D.C. – When you first began your journey many years ago, how long did you think your journey throughout Asia would last? Did you map out a plan to cover numerous martial arts throughout various nations back then?
A.G. – No, I didn’t map out anything. An ex-monk in Taiwan, who taught me a lot, said, “If you want to make the gods laugh, make a plan.” You can’t plan this type of adventure sitting in Starbucks in Union Square. You don’t even know what all the options are or what difficulties or opportunities will present themselves. So, you just go and follow as the road reveals itself. Half the martial arts and some of the languages I have studied since coming to Asia, I had never heard of back in New York.
D.C. – Can you recall one moment in the book where you sit back and think, “Wow, I cannot believe I put myself through such mental or physical pain?” and why it sticks out in your mind as a defining moment?
A.G. – Honestly, there were a lot of painful or harrowing adventures. But because it is your real life and not a movie, there is never a definite start or end point for any event in your life. So, when these things are happening, they sometimes seem less epic than when you retell them. In my book, The Monk from Brooklyn, I talked a lot about how dirty Shaolin was and how unhygienic it was living there. But it got normal. And I was used to seeing the outhouse completely overflowing with human waste, but drew the line when I saw a dead pig floating in the pool of fecal matter.
Life happens in gradual increments. At Shaolin, we trained from 5:30 am till about 6:00 pm. That is a brutal workout day, but you just do it. Afterwards, it looks like a lot. At the time, you just get through as best you can.
Some of my fights were scary. I didn’t know what the rules would be. I didn’t know how people from that country or style fought, or if they would try and kill me. But in the end, it always worked out fine. Win or lose, you almost always walked away with new friends, new experiences and having learned something.
In Vietnam, I had severe diarrhea while we were filming and we had to shoot in one and two minute increments so I could run to the toilet. I almost passed out several times, but we had to keep filming or it wouldn’t get done.
In Burma, I got knocked unconscious in an accident, but had to revive myself enough to open the airway on an injured man and stop the bleeding on another.
Don’t make too much of your own suffering. You need to realize that you, me, we are all just tourists in other people’s reality. Yes, Shaolin was hard, but I left. My friends are still there. Yes, Burma was dangerous and sad, but my friends are still there and their lives are being threatened. Yes, I got beaten up in Saigon and in several other places, but I got my photos and video, did my story, and moved on. The guys who beat me are facing the reality of making a living as professional fighters. If they ever lose to anyone the way I did to them, their career would be over.
D.C. – Describe a day in the life of Antonio Graceffo when preparing for an episode of Martial Arts Odyssey. Do you have a particular schedule that you maintain or is every session spontaneous?
A.G. – I am constantly in different countries, with different issues, problems, and opportunities. So I don’t have a typical day. However, the two consistencies are that I must train at least two hours every day and I must be online, answering emails for at least two hours per day. Here in Malaysia I also teach advanced students sparring and old style Muay Thai/Bokator at Kru Jak Othman’s club from 10:00 – 11:00. In Malaysia, my training day starts at 4:00 pm when I go to Silat Kalam, then at 7:00 pm I go to Muay Thai, and train till 10:00 pm. Once that finishes, I start teaching.
Since arriving in Malaysia two months ago, I have done numerous episodes of Martial Arts Odyssey. I have done one professional shoot for a DVD on Silat Tomoi. That required two weeks of preparation and three days of filming. One of our shoot days ran 18 hours. My involvement is still not finished because I have to go into the studio this week and do voiceover.
Now, I also have my column in Black Belt magazine, and they wanted me to submit several months ahead, so I had to prepare numerous articles for them. Black Belt is also going to have a video magazine soon, and the editors have asked me to do a video column which compliments the print magazine column, so I have begun working on the first installment.
Parallel to these shoots, The Star newspaper in Malaysia is doing a video documentary about me for their website, thestaronline.com. That required two days of shooting, three days of interviews, and several days of sending them video clips and photos and answering more questions.
For Warrior Odyssey I needed to be online every day, and the editor would send me chapters to rewrite or suggest changes. That was hard. I probably worked on about 200 or more pages of the book each month.
I have another DVD, Martial Arts Odyssey: Volume One, that is coming out soon, and I have had to do a ton of work on that. The editors tell me what I need to change, or if they need more photos or if I have to do more voiceovers. Working on a DVD product like that is already a full time job.
Now I am preparing for the next professional video shoot, which will be on Silat Kalam. I need to pass the black belt test this month before we start shooting. That is absorbing much of my time and my mental energy.
D.C. – Muhammad Ali once said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” Can you draw any comparison to Muhammad Ali’s words and the message you are sending in Warrior Odyssey, regardless of the metaphorical meaning of warrior or champion in life?
A.G. – Obviously you have to overcome adversity to achieve anything. And there is a cost for everything you want in this life. If you want a BMW, the cost is money. If you want to lose weight, the cost is enduring the pain of hunger. If you want to be a lawyer, the cost is studying through seven years of college. So never back down from a dream simply because there is a cost. If you do, you will never have anything.
One reason why people sometimes follow a bad path or an immoral path is because with immoral desires, you get the payoff first, and the price comes second. If you had to first sit in prison for five years before you committed a crime, I bet people just wouldn’t commit crimes. But sadly, if you want to use drugs, drink, gamble, get involved with crime and prostitution, those payoffs all come first and the consequences come later.
People love credit. Buy now, pay later.
That’s why people find it hard to learn a foreign language, lose weight, learn a martial art, start a business, or make positive changes in their lives. The hard work comes first. The payoff comes second. People get turned off by the cost and walk away.
I want to encourage people to endure that pain, pay the cost, and get the things they truly want.
Warrior Odyssey is due for release in late June. You can follow Antonio’s progress by visiting his website, Speaking Adventures at www.speakingadventures.com and sign up to his newsletter.