Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 16: One Month at Darkside Gym

No martial arts gym I’ve been to has given me a full of as valuable an experience as Darkside Gym in Sydney.

By the way, if you haven’t read Part 15 of this series, check it out for my introduction to this and other gyms in Sydney’s inner west.

In my first month at Darkside, I managed to fit in 24 classes–many in their convenient midday slot. (Check out the timetable.) Of the various fight forms offered to build up the full MMA experience here at Darkside, boxing classes are the most abundant.

I’ve done the most training in boxing because it was the first fight sport I started training in nearly two years ago at Elorde in the Philippines. As such, I might have thought I’d be coming in with at least a decent foundation.

However, in more than one area, it has felt like I’ve been starting from scratch since coming here.

Many of the things I wish I had learned from my trainers in six months of boxing at Elorde, I have been learning here.

That’s not to discredit my Pinoy trainers at all: Elorde gave me an excellent introduction to the sport by building fitness, toughening up my knuckles, and starting to put some power in my punches.

In a way, my experience at Darkside is best compared to the short time I spent at Team Lakay in Baguio in that they train people how to actually fight and, when you’re sparring, you and your partner want to hit and get hit.

It comes down to the difference between a fitness gym and a fighters gym and that is, in fact, something I like quite a lot about Darkside: you can walk in here–curious to try a new way to get fit, indifferent to actual fighting–and fit right in.

However, you won’t be going through the motions; you’ll be learning proper footwork, good form, and pertinent punching sequences.

Depending on your level or how badly you want to get fit and/or want to get hit, there are a variety of boxing classes you can join, from Fitness to Fundamentals to Advanced.

The Fitness class is full of conditioning drills and bag work and has already become somewhat dreaded as it will wipe you out physically. You won’t be getting hit but your knuckles might feel a little sore after the pounding you give the bags.

Fundamentals is a great entry-level boxing class; you’ll be learning basic moves and sequences and mostly practicing with a partner on focus pads. The likelihood of getting hit is fairly low.

In the Advanced class, we’re full contact: this is where the sparring happens. However, how hard you go at it is entirely up to you and/or your partner. Regardless, you will be getting hit and you’ll learn quickly to keep your guard up.

From there, you might progress to Muay Thai and finally MMA, in which case you can add getting kicked and strangled, respectively, to getting punched.

After my six months of boxing at Elorde, I switched to Muay Thai at the same gym and I can make similar comparisons here as I did earlier with regards to the boxing classes there and here.

Where at Elorde I learned the basic movements and conditioned my body to kick and throw knees, I’ve started covering better footwork, more targeted kicks, and–the most neglected of my skills–blocking, at Darkside.

I have found the Muay Thai sparring, and leg sparring in particular, to be decidedly fun and helpful.

I’m always excited when my teaching schedule allows me to make it to one of the MMA sessions–probably because I have the most to learn in this arena. Plus, because it covers so many styles, you can look forward to something different in every class.

On a final note, Darkside also offers Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes. I haven’t tried any of them but I’ve watched out of the corner of my eye while doing Muay Thai and it’s basically boys in pajamas taking turns watching each other roll around in intimate pairs.

You know I’m kidding. I love BJJ and I the only reason I haven’t jumped in on these classes is that I don’t have a gi to use here in Sydney.

Before coming here back in December though, I did three months of jiu-jitsu at Fitness Unlimited in the Philippines and enjoyed it immensely.

By the way, Darkside Gym has a new look and now features an elongated cage area and a full-sized boxing ring. Come check it out.


What’s next for me?

For one, I intend to get in another solid month of training before I head back to Manila and then Europe for a stint.

Additionally, I’m intrigued to learn more about the Sydney fight scene from the bits and pieces I’ve heard of it here at the gym.

I certainly hope to attend an amateur fight while I’m here and maybe find out how long I’d have to train here to be ready for one of my own. (I’ll only know after the fact, obviously.)

On a final–somewhat related, somewhat unrelated note–you may care to know that I am no only martial-arting at the gym; I have also officially begun my, training in Ninja Writing.

In all likelihood, there will be more on this to come.


Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

First Swing at the Sydney Surf

Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.

Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.

Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.

As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.

I found this Beginners Guide to Surfing Sydney’s Beaches, which has a brief and helpful overview of beaches in the city, listing the pros and cons of each.

We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)

Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.

He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.

We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.

What I enjoyed about Maroubra:

  • It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
  • The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.

Surfing setbacks:

  • Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
  • Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.

