Posts Tagged ‘study’

Children Vs. Adults, Language Learning vs. Acquisition

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

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By Antonio Graceffo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They make the best students but the worst teachers

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2015 at 4:41 am

By Antonio Graceffo

The latest in the sad saga of my replacement Chinese teacher:

My regular Chinese teacher, who I like, went home for the holidays and said his friend Huang Hainan would teach me. Sadly, Hainan and I started off on a bad foot. When Hainan wrote to introduce himself, he did so in English. When I called him on it, he said, “We Chinese believe foreigners like to speak English.” If you want to see me fly into a rage, use the explanation “We Chinese people…” as if he was appointed to represent all 1.3 Billion of them. And, since I am usually the first foreigner any of these people meet, where would this belief come from?

Most people know, with me, you get one strike. And he had just used his up. Next, when he came to teach me, he kept telling me the answers to the questions in my Chinese book. If I took more than two seconds to think something over, he blurted out the answer. Once again, I had to chastise him, “Who’s taking this exam? Me, or you?”. Out of respect for my other teacher, who I like, I didn’t slap him. Yesterday, he blurted out the answer several times. The first few times I made a half joke, like, “I bet you could do really well on this exam.” Or, “Are you going to take this exam for me?” The final time he did it, I just started swearing in English, unable to stop, shouting, “You’re the worst teacher I have ever met.”

All this while, I was cutting him slack because he is an English major at a sports university. This tells me he is probably not on the cutting edge of intelligencia There are a percentage of non-sports majors at our sports university, and I have always wanted to meet these people that the athletes know exist and have many legends about, but no one has ever seen. To get into university in China, kids have to pass a national exam, called the gaokao. A high gaokao gets you into a better university….a low gaokao gets you into a sports university.

Can you imagine being an English major at a sports university? Not only does everyone think you must be an idiot, or you would be at a real college somewhere, but also, you are surrounded by people who are bigger, stronger, tougher, better looking, and who, in a way, represent the top echelon of their world. There are 6 million kids studying in sports schools in China, but only about 20,000 spots at sports universities. So, the athletes here are proud to be here. The English majors must feel like complete failures, not to mention that everyone from the administration, to the staff, to the athletes have no idea what to do with them.

Anyway, I didn’t want to judge Huang Hainan too harshly. And I still needed a Chinese teacher. As most people have already gone home for the holidays, there weren’t many choices left for me on campus. Largely, the only people left on campus were the professional sports teams. As bad as Huang Hainan was, I figured he was still a better Chinese teacher than most of the athletes.

This week, the university began to operate on holiday schedule, meaning the training halls close early, at 5:45 immediately after the pro teams fnished their training. I normally have wrestling at 5:45, but now my wrestling training has been moved to mornings, which meant changing my Chinese class to the afternoon. This schedule is les than optimal for me, because I hate having Chinese class AFTER training. I am usually just too tired to pay attention.

While I was busy at work, I sent a quick text to Huang Hianan to tell him we would change the class time to 2 O’clock. He wrote back, and asked, “2 o’clock in the afternoon?” For a guy who I already hated, this was a bold step toward oblivion. I wanted to answer, “No, 2 o’clock in the morning.” But instead, I wrote back, “Yes, in the afternoon.” He sent a text saying “OK, see you then.” An hour later, my phone rang, but because I was teaching, I rejected the call. A quick glance at the phone told me it was Huang Hainan. Five minutes later, he called again, and I rejected the call again. The third time he called I shut off my phone. Later, during the class time, I turned the phone back on, and saw that in addition to three phone calls from him, I had received several text messages, saying things like, “I am waiting for you, where are you?”

What a moron! He knew we didn’t have class that day because of my work. And he already agreed to change the time for the class the next day. And all of this was in writing, in Chinese, so there is no way he didn’t understand or could be confused. So I wrote back. “No, tomorrow. We have class tomorrow.”

He wrote me about five more times to confirm the class for the next day.

The next day, when I finished wrestling, I was just too tired to think of having Chinese class, especially with Huang Hainan. So, I cancelled. He sent a text asking if we would have class the following day So, I cancelled that one too. Next, he texted and asked if there was a problem. I didn’t answer. An hour later, he sent texts with little emodicons of smiley faces and pictures and asked if there was a problem. But I didn’t answer.

