Muay Thai

BANGKOK — Apart from eating Tom Yum and Pad Thai, visiting Wat Arun and the Grand Palace and indulging in that authentic body massage, the one activity I did not dare miss was this: watching Muay Thai.

It happened two days ago inside the Channel 7 Stadium. The venue was inside a TV studio. Every Sunday here, Muay Thai is broadcasted live on television. The venue is open to the public for free and while the room looks to sit only a few hundred, it must have crammed over a thousand bodies. If you’re claustrophobic, this isn’t an open space garden; it’s a side-by-side, no-inch-to-give, windowless room that’s mostly standing room only.

I arrived at 1 p.m. It was early, I thought, because the fights start at two. But, no; I was ushered in to one of the last few bleacher seats available. Overhead, a sign was hung: SEATING FOR FOREIGNERS. One wall lined up with bleachers was jampacked with tourists.

If you didn’t know, Bangkok is the world’s most visited city. Last year, it recorded 21.5 million overnight visitors, edging London’s 19.9m and Paris’ 18m. By comparison, the Philippines last year registered only 5.9 million tourist arrivals. Our whole country generated about one-fourth the number of visitors compared to the city of Bangkok.

Back to Muay Thai: While the band played music, people danced. Finally, after an agonizing wait of 80 minutes, with dozens of new spectators shoving and stuffing their way inside, the fight started at 2:20 p.m. The two fighters were young; they must have been younger than 19. One donned blue and the other wore red. They wore socks bearing the same colors. Each wore a headband (the mongkon) and white armbands. Before the battle started, they knelt facing their corners and bowed. As the fight started, dozens of people were yelling and signaling their bets, much like Cebu Coliseum.

According to the “Muay Thai is a combat sport that finds its origin in a noble art with antique traditions, it is also the Thai national sport. In Muay Thai, competitors fight standing like in Western Boxing, but elbows, knees and kicks strikes are allowed, with the only protection being the gloves; an important part of this fighting style is the clinch (standing wrestle).

“MUAY literally means ‘combat’ and it derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Mavya’ which literally means ‘unite together.’ While the word THAI is an adjective of the thai nation, it’s meaning is ‘free people.’ Therefore, the word Muay Thai is translatable as ‘Thai boxing/combat.’”

I watched two of the five scheduled bouts last Sunday. Each consisted of five rounds of three minutes each and the rest period was two minutes. What’s different is what happens in this 120-second rest period. Two trainers per fighter come up the ring and they massage their warrior. They intensely massage the arms, legs and shoulders; finally, just moments before they’re back fighting, they fully stretch each leg. Thai massage is incorporated in Thai boxing!

The combatants elbow one another. They kick the legs and they kick straight to the face. They punch and grapple. And, the most painful, they use the knee to strike the abdomen or a lowered head. That’s why this sport is called the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it involves using kicks, elbows, punches and knee strikes.. utilizing the eight “points of contact.” Muay Thai originated several hundred years ago and was developed as a type of close-combat that used the whole body as a weapon.

All-sweating from the “close-combat” of the hundreds crammed inside the TV studio, I left the building and, just as I exited, I met the winner of the first bout and was able to congratulate him. After, I joined Jasmin and Jana for their own riot: shopping at Chatuchak.

Which is more brutal: Boxing or MMA?

mma_e_jung-poirier02jr_576(Ed Mulholland/

If you watch the two sports on TV, you’d conclude that boxing is kinder. The boxing gloves, padded and thick, produce a softer and more cushioned impact. In boxing, only the fists are allowed to crush the enemy. In mixed-martial arts (MMA), it’s every hard-boned corner of your body that you can use to inflict pain: sharp elbows waiting to redden the face, the knee ready to attack the abdomen, the legs and feet springing in action to strike.

My wife Jasmin abhors the brutality of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). While she watches Manny Pacquiao fights (who doesn’t?) and while she doesn’t cover her eyes and grimace when boxers collide, it’s different with UFC as she runs away as if she’s allergic to me.

Blood gushing off one’s cheeks. Two men grappling on the floor like male lovers. A devastating knee to injure the ribs. More red liquid spouting out of the mouth. Open cuts near the eyelids. All these absolutely turn off Jasmin.

