Getting My Butt Handed to Me By Antonio Graceffo

Bob Hubbard

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Aug 4, 2001
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Land of the Free
Getting My Butt Handed to Me
By Antonio Graceffo

I came back to my apartment in Malaysia, bleeding, exhausted and
disheartened. During a long hot shower, I blew the blood clots of my nose
and stuffed my nostrils with toilet paper so the bleeding wouldnt start

Laying on the bed, I guzzled several liters of water, trying to rehydrate,
while holding an ice pack on my eye. The first paid gig Id had in weeks
was starting in two days time, when I would be hosting a video series
about Silat Tomoi. I was praying the director wouldnt cut me from the
shoot because my eye looked like hamburger.

The first time I remember coming home beat and bleeding like that was when
I was twelve years old, when I first took up boxing. Much of my teen-years
and nearly all of my early twenties were spent recuperating from fighting
injuries. Now, in my forties, the injuries are more frequent, and it gets
harder to recuperate. The schedule I had been keeping since arriving in
Malaysia was also not helping matters. I was training twice a day and
filming several times a week. Two weeks previously, I had injured my left
foot sparring in a pro Muay Thai gym. So, I switched to only kicking with
my right leg. A few days later, I injured the right shin doing Kyokushin
karate. So, I switched to only throwing straight kicks and back kicks
which impact on my feet rather than my shins. And of course, throwing any
kicks at all was risking my knee which was already permanently injured.

Much of my life, since age twelve, has revolved around fighting and
training for fighting. And at the end of all of the hard work, discipline
and pain, there are still people, professional fighters, who can
absolutely play with me, without risking injury at all.

How does one become a master? And what does that mean? And, can you still
call yourself a master if there are large numbers of people in the world
who can beat you?

A few weeks ago, back in Cambodia, I was awarded a black belt in Khmer
boxing. It was my third black belt to date. My friend Robert Stark, who is
just a few years younger than me, was promoted to brown belt in the same
test. It made us feel good, but at the same time, we questioned whether or
not we deserved it. In our gym in Cambodia, Paddys Fight Club, we have a
core of about five or six guys who are like me. They have had some
pro-fights or amateur fights, they train as pros, five days per week,
religiously, but dont intend on making fighting a career. We also have
five or six resident pros, and we spar with them regularly. And, the
Cambodian version of the TV show, The Contender called Kuhn Khmer
Champion is shot in our gym. The contestants are fourteen extremely tough
Khmer boxers with ten or less professional fights behind them. We, the
guys in my category, are expected to be able to spar with those guys, but
not be able to beat them in a pro bout.

We also have a group of about 12 regular people who attend what I call
Civilian Khmer Boxing Class. These are normal people, with jobs who just
train Khmer boxing for fun and fitness. Obviously they are never asked to
spar with us.

So, basically, in my gym in Cambodia, I feel like I am somewhere in the
middle. Im not as good as the pros but better than the civilians and hang
in there, training and sparring with the other guys in my same category.

But any time I would feel good about myself and my ability, I would glance
across the training floor to where the TV show was being filmed and
realize any of those pros could knock my block off. So, how good am I?

I spend most of my year training in Cambodia and Thailand, two countries
where Khmer Boxing and Muay Thai are the national sport, and where I train
in professional gyms, full of Lumpini fighters. Last year, I left Cambodia
and Thailand, and headed to Taiwan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. I realized
right away that being in Cambodia and Thailand surrounded by professional
fighters and training on a professional schedule five days per week wasnt
the norm. The vast majority of people training elsewhere were training two
or three times per week and some gyms only had one or two pros. Sparring
with those kinds of people I was doing pretty well. Vietnam was the most
extreme of my experiences. Apart from the K-1 Fight Factory in Ho Chi Minh
City I couldnt even find martial artists who could fight.

Back in Cambodia, Robert asked me about our belts. I told him about how
easy it was sparring in other countries, where people dont get the
training we had in Cambodia.

So, what you are saying is, if you spar with people who dont know how to
fight, you can win? asked Robert.