That night I received this insane, and incredibly lengthy, SMS message from him on my phone. And he wrote in English, which makes me want to find him and as Mickey said in Rocky III, “Hurt him permanent.” Here is the message, including all of his crazy punctuation: “hi Antonio! Sorry for disturbing you, again. Having learned Chinese with you for three times. generally, I feel not bad. You know, I am English major, but you are the first foreigner I teach Chinese to! I value it, Truly. However, you may feel not good. I know it, and im most responsible for it. Because im a little awkward when in work. Im sorry for that. But I must confess that im not easy in work, because we are not familiar with each other, just you asked and I told, and even sometimes directly told you the answer…before the first time I came, I hoped that we may could talk like friends, tell you what a Chinese think about china is its politics, culture, or national characters. you may share about your storys, talk about something in America. I notices that your desk is filled with “Super heroes” I know you like it,many of my classmates and I also like it, and watching the movies. But maybe you are busy. Buy in playing roles in a teacher as well as a student. Maybe spend one and half hour learning Chinese is luxury, no time t waste whatever, I understand it. Last, whenever you want to learn Chinese, one message and I’ll come. If you want to choose another one to learn Chinese, I still hope you learn it well and have a good time in china!”

I wrote a short reply, “You’re an idiot.” But I didn’t have the balls to send it. I have no idea where to even begin to respond to this, and don’t know if will. I find that Chinese students, in general, have very low emotional intelligence and are extremely socially awkward. I have a theory that the reason prostitution is so common in China is because none of them are charming enough to get a woman to sleep with them. Having said that, I find the athletes to be relatively normal. I think the years of hardship, living away from their families, training six hours per day, since age 12, has hardened them. They are less fussy. Also, they are much happier and alert than the average Chinese student.

Huang Hainan is a product of this insane system of study only, and study to the exclusion of every other experience in life. I still might beat him up, though.


Violated Linguistically, Keep Your Tongue to Yourself

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

By Antonio Graceffo

Substitute teaching in a high school, I was a little vague about when class started. When I heard a bell, I just went. The principle said to me in Chinese, “No, your class starts at eight twenty-five.” I said, “OK, thank you,” and sat down. But then the English teacher had to show off how good her English was. She came over to me and said “You can play your class at twenty-five minutes past eight, ten minutes later. But as you can see, according to this clock the time now is only eight twelvth.” Ah yes, the dreaded “eight twelvth” I would have to “wait ten minutes later” to “play” my class. Va fan culo!

This is so typical that to show off or to “practice” Chinese say the longest most convoluted sentence they can. I often hear them using the specific dialogue from chapter seven, like, “Will you eat in our school cafeteria, or do you prefer to eat such delicacies as fresh leafy vegetables, legumes, meats, and savories…” As soon as you use the word “savories” I know you’ve been memorizing dialogues again. And I don’t want to be your partner.

I gritted my teeth and said, “Yes, I understand the concept of telling time.” Since then, I have played and replayed the situation over and over in my head, wondering if I should have ripped into her in English and made her cry. I think the reason I react so badly to Chinese people making long statements from the vocabulary list in chapter eight, is that, one, she is calling me an idiot by suggesting I didn’t understand the principle. Two, she is not very observant, since I answered the principle appropriately, which would suggest I understood. Some people argue that people like this aren’t trying to insult me. They are juts practicing. Well, I don’t understand how this is practicing. Since no native speaker would use that many words to convey such a simple message. And since she obviously already knew these words….What exactly was she practicing? I guess she will get better and better at THIS and next time, she will cram “robust peaches at the peak of freshness” into the sentence.

That night, when I went out to get some food, I bumped into one of the newly arrived German students. I stopped to ask how he was getting on, when I noticed he had an Asian girl with him. Thinking he couldn’t possibly already have a girlfriend, after two days in country, I asked her in Chinese, “Where are you from?” I thought maybe she was another foreign student. As expected, she didn’t answer. So, I said in English, “Where are you from?” He answered for her, saying, “She is from here. She’s my language buddy, assigned by the university to help me learn Chinese.” Now, I was confused why she didn’t answer me. So, I asked again, in Chinese, “Where are you from?” She just smiled and said “Yes” in English. So, I switched to harsher Chinese and asked, rather forcefully. “I just asked you twice, where you are from. Why didn’t you answer?” She replied in English. “I am sorry, but I can’t understand your Chinese.” So, I asked in Chinese, “Why don’t you understand me? Everyone else does.” But she didn’t budge. She said, “Sorry, your accent…” I exploded, and started shouting in English (maybe I should have done it in Chinese, but I wanted the German guy to know what I was saying.) I am a doctoral candidate in this university. All my classes are in Chinese. All my classmates are Chinese. Everyone understands me but you.”

I just didn’t see how this was going to end well. And I felt embarrassed for the poor German guy who probably had no idea what to do. So, I just mumbled under my breath, in Chinese, “Forget about it. You have no manners.” As I stormed off, she called after me in English, “I understood that. Your Chinese is so good.”