If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.

Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.

Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.


Wild Wild East

I’m on my third trip to Australia in a year’s time and, finally, I’ve experienced some genuine wild-wild-east, sun-blazed-and-blistering, cattle-trading outback vibes.

I ended up on a long-train-ride journey out of Sydney to a somewhat random town in cow country, NSW.

Fine, it wasn’t random. What is that to you, anonymous reader?

The cover photo of this post was taken at Dungog Station.


Here’s how you get there: Open Google maps; type Dungog.

If you get the right train at the right time, you can make the roughly-4-hour journey with your Opal card for six or seven Aussie dollars each way.


This random station along the way is Wallarobba


If you wanted to go there simply to check it out and say hello to the cows, you can get an Airbnb starting at about $75 a night. (Again, your instructions are: Open AirBnB.)

Has travel become too easy or what?

With tumbleweed, saloon-style buildings, and a vet that treats cows and horses, it did feel remarkably wild-west out here.


In case you became confused, how would you know that you are in fact in the Australian outback and not on the American frontier?


Aboriginal art and solar panels might be a clue.


For one, there will be no tossing of the old pigskin. (The colonists definitely did that.)

No, Aussies will guffaw at the preposterous notion of a football propelled forward in a fashion we in other parts of the world might refer to a toss or a throw or a hurl.

Instead, taking inspiration perhaps from all that time spent on the beach playing volleyball, the Aussies like to give their football a little tap–not with the wrist nor with a fist, but something like that.

I won’t even get started on the “foot” ball misnomer. Everyone knows a football is what people in orange shirts kick through goal posts so that all the other people in orange shirts around the world can cheer and drink more beer.

So Aussies and Americans alike get a kick out of touching footballs with their hands but in notably different ways. They do in fact kick the ball with their feet as well and so can take some consolation in not being entirely misguided.

Regardless, let’s put our differences aside and enjoy these gorgeous views.



Since you’re here, you should definitely visit Copeland Reserve and check out some old mining relics, deep shafts, and snakes.


P_20180226_075241 (1)
Hurray: I saw my first snake in Australia!



While it was too overcast to watch the sunrise as hoped, the dawn trek through the forest was quite surreal.

Were it not for the light and refreshing rain trickling through the trees, it may have taken much more than half of the hike to feel properly awake.


Not a terrible place to drift through in dream-like state






I’ll wrap up with this chill porch view and

P_20180224_194731 (1)

this wonderfully long train ride.

P_20180224_143344 (2)

Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 15: Picking a Gym in Newtown

In January I started my yoga challenge because I couldn’t fit a steady gym routine into my schedule. However, it’s a new month, I’m in a new place, and I’m seizing the opportunity to get back into martial arts training.

In December, when I was staying out in The Hills District of Sydney, I talked about doing some free trial sessions at various MMA gyms in Castle Hill. Now that I’m in Newtown, I’m ready to check out my training prospects here.

For starters, I mapped out gyms within a two-to-three kilometer radius that I could walk or jog to in a half hour or less. I found a couple of MMA gyms in Marrickville, Sydenham, and St. Peters.

One was a Gracie Barra Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym but having already done a trial class at a Gracie Barra in Castle Hill, I more or less already knew I was looking for a more complete MMA experience.

Another prospect within range was Power Core MMA Gym but when I checked their timetable I got the idea that they were more focused on fitness than fighting.

Moreover, they didn’t have any morning or midday classes and since I’m often working in the evening that would be fairly essential for me to keep a solid training schedule. They did invite me to come in for a free trial class but I never found (or made) a way to work that into my schedule.

Next and nearest was Zeus International Martial Arts Academy. Although–like Power Core–they also do not offer classes before 5 or 6 PM, it was close and I was interested in trying their Muay Thai.

My free trial session at Zeus was enjoyable and both the instructor, Costa Prasoulas, and the training assistant who was my sparring partner gave me lots of helpful tips to adjust and refine my fight game.

Coach Costa is a fantastically warm and welcoming fellow and I loved the friendly vibe at this gym.


Though the gym is very small, they do a lot with the space they have.


Located at the Marrickville District Lawn Tennis Club, Zeus Academy offer Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When you come in for a trial session, you can immediately sense the spirit of family built around both styles.

However, I knew it would be difficult to commit to training here because of my schedule so, as much as I would have loved to keep training here, my search continued.

This week I took a trial class at Darkside MMA in Sydenham. Even though this is the farthest of the gyms in the area, I was immediately drawn in by their timetable.

