Secret Masters and TMA vs. Muay Thai By Antonio Graceffo

Bob Hubbard

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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.



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Chris Parker

MT Mentor
Feb 18, 2008
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Melbourne, Australia
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.



Green Belt
Jul 15, 2004
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Manhattan Beach, California
That's great , but we'll see how well he's going when he's about 70.
Here is my school's Ajarn at 60 he had over 300 fights in his career.



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"


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.
Bob Hubbard

Bob Hubbard

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Land of the Free
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 :)


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.