I know people think I get mad about nothing and fly off the handle, but this person intentionally made me lose face. I can’t imagine she did this to help me. I don’t think she cured famine or Ebola by doing this. She wanted to make me look bad and make herself look smart. Also, she is supposed to be helping this guy with his Chinese. Obviously, his Chinese won’t be as good as mine. So, will she constantly shoot him down, till he gives up and speaks English with her? I actually had a language exchange partner in Korea who laughed at me every time I spoke Korean. And I know he did this so I would give up and we could just speak English, for his benefit. Instead, I told him to go f— himself, and possibly I threatened him physically, I don’t remember. I probably did threaten him physically. Sounds like something I would do.

And very much like Fred, I have to ask, why is this ok? Why does she get away with this? Why is it that if I stopped typing right now, scoured the campus, found her and ripped into her verbally, I would be the bad guy?

Well, wait till tomorrow night’s post, because, I am planning on being the bad guy.

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 The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on



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Wrestler Looks at Judo (Part 1)

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm


By Antonio Graceffo

Sensei Gary Rasanen, an 8th degree grand master of judo grabs my sleeve and my lapel, similar to a grip used in Chinese shuai jiao wrestling. He pulls me into his hip, sits down slightly, while pulling my arm across his chest, and suddenly, I am airborne. I slam, hard on the mat, as his body crashes down on top of me. Careful to maintain control of my arm, he rotates his hip toward me and widens his legs, in order to drop more weight on my chest, making it hard for me to breath. Maintaining his balance, and careful to keep his weight on me, his legs walk around my head. As he goes, I am slowly being choked with my own arm. Because of my MMA training, I can survive the oxygen deprivation without taping. But this is judo. Sensei Gary only needs to hold me in this position for twenty-five seconds. Then he will be declared the winner of the bout.

And this was my introduction to judo.



But why was I here, lying on the mat in Port Jefferson Station, at Long Island Judo & Martial Arts, with an eighth degree master choking me? The answer is, it was part of my school homework.

My PhD dissertation research, at Shanghai University of Sport, where I live and train, is a comparison between Chinese traditional shuai jiao wrestling and modern freestyle wrestling. Additionally, I also study san da, as many of the san da throws come directly from Chinese shuai jiao. Because of obvious similarities between judo and shuai jiao, I am interested in more deeply studying the art of judo. Hopefully, I will continue with this series, as I come to know more about judo.

Grand Master Gary Rasanen started training in 1968, at age 11, in New York’s oldest dojo, in Brooklyn. He once trained with the Korean Olympic team and is versed in jujitsu and shotokan karate. “It was all part of the budokan system of martial arts.” Explained Sensei Gary. “To be proficient in that style, you have to be versed in those three arts.” Keeping with this spirit of being an all-around fighter, sensei Gary’s judo school is located inside of United Studios, Progressive Martial Arts center where students were learning a variety of martial arts under the direction of Renshi Enzo Aliotta.

The reason I sought out a judo master, during one of my brief trips to the United States, was because the Chinese claim that judo and Chinese shuai jiao share a common origin. Not only did I not care if that was true, but as a doctoral candidate at a Chinese university, I wanted to steer as clear of that sensitive issue as I could. As both, a martial artist, and a guy from Brooklyn, however, it was obvious to see that there were some clear similarities between the arts. First off, we both wore heavy white jackets and belts around our waist, which could be used for gripping, controlling and throwing.
As an MMA fighter I had been exposed to Brazilian Jujitsu and was always fascinated to research the Japanese origins of that art. As jujitsu and judo are related, I was also very curious to find out about the ground fighting aspects of judo. If you ask the average person on the streets, they have most likely heard of judo. But if you asked them what it was, they would most likely say something about takedowns and throws, rather than joint locks and submissions.

“Judo has grappling, submissions, choking, arm-bars, joint manipulations… There’s a lot more to it than throwing someone to the ground.” Explained Sensei Gary. “A few years ago, 70% of fights were won on the ground.” I was wondering how it worked that some fights were won by throwing and some by submission. “If I take you down in half throw, wazari, I have to hold you on the ground for 25 seconds to get the win.”

Apparently, a Wazari is a half a point throw, which differs from an Ippon, which is a full throw, which ends a match. To end a judo match with a throw, the opponent must land flat on his back. If not, you have to go to the ground and control him for 25 seconds. Or, after the wazari, the match can end on the ground, by choke or submission, like in jujitsu or MMA.

In MMA and in freestyle wrestling, you are generally just looking for a win, by any legal means. But when you start practicing a specific art, such as judo or shuai jiao, the question always arises “Do you just want to win? Or do you want to use the art?” For example, my shuai jiao team at the university is complete made up of former Greco Roman competitor, except me, I come from an MMA background. If we wrestle just for the win or just or the takedown, I would generally put my money on my teammates vs. nearly any club team in Shanghai. But, having said that, this year, 2014, my team pulled out of the national shuai jiao championships, because they were afraid they would be disqualified or penalized for not using proper shuai jiao techniques.

