As a sportswriter having covered and interviewed champion coaches and athletes of various sports for years, certainly enriched my ideas about winning and the success formula that goes with it.
It has always been my dream to wear a national uniform bearing the name PHILIPPINES in the international sporting arena. In my fifties, I can no longer be an athlete.
So, when an opportunity presented itself for me to become part of the coaching staff of the national kickboxing team, I took it with hesitation and initially met with opposition from old-school, so-called teachers of martial arts.
Being aware of the divisiveness that pervades the martial arts community, a growing organization like the Samahang Kickboxing ng Pilipinas should start on the right foot—and nurture it well until it becomes strong and fruitful.
Fast forward to 2023 in the Cambodia Southeast Asian Games, I found myself, along with taekwondo Olympian Donnie Geisler, taking care of a combat sport named Vovinam, which was to be played for the first time in the SEA Games.
We were given about three months to form a team and train them in this martial art that originated in Vietnam 75 years ago. As the newest practitioner among participating countries, the Philippines’ 2 silver and 4 bronze medals were a relative success.
But it was not time for me to go home yet.
I was asked to help out in the national kickboxing team that will see action in the next few days.
Kickboxing was to be played for the third straight time in the SEA Games and the competition is getting tougher among Southeast Asian countries known for their martial arts pedigree.
The SKP took the services of former kickboxing world champion Walid Hamid of the Netherlands to lead the training camp and the corner going into the Games. Fellow coaches Glenn Mondol and Jaybe Ban-eg assisted Walid with each having roles to play.
The host team Cambodia, with the backing of a loud crowd, was tough as a nail. Indonesia, mentored by former World Wako champion Tahir Muratovich, relied on pure techniques and powerhouse Vietnam was dominating as ever.
But the Philippines held its own, finishing with 3 golds, 4 silvers, and 8 bronzes after the battle in 17 weight categories.
WHY COMBAT SPORTS?
My sports career began as a mere passionate fan of basketball and boxing, being a son of a former professional boxer who has trained me since I was a small kid having to cope with bigger kids in the neighborhood.
During those days, there were no organized amateur tournaments that could serve as stepping stones to become national athletes.
Professional boxing, which at that time was not as prestigious as today, was the only probable way to go but my father prodded me to focus on my studies rather than become a boxer even as I was joining local amateur tournaments in our province.
“You will sacrifice with your blood, sweat, and tears and still, there’s no assurance of success. Finish your studies and secure your future,” he would tell me.
So, I shelved that dream of becoming a professional fighter and proceeded to become a sportswriter. For so many years, I was exposed to different sports, especially the national athletes and wrote about their travails, adventures, their agony in defeat, and splendor in victory.
I began to get to know more about the problems that beset a national team and why others are performing well and others cannot.
My passion for martial arts was rekindled again with the birth in the late 90s of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which pits combat athletes from different disciplines like karate, taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, and a little-known grappling sport out of Brazil—jiujitsu. It piqued my imagination, so began training again in Kyokushin karate and mixed martial arts under Hyper MMA of sensei Arnel Lomibao.
A few years later, I was given the opportunity by current Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham Bambol Tolentino, founder of Samahang Kickboxing ng Pilipinas to assemble a team for kickboxing that will make its debut in the 2019 Philippine Southeast Asian Games.
It was an instant success as the team garnered 3 gold medals, 2 silver, and a bronze. In Vietnam last year, the Philippine kickboxing team bagged 2 golds, 4 silvers and 2 bronzes.
One of my mentors told me, “Just do it right, you’ll never go wrong.”
It simply meant choosing what is right. Live by principle and not by choice.
I have always wanted to be a uniting factor rather than impose and lead. The team is almost complete like a well-oiled machine with Senator Francis Tolentino providing prestige to the organization as president; our secretary-general lawyer Wharton Chan providing support—financial and otherwise—and vice president Bing Domingo doing able backup; coach Roselyn Hung manning both back-end and front-office with superb efficiency, boxing coach Glenn Mondol, and taekwondo Olympian working on the striking techniques and me helping out in the overall strategies.
For a small organization like ours, it does not take a village but a compact A-Team to build champion athletes.
There’s nothing sweeter than representing the flag and country and I have done my part.
Three golds, 4 silvers and 8 bronzes. Kickboxing is definitely getting bigger and better under new hands. Time for me to call it quits.
Or maybe, another challenge beckons.