The Travels of Antonio Graceffo: The Brooklyn Monk
The following essay if from WR reader, Antonio Graceffo. Antonio is currently a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of Sport. Please check out his other works that we have listed below. We will be posting future essays from his travels. Enjoy!
I first came to Asia in 2001, when I went to Taiwan to study Chinese and kung fu, in preparation to go study at the Shaolin Temple, in Henan, China. In 2003, I went to Shaolin and studied san da. I have been in Asia for 13 years, now, studying martial arts and languages, and writing books about my experiences. I went from Shaolin to Thailand, where I lived in a temple, studying Muay Thai. While at the temple, I fought my first professional boxing match in Asia, to earn money for poor villagers, displaced by the war in Burma. From Thailand to Cambodia where I remained for about 18 months, studying boxing, Khmer kick boxing (bradal serey), and Bokator. Over the next 10 years, I studied in Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and other Asian countries, but I frequently returned to Cambodia for additional training and writing.
In 2007, I completed my black krama (black belt) in Bokator fighting. Part of the requirements for the belt were that I had to study traditional wrestling, and go fight in the Khmer traditional wrestling village in Vihear Suor village, Kandal province, just outside Phnom Penh. In the village, I participated in traditional wrestling competition, fighting in a dirt circle on the ground. I also fought in a traditional stick fighting competition, using a single, long stick. Fighters in the village fight for money in these competitions, but are careful not to kill each other. In that adventure, I got to know Jap Leun, the greatest Cambodian wrestler, and we would remain friends, and on-again, off-again training partners through to the present.
Other requirements for my black krama were that I trained bardal serey, kick boxing, with Paddy Carson, who had been my coach and trainer since 2004. I was required to have a minimum number of professional fights (which I completed with boxing fights), plus learn the bokator fighting techniques, including the knees, elbows, kicks, punches, as well as basic grappling and joint locking.
After passing the exam, I went on to Vietnam and other countries to study martial arts. In 2009, I returned to Thailand, where I studied Muay Thai Chaiya. My goal was to complete a study of the southeast Asia kickboxing arts, so I also studied Muay boran (ancient Muay Thai) from a variety of teachers and documented the training. I went on to Malaysia to study silat tomoi, an art which is a cross-over between Muay Thai and silat. It looks very similar to bokator or Muay Boran. I am far from an expert in kick boxing and have only had professional fights in boxing and MMA. I have never had a professional fight in Muay, but my goal was to document and record the arts, while learning as much as I could. The only Muay art I have not yet studied is Lethwei, Burmese boxing. I documented Lai Tai, a Shan Kung Fu art from Burma, but have not yet studied Lethwei. In 2010, I returned to Cambodia to study bradal serey intensely with Paddy Carson, who offered a belt exam to myself and my training partner, Robert Starkweather. Robert was graded as a brown belt, after about 6 years of training. I was awarded a black belt in bradal serey.
In July, 2011, I received a call, asking me to be a guest judge in the first professional MMA event in Malaysia. During the run of my web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey, I had done a few episodes on MMA and was always fascinated by the art, but thought that at age 44 I was too old to learn it. Receiving that call was a life changing event. I refused the opportunity to be a judge, and instead, asked that I be registered as a fighter.
I returned to Cambodia for training and put together a makeshift MMA program between working with the Bokator master, and Paddy Carson for boxing and kickboxing, and K-1 Fight Factory for MMA and conditioning. While there, I put together Team Cambodia MMA, composed of myself and 3 Khmers from the Bokator Academy. After one month of training, the four of us, accompanied by the grand master, flew to Malaysia and fought in Mayhem II, the largest MMA event probably ever held in Southeast Asia, with over 60 fighters. I won my first fight and lost my second one that day. My Khmer teammate, Tun Serey, won two fights and placed second in his division, the first Khmer to ever win an MMA fight. After the event, my team went back to Cambodia, and I remained in Malaysia.
The first few months, I worked as a live-in bodyguard and trainer for a Dato (titled Lord) in Kuala Lumpur and trained full time with the MMA Wing Chun team, fighting out of Kota Damansara, Malaysia. I didn’t like the wing chun striking, so, I asked the Sifu to only work with me on ground fighting. This was my first exposure to jujitsu. I won my next two MMA fights while training on that team. Later, I moved to Johor Bahru, and lived inside of the Ultimate MMA Academy, where I trained full time and fought 5 more times, all wins. Periodically, I would fly back to Cambodia to touch up my boxing with Paddy Carson and to go exchange techniques at the Bokator Academy.
July, 2012, I moved back to China, where I taught full time at Shanghai University, teaching a research methodology course, based on the Australian Stock Exchange. For nearly a year, I couldn’t train at all, because of my work and study schedule. During that year, I published a number of papers and studied for the HSK national Chinese exam, which would allow me to enter a PhD program in China. By Spring 2013, I had been accepted to Shanghai University of Sport, with a full scholarship, to do a PhD in the Wu Shu department, but with traditional wrestling as my major. In the spring, I slowly began studying MMA again, part time, at Fighters Unite, Shanghai. I fought in one smoker MMA fight in April of 2013. I spent summer 2013 back at the Shaolin Temple, getting my body fit again, so I could handle training at the university. I also made arrangements at Shaolin to have a private teacher work with me two hours per day, preparing for my HSK Chinese exam, the final hurdle for my scholarship and studies. My training at Shaolin that summer was roughly 70% strength and fitness, and 30% san da. I fought one smoker san da fight, while I was at Shaolin, and won.
In August 2013, I passed the HSK exam. Then, I went to Beijing to live in a traditional wrestling school, where I had two training sessions per day, while I waited for school to start in Shanghai, at the end of September. When school started, I was permitted to join the traditional wrestling team, the first foreigner to do so. I also cross trained in san da. In November 2013, I won a silver medal in the Shanghai International BJJ Tournament, in the Chinese Traditional Wrestling division.
My dissertation proposal was finally approved. My topic is comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. Judo and san da are included within the scope of my research because they are both related to Chinese wrestling. Other arts included in the dissertation will be North Korean and Mongolian wrestling. Along the road to my dissertation, I am required to write what the Chinese call “small dissertations” basically research papers. And these can be on any form of comparative grappling I chose. My first paper was on comparative Chinese and Cambodian martial arts. I chose Cambodia, not only because of my experience with and knowledge of the arts there, but also because I checked the Chinese academic archives and they didn’t have any research about Cambodian martial arts. So, I was trying to add to the body of knowledge.
Over the Chinese New Year holiday, December 2013- February, 2014, I trained in Cambodia. In Phnom Penh, I work as a guest trainer for the Cambodian MMA TV show, which is similar to The Ultimate Fighter, called Khmer Warrior Champion. I also help train Khmer MMA fighters from AFIGHTER team, which now has contracts with One FC, Southeast Asia’s largest MMA organization. For my own training, I train every morning with my old friend, Jap Leun, at the national wrestling training center.
In the coming months, I plan to train and write in Vietnam, hopefully at the national sport training center in Hanoi, san da and wrestling. I also hope to get to Mongolia in summer 2014 for training and to compete in the wrestling events in the Naadam Festival.
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in 3D
Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)