I asked Sensei Gary if there was some similar situation in judo. He explained, “There are three types of judo instructors: technically sound, but no competition, or someone who loves competition, but whose techniques are not on par with a technically sound black belt, or others who can teach you to compete on Olympic level.”

There are a number of high profile MMA fighters who come from a judo background, but apart from: Ronda Rousey, Karo Parisyan, Fedor Emelianenko, and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, most are from Japan and Korea: Yoshihiro Akiyama, Dong Hyun Kim, Satoshi Ishii, Kazuhiro Nakamura. So, that may be one reason why we don’t think as much about judo. If you start digging, however, you find that most of your favorite Japanese fighters and even some American wrestlers and others have studied judo.

Judo is a subject we talk about a lot in MMA gyms, but it is not an art that most MMA people have trained. MMA gyms typically have instructors for Muay Thai, BJJ, and maybe boxing and wrestling, but judo is the least common. While MMA fighting is still illegal in New York, Long Island is an absolute hotbed of high school wrestling and the location of a number of famous MMA schools. So, I asked Sensei Gary if he had any MMA guys coming to train with him.

“We do MMA a lot,” explained the sensei. “But MMA guys don’t like to take judo because they want to learn to throw, but they don’t like to get thrown.”

I laughed, telling Sensei Gary about the first time I ever attended a judo class, about twenty years earlier. “In that one lesson, I got thrown five hundred times. And I decided, learning judo was for the young only.”
“That’s traditional, old school judo.” He said, smiling. “That takes a pounding on your body. I believe it’s the most demanding martial art on your body.”

One of the questions that comes up in the MMA gyms is about the gi. Fighters wonder if an art which wears and throws from a gi would translate well into shirtless MMA.

“When you teach the guys judo-for-MMA how do you modify the techniques?” I asked.
“I try to put them in ring situations.” Said the Sensei. “We don’t have a ring, so I put them against the columns, and I say ‘how would you get out?’ to teach fighting off the cage. I leave the gi on, and they think they can grab it. But when they do, that works in my favor.”

In Chinese wrestling, we also use a jacket, and yet I think it’s good for training. Wrestling with the jacket gives you phenomenal grip strength. And most of the techniques can be modified to work without a jacket.

Sensei Gary concurred, “95% of all judo throws can be done without a gi. With a gi, you grab the sleeve. Without the gi, A guy throws a punch, and he is giving you his body the same as when he grabs you with the gi.”

The same is true of MMA and san da. The throws often come from catching the opponent’s kick, or timing your shot for when he really loads up on that right hand and throws a huge punch. And actually, one of the things I like about the gi vs no gi discussion is that the throws in san da come from Chinese wrestling. So, in a given day at the university, I may walk into practice and find out we are doing the exact same throw in both classes, but one with a jacket and one without.

We had heard a rumor, in the MMA and wrestling world, that it was illegal to touch the legs in judo. Sensei Gary confirmed it. “New rules, cannot grab the legs.” That is a big difference between judo and Chinese shuai jiao. In Shuai jiao you are permitted to grab the legs. But, this also parallels what I said earlier about my team pulling out of the national championships. The guys on my team, myself included, tend to get a lot of our throws by doing body locks or by taking our opponent’s legs. While these techniques are legal in shuai jiao, they are not the true, Chinese jacket techniques.

Because many MMA and san da throws come from catching kicks, I asked if that was something they learned in judo. “Catching kicks would not be something you would practice in judo.” Sensei Gary went n to say that said that they didn’t actually practice catching kicks. But he still won a fight against a karate practitioner, using his judo skills. “The minute the fight started, the guy took off his gi top.” Ostensibly so Sensei Gary couldn’t grab him. But this didn’t stop the experienced judoka. “I did a roll out into him, locked his head and did a hip throw, and went right into an arm-bar.”

Many of the Greco guys on my team do the same thing. They suddenly grab the head, execute a throw, and go straight into a submission. In Greco, they use a variation of an arm triangle, choke, or neck crank as a pin/submission. But the rules say that one arm has to be inside the choke, in other words, you must grab BOTH your opponent’s head and arm to be within the rules.

“What about body locks?” I asked. “Are they legal?”
Sensei made it sound like body locks were hard to achieve in a judo match. “You start apart.” Began Sensei Gary. “When the referee says ‘go’, you step in and grab your opponent’s gi, in the basic hook up position.” So far, this was the same as in Chinese wrestling. There are seven basic grips in Chinese wrestling, but usually, at the beginning of the match, you will try to grab the inside of your opponent’ sleeve and his lapel. The basic judo position was very similar, except that in judo, you were forbidden to reach inside of the sleeve. You had to grab the outside. Another huge difference was when Sensei Gary said, “You can use the jacket to choke, just like in jujitsu.” Chokes and joint submissions are illegal in Chinese shuai jiao wrestling.