Thus, the conclusion: MMA is harsher, rougher and more vicious than boxing, right? Not necessarily.

Last Monday, while browsing Google News, this headline news greeted me with shock: Australian boxer dies in bout against Filipino.

Braydon Smith, previously undefeated in 12 bouts, fought John Vincent Moralde in Australia last Saturday. Their fight extended all the way to 10 rounds with the Davao City native winning via decision. At fight’s end, Smith’s face was bruised but he never showed any signs of major physical concerns. Only when he reached the locker room 90 minutes after the fight did he collapse. He was comatose for two days before he passed away last Monday.

502157-31f07624-cba5-11e4-a716-dcac481e1bbeBraydon Smith with Moralde after their bout

Shocking. Painful. Horrifying. For how can a 23-year-old leave this world so soon? This, of course, was not the first death in boxing. There have been dozens, maybe over a hundred, of similar cases before.

And so, I repeat the query: Boxing or MMA? I’m a huge fan of both combat sports, having watched dozens of ALA Promotions fights and, three times, Pacquiao himself in person; I’ve also witnessed a slew of MMA clashes (the URCC promotions — which, sadly, have been discontinued in Cebu) and, last year, the One Fighting Championship (One FC) extravaganza inside the MOA Arena. On TV, though I haven’t been much of a boxing follower (apart from our Pinoys) lately, I rarely miss a UFC telecast.

My conclusion? I always thought MMA was more brutal. It’s full contact and ruthless, employing dozens of primitive and ferocious moves. In one URCC event at the J Centre Mall a few years ago, I’ll never forget the spinning back-fist employed by one fighter; as soon as it connected to the head, the opponent fell lifeless, arms and shoulders collapsing to the floor. It was split-second fast, cruel and hurtful.

But you know what? It was that … fast. It ended quick. Like many an ending in UFC, once a fighter is down and out, the referee jumps in to stop the contest. No extra seconds of repeated pounding are added to the damage — unlike boxing.

“What’s more violent than boxing? You and I stand in front of each other for 12 rounds and my goal is to hit you so hard in the face that I knock you unconscious,” said UFC’s Dana White in an interview. “In the UFC you and I can fight and I can beat you and win and never punch you in the head once. We can go right to the ground, start grappling and pull off a submission. It’s not 25, 30 minutes of blows to the head non-stop.”

Dana White, obviously, is biased in favor of MMA over boxing. (He’s amassed his $300 million net worth from the sport.) But he has a point. As brutal as the UFC looks, the stoppage is instantaneous.

In, an article by Jose Espinoza tackles the same debate in his piece, “Which is more dangerous: Boxing or MMA?” He wrote: “There is a common belief that MMA is a barbaric sport. The biggest argument used to condemn it is the position that the fights are excessively violent and dangerous. It has been labeled as human cock-fighting by politicians.”

Has MMA outkicked the sport of boxing?

The world of boxing is lucky. There’s Manny Pacquiao. Without him, who’d be the superstar? Other sports have plenty. There’s Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, Novak Djokovic; there’s LBJ and KB; there’s Michael Phelps.

Boxing? Take out our Pinoy pride and there’s no more Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield. Wasn’t boxing centered on the heavyweights? Yes. It was. Yes, that’s the past tense. Because heavyweight-superstars have disappeared.

Mixed martial arts? I confess, years back, to switching channels when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was shown on SkyCable’s Balls channel. It was too bloody. Muscled men hugged and exchanged embraces. Someone was sure to die from this!!!

But, as time passed and superstar names like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, BJ Penn, Brock Lesnar and, now, Jon “Bones” Jones appeared, I’ve gotten to like the MMA. In fact, I’ve gotten to really like the UFC. I’m just as excited to watch an upcoming Gladiator-like UFC contest as I am in watching tennis or running.

Tomorrow, Friday, I’ll finally get the chance to watch this sport in person. Together with my neighbor on this page, Atty. Jingo Quijano, I’ll be at the CICC for the URCC-Cebu 7. URCC stands for Universal Reality Combat Championship and the event is entitled, “Dominate.”

