Posts Tagged ‘muay’

Martial Arts Odyssey: Muay Boran 1

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2015 at 7:46 am

Before there was sport Muay Thai there was ancient Muay Thai, Muay Boran. Modern sport Muay Thai contains about 20 movements. Muay Boran contains hundreds. In the 1920’s when Muay Thai was codified as a modern sport His Majesty the King called the great masters together to write a book of modern Muay Thai. All of the techniques in that book have been recorded for history. All of the techniques excluded from the book are considered Muay Boran. Unfortunately, Muay Boran has never been codified. So, different masters know different techniques. Fighting Muay Thai is a way of earning a living in Thailand, but there are no Muay Boran fights. Consequently, young people abandoned the study of the art. Most masters haven’t passed on their skills to a younger generation. And now, most of the masters are old, dead, or dying. As a result, Muay boran is an endangered art. The master featured in this video is Adjan Sok Chai from Surin, Thailand, the first teacher of film star Tony Jaa. He can be seen in many of Tony Jaa’s movies, wearing almost the same clothes he wears in the video, the clothes he wears every day.
Martial Arts Odyssey: Muay Boran 1

Martial Arts Odyssey Re-Release (Part 1)

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Back to the beginning, rereleasing all of the videos
By Antonio Graceffo

Martial Arts Odyssey, the video series which follows the Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo on his journey through martial arts across Asia has been running since 2007. The video series grew out of a series of magazine articles and books which began in 2001, when Antonio left New York to go to Taiwan, learn Kung Fu and Mandarin and then train at the Shaolin Temple in Mainland China.

Since the beginning there have been about 400 martial arts videos, featuring the Monk studying diverse martial arts, such as Kuntaw in the Philippines, Muay Chaiya in Thailand, Selambam in Penang, Vo Co Truen in Vietnam, Bokator in Cambodia, shuai jiao in China and many, many more.

In order to share all of these wonderful martial arts with a new generation of fans, Antonio is rereleasing the episodes, in the order in which they were originally released, at a rate of one per day.

MAO: Kuntaw in the Philippines was the first episode shot and the first episode released, in 2007. At that time, Antonio didn’t even own a video camera, so the video was shot and edited by a TV crew in the Philippines. This video features Grand Master Frank Aycocho.

Digging for the Truth: Angkor Wat, from the Philippines, Antonio flew to Siem Reap Cambodia, where he and his Bokator instructor Grand Master San Kim Saen collaborated with a New York based film crew to shoot this documentary about the traditional Cambodian martial art, Bokator.

Between 2007 and 2008 numerous episodes were shot with borrowed equipment, but Antonio lacked expertise and money for editing, so the tapes collected in a backpack until late 2008 when they were finally edited and released, but not in the order in which they were shot. The third episode to air was MAO: Training with the Shan State Army 1, which was shot in 2007.

This video was shot in Burma during the saffron revolution when foreigners were banned from entering Burma. It is thought to be the first video ever to feature the kung fu of the Shan ethnic group, called Lai Tai. MAO Laitai 1

Pra Kru Bah, the muay Thai monk is the abbot of the Golden Horse Monastary, Wat Achatong on the Thai Burma border. In 2003 he took Antonio in and became Antonio’s first Muay Thai teacher. He taught Antonio Muay Thai, Thai language, and Thai culture. It was in this monastery that Antonio first heard about the war in Burma and vowed to someday help the Shan people. Prah Kru Bah Story Part 1

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is also a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling, in Chinese, with expected graduation in June of 2016. He is expected to graduate his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, in January, 2016. Antonio is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey”, “The Monk from Brooklyn,” and several others. He has published hundreds of articles in the fields of linguistics: second language acquisition, as well as martial arts. Antonio is 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)

