Secret Masters and TMA vs. Muay Thai By Antonio Graceffo

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  1. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Retired

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    Secret Masters and TMA vs. Muay Thai
    It’s no contest. Pro-fighting is real fighting.
    By Antonio Graceffo

    There is a mystique surrounding martial arts; rumors and legends about
    secret styles, hidden schools, and mystical masters. People ask me all the
    time about learning from old men, living alone in the swamp, like Yoda.
    And this is my answer:

    If you want a traditional, cultural experience, go train with a master who
    lives in a cave at the top of a mountain. But if you want to fight in a
    ring, go find a modern gym.

    Watching Robert Clyne’s video, “The Gods of Muay Thai,” about Sor
    Kingstar, Saenchai, and Orono: some of the greatest Muay Thai fighters who
    ever lived. Training with them, I don’t understand how any traditional
    martial artist; karate, Silat, Vo Vinam or other, believes they could
    stand up to these guys. Fighters come from all over the world to train at
    Thirteen Coins gym, because the trainers have had thousands of fights as
    both fighters and trainers. The gym is home to some great champions.
    Training with them brings your level up.

    An old man in a cave can’t do that for you.

    Like the Amazing Randi, head of the James Randi educational foundation,
    who offers a one million dollar bounty for any “evidence of any
    paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.,” I am offering a cash
    prize of 100,000 Vietnam Dong, for anyone who can point out a champion
    boxer, Muay Thai, or MMA, who trained alone or on a mountain, with a
    master, over the age of 70, and never set foot in a real fighting gym.

    On a youtube video, entitled, Martial Arts Odyssey: Boxing in Cholon, I
    stated that because there is no professional fighting Vietnam and Muay
    Thai is brand new, with the first school having opened about a year ago, I
    have never met a good fighter in the country.

    A traditional martial arts (TMA) guy, a westerner, living in Hanoi, wrote
    to me, arguing that the reason I never met great fighters in Vietnam was
    because the best fighters train at home, with private teachers and then
    don’t go into competition. This makes no sense. Why wouldn’t they go fight
    pro and win money? Vietnamese are very nationalistic, so why don’t they go
    join the national team and help Vietnam win in the Asian Games, SEA Games,
    or Olympics? Maybe it’s because these super great fighters, who never set
    foot in a gym, simply don’t exist.

    Shooting Martial Arts Odyssey, and writing my books and articles, I have
    trained with masters who lived in hovels, tiny little villages, on
    mountains, in the jungle…and it was a very interesting experience. I
    learned a lot about local culture and history. BUT, none of these guys had
    even a single student who could have fought with a student training in a
    fighting gym in the city.

    Filming in those rural locations, I often brought my sparring gear,
    thinking we could get some action shots, but there was no one to spar
    with. People eating a low calorie, low protein diet, working in the rice
    fields, training under a tree with an old man who had never had a single
    professional fight simply aren’t prepared to get in the ring with a top
    athlete. (I am not calling myself a top athlete. Remember, I am over forty
    years old, over weight, and haven’t had a pro-fight in years, and YET,
    they couldn’t even spar with me.)

    Forget about the Yoda-cave type masters for a moment. Let’s concentrate on
    city people who study traditional martial art (TMA) and then tell me they
    believe they can beat real fighters.

    One of my many issues with TMA guys claiming they can fight and beat pro
    fighters, apart from the fact that they never actually do it, is that they
    don’t work bag rounds or pad rounds. In fact, they don’t even train in
    rounds. Watch a Muay Thai or boxing gym and you will see that everything,
    every evolution of training, apart from jogging, is timed by rounds. So
    many rounds of heavy bag, so many rounds of light bag, so many rounds of
    pad work…So many rounds of sparring.

    All of that hitting serves to build up the muscles, condition the body,
    harden the shins and knuckles, and refine the technique. How could you
    fight if you aren’t doing all of these types of exercises?

    If you watch a TMA class, and I don’t care if it is Tae Kwan Do or Kuk Sul
    Wan, 90% of them are the same. They don’t have “training”. They have
    “class”. The students stand in rows, with a senior student in front,
    leading them in exercises and stretches, as a warm up to their class.
    Next, they might do kicking drills in the air or do katas (forms).
    Frequently, the students get in a straight line and a senior student holds
    a kick target. The first student walks up, kicks, and goes to the back of
    the line. Then the next student kicks, and goes to the back of the line.
    Then repeat. If you have twenty students, each student kicks one of twenty

    In a fight gym you work the bag anywhere from four to ten rounds per day.
    And every kick or punch is just you. You are not waiting in line to throw
    the next technique. Also, you don’t throw kicks in isolation. You do
    combinations, punches, kicks, multiple kicks, this is what working the bag
    is about.

