I arrive early at Team Lakay La Trinidad gym but today the training starts half an hour late. Coach John tells me that students are coming from the central gym in Baguio as well as from The Gridlock Fitness Center for Saturday’s group training, which is why the training is delayed.
While waiting, I have the chance to meet Dave “The Scarecrow” Galera, URCC Bantamweight Champion, former UFC fighter, and owner of The Gridlock. He no longer fights professionally but trains students in Submission Grappling at his own gym. This is considered “a new sport with a long history” and closely resembles Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I am introduced to his students from Team Gridlock, as well as those from Team Lakay, by way of half-a-dozen intense rounds of grappling after learning and practicing two new techniques: the rib crusher and the crucifix.
The thing is, every technique is new to me; I have never before grappled, rolled, or wrestled in any fashion. My partner during practice, Ziana, is patient with me as I try to keep up with the “basic stuff” Dave assumes all are well-versed in and I feel like I’m getting the hang of at least these two moves.
Well, I’m getting the hang of executing them; getting used to having my ribs crushed and/or simultaneously being choked out is going to take a lot more conditioning. We take turns practicing each move ten times and as soon as we finish my ribs, abs, and back are feeling thoroughly squeezed and quite compressed.
It’s time to roll.
In my previous class, which focused on striking, there were only two girls; now there are seven and I get to grapple with almost all of them.
I’m about a head taller than most of the girls, but my goodness they are strong! Immediately I’m getting tossed about and choked out and I have to think fast if I don’t want to spend the rest of the class getting whupped.
Eventually, I got a little better at keeping my opponent at bay and managed to get into a few dominant positions. Unfortunately, I had no clue what to do with these achievements and mostly fumbled around while trying to put pressure on their neck.
I had no luck setting up a rib crusher but did manage the crucifix once. I wasn’t positioned quite right, however, and didn’t have enough strength in my arms to pull it together–quite literally–so the girl eventually broke my hold.
I must have tapped out at least a dozen times in all, probably more, but I was supremely satisfied with the three or four submissions I managed to squeeze out of my opponents.
Finally, towards the end of the sparring, the girls realized I knew absolutely nothing and I suppose they took some pity on me. Up until then, they seemed to be enjoying the chance to come at me with their best moves. Did I mention that these are 14-year-olds I’m getting schooled by? Two of them, Zen and Regina, take some time to help me out.
Two of them, Zen and Regina, take some time to help me out. They show me side control, the arm bar, and a sweep. They tell me to keep my chin down and show me how to defend myself from an RNC (rear naked choke).
I get to practice the arm bar; the rest I’ll have to work on later. Then coach Dave shows us a few ways to get past guard: very helpful. I did this once as an exercise at The Den in Manila but didn’t receive any actual instruction or learn techniques to do it properly.
Dave noted that many of us were using explosive energy to pass guard–I was certainly guilty of this–where clean techniques do the job just fine. He explained that while Lakay’s mountain fighters have greater strength, their opponents training in Manila are technically advanced.
I can certainly see the truth in this statement, based on what I’ve seen from the rollers at B.A.M.F. and the strength I’ve just felt from the kids up here in the mountains. The coach, drawing from personal experience, astutely encourages his students to keep improving their technique so as not to be outsmarted during competitions.
Overall, I am impressed by the impact MMA is having on these kids, and I’m not just referring to how strong it’s made them. MMA teaches focus and toughness, both physical and mental, but also respect. It provides an outlet for those who have trouble at home or at school and steers them away from substance abuse, self-abuse, and fighting on the street.
These kids are part of something greater than themselves now: they are part of a team, and everything they do outside of the gym reflects on that team.
When it comes to students’ behavior, both in and outside of the gym, nothing makes Dave’s blood boil more than bullying. He shares with us a deeply personal story of how bullying resulted in an unspeakable tragedy and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that any such behavior would trigger a severe reaction.
At the end of class, both coach Dave and coach John implore their students to take good care of themselves: get enough sleep, eat healthy food, don’t play in the rain, conserve energy and testosterone for next Saturday’s competition.
Earlier in the training, Dave took the time to mentally prepare those looking to compete and one day make a career in MMA: there will be bruises; there will be blood; there may be dislocated joints. Condition yourself; toughen your mind and your body will follow.
At the same time, he cautions against arrogance. There are fighters out there who will break your arm if you don’t tap out, so don’t be stubborn: submit.
I wish all of Team Lakay and Team Gridlock best of luck next week when they compete in Tarlac. I have lots to learn in the meantime, but first, a bruised rib to nurse.