The Never Ending Bokator Argument

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2015 at 9:43 am


By Antonio Graceffo

A friend sent me a Phnom Penh Post story about yutakhun khom the traditional Khmer martial art of Master Chan Boeunthoeun. In the article, Chan Boeunthoeun claims that his martial art is older and more authentic than the Bokator of Grand Master San Kim Saen. Chan Boeunthoeun has apparently gone so far as to solicit UNESCO to remove Bokator from the Intangible Cultural Heritage, martial arts list, in favor of his yuthakhun Khom. The whole argument is preposterous on so many levels. But before I explain how baseless this argument is, let me first say one thing. I have huge respect for Chan Boeunthoeun who taught his son Chan Rothana to combine traditional Khmer martial arts with bradal serey kick boxing, which Chan Rothana then used, successfully, in over 90 professional bradal serey kick boxing fights. Chan Rothana even used a combination of traditional Khmer techniques, plus bradal serey and some modern MMA to become a One FC fighter and to amass a professional MMA record of 3 wins and 1 loss.



There should be no question about Chan Rothana’s courage, or the fighting effectiveness of his martial. He definitely walks the walk. And I respect that. But there is no evidence of any kind to prove that yutakhun khom is older than Bokator or that the word yutakhun khom even existed prior to 2012.

Leading up to 2004, Chan Boeunthoeun used to be friends with Bokator Grand Master, San Kim Saen. They had both been part of the Hopkido federation and worked together to found the original Bokator Federation in 2004. They then had a falling out, and Chan Boeunthoeun left (or was asked to leave) the Bokator federation. Chan Boeunthoeun continued to teach Bokator out of his home until about 2012, when he suddenly decided that he was one of the two last remaining masters of yutakhun khom, which he claimed was the real Khmer traditional martial art.

In 2012, The National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, working together with Grand Master San Kim Saen, managed to get Bokator recognized by UNESCO on the Intangible Cultural Heritage, martial arts list. Before 2012, Cambodia had NOTHING on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, martial arts list. Thailand had Muay Thai. Japan had Judo. Korea had Taekkyeon, but Cambodia had no official martial art until 2012, when the Bokator of Grand Master San Kim Saen was recognized. Since then, a number of other Cambodians have suddenly come forward, claiming to be teaching even older styles of Cambodian martial arts. In 2004, most of those masters, including Chan Boeunthoeun, were at the national meeting in Phnom Penh when the Bokator association was founded. Many of them were founding members of Bokator. So, if they actually knew of some other, older, better martial art, why did they wait until 2012 to talk about it?


A Google search for “yutakhun khom” revealed the earliest online mention of the art was a post in a forum in 2012.

The Phnom Penh Post story had this quote from Benoit Rigallaud, the manager of Chan Rothana and owner of the studio where yutakhun khom is taught, “’UNESCO giving bokator Intangible Heritage Asset status was a concern to the yutakhun khom community, and should be to all Cambodians, because ‘they failed to conduct a full investigation”’” Full investigation! Of what? The only evidence yutakhun khom has is the legend of a magical book of the ancient martial arts techniques which was allegedly hidden for Centuries and then finally destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

Is it possible that someone who has a financial interest in yutakhun khom being recognized has a slightly biased opinion? And, when did opinion become fact? There doesn’t seem to be a shred of evidence to support the claims of yutakhun khom having existed. In fact the word does not appear in the 1936 dictionary of the Khmer language. Neither are there any ancient writings using that word, apart from the magical book which was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

Another quote from Benoit Rigallaud, “This is crazy, because we are talking about history and culture here, and if heritage is lost then it is gone forever.” If Benoit Rigallaud and Chan Boeunthoeun succeed in getting Bokator removed from the UNESCO list, then Cambodia will be losing its cultural heritage. And I agree, that is crazy.

