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Friday, December 27, 2013

No Holds Barred: Antonio Graceffo on Wrestling in China 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with the writer, web show host, MMA fighter, and wrestler, Antonio Graceffo.

Born in Brooklyn, known as the "Brooklyn Monk", and raised in Tennessee, he has been living, training, and competing in several different countries in Asia for many years. Now 46 years old, he has gone back to school, this time in Shanghai, China, to complete his Ph.D. We spoke with him Thursday at Foley's Bar and Restaurant in New York, while he was in town visiting with family members for the holidays.

"I started doing a Ph.D. at Shanghai University of Sport, and I'm on the traditional wrestling team there," he said, referring to competing in the Chinese traditional style of wrestling known as Shuai Jiao, where the wrestlers wear jackets. "And I decided that I was going to take one year away from MMA fighting, just concentrate on improving my wrestling skills."

Discussing his studies, he said, "For my Ph.D., I'm writing a dissertation on comparative forms of wrestling. So within China, there's a number of traditional and ethnic forms of wrestling, and I'm also along the way writing scholarly articles for comparing wrestling with other sports, including MMA, sambo, judo, and so forth."

While sports, including combat sports, have been booming in recent years in China, wrestlers from that country still often do not achieve much success on the international level. In addition, there are relatively few people in China training and competing in wrestling.

"I think the key for China to improve in wrestling would be if they would promote the traditional wrestling more within China," he advised. Right now wrestling is mainly done in clubs, often involving people who work or go to school full-time.

"Culturally, they could promote traditional wrestling to the Chinese people as a Chinese sport. From that pool of traditional wrestlers, they could probably begin to draw people and then train them in freestyle and Greco-Roman."

He continued, "The strength and the weakness of Chinese sports in general is the system of sports schools, that they only have people at sports schools playing sports, and that kids in regular schools don't play sports."

We also discussed his training and experiences at the Shaolin Temple, how prevailing attitudes have changed over the years in China to martial arts and combat sports, how the standup fighting style of Sanda is still very influential in China, the prospects for Wushu as a sport, why the issues of concussions and brain injuries in combat sports have not become major areas of controversy in China, learning the Chinese language, what is called Chinese food in America, and much, much more.

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