“Undefeated kickboxing star Renante ‘Limbas’ Noblefranca of Yaw-Yan ArDigma has vowed a swift knockout victory as he faces Brazilian Jiu-jitsu specialist Jonathan Sumugat,” wrote my fellow sportswriter from The Freeman, Lemuel Maglinte, himself a mixed-martial artist. “It will be a battle between a striker and a grappler as Noblefranca, who is known for his deadly ‘spinning back fist’, will try to assert his mastery in kickboxing against the Davao City-native Sumugat, a gold medallist in the 2010 Pan-Asia Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Open.”

Noblefranca, only 19, has fought 28 times (wow, how old did he start, at 12 years old?). Last year at the 6th edition of the URCC-Cebu, he won a first round TKO.

“Yaw-Yan Cebu ArDigma CEO/Founder and Vis-Min director Master Benigno “Ekin” R. Caniga, Jr. expressed his confidence not only to Noblefranca but also to his other two boys that will be showing their stuff in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) card. They are Geronimo Etac and Roel Rosauro,” continued Lemuel in his story. “Etac will challenge URCC Visayas pinweight title-holder Victor Torre of Bacolod City , while Rosauro will figure in a grudge rematch of sort against Arnel Ylanan of Mandaue’s Bullet Fighting System.”

Taekwondo: the Sport with a Kick!

First published in July 2007….

Kenn Toledo teaching the youngsters

Ask any Korean you’ll meet at SM or Ayala to translate the word “Taekwondo,” and this is what he’ll say: “Tae” means to destroy with the foot; “Kwon” is to strike or smash with the hand; and “Do” means art, or way of life. Thus, the full translation reads: “the way of the foot and the fist.”

Taekwondo is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. But why learn the sport? I posed this question to one man. He’s the Team Cebu City taekwondo director. He’s the regional chairperson of the Philippine Taekwondo Association. He’s Tony del Prado.

“Taekwondo is both a sport and a martial arts,” said Tony. “You get to exercise and at the same time know how to defend yourself. The sport was on the upswing after it was admitted into the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a demonstration sport. It’s also among the safest martial arts. The protective gears from head to foot are impressive. The way the taekwondo jins deliver the kicks are amazing. A demo presentation, even if done by our locals, never ceases to electrify the crowd.”

Tony’s first exposure to the sport was during his college days at the Ateneo. Then, he marveled at his taekwondo-kicking dorm-mates who were fit and disciplined. “In 1994 when my son Anton was five years old,” added Tony, “I brought him to Baseline Center and enrolled him. There was a bully in school and I thought that he should know how to protect himself. Early on I wanted him to fight his own battles.”

Tony del Prado (second from right) with Team Cebu

True. Isn’t this why many enroll in martial arts? For self-defense?

But taekwondo is much more than just defense. It’s now one of the more popular Olympic events. And it’s a sport where the Philippines—never a gold medal winner—has a crack at gold.

“We have a good chance in the Olympics,” said Tony. “The national pool is training in Korea to prepare for the Olympic qualifying. Our athletes are world class and this was proven during the Asian Games. Although the Koreans are still the best, we have a big chance since countries are only allowed to send a maximum of 4 players for the 8 Olympic categories. This means that Koreans can only compete in 4 of the 8 categories. This also holds true for strong teams like Iran, China and Spain.”

Taekwondo in Cebu? It’s kicking. Just three weeks ago in Bacolod City, the Cebu delegation won second overall in the Visayas Taekwondo Championships. Of Cebu’s 40 jins, 33 came home as medal winners: 11 gold, six silver, and 16 bronze medals.

Future plans? “We have focused on equipping the instructors and officials. Fair competition was at the top of my list. By doing this we were able to elevate professionalism among practitioners in our region. The instructors’ course we conducted two years ago had a significant impact on our growth. It opened their eyes to the modern way of teaching. It was a paradigm shift for most.

“For instance, in children nine years old and below, teaching is mostly done in a ‘play and learn situation’ because you cannot be militaristic towards kids. The reforms resulted in the sport’s unprecedented growth this year. People who quit or were inactive are coming back and training to be instructors.”

Matt Michael, 7, with his yellow belt

Why the taekwondo success?