As for the “history” of Bokator, I interviewed Chan Boeunthoeun, the first time, in 2007 in connection with the TV show, Human Weapon. At that time, Chan Boeunthoeun still called his style Bokator. He mentioned the book which had been destroyed as proof of the art. While telling me the history of Bokator, he told me that King Jayavarman VII, the patron of Bokator, and now apparently of yutakhun khom, and Bodhidharma (Da Mo) the founder of Shaolin Kung Fu, were “classmates.” According to Chan Boeunthoeun, Bodhidharma was Khmer, not Indian. Next, he said that King Jayavarman VII taught Bokator to Bodhidharma and Bodhidharma brought Bokator to China and called it Kung Fu. This story astounded me, given that Bodhidharma lived during the 5th and 6th Centuries and King Jayavarman VII lived during the 12th and 13th. When I asked him why history had recorded the story differently, he blamed Thailand. Those damned Thais and their political influence! They got the entire world to change the history of both India and China, just to repress the Khmer martial art of yutakhun khom.

Chan Boeunthoeun’s story, since 2012, has been that he has been teaching yutakhun khom all along and that it was yutakhun khom that King Jayavarman VII supported and that it was yutakhun khom that was in the ancient book which was destroyed.

According to the Phnom Penh Post story, “Boeunthoeun claims yutakhun khom dates back 2,000 years to the Funan kingdom of Southeast Asia, but it was King Jayavarman VII at the height of the Khmer Angkorian empire nearly 1,000 years ago who could be credited with cementing the yuthakun khom philosophy that survives to this day.”” This is the exact same story that has been told about Bokator. And, there is no evidence of either the word Bokator or yuthakun khom in any historical document in Cambodia. During the nearly ten years that I researched my book on Khmer martial arts, I also searched French documents. I searched in Thailand, Lao, and Burma. I spoke to Khmer martial arts teachers and students in USA, Australia, Canada, and Europe. And NO ONE had a book. No one had any evidence of any kind. And during those first many years, pre 2012, I never heard the word yuthakun khom. In fairness, I did here the word yuthakun used for martial art. And there was a yuthakun martial arts club that trained at the techno university in Phnom Penh. But their martial art was admittedly synthetic. They never claimed it to be original Khmer. It was basically a mix of everything from Khmer to karate, to taekwondo and even kung fu and probably judo.

But not one person I interviewed, including Chan Boeunthoeun used the term yuthakun khom.

Given the complete lack of evidence, it would seem more constructive for Khmer people to be happy that they made it to the UNESCO list at all. They should support the traditional martial art, whether it is called Bokator or yuthakun khom, and simply move on. There are so many other problems in the country which need to be addressed before tearing down work that has already been done and replacing it.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo holds a black krama in Khmer martial arts. He is the author of the book, Khun Khmer: Cambodian Martial Arts Journey. He works as a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is also a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is expected to graduate his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and his PhD in Spring, 2016. Antonio is also a 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)

Kaiser the Movie Trailer

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2015 at 10:50 am

Martial arts action adventure movie, shot in Shanghai with an international crew

He seemingly came out of nowhere and put the whole underworld on its toes. Who is Kaiser? Why does he kill? Who will be next…? follow us on twitter and FB to find out about his actions and his mysterious past. He seemingly came out of nowhere and put the whole underworld on its toes. Who is Kaiser? Why does he kill? Who will be next…? follow us on twitter and FB to find out about his actions and his mysterious past.

See the trailer on youtube

See Antonio Graceffo as Vincent the Supplier

Kaiser in its current form is just a proof of concept. You can help make the finished film a reality.
To get involved on

Follow Kaiser the Movie on Facebook

Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

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


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.

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Muay Lao, the forgotten art of kickboxing

In Martial Arts on February 10, 2008 at 7:48 am



By Antonio Graceffo


“You can gain extra power on your kicks by throwing your kicking arm down, but you need to protect your face with a cross arm defense.” Explained Adjarn Ngern, at the national kick boxing stadium in Vientiane, Lao.


In Tae Kwan Do and a lot of other kicking arts, the right hand comes down when you kick. This is the moment when a good boxer should step in and punch the kicker in the face. Adjarn Ngern was the first person ever to show me the cross arm defense, basically wrapping your free arm across your face to cover up when you kick. This gives you safety and power.