    Every single round in a pro gym is spent working on fighting, training,
    refining, and honing the skills and techniques one needs to fight and win.
    In a TMA class, you also do forms and drills and all sorts of things that
    have nothing at all to do with fighting. In fact, when I used to go around
    fighting in TMA gyms, I always found it strange that during practice they
    did the flying-monkey-tiger stance, but when they sparred they just
    kickboxed, badly. Pro-fighters practice their fighting techniques in
    training, and then those are the exact techniques they use when they get
    in the ring to fight.

    Sparring: A lot of TMA schools have Friday night sparring. Some of them
    put on full body armor, others think they are hard core by not using the
    armor…It doesn’t matter. This isn’t how sparring is done in Thai gyms. In
    Thai and Khmer gyms you spar every day, but you go very easy. You don’t
    want to get hurt during sparring. You want the freedom to be able to
    practice your techniques, and take chances, without the fear of injury.
    Also, if you don’t get injured today, you can train again tomorrow.
    Getting hurt in training is not beneficial.

    Each day, you decide what you are actually working on that day. If you are
    working combinations, do that. If you are working defense, work that. If
    you want to go at 70% power, because that is what you need to do that day,
    then you do it. And you make it a hard sparring day. But so many TMA
    schools seem to just full on hard, to show how tough they are. Or, like
    Tae Kwan Do, they cover their bodies head to toe with armor and they do
    point fighting.

    Point fighting is not fighting.

    Kyokushin is the one huge exception to the rules of TMA and pro fighting.
    Kyokushin seems to be somewhere between the two. Kyokushin classes look
    very much like TMA classes, except that they do tons of drills where you
    are hitting or kicking your partner at full power. Even pros don’t do
    that. They don’t actually work the bag and pads in class, but they are
    strongly recommended to do so outside of class. And all of the people who
    compete in and win international competitions spend a lot of time working
    pads and makiwara boards and kicking bamboo poles. But even for as much as
    I respect Kyokushin, they have had very mixed results in fighting
    professionally against Muay Thai.

    The guy who was arguing with me on youtube claimed that his style of
    karate was as good as pro- fighting. He claimed that in their training
    they did 70% sparring. Now this is just silliness. If you train 4 rounds
    per day, that is 15 minutes (if you use 3 minute rounds). If 70% of your
    training is only 15 minutes, this means you are training about 20 minutes
    a day.

    That’s not really enough to make a champion.

    The new argument that some of the internet warrior are using to prove that
    TMA can stand up to pro-fighting is that Lyoto Machida, a champion MMA
    fighter from Brazil, is a former karate champion. While it is true that he
    has a background in karate, he also has extensive knowledge of Brazilian
    Jiu jitsu, the cornerstone of most MMA fighting systems. He also won Sumo
    competitions in Brazil (true story, look it up). To say that Machida is a
    karate fighter who beats MMA guys, wouldn’t be exactly honest. Even if it
    were true, it would still be just one, the only example ever of TMA
    beating real fighting in fight competition.

    Finally, when the internet warriors, the false gurus or the TMA guys claim
    that they can do this or that, the question I always raise is, why don’t
    you go on TV, win the UFC or win the K-1, or win the King’s Cup, and prove
    it. If they would do that, the argument would be over, once and for all.
    But they always claim that they aren’t after fame or they aren’t after
    fortune or the rules of professional fighting are too restrictive, I guess
    because they want to eye-gauge or kick in the groin…

    As for the rules hampering them from winning, a lot of TMA guys said that
    to me, but in pro fighting you are allowed to do pretty much anyting
    except groin strikes, eye gauging, kicking the spinal cord…But, when I
    visit TMA gyms, I don’t see people using these techniques either. In fact,
    I am willing to bet money that none of them have EVER intentionally kicked
    someone in the throat or popped an opponent’ s eye from its socket.

    And why is it that only TMA people, with no fight record site the rules as
    being too restrictive? And why can’t they adjust to them? I covered a
    fightnight in Malaysia a few weeks ago where Kyokushin fought Muay Thai,
    where boxing fought Muay Thai, where MMA fought Muay Thai…All of those
    fighters were willing to modify their art to fit the rules of the
    tournament., but TMA claims they can’t.