With daily classes at 12, 5, 6, and 7 PM I knew I would be able to fit at least one, if not more, sessions a day in with my current online teaching schedule.

Here’s the dealmaker: each class is something different, from boxing and Muay Thai to grappling and jiu-jitsu, as well as MMA classes to put them all together. Before even showing up at the gym I had a feeling it would be exactly what I was looking for.

After contacting the gym online and being told I could walk in for my free trial class at any time, I received a warm welcome from the instructor and was even taught their secret handshake at the end of the session.

The MMA training was great. Right off the bat, we jumped into sparring drills with mouth guard and shin pads. The class ended with three 5-minute rounds of ground-and-pound cage work and my total exhaustion by the end told me this is exactly where I want to be training.

A few days later I came in to enroll for a month and join the midday boxing class. Again, we spent most of the lesson doing sparring drills and, in addition to learning some great sequences, I got some practice keeping my eyes open and focused while gloves came at them.

Before week’s end I joined two more classes and in all four I’ve taken so far I’ve had to focus on footwork and defense–both weaknesses of mine.

In the last MMA class, there were only two of us training and my partner and I got into a nice groove with an initially tricky southpaw setup that could open a fight with some stellar striking and takedown opportunities.

It’s a five-kilometer walk, jog, or run to the gym and back and on Thursday it was a trip I made twice–for noon boxing and evening MMA. I was thoroughly wiped out by the end but anticipant of achieving a new level of fighter fitness by the end of my first month.

Honestly, I’d been too caught up and thoroughly exhausted by the training here that I hadn’t gotten around to taking any pictures until just the other day. I’m going to consider that a good thing, but now that I’ve enrolled and been to a few classes I finally got around to snapping some.

Pictures, of course. Snapping pictures.

Here’s a look at the gym and facilities.

P_20180216_115243 (1)P_20180216_115410 (1)P_20180216_115425 (1)P_20180216_115503 (1)P_20180216_131759 (1)

I’ll let you know what I’ve learned at the end of my first month here.



Snapshots of Sydney Street Art

February has come. I have been to Manila and back and am now settling into a new neighborhood and place of work for the next two months or so.

On what is now my third trip to Sydney, in addition to having such visitor essentials as using an Opal card and going to the beach thoroughly covered, I’ve been setting up a few other things as well.

It hasn’t been entirely seamless as I’ve recently been dealing with both Aldi mobile and Belong broadband failing to connect me to their services. In the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to have somebodies to lean on; thus, life goes on and it remains good.

Day by day, I’ve been exploring my new environment. While I’ve previously praised live street artists in places like Circular Quay and Manly beach, here in Newtown and surrounding I tip my hat to those invisible folks who have left such stunning wall art as you can see in these photos.





P_20180204_173317 (1)

P_20180204_173558 (1)

P_20180204_173711 (1)

Australia · My MMA Journey

2018: Mindfulness, Minimalism

You won’t even find the word “and” in the title because, from a minimalist point of view, it’s entirely unnecessary. How mindful of you to notice, in any case.

I have a few things on the agenda for this post.

First of all, I’m following up on my  24-day yoga challenge, which ends today.

Other things that end today: the month of January; my time in Sydney with my daughter.

Despite these monumental culminations, the day has paid little regard to reverence or reflection and jam-packed itself with work to do, classes to teach, reports to write, and bags to back.

It is then, with transparency in mind, only fair to note that I wrote a good portion of this yesterday. Sitting on my brother’s patio in the Hills of Sydney with my home-brewed iced coffee, I reflected upon a day in the city packed with pizza, play, sunshine, and feelings, and upon two beautiful summer months spent with family and friends.

Finally, with this post, I have a mind to write about my thoughts for the new year and let’s face it, the last day of January is really as far as we can push such things.

Before I get stuck in that, let’s revisit the yoga.

24 Days of Yoga

I started this yoga challenge as a continuation of my amateur MMA series, since I couldn’t swing the gym for awhile and wanted to keep flexible and fit.

If you’ve been following my MMA journey, you may have picked up a hint here and there that it’s not only one of physical transformation but that it bleeds into other realms as well.

That being said, my yoga practice this month has been about more than fitness and flexibility: it has also helped me manage my energy and emotions and provided an alternative to feeling restless, worried, or on some days even a little depressed.