It was my first day of learning Muay Lao and I wondered what else they had to offer.


For years I had been training off and on in Thailand and Cambodia. I had heard that the national sport in Lao was called Muay Lao, but I didn’t know anyone who had actually gone there for training.


Lao is a sleepy country. The population is less than six million and nearly all of the development is in the capitol, Vientiane, which is a cute, peaceful city which feels like a small town in the US from the 1950s. Apart from the docile feeling in the air, Lao is surprisingly good for training. There is a weight lifting gym located in a tenement block, beside the national sports stadium, where you can do your strength training for a small donation of fifty cents per day. You can get a bed in a dormitory for $3 a day or stay in a hotel, as I do, private room, TV, cable, hot water, private bath, and air-conditioning, for $12 per night. Food is excellent in Lao, French, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Lao or western, and most meals in a restaurant will cost you about $2.50.  You could probably live even cheaper if you wanted to eat the street food which would probably run you less than a dollar per meal. In Lao, they accept US dollars, Thai Baht, or their local currency, Kip. Muay Lao training costs 200 thai Baht, about $6 USD per session, for private training.


The travel guides were all dead wrong about the Muay Lao training. Most books said it was held at the national sports stadium in Vientiane. Actually, the Muay Lao training is held at the National Muay Lao stadium, which is located about fifteen or twenty minutes outside of the city. The stadium boasts a full size ring, a row of kick bags, and a row of uppercut bags mounted on the wall. The coaches are excellent in the ring working the pads with you. 


Adjarn Ngern, the head coach of the Lao National Muay Lao Team, told me that Muay Lao is a much smaller sport in Lao than is Muay Thai in Thailand. Professional fights are only held in the National Stadium twice per month. There are only a handful of registered professional fighters in the whole country.

“How is Muay Lao different than Muay Thai?” I asked.

“It’s exactly the same.” Said the Adjarn.

“Cambodians are angry abut the name Muay Thai. They feel they invented kickboxing and it should be called by the Cambodian name, Bradal Serey, not Muay Thai. What do you think of that?”

Without a second’s hesitation he answered, “Muay Thai was invented in Cambodia, but Thailand has the money and got famous.”


The Adjarn had me start with warm up exercise, a very complete stretching routine which covered all parts of the body, especially the neck and shoulders where injuries can occur in kick boxing.


He watched me shadow boxing for a few minutes then asked, confused “Do you also kick?” I think your fist martial art stays with you forever. You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the boy. No matter how long I train in Asia, I will always look like a boxer or street fighter.


We readjusted my stance. He didn’t want me to hold my hands next to my face like I do in boxing. Instead, he wanted the lead hand out in front and a bit lower than what I do for boxing. He also didn’t want the hands touching my face in case I was punched or kicked and it would force me to hit myself.


Next, we worked combinations on the uppercut bag one, two, and upper cut switching off left hand upper cut and right hand upper cut. He was excellent about correcting my form while I trained. Adjarn made me turn out my back foot on straight punches, and go up on my toes at impact. On the Upper cut, he also had me up on my toes, and made me turn my heel in.


We transitioned to kicks, on the bag. The important point which he kept stressing here was to get up on the toes of your base foot, and rotate the foot with the kick. Next, you must be careful to twist your hip and butt into the kick. The leg must travel parallel to the ground, and strike at an almost ninety degree angle, kicking IN not UP like in a Tae Kwan Do kick. Of course, in Muay Lao, like in Muay Thai, the roundhouse strikes with the shin.


Other combinations we worked on required me to kick off the front leg. A lot of teachers tell you to hop, scoot the front leg back, then kick with the front leg. Adjarn Ngern wanted me to minimize this hopping and leg shuffling. He told me to only to slide my left leg back slightly, then kick off of it. The right leg didn’t really move at all. It felt awkward at first, but it was a good technique. It was faster and less exhausting than the more common hop and shuffle. It just took a lot of practice for me to get it. To save even more time, he showed me that when the left leg hit, instead of bringing it back, just bring it straight down to the ground. Now you are in close so immediately throw an overhand elbow with the right arm.