Sensei went on to explain some of the basic fundamentals of judo. “There are 8 basic forms of off balancing your opponent. There is no set way of walking during the match. In practice we learn how to walk, but in competition, you move wherever you need to move, naturally.” He added, “You should be able to move in, like in wrestling.”

The sensei told me that his high school finally added wrestling his senior year. So, he only got to be on the team for a single season. “I just threw and threw the opponent, until the coach said, ‘you can’t just throw the guy.’” I guess those judo reflexes were ingrained, because he told another humorous anecdote. “I also did the same thing in a karate tournament. I threw the opponent and got disqualified.”

Sensei took me into the practice room to begin the workout. The warm up was similar to wrestling. The students did rolls, flips, break falls, crawls, and so on. After warm up, the first thing they taught me was the basic hook up position, grabbing the lapel and the sleeve. No sooner had I completed the grip on a senior student, Sensei Pete, when Sensei Gary said to me, “don’t hang on him.” In wrestling, usually when we lock up you want to begin wearing your opponent down by making him carry your weight. So, you hang on him. In judo, Sensei said to stay relaxed and a bit more upright than in wrestling.

Next, Sensei Pete threw me. He controlled my right arm, with his left hand, stepped in sideways, put his right shoulder into my right shoulder, braced my right leg with his right hand and fell into me, taking me down, landing on top of me. We have almost the same technique in both san da and shuai jiao, except that you pull the opponent forward, and he lands face down, rather than this one where he lands on his back. San da also has very similar ones, where he lands on his back, but where you attack from the side. The advantage of this judo technique, where he lands on his back, is that you land on top of him, and you are still controlling his arm. So, you can fall right into side control or a submission. In san da, or shuai jiao, on the other hand, you don’t want to fall with the opponent, or you will lose points.

One of the primary differences between judo and my Chinese arts is that in judo, you can go with your opponent and continue fighting on the ground. In san da or Chinese shuai jiao wrestling we can only throw and stop. And you lose points for falling with the opponent even if you land on top.
Master Gary refined the technique for me. “You’re not just falling into him. You’re driving your hips into him and taking him straight back. Next, the sensei transitioned from the same setup trapping the right arm across his body with his left arm, stepping in with his hips, but then, instead of using his right hand to brace my right leg, he used his right arm to grab my head. Once he had control of the head and one arm, he did a classic judo hip toss, dropping right into a submission on the ground

I told Sensei Pete that this was similar to a Chinese technique. He said, “Yeah, sambo too… because how many ways are there to throw someone?” He was right. While every art has some unique throws, probably the vast majority of throws across all of the grappling arts will be similar, except where the rules specifically forbid them. For example, MMA, san da, shuai jiao, and free style wrestling all use single-leg take down, double-leg takedown, and fireman’s carry. But they look a little different in each of the arts because of the rules. In the Chinese system, you have to squat, rather than kneel, because the rules prevent you from touching your knee to the ground. Judo, on the other hand, doesn’t use these techniques, however, because you aren’t allowed to touch the legs.

Next we moved from the throw to side control. In judo Sensei Gary showed me to grab the opponent’s belt and use it to control him on the ground. In Chinese shuai jiao, we also grab the belt and use it to control and throw the opponent. But there is no ground fighting in shuai jiao. In MMA and freestyle wrestling we fight on the ground, but we don’t wear a belt. So, this was a new concept for me.

Down on the mat, Sensei Pete, let me side control him, to see if I could hold him, or if he could escape. In MMA, once you are on the ground, you have to choke, submit, or pound your opponent for the win. In wrestling, you have to pin him. In judo, you just have to keep him down for 25 seconds to get the win. Obviously, Sensei Pete was fighting really hard. Occasionally he would get one shoulder blade off the ground. I thought maybe that meant the clock stopped. But Sensei Gary said, “The clock is still running. All you have to do is control him.”
Next, Sensei Gary let me throw him and try to control him on the ground. As soon as we hit the ground, he reversed me, and wound up on top. He said, “You have to move quickly once you’re on the ground.”

I asked if you were permitted to fight off your back and use your legs on the ground. Sensei Pete said that you were, and that they had all of the same triangle chokes and arm bars as in Brazilian Jujitsu, except that it wasn’t as refined as BJJ. BJJ, since its inception, has specialized in these techniques. So, naturally, they are very developed.

Sensei Gary showed me a slow smother, from side-control. It was very unpleasant. Even though I could hold out because of MMA training, you only have twenty five seconds to escape. So, I still would have lost. It’s not an easy task, trying to get an eighth degree Grand Master of Judo off of you.

I asked a lot more about ground fighting, prompting the two senseis to point out, that judo is not wrestling. If the opponent lands in a position other than on his back, you only have a very few seconds to put him on his back and pin him, or you have to stand up and restart. It seems that the real art, the preferred win in judo, is that you throw the guy once, and make him land flat on his back. But if that doesn’t happen, you can go down with him, control him, pin him, choke him, or submit him.

