Earlier this month I went to B.A.M.F., almost exactly one year after I put on gloves for the first time and started casually boxing at Elorde. At the beginning of the year I transitioned to Muay Thai, and just last month I did some MMA training at The Den.
Now I’m in La Trinidad, only two kilometers away from Team Lakay’s gym: home of some of the Philippines’ (and Asia’s) very best MMA fighters. What a perfect opportunity, then, to continue my amateur MMA journey.
At the moment I’m sitting on the mats in the Team Lakay La Trinidad gym. I just came from downtown and since I’m an hour early I’m going to take some time to write about my experiences at a few gyms back in Manila and retrace the steps that lead me here to train with the best.
Going back to the beginning, there has always been a part of me that wanted to box. Punching bags always had a special appeal, but I had never acted on this interest by, say, signing up for a class.
When I turned 25 last year, I decided to give myself the gift of boxing. With Elorde Boxing Gym a stone’s throw away from our house in BF Homes and regular hours teaching from home, I had no more excuses. More than anything, I needed to get out of the house.
So after a trial class, I bought gloves and wraps and signed up for my first month of training. I was surprised at how good of a work out throwing punches is. Before long I had developed quite a bit of muscle definition, not only in my arms but also in my abs and core.
That’s one of the things I love the most about fighting: it doesn’t feel at all like working out and yet, personally, I have seen far more positive changes to my physique through boxing and kickboxing than from any other kind of exercise program I have tried. We’re talking tennis, basketball, volleyball, jogging, yoga, Tae-Bo, P90X, and countless oworkout programs: nothing whips you in shape quite like whooping ass.
After six months of boxing at Elorde, I switched to Muay Thai and did that for about two months before taking a break for a trip to Australia. Once we got back to Manila, our friends invited us to train at The Den. The MMA classes offered there was a step up from what I had done at Elorde they not only offered “exercise” classes but trained fighters as well. In fact, the trainers themselves were fighters.
At The Den, with the expertise of one of the head coaches, I learned to–in his words–punch like a guy and made significant progress with my kicking form as well. They also taught me to capitalize on my reach, which is longer than most Filipinos I’d be likely to go up against. What I still feel are my weakest points, however, are balanced footwork and defensive moves. I learned early on with boxing that, while I may be quick to punch, I’m slow to block.
Fortunately, at my next gym, I had the chance to work on one of these weaknesses.
B.A.M.F., which stands for Bass-Ass Mother–you get it–and is located on Sucat Avenue in Paranaque, might be the Philippines’ best jiu-jitsu gym. They’ll also train you in MMA, Muay Thai, boxing, and wrestling. Two good friends from BF Homes, who run a business selling Ikiro gis and kimonos, had long ago told me about B.A.M.F. and invited me to join in on a jiu-jitsu class, but with lots going on in my very normal life I never had the chance to take them up on their offer.
Now that I’ve quit my job, closed the business, sold my things, and moved out of my house, on the other hand, I have plenty of time to pursue such golden opportunities. Although our gi-selling friends are currently out of the country, actor/MMA fighter Kiko Matos, and his girlfriend, actress/model/vlogger Maria Martinez, had offered to take us to the gym–a massive warehouse just down the road from SM BF Homes–to sign up for the 30-day free trial.
For my first three sessions, I focused on Muay Thai, and I immediately appreciated and benefited from the coach’s focus on footwork.
At every gym I’ve trained, my coaches have asked me if I’m interested in competing and recently I’ve decided that I am. Upon starting my free trial at B.A.M.F., I got some information from Muay Thai coach Oliver on upcoming competitions and started to seriously consider training and signing up for a fight.
I am now attending sessions at Lakay, an MMA gym, but their fighters are known for standing and striking. Even if I stick to Muay Thai, then, I’ll be certain to gain a lot from being here.
Back to the present: after dropping in to inquire about their training schedule and rates, I returned to Lakay yesterday to join in my first session. Lucky for me, Friday is sparring day, because when it comes to Muay Thai/kickboxing/MMA I hadn’t actually had a chance to spar yet at all.
Most of the people training in yesterday evening’s group were students from the nearby campus, but some were obvious professionals. Unlike B.A.M.F., where training sessions tend to start late and go on even later, this gym is punctual as a clock: the warm-up started at exactly 5 PM and class finished at 6:30 on the dot, which is when the pros begin their training.
I am in fact not allowed to take pictures or videos during the training, nor can I disclose any trade secrets regarding how exactly champions are made; however, I can say that it was great fun to spar. Nothing makes you learn from your mistakes quickly quite like getting hit in the face or kicked in the stomach.
Not to worry: students are instructed to spar at only 20% of their full strength. Although, I did land a hook or two on my opponent’s temple at say 30-40% after taking a few heavier hits to the gut. But that’s how it goes, isn’t it?
I’ve still got time before the training starts so I’m watching one of the fighters go at it with one of the main trainers who helped me out a bit yesterday. Since there are time and space a plenty, I might even squeeze in some yoga before class starts. You need a lot of flexibility to kick people in the face, you know.