Here are the yoga classes by Fiji McAlpine’s that I tried this month, many for the first time:

  • Revolved Bound Side Angle Pose:
    • Dynamic Twists
    • Reach & Wrap
    • Workshop
  • Morning Wake-Up and Flow
  • Vinyasa for Vitality
  • Arm Balance Power Flow
  • Power for Deep Release
  • Inspire the Fire
  • Chakra One Flow
  • Chakra Two Flow
  • Dancer’s Pose:
    • Supple Spine & Shoulders
    • Balances & Binds

Having missed more than a week due to an injury, I ended up completing 12 classes in 24 days and I’m reasonably happy with that.

Of the classes listed above, I especially enjoyed the chakra-based ones and the freedom of flying into wild thing towards the end of Chakra Two Flow.

Morning Wake-Up and Vinyasa for Vitality are two of my favorites that I’ve revisited many times. Both are short 20-minute classes that will pick you up when you’re feeling sluggish and leave you pulsing with energy and strength.

That really is what I love about yoga, and specifically, Fiji McAlpine’s classes on Do Yoga With Me: her classes give you a physically challenging workout, an influx of energy, and finally, a calm and meditative state of mind, all of which set you up for a day filled with gratitude.

When life slows down a little bit, I will revisit this post to add more information, a hyperlink, and a brief review of each of the above classes.

Until then, why don’t you have a perusal of your own on and share your experience in the comments?

And so we come to the end of the first month with which we have started the new year.

I hesitate to call them resolutions, but these are my words:

Mindfulness: to be mindful of people, of self, of the body, of consumption, of want, of need, of choices.

Minimalism: to have less and live more.

In the spirit of minimalism, I’m going to make the mindful decision to stop now. Also because I have a bunch of stuff to do.

Namaste. Cheers.

Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 14: Yoga Challenge

When I was training at Bulldog Muay Thai, what probably impressed me the most was the almost unnatural flexibility of these great big bulky fellows.

I can also say that the fighters at Team Lakay back in the Philippines, were extremely flexible: most of the guys I trained with could take their splits a whole lot farther than I could, for example. They were built fairly small, though.

Watching meaty six-foot-something, 200-plus-pound fighters stretch like gymnasts without batting an eyelash is something entirely different.

Yup, last week I talked about MMA-ing in Sydney before the start of the new year and I mentioned, sadly, my schedule wouldn’t allow for much training in January.

So here I am with old faithful: yoga at home.

I honestly haven’t done much of it at all in the past year–being so preoccupied with the martial arts–but I’m happy to be getting back into my practice with the challenge of taking my strength and flexibility to a new level.

Additionally, I don’t think my body will hate a spell of stretching and recovery and–on top of all that–what’s a fighter without flexibility?

It was probably a few years ago when I first discovered DoYogaWithMe and it has become a staple in my life since.

Classes are conveniently categorized by length into 0-20, 20-40, 40-60, and 60+ minutes and range in style from nice relaxing stretches to short energizing practices and lengthy, sweaty challenges.

In short, there’s no reason not to fit at least one of them into your day.

This month, my challenge is 21 yoga classes in 24 days, starting with the first one I did on January 8 and ending on the 31st.

Additionally, I’m pushing myself to move from intermediate to advanced and upping, among other things, my arm balance, headstand, and inversion game.


On, click “Yoga Classes” and you’ll see a bunch of this:


Without even creating an account, you can take almost every class (except the ones with an orange plus sign).

You can browse by difficulty, class length, style, and teacher to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Certainly one of my favorite instructors is Fiji McAlpine.

What I love about her classes is that they don’t just feel like and a nice stretch and some decent exercise; she always makes sure you feel the burn, whether it’s incorporating pushups in your sun salutations, holding plank or chair pose, or balancing on your arms for a spell.

She has amazing strength in her arms, legs, and core and inspires me to develop the same.

I also enjoy classes by Tracy Noseworthy as I love the flow in her classes and find her instructions very easy to follow.

I bought an audio recording of Sun Salutations III to keep on my phone for yoga-on-the-go. This sweet and simple 15-minute practice flows through an energizing series of sun salutations and Tracy’s instructions keep you focused on fluid breathing throughout.

You can make a free account if you’d like to save your favorite videos to your bookmarks, become a subscriber for access to premium videos, challenges, and programs, or choose to make a one-time donation to the platform.

You can also buy an audio file for $3, a small-screen video for $6, and a large-screen version for $9 if you’d like access to your favorite classes offline.

I’ll let you know how my challenge went at the end of the month.