“It’ a lot more than throwing.” Said Sensei Gary. “Whatever came from the Gracies came from judo first.”

Back on our feet, Sensei explained, “There are three parts of judo; Off balancing, entry, and execution.”

Some of the standing, judo control positions involved trapping your opponent’s arm in your bicep, while pulling his sleeve with the other arm. In wrestling and san da we have exactly the same position, BUT we would jam our shoulder into the opponent’s underarm for more control. Sensei Gary showed me that you shouldn’t do this in judo, because you were leaving yourself open to getting choked from behind.

Practicing one of the throws I fell on my opponent and Sensei scolded me. “Don’t fall on the guy!”
“But I thought you said we should fall on the opponent and control him.” I protested. Sensei said, “Yeah, but we are just practicing. Don’t fall on the guy in practice.” Sensei Pete laughed and added, “We want the guy to come back.” It made sense. If you do 300 throws a night, it would be really painful and injurious to have the opponent fall on you each time.

Another difference between judo and Chinese wrestling was that in judo you are allowed to do a sacrifice throw, where you throw yourself to the ground, with the opponent. In Chinese wrestling, this is discouraged. In san da it’s not allowed at all anymore. In judo, not only were you allowed to go with the opponent, but it seemed you were allowed to hit the ground first, as long as you rolled over into top position and controlled him.

One of the ways I typically get points in Chinese wrestling is that when the opponent goes for an over the shoulder hip throw, I body lock him, lift and throw. The judo guys had a nice counter to my counter, when I body locked Sensei Pete, he simply drove in with his hip, drove through me, and took me down, exactly like the very first throw they had shown me that day. And true to the spirit of judo, true to the concept of using your opponent’s strength and power against him, the harder I body locked Sensei Pete, the harder I hit the ground, because I was basically pulling him into me, which gave him the momentum for the throw.

The two senseis showed me a whole series of sit-through throws which required little or no energy. The main problem with taking these techniques back to China, however, was that, in a sit-through, you hit the ground first, before you opponent. Then, you rolled your opponent onto his back. For Chinese wrestling, you would already have lost a point by falling on your back. These techniques would be good for wrestling or MMA, but some of them couldn’t be done without a gi. Still, learning as many sit-through techniques as possible is extremely beneficial. That way, when you are fighting, no matter what situation comes up, you have a sit-through ready to go.

It was time for me to go. But, before I left, I asked the two senseis for some final words of wisdom. Sensei Gary said, “Judo is referred to as the gentle art. It’s gentle for me. It just hurts the guy who’s falling.”

Sensei Pete said that in studying judo, “You learn a lot about yourself and your inner strength.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “And sometimes, you get to choke-out the Brooklyn Monk.”

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 The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Antonio and His Languages

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

By Antonio Graceffo, (The Brooklyn Monk)


A lot of people have asked about my languages, which ones I speak, which ones I speak well, and so forth. I have seen interviews or heard myself being introduced on radio shows and things where the claims were blown a bit out of proportion. So, to set the record straight, here is the truth, along with links for scrutiny.
Languages: English, Chinese, German, Spanish, Thai, Khmer, Italian, French, Vietnamese, and Korean
English: Speaks, reads and writes English at native speaker level
Link to video of Antonio Speaking English:
Chinese: Chinese at HSK level 4 level reading, HSK level 5 listening and speaking. Exam results available on request. Admitted to PhD program where all courses, papers, and research are in Chinese. Has distinguished himself as a presenter in Chinese and a diligent researcher (letters available upon request)
PhD presentation in Chinese at Shanghai University of Sport

German: Speaks German at high level of fluency, Attended School of Translation and Interpreting , the University of Mainz, GErmersheim, Germany, 1993-1996 conducted research on second language acquisition theory, under Dr. Kiraly, worked as a freelance and contract translator, and worked in the foreign language department of Deutsche Telekom
Antonio Speaking German, telling the story of his many year martial arts odyssey in Asia

Spanish: Speaks Spanish at advanced level, studied at Universidad Latina, Costa Rica, and Spanish/German translation school in Salamanca. Antonio has spoken Spanish since childhood.
Conducting martial arts interview in Spanish

Thai: Speaks Thai at upper intermediate level. Has conducted extended field research on Automatic Language Growth, using Thai for a base, under the direction of David Long of AUA Bangkok.
Conducting a martial arts interview in Thai

Khmer: Intermediate level. Antonio spoke Khmer better when he lived in Cambodia, but of all languages, Khmer is the one he uses the least outside of Cambodia, so his ability has regressed quite a bit. Recently, Antonio has been returning to Cambodia to train with the national wrestling team and he was forced to begin listening, if not speaking, Khmer again for communication.
Antonio conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Antonio Conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Italian: Speaks Italian at upper intermediate level of communication but with poor grammar. Antonio was raised non-strict bilingual, with Italian and English.
Conducting martial arts interview in Italian