“Not being a taekwondo practitioner, I initially had difficulty when I assumed the chairmanship position. Although a disadvantage, I made it work for me since I have no club or chapter and therefore have no vested interest. I don’t know of any other region that has a non-taekwondo guy as its chairman.

“I wouldn’t be successful if not for my management committee members: Kenneth Toledo of Bright Academy, Avenger Alob of SHS-Jesuit, William Ylanan and the senior blackbelts like Larry Elpa, Danny Yap and Rene Brojan.”

Kenneth Toledo (left), the regional chief of referees in Cebu

As individual a sport as taekwondo is, it’s rare to have a leader like Tony del Prado who credits not himself—but his team.

Future Olympic gold medalists? Why not!

Kenneth Toledo’s story

Taekwondo here in Cebu started in 1982, during that time my dad Julius Toledo was one of the pioneer students. Every time he went to training, I always tag along with him and eventually learned few basic moves then. After two years of watching from the sidelines, I officially enrolled in Taekwondo last April 2, 1984 at the age of 9 yrs. Old. Since then I’ve learned to love the sport and trained hard that one day I’ll make it to the National Team.
In August 1, 1987 I finally got my 1st dan black belt and a week after joined my first tournament the 9th National Taekwondo Championship in Manila. I was still under the grade school division and made a very impressive tournament debut winning all four matches convincingly and emerge the Best Player of our team. It was also then that my dream of making it to the National Team came true when GrandMaster Sung Chon Hong ( Head of Philippine Taekwondo ) offered me a slot to be me a member of the first ever Gradeschool National Team.

However after a month training with the team, I had to drop out coz they wanted me to pursue my high school studies in Manila which I objected. I Went back to Cebu and continued my training under my dad. Joined several regional level tournaments which I dominated almost every division I competed. In 1989, went back to manila to join the 11th National Taekwondo Championships and sweep all 3 matches in KO victories and again got the Best Player award for team Cebu.

In 1992 I then moved up to the Juniors division and joined the 14th National Taekwondo Championships in Manila. I was the team Junior Bantam weight player and again won all my 4 matches lop-sided in which earned me the Best Player award and this time also a slot at the Junior National Team. But just like my 1st experience, I had to drop out after few months with the same reason that they wanted me to continue and finish my college in manila.

Few months after, I went to US and continued my Taekwondo training under Grand Master Richard Chun in New York. After working out for one day in the new gym, GrandMaster Chun saw my advance skills in the sport and never hesitated to offer me a job to be one of his instructors and to train his students for competitions. I accepted his offer and after 2 months of rigid training I competed in the 1993 New York Open Taekwondo Championships. I was competing in the Men’s fly wt division where most of the fighters are very fast with their kicks and tall. Despite facing tough opponents from different states I still manage to land a Bronze medal in my division.

In 1994, Cebu hosted the National Palarong Pambansa which also set the birth of the Cebu City Sports Center. Taekwondo also debuted in that same year and I was representing Region VII in the Bantam Weight Division. It was a field of very strong competitors from different regions since it was the pioneer edition but I still manage to grab a Bronze Medal. Actually I could have easily won the Gold medal if not due to the controversial decision during my semi-final match against Region I.

I felt the decision was so biased which cost me the slot in the championship round. With my lost at the semi-final round I was then drop to the loser bracket to fight for the bronze medal where I face the title favorite NCR player. I told myself that beating the NCR opponent will just prove one thing that I truly deserve the Gold medal and yes I did won the match convincingly. In 1997 I went back to US and this time trained and teached under Grand Master Mark Williams in New Jersey. That same year I also competed in the New Jersey Grand Prix Taekwondo Championships and won Bronze medal in the Men’s Fly weigh division.

Few months after I went back to the Philippines and joined the Philippine National Games held in Cebu. Top Taekwondo jins all over the Philippines we’re present in that tournament. The Cebu taekwondo best fighters also joined that prestigious event but with very strong competition, all of them failed to get a single medal except for myself. I consider that tournament to be one of the toughest competition I’ve ever joined with over 2,000 elite fighters all over the country vying for the Gold medal. I was then in the Senior Fly weight division with over 60 strong tkd jins clashing for the top 3 spot. I face a very strong opponent from Zamboanga on my opening match and won in points 4-1.