With the knee kick, Adjarn Ngern always wanted to lead hand straight out. You could use this hand to measure distance, and time your strike. When your left hand just about makes contact with the opponent, step in and decimate him with your right knee. The extended arm is also a good defensive tactic. This way if your opponent takes this opportunity to throw an elbow or a punch, you could catch it with your lead hand, long before it hits you. In fact, you could catch/deflect his elbow with your floating lead hand, and still complete your knee strike. In that instance, the power would be multiplied by the fact that your opponent would be coming forward with his own strike. This would be one of those knees to the solar plexus which could end a fight.


Once again, when reaching out with your left/lead hand, you could either use your right hand to do the cross face defense, as you did in the kick, or you could throw the right hand down and back to add extra power to the knee. The lead hand can be used to grab the back of the opponent’s head and pull him into the knee strike. And remember to go up on the toes of the base leg to get those last few extra inches of extension and power.

After you have thrown the knee, you can step trough with an elbow because you have already closed the distance.


To help me get up on my toes and swing my hips, the coach and one of the fighters stood behind me, twisting my legs and hips and trying to get my position right. It was a lot to remember, and there was nothing natural about having two men twisting and prodding my body while I practiced. It was like a dance lesson gone wrong.


Adjarn had me hold the bag and do left right knee combinations, fast. But, he kept stressing that each of the knees had to be a real technique, a solid knee strike. Most people who practice the fast alternating knees on the bag just barely touch the bag with each knee, then shuffle and throw the next one. But this type of exercise has nothing to do with real fighting. It’s not just aerobics. In a fight every technique must be right. Every knee strike must count. 


Blocking, the knee can be used several different ways. One common option is to block a kick by brining the knee straight up, and allowing your shin to hit the opponent’s shin as he kicks. A more offensive block is to quickly raise your knee higher than the attacker’s kicking leg, and bring you knee straight down into his leg, hitting him with your knee on his thing, just above his knee. This could render his leg useless for the rest of the fight. Once, again, after you have blocked, you have already closed distance, so the quickest follow up is to bring your leg straight back to the floor and step in with a close elbow.


Some coaches tell you to knee strike with your foot at a 90 degree angle. Other coaches tell you to point your foot at the floor. Both camps claim that they get more power. I don’t think there is a clear answer on which is better. This coach wanted the foot pointed at the ground.


With both a knee and a kick one more thing to remember is to arch your back to get the extra extension and power.


The coach taught me a fake. He did a shuffle, as if getting ready to kick with his left, lead foot, but instead, he threw a punch to the face.


“If you see the punch coming you can use Teep to protect yourself because your leg is longer than his arm.” Explained Adjarn Ngern, teaching the push kick.  


When executing a push kick, the toes must be curled back and you strike with the ball of the foot. It is really hard to do because you have to develop the muscles in your feet. I can’t curl my toes back at will. Teep can also be done with the heel of the foot, but Adjarn Ngern claimed that it wasn’t as powerful. Muay Thai Boran practitioners find that the heel of the foot works just fine, however.


Very few people in Lao speak any English at all. Most people in Vientiane, including Adjarn Ngern, speak excellent Thai. So I was able to communicate with him in Thai. Thus far, I was impressed with Adjarn Ngern and how modern his training and thinking was. He was one of the few coaches I had worked with in Asia who could really analyze and discuss the sport of fighting. But his old-school training suddenly showed when he did the thing where he put rope in his mouth and used his neck to lift a heavy bucket full of cement.


He invited me to try it next, but one look at his used saliva dripping off the rope made me thing twice about it.


“Aren’t you going to boil that rope?” I asked.


We opted to move on to the next phase of training instead.  