French: Speaks French at upper intermediate level. Can communicate well, but with poor grammar and pronunciation.
Conducting martial arts interview in French

Vietnamese: Studied Vietnamese and passed upper intermediate exam, however, pronunciation is still extremely difficult, making communication difficult
Antonio Graceffo speaking Vietnamese

Korean: While living in Busan, Korea, Antonio took private Korean lessons at Dong A University. He passed the intermediate exam in Korean but cannot speak Korean, however, Antonio has used Korean to help him understand and explore Chinese as well as the relationship between Chinese and Korean and Vietnamese and Chinese.
Has also studied Russian, but only to lower intermediate level and now cannot speak Russian, but can still read Cyrillic alphabet which has proved useful for research in Mongolian wrestling.
Linguistic Publishing: Published approximately 200 articles in the field of second language acquisition as well as language specific articles. Antonio has done a lot of field research on ALG Automatic Language Growth theory. In the field of second language acquisition he focuses on the area of listening. His articles have appeared in Asian Geographic magazine and even the journal for UN interpreters.
Link to language articles:
Linguistics videos: Produced over 70 Youtube videos dealing with linguistics and language acquisition
CAM TESOL (2013): Antonio’s greatest achievement in the field of second language acquisition was presenting a on listening at CAM TESOL, the largest English language teaching conference in Asia.
Link to Antonio’s presentation video:


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 The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Foreign Education in China

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm

By Antonio Graceffo

Nearly one million Chinese students registered for classes at American universities during the 2012-2013 academic year, says an article in US News and World Report. But with tuition fees for foreign students of $38,000 or more per year, education in the US is way out of reach for the average Chinese family. The solution that China has found is to move the foreign education to China. Foreign universities have opened campuses and joint venture programs across the country, using the English language to teach degree subjects. The schools are still considerably more expensive than a domestic university, but much cheaper than going abroad. A bachelor’s degree at University of Nottingham, Ningbo Campus costs $14,000 USD, for example, whereas a BA at Shanghai University would cost only about $3,200 USD.
Some of the foreign universities who currently have programs in China include: New York University, Shanghai Campus, Duke-Kunshan University-Wuhan University, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Nanjing Campus, University of Birmingham Guangzhou Centre, and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou to name a few.
A deep respect for education has always been a major feature of Chinese culture. In the past, however the educational options open to many families were limited by the family’s income. Over the last 10 years, however, Chinese families have been earning more and more. According to a report by Accenture the average hourly wage in China has increased from less than one dollar per hour in 2005, to approximately $2.25 an hour in 2011, with the average annual income in 2012 rising to about $2,100. Much of that money is being pumped into education. Some of these families save for years and years to send their children to a foreign university program in China. But the foreign programs are especially popular with China’s wealthy class. According to the Hurun Wealth Report of 2012, “One out of every 1300 people in China has a million yuan or more”. Leaving them with savings large enough to fund a foreign education inside or outside of China.
Since 1978, China has had a one child policy. With life expectancy steadily increasing in the new, affluent China, this often leaves four living grandparents and two parents with only one child to support. This means the life savings of six adults could be pooled to pay for the education of one child. The increased income, combined with a one child policy has left a tremendous number of families in a position to pay for a foreign university program.
University of Technology Sydney, in cooperation with Sydney Institute of Language and Commerce operates a program at Shanghai University. This is one of many foreign programs which doesn’t actually offer a foreign degree in China. Students who complete the program in China get a certificate. But students who complete a two-plus-two program, two years in China followed by two in Australia, receive a university degree from UTS. Another option is that the students can complete their BA from Shanghai university concurrently with two years at SILC, then go to Australia and complete a second BA. These types of programs have made a foreign education even more affordable, since the first two years are done in China. This leaves parents to pay for only two years of study abroad.
Karen, a second-year student in the UTS, SILC program explained why the program appeals to Chinese students, “First of all I can get two degrees, one from China, and one from the foreign university which benefits me interviewing for a job.”
In an informal survey, the two most common reasons students gave for studying in the hybrid program were to improve their English and to prepare to study abroad.
“My friend and my parents both think it is a good way to improve English. But my parents may worry if the courses we studied whether can be adapted to the situation in china.” Said one student. “Because I want to improve my English and I can be better adapted to the foreign study style if I go abroad for further study.” Said another.
“First because of study abroad, my parents want me study in SILC. Also this program is cheaper than going abroad for studies. More cross nation companies setup in China currently. They need more employee with a broad and good command of English to deal with foreign business. So study in SILC will help me to get a god job after graduation.”
Whether students do the full four years abroad or do half in China and half in a foreign country, they still need to adjust to the dramatic differences between western and Chinese education.
Another SILC student commented on the differences between Western and Chinese teaching styles. “There’s not so many instructions given by western teachers. We have to study individually and initiatively, which is quite different from Chinese pattern. Also studying speed is very fast, since we have three semesters per year.”
During a series of student interviews, responses like this were very common. “I think the most difficult thing is the deference between Chinese and foreign teacher patterns are hard to adapt to. Sometimes the customs of how to teach in class, what kind of homework to do differ. Class is quite different from I used to do as a Chinese student.”
The foreign teachers also found that teaching Chinese students was different than teaching in the West. One teacher, Rada, said “Chinese kids are more respectful. Teachers are important here. But it is more challenging to get them to speak and participate.” She went on to say, “It’s like pulling teeth.”
An American teacher, Niko had this to say, “The biggest challenge is that they are taught never to question anything. But in western education you have to question, analyze, and debate.”
Rada, “Parents put pressure on the kids. They are motivated not only to make money, but also to make their parents proud. Avoiding shame seems to be a huge part of the culture.”