After an hour, I was back in the court for my 2nd elimination match against NCR player who was also currently in the National Training pool, it was a close match but I still won 4-2 points. However during that match I injured my left foot after landing a strong kick to my opponents elbow.  My left foot was all swollen right after the match that I needed to use anesthetic spray to temporarily relieve the pain since I have more fights to do. Then came in my 3rd elimination match facing opponent from Mindanao and again winning the match 3-0. My 4th match was now in the quarter-final match facing another tough opponent from NCR and beating him 5-2 in points. My pain in my left foot which was injured in the 2nd match was getting worst that even the anesthetic spray couldn’t stop it from aching already. In my 5th match of the day, semi-final round against Philippine Navy team I couldn’t execute my kicks well anymore due to my injured foot but manage to hang on til the end of the bout. It was still a close match but loosing it 3-2 in points. I settled for a Bronze medal after 5 hard fought match in one day.

In 2000, I was back in US and opened a school together with my close buddy Master Nathan Delgado. In the next 4 years I spend most of my life in US training and teaching in our school in Dumont, NJ. I was also training together with some current and former members of the US Taekwondo National Team. It was during this time that I was yearly competing in the New Jersey State Taekwondo Championships where I got Bronze medal in 2001 & 2002 and the Big East Taekwondo Championships where I was the 3 time Bantam weight champion from 2001, 2002 & 2003. The Big East event was a bigger one since it was a tournament composed of 4 states ( Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut ).

Taekwondo is fun, safe: Kenn Toledo

According to Wikipedia, taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means “to strike or break with foot”; kwon means “to strike or break with fist”; and do means “way,” “method,” or “art.” Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as “the way of the foot and fist” or “the way of kicking and punching.”

An Olympic sport since 2000, taekwondo is the world’s most popular martial art in terms of the number of practitioners. Here in Cebu, it is just as celebrated.

Kenneth Toledo, who has a 4th Dan Black Belt, is one of the prominent instructors in Cebu. Starting at the age of nine, he has kicked, sparred and punched for 26 years now, many of those sessions in New Jersey, where he became the U.S. Bantamweight champion in the Big East (Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut) from 2001 to 2003.

This summer in Cebu, the Kenn Taekwondo Training Center is underway with four venues: Rivergate Mall, St. Benedict Learning Center, Bright Academy and Southhills Intl. School.

“I encourage children to go into Taekwondo because it’s fun,” said Kenneth. “Children also learn self-defense. Plus, it’s good exercise since most of the kids now are spending much time playing computer games. By enrolling them in taekwondo, they will balance their activities from just sitting down for hours facing the computer to jumping into an active sport.

“One of the advantages of Taekwondo is that you can learn this sport at a young age (even four yrs. old). It is one of the safest of Martial Arts. Taekwondo is clean and safe because we have specific rules in competition which focuses on the safety of every competitor. You can see five-year-olds having fun and not getting hurt at all. In other martial arts, you don’t see young kids in competition due to the rough type of arts they’re performing.”

Discipline. Yes, that’s one of the teachings of the sport. “I always emphasize discipline during my orientation and remind them that I’m not teaching them Taekwondo to bully other people or use it in a bad way,” said Kenn. “They must have self control all the time. I’m also imparting the Tenets of Taekwondo: Self Confidence, Modesty, Indomitable Spirit, Perseverance and Etiquette.”

Kenneth, who’s also into running (he finished the 42K Hong Kong Marathon last February), wants to help train the youth because that’s how he started.

“Taekwondo here in Cebu started in 1982, during that time my dad Julius Toledo was one of the pioneer students,” he said. “Every time he went to training, I would always tag along. After two years of watching from the sidelines, I enrolled on April 2, 1984 at the age of 9. Since then I’ve loved the sport and trained hard that one day I’ll make it to the National Team.

“In August 1, 1987, I got my 1st dan black belt. The week after, I joined my first tournament: the 9th National Taekwondo Championships in Manila. I was in the grade school division and made an impressive debut, winning all four matches to emerge as the Best Player. It was then that my dream of making it to the National Team came true when GrandMaster Sung Chon Hong (Head of Philippine Taekwondo) offered me a slot to be me a member of