In Muay Lao, as in Muay Thai the fighters often lock up, grappling. They grab each other behind the back of the neck and struggle to get dominance over the opponent. It is amazing how many throws a good fighter can do from this position. A significant component in learning Muay Lao is practicing grappling from the neck.


The goal in Muay grappling is to achieve the dominant position, which means, getting your two hands on the inside. The two fighters start with one in and one out, then they compete to get both hands inside. Once you have both hands inside, you can plant your elbows in your opponent’s chest, leverage his head and take him. In any type of fighting, if you want to control a man, grabbing the back of his neck is good because then you are pulling against muscle, not bone. Grabbing higher on the head gives you extended leverage, multiplying your power. Post your hips back, bend at the knees and bring your entire body weight to bear on his neck muscles.


Adjarn Ngern showed me how you could grab the back of the head with one hand and slide your hand down under the elbow for leverage. Then in one quick, jerking motion, you could pull down on the head and push up on the elbows at the same time and throw the man. In wrestling never let your legs stand square, one foot beside the other or you have no base no balance and can easily be knocked down.


Another exercise we worked on, one man held his hands behind his back and the other man tried to throw him. It is a simple technique, step out on the right, throw on the left. Step out on the left, throw on the right.


Training in Lao was just one more piece of the puzzle. The art of kickboxing is widely practiced in Lao, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. Only by training in all four countries could I get a good overview of the art. So, Burma was next.

 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 latest episode, shot inside of Burma with the Shan State Army rebels, is running on youtube, click here.  Antonio is the author of four books available on Contact him see his website   

Martial Arts Odyssey, Inside Khmer Bokator

In Martial Arts on November 15, 2007 at 5:11 am

New, In Depth Bokator Video on Youtube

By Dante Scott


This is the first production video ever done about the Khmer Martial art of Bokator. It stars Grand Master San Kim Saen and features Antonio Graceffo. The narration is provided by Antonio and is the most thorough explanation of the origin and spirit of Bokator to date. The video production was done part by a local company, in Cambodia and part by Soso Whaley, the producer of Martial Arts Odyssey.


Martial Arts Odyssey is the youtube show hosted by Antonio Graceffo, adventure and martial arts author. The show follows Antonio around Asia, as he trains with masters of ancient and sometimes lost arts, and as he tries to discover the perfect martial art.


Antonio had this to say about his participation in the show. “Life is a journey of development. The road I have chosen is martial arts. The show gives me an opportunity to share my path with people from around the world.”


Khmer people and martial arts fans from have already begun writing in, leaving comments and encouragement. To find out more about Bokator, take a look



The Last Thai Sword Master

In Martial Arts on November 5, 2007 at 6:11 am

By Antonio Graceffo Flashes of steel the clank of metal, blades blazing like fire: This is a practice session for Kru Pedro Villalobos and his trainer, Adjarn, one of the last living masters of Krabi Krabong, the Thai art of stick and sword fighting.  “If I do not block, he will definitely hit me.” Says Kru Pedro Villaobos, the founder of the school of Muay Thai Sangha, a religious form of Muay Thai Boran, in Chiang Mai. For years, Kru Pedro traveled around Thailand, finding and training with the best masters for the various forms of Muay Thai, Muay Thai Boran, and Krabi Krabong.  While professional, sport Muay Thai slowly drives all other historical and artistic forms of Muay Thai into extinction, Krabi Krabong is quickly disappearing. Many of the teachers dont take new students. Some dont take any at all. The Adjarn is considered to be one of the last great masters. He hadnt accepted any students in years, but after seeing Pedros diligence and extreme desire to learn, he agreed to take him on, as his last student.  For myself, I was grateful for this rare opportunity to watch the practice. Before Pedro could even pick up his swords, in the presence of outsiders, he had to ask permission from his teacher. “If I demonstrate to anyone, without his permission, he said he would never teach me again.” The two men fought, with one, real, heavy metal sword in each hand, swinging, blocking, advancing and retreating for a half hour. By the end of the session, Pedro, who is in world-class physical condition, was dripping sweat. The Adjarn looked barely winded, which is amazing, considering his age of around sixty.  In a rare interview, the Adjarn imparted the wisdom gained from a lifetime of studying the sword.  