In the English language programs teachers often complain that they have to demand less of the Chinese students. “The expectations are much lower here than they would be in an English speaking country. We have to go slower and dumb down the course, if you will.”
In addition to the English language programs, which seem to be the largest and most well established, there are a smattering of programs sponsored by Germany, France or other countries, using other languages as the medium of instruction. One student in an English program explained, “The other foreign programs in our school UTSEUS (a program offered through a French university) it’s often a little tired since they have to learn French, which they never studied before.” Many of the English medium programs require that students pass the IELTS exam either before or during the course. But the European programs couldn’t make such demands because there are so few Chinese students who have had the opportunity to study German or French till fluency.
As a result, a French engineering teacher complained, in very broken English, “The students understand nothing about I say. So, I am have to speak English for teach my class.”
Apart from the language issues, foreign and Chinese universities are very different. Chinese education is largely focused on rote memorization. The best students are those who can most dutifully and correctly repeat what they have heard from the teachers. Students also work in study groups, sharing notes and assignments. This is in sharp contrast to Western education which values critical thinking, individuality, and original thought. One student had this to say, “The requirement in a foreign program is too different form the study style in my previous study. Such as presentation and discussion these things are not common in high school.”
Many of the students complain about the difficulty of dealing with both the language and the unfamiliar classes. “We must learn many major courses. And academic English in such a short time. It is also a challenge to pass. And my friends in other programs do not have to pass IELTS.” Students in foreign programs often commiserated with friends who were studying in other foreign programs. “I have a friend studying Shanghai Jiao Tong University, majoring in Michigan program. They had to pass the TOEFL so that they could go to Michigan to finish their bachelor’s degree. And their courses are hard.” Another girl said, “I have friends in western Liverpool University, China. They say that Liverpool is expensive. European schools have too many activities and lessons…too busy.”
As much as the students were aware of the benefits of the foreign program, many of them didn’t choose the program themselves.
Giles, a teacher at SILC explained how the students came into the program. “Parents simply tell them what to do and what to study. You don’t know how many kids have told me ‘I would prefer to study nuclear physics or anything but completely unrelated to business.’ But parents made them study business because this is where they believe the kids can make money.”
Niko said, “There is a belief in the society that parents know best. And you always do what parents tell you. Even their peers would tell them to listen to their parents, which is very different from the west.” Niko went on to say, “They are taught by parents that education is important, and part of Chinese culture. And this is true, regardless of class. In other countries it may be class. But here, it is everyone.”
Most of the foreign programs are business related. Business and technology seem to be the two choices that Chinese parents agree on.
Niko said, “The Chinese are focused on education as a tool for social mobility. They mostly study business or engineering. You don’t get a lot of Chinese kids studying philosophy or liberal arts. If they are studying something else, it is most likely because they didn’t have the scores to get into business and engineering.”
Parents in the new China are willing to spend a fortune on their children’s education because they see it as an investment. They hope that investing in a business or technology degree will return real dividends. Unfortunately, however, data shows that Chinese university graduates have increased six fold in recent years. New grads are facing a tighter job market and low wages. A graduate from a $140,000 USD education in the US will be returning to a China where the average income is just over $2,000 a year. And yet, each year, the number of students opting to go abroad for studies or to study in the local, international university programs increases dramatically.

Antonio Graceffo is the author of the Monk from Brooklyn, Warrior Odyssey, and several other books about Asia. He lives in China, where he is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of Sport.
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 The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)


In Uncategorized on December 26, 2013 at 3:36 pm

IMG_4223 (2) IMG_4233 (2) SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC研究生 姓名          东尼   



















Of Course Translation is Difficult

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

It’s in another language


By Antonio Graceffo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on




Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE


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Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)