MM- You are working on “In Shanland”, a documentary about the atrocities of the civil war tearing apart North East Burma. I already published some excerpts on the website. How did you get in touch with the Shan, and what can you tell me about this very unique experience?
The first time I went to Thailand, I went there specifically to find a monk, named Prah Kru Bah, who teaches Muay Thai to war orphans on the Burma border. I lived with him for three months, learning Muay Thai, Thai language, and learning about the war in Burma. After that I kept doing journalism, writing about the different tribes. Eventually I got the opportunity to go with the Shan. One reason why I liked the Shan was because I like the Thai, and it is a similar language and culture. Many of the monks I lived and trained with were Shan, so I became interested in helping them.
Shanland is one horrible story after another. A girl who was gang rapped while her family was burned alive in their house, a man who was used as a human mine detector, he stepped on a mine and they left him for dead. My friends, Kawn Wan and Tun Yee who hid in the bushes while their family was murdered before their eyes. Kawn Wan’s sister escaped with him to the jungle. But the Burmese army came and killed. He never forgot finding her body, with her head blown open. He was ten years old.That is Shanland for me. When I left there I was so screwed up, it took me a year to recover. But my friends will never recover.
MM- I keep on reading on TIME Asia that the USA are starting to consider taking some action in Burma, working out some conditions with Than Swe. What if this happened, according to you? To me, this can be scary, and I want to know the opinion of an American, but not a “regular one” like you.
The US should send Delta Force commandos to rescue Aung San Suu Kyi then hit Napidaw, the new political capitol, with nuclear weapons. Peacekeepers should move in and hold the place together till democratic and free elections could be held.
This will never happen. And my friends are dying at a rate of 200 per week. And no one gives a shit. 200 people are killed and thousands are made homeless each week in the war in Burma.
MM- What do you think of the American involvement in the Middle East?
I have no expertise in the Middle East but from what I have seen Lao, Burma and now Afghanistan are the same stupid story again, and again. The US doesn’t understand and yet they are involved and they have zero chance of winning, if there is even something to win.
MM- Martial Arts. We are all quite unaware of this world on this website, but willing to learn. What is Graceffo?s suggestion for dummies? How to start practicing martial arts, and which is the best way to learn and practise them in the far east?
Learning martial art is exactly the same as learning a language. You have to put in hours and hours and hours of practice. Then you will succeed. If not, you won’t.
MM- You fight, film, write, travel, and definitely live a pretty adventurous life. How can you keep all of these projects going? How do you finance yourself? It seems like you have a very DIY approach I really like and share?
I earn some money from magazine writing, some from book royalties, some from TV or movies, and when all of that fails, which it generally does, I fall back on my teaching degree. But during all of this, I live cheaply. Maybe that is the best piece of advice. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. Don’t use drugs and almost never go out at night. I never buy anything except what I need for my work like a digital recorder or a camera. I live cheaply. I look at money as time. One episode of a US TV show lands me three months of being in the field, doing my writing, filming, and training rather than teaching or working. One month of teaching nets me about two weeks of field work.
MM- Tell me something about the show Martial Arts Odyssey…
The show now has nearly 200 episodes. It follows me through southeast Asia, training in various martial arts. I try to show a little of the local culture and languages as well as the arts in my show. It was intended for people who can’t afford to or don’t have the opportunity to do what I do. Even busy people can take ten minutes during a lunch break and watch an episode where I am training with Tony Jaa’s teacher in the Khmer speaking part of Thailand or I am with Shaolin monks in Bangkok.
The book, “Warrior Odyssey” is basically the book version of the show. But the cool thing about the book is that it also covers the first few years when I didn’t own a video camera. There are tons of adventures, like Shaolin or Korea which I had before I had a camera. So, the book fills in a lot of gaps. It also talks about what happens between the shows, when I have no money and I am struggling and getting disappointed working with TV networks…I can’t wait for the book to come out next year.
TO BE CONTINUED