors and tendencies that may be hard to untrain. If he is a veteran of 50 fights where giving up a takedown was only a 2 point loss, maybe he would let it go more easily than if winning or losing depended on the takedown, like it does in MMA.
Some of the san da fighters who wish to fight MMA have asked me to help them with their training. And no matter how much we drill, they are so used to breaking off the engagement once they take someone to the ground. There is always a slight moment’s hesitation that could cost them the fight. The same thing happens to the wrestlers on my team who are trying t learn some MMA. When they get the opponent on his back, they are so used to pinning him, they forget that he will keep fighting from the bottom position and either get a reversal or a win. A momentary loss of focus is all it takes for the tide to turn.
Another rule that is different from san da to wrestling is that san da does not allow you to drop your knee on the ground while going for the takedown. San da also doesn’t allow sacrifice throws. Therefore, at least in my experience, the san da guys are not prepared to defend against these techniques. Once I realized that, I was able to complete the throw most of the time against my sparring partners. If I catch a kick, I instantly drop my whole body weight on the leg, dragging him to the ground. In the clinch, I utilize the Chinese leg-hooking techniques from traditional wrestling, but as soon as I hook, I drop my whole body on the leg I am attacking. I practice a lot of saltos and throws that I can do from the clinch, with either one or two underhooks, whereby, I go down with, and land on top of my opponent.
The trick seems to be to always use throws that san da doesn’t have. For example, if a san da fighter takes someone’s back in standing, he may do a lift and toss or a front trip, but he won’t do a BJJ sit-through, because that would be zero points in san da. But in an MMA fight, it would b a perfect way to take the san da fighter down and get on top of him.
Sometimes a san da fighter will go for a high single or double-leg takedown. When he does, you can sprawl and use a guillotine or front headlock to drag him to the ground by simply kicking your legs out behind you and dropping to the ground. The san da fighters I have trained with had incredible neck and back strength. If we fought san da rules and I tried a front headlock throw, they could simply support my body weight, no matter how hard I tried to lean on them and drive them down. But when we fought MMA rules, the second I kicked my feet back, I became really heavy, and they couldn’t remain standing.
Having said all of the above, there is still one huge problem to fighting a san da guy in MMA. Namely, you have to get past his kicks before you can even think of taking him down. If someone has a good way to do that, without getting kicked unconscious, please let me know.

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.
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
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

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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

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 amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com