antonio graceffo

A Closer Look at Mongolia's Naadam Festival

Mongolia's "three sports of men" — archery, horse racing and wrestling — were the featured attractions at the first Naadam festival convened by Genghis Kahn himself in 1206.

Fast-forward to the 21st century: The festivals, held nationwide in mid-July each year, still celebrate the formation of the Mongolian Empire and its achievement of independence from China's Qing dynasty.

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In his matter-of-fact manner, Mas Aan, the man who had agreed to teach me silat tapak suci in Bali, Indonesia, explained the difference between using a hard block against a kick and simply stepping aside. With a hard block, he noted, your arm absorbs the force of the technique — and it's possible a bone in your forearm will break. With a side step, however, the kick slips right on by. That enables you to avoid all its destructiveness before you counterattack.

The concept applies even when catching a kick, the master said. His advice to me was to slide my front leg backward to get out of range and, once the foot or shin misses, attempt to grab the leg.Switching gears, Mas Aan demonstrated a self-defense technique for use against a shirt grab. As soon as the offending hand latched on, he slapped the arm down. Instead of using a slap that was strong enough to break the hold, he made his opponent stumble forward — at which point he uncorked an uppercut to the jaw. After that strike, he looped his fist downward and smashed his foe between the legs.This technique, coupled with the ones he'd just taught (see part 1 of this column), prompted me to ask if silat tapak suci had ever been dubbed the "punch him in the nuts" style.

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Zhengtong's girlfriend and baby came to the sports school to watch us train. I made several jokes about his 2-year-old being almost ready to start grappling. The first few times, Zhengtong laughed, but later he said with uncharacteristic seriousness, “I think it's good if my son wants to wrestle as a hobby, but I don't want him to be a full-time wrestler like I was because when it's over, he won't be able to do anything."

His mother worked as an administrator in the city sports department. Consequently, he and I were offered a city-owned martial arts school, rent-free, in which we could open an MMA gym. The Chinese government hopes to start promoting MMA so the nation can excel in international competition. Consequently, opportunities like this exist — but even with free rent, I figured that we couldn't afford to keep an MMA gym open.

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Black Belt's Asia correspondent tries his hand at san da while studying at Shanghai University of Sport. See the "Brooklyn monk" in action!

“Strictly speaking, san da is a Chinese martial arts amalgam composed of kickboxing and wrestling-style takedowns,” Antonio Graceffo says. “Some writers have referred to san da as ‘Chinese MMA,’ but that’s inaccurate because it normally doesn’t include ground fighting or submissions. Furthermore, in competition, san da fighters are permitted to clinch, but they’re not allowed to hit while doing so.

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