“Real fighters have to use their intellect.  They approach each other not just for show. You have to practice your sword techniques on your partner.  Know when he advances and know when to parry.  He goes for your head, you go for his leg. Each person has their own gracefulness.” Here, the Adjarn was talking about how we all have our own style and ability.    “If you’re talking about the ancient sword fighting, that’s not how we practice today. For them, sword fighting was life and death. They practice throughout their entire life as well. Every facet of their life revolved around the sword technique. The ancients engaged in massive sword battles, consisting of hundreds of fighters. Today, we practice two forms (katas), and the fighters are already tired.  If they tire so easily, they don’t know the real way.  In the old days, fighters knew they would be cut, or die. So, they made their skin thick, and the swords slipped off on contact.  Then they could do real battle quickly.  Here we practice for art. But, in earlier times the practice had a purpose, war.”   “The same is true of Muay Thai. It used to be for real fighting, not only just for gambling and money. They knew how to defend in all situations. They knew how to avoid the unnecessary battles as well, and only engaged the enemy when needed.”   “If you engaged in too many sword fights, the blades would chip and split. The swords had to be of high quality. And they infused them with blessings and other ancient magic. The written histories are full of sword fighting and splitting swords.”   I didn’t even begin to believe I was worthy of studying with Pedro’s Adjarn. But I wanted to get a  taste of Krabi Krabong, so I traveled to Surin province, where I took some lessons with Adjarn Sak Chai, a trainer of Khmer movie fighters. He is an expert of Muay Thai Boran, Krabi Krabong, and gymnastics, all aimed at performing in Thai action cinema.   

The Adjan taught me some techniques fromKrabi Krabong, the Thai art of double sword and stick fighting. He practices by attacking a tire, mounted on a wooden pole, which serves as a wooden man. The long stick is similar to bo the staff used in other martial arts, but it is very heavy, not flexible like the ones at Shaolin Temple. Often, the Adjan took the long staff by the end and swung it like a baseball bat.   The short sticks were heavier and longer than Arnis sticks. The important thing to remember here, is that they aren’t sticks at all. They are swords. If you were a master of Arnis you probably couldn’t apply your skills to these longer, heavier weapons. The Adjan taught me a basic patter; strike to the left shoulder, strike to right shoulder, strike to the top of the head. When you swing the sword in Krabi Krabong, you have to get a real wind up swing, twisting your body and reaching far back behind you. Then you let it fly and the weapon cuts your opponent in half.   After doing the basic three strike combo on a tire for a while, I was permitted to practice with a live partner. I attacked, stepping forward with each strike. The opponent defended, stepping back at a forty-five degree angle, blocking as he went. Then he attacked, and I retreated and blocked. We practiced again and again, until we could do the patter at speed.  In rehearsing for movie fighting, we did the same, basic pattern. On film, however, you use a lot more energy and add in a great deal of shouting and snarling. It looks really mean in the cinema. But it was fake. Pedro’s Adjarn was the real deal. Pedro’s Adjard said.  

“In ancient times, when an enemy appeared out of the blue, they had to face off and see whose style was superior.”   “Bang! Boom! Pssshhh! The best and fastest one would win! This is the real fighting. Today, fighting is all a big show. It’s not real, only exercise and theatre. We must attempt, now, to preserve the old sword fighting methods, not just make a show of it, practice the real way.  You must be serious and not slap each other with the blades like if it were a game. You must practice with all your heart and devote your time to it like it was your life, as the old practitioners did.  If some one wants to come study with me, I must first examine their behavior and dedication. Otherwise, they will waste their time and mine.  This style is mostly one of defense and not offense.    “The sword is a weapon, but the fighter is the brain. The pain of loss could lead to your death.  I even fear for my life at times.”  

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


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