    The argument that upsets me most, though, is that there are secret
    masters, holding clandestine classes, training secret fighters, who don’t
    fight, but they are better than I could ever be. This one is really
    unfair, because it means that no matter how much I train, I will never be
    better than these secret warriors, no one has ever seen. I can watch
    Saenchai train and say, “Wow! He is better than me. I better get in the
    gym and work.” Now, I have a goal. He inspires me. I have seen the finish
    line and it is up to me to get there. But the secret martial arts, or the
    ones who won’t fight or demonstrate their techniques, are setting an
    unattainable goal for the rest of us.

    Sometimes, I simply get angry that I have to train so hard, for real, but
    people who don’t exist are still better than me.

    My two theories on people who believe in secret martial arts are: First,
    emotionally, they are still eleven years old and need the magic. Or, by
    admitting that the top rungs of martial arts are impossible to reach, they
    relieve themselves of responsibility when they fail to reach that level.

    If you have any questions about what it takes to be a real fighter, or you
    want to see how real fighters train, check out Robert Clyne’s video, The
    Gods of Muay Thai, for free on youtube

    Antonio Graceffo is self-funded and needs donation to continue his writing
    and video work. To support the project you can donate through the paypal
    link on his website,

    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.



    Brooklyn Monk fan page

    Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

    Brooklyn Monk in 3D
    Order the download at

    Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

    Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

    Brooklyn Monk in 3D
    Order the download at
    View attachment $DSC03566[1].jpg View attachment $DSC03555[1].jpg
  2. mook jong man

    mook jong man Senior Master

    May 28, 2008
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    That's great , but we'll see how well he's going when he's about 70.
  3. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Wow, I really don't know where to start with Antonio's story there.... First off, if the aim is to fight in a ring, you should train to fight in a ring - in which case most of what he's saying has some merit. However, that is a small section of what makes up martial arts, and is very different from what I'd classify as "real fighting", so I'd argue with him on a large number of aspects. Namely that he doesn't seem to have much of an idea of the scope of what traditional martial arts can consist of, and so on. Add to that he is looking at a very limited approach and method of measuring the benefits or effectiveness of what a martial art can be.

  4. Thesemindz

    Thesemindz Senior Master

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    This. -Rob
  5. shinbushi

    shinbushi Green Belt

    Jul 15, 2004
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    Here is my school's Ajarn at 60 he had over 300 fights in his career.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
  6. mook jong man

    mook jong man Senior Master

    May 28, 2008
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    Probably blessed with being genetically gifted or just damn lucky , maybe a bit of both.
  7. fangjian

    fangjian Black Belt

    Dec 24, 2008
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    As said before, if you wanna be a fighter you have to train that way. But I always say, "this kind of fight where to guys get inside a cage, have a match, medics nearby and all. Usually they know their opponent, the time limit etc. Real spontaneous combat can be way more terrifying"
  8. punisher73

    punisher73 Senior Master

    Mar 20, 2004
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    These types of articles get old really quick. Yep, the harder you train and the more you train practicing against an unwilling person the better you will be. Just another article with strawman arguments to make his approach look better.

    I mentioned to my wife the other day about how after the Henderson/Rua fight both fighters had to go the hospital. She is a nurse and commented on why would you want to do that? No wonder those MMA guys are "done" so early in life. There is more to martial arts than JUST fighting.
  9. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Retired

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    I'd post a wider variety of articles, but can only take what's either sent in or that I can find with an ok to repost. Antonio sends in a regular stream of stuff. If I had 4-5 others doing the same, we'd have a serious e-zine flowing :)
  10. Indagator

    Indagator Blue Belt

    Sep 13, 2010
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    I get where he's coming from. I used to think like that back when I did muay thai. Of course, even back then I noticed most guys where I was training retired around the age of 30 to 35.
    Honestly though it's kind of obvious to me it's horses for courses. But when it comes to the efficiency of anything in general, well, I used to rate myself fairly highly in my muay thai days (big dog, little gym lmao) and never thought about the contextual differences between ring fighting and base survival in a real-life encounter but once faced with a vicious and unexpected attack I found things weren't as I'd thought - fighting on somebody elses terms and whatnot.

    In the traditional art I train in now, taking an objective look if one were to say "yep let's have no rules &c. and see who comes out on top" hypothetically of course because let's face it it's pretty immature to really do something like that over something so unimportant, but if were the case I think my art's approach would work better than sport fighter's approach. They'd show up at the stated time and place, then wait around for it to start. I'd have been there several hours earlier, in disguise and hidden, and the first indication they'd have that the fight started would be when they hit the ground bleeding from the neck...

    No, I'm kidding really. What I'm actually trying to say is that these kind of arguments are nonsense.

    Train in what you enjoy, make it your own, and have fun. Train in what suits yuor purpose.


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