He was right. Its not a fair comparison. But the flip side is, should the
standard for ability be whether or not you can hang with professional
fighters and win?

Now, I am back in Malaysia, training at three gyms regularly and filming
at several others. At my Silat training, I would assume that I could beat
most of the Silat guys because they dont have the experience of ring
fighting. In my main Muay Thai gym, I am one of the better fighters and I
teach classes to help the other students improve their fighting skills. It
is a humbling and joyful experience to be recognized as an expert, but at
the same time, I know that in another gym, I am just average. And in
another, I am sub-average. Sometimes I feel like an impersonator when I am

In the pro Muay Thai gym where I train in Malaysia, I am at a good level
for the regular people but the pros just play with me and laugh when we
are sparring. For my web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey I have to
constantly go to new gyms, doing different martial arts, and fight. When I
visited the kyokushin dojo for the first time, a female black belt beat me
up. In fact, I didnt spar any of the children, but I am sure they could
have beat me too.
Doing kyokushin is different from Muay Thai. You cant punch in the face,
so I couldnt do combinations or capitalize on my boxing. Kicking them in
the body or legs was useless because they were so thoroughly conditioned.
And, every time I hit them, I hurt myself. Not hitting them was also not a
good strategy, because then they hit me.

I went home after the first kyokushin class and asked how I could call
myself a fighter if I was so easily beaten by so many people.

Doing Martial Arts Odyssey I frequently get my butt handed to me. I am
always fighting in someone elses club, their rules, their art and I
frequently lose big. The show we did on Muay Chiaya was one of the most
painful losses I had. And the one I did on Savate made me look like a
sickly girl.

I could make excuses, but the bottom line is, shouldnt you be able to
fight with anyone, no matter what the style?

Yesterday was the worst humiliation to date. I went to shoot a show about
boxing at a gym run by a former Russian amateur fighter. The former Soviet
Union and Cuba are known for producing the best amateur boxers in the
world. The guy I got in the ring with was a 20 year-old Malay, 6 foot 2
and 95 kgs. He had only had one pro fight, but it was a six rounder, and
he won. Because this was training, we did one round, hitting only with the
left hand and one round hitting only with the right. By the end of it, my
nose was bleeding, my eye was black and I was defeated internally. The
coach, Alex actually asked me if I had ever boxed before because
everything about my style was wrong. My stance was wrong, my foot
placement, my body wind up, my punches, defense, head movement It was all
wrong. So wrong that the pro said to me afterwards, I didnt mean to hit
you, but you were open the whole time and you moved right into my punch
before I could stop it.

The pro had that style and movement, the body mechanics that I absolutely
admire in well-trained boxers. Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson both had it
because they trained for years as amateurs before turning pro. For me, I
skipped all of that stuff and just became a brawler. My strength in Muay
Thai or Khmer Boxing is my boxing. But against a real boxer, I was easily
made to look like a fool.

So, what is a master? How do you get there? Do other people who call
themselves masters or black belts have the ability to walk into Muay Thai,
Kyokushin, Silat, and pro boxing all in the same week and win?

And if you are constantly getting your butt handed to you, can you still
call yourself good?

Most importantly:

Forget the black belt tests. How do you grade yourself? After all, the
only grading that matters is the one you give yourself.
Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He
is the author of the book, The Monk from Brooklyn and the host of the
web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey, which traces his ongoing journey
through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

See all of Antonios videos on his youtube channel, brooklynmonk1, send
him a friend request or subscribe.
Antonio is also on twitter, with the name, Brooklyn Monk. Follow his
adventures and tweets.
His books are available on
Contact him:

His website is sign up for his mailing list on
the site.

Antonio now has a paypal account. The only way he can keep filming and
writing is with the help and support of people who enjoy reading his
stories and watching his videos.

You can donate through Antonios facebook profile, or you can click on
this link and donate directly.

If you can help, thank you so much. If you cant help, dont worry about
it. I know things are tough out there. But, either way, please keep
watching and enjoying Martial Arts Odyssey. I never wanted this to become
a huge business, and I wanted everyone in the world to be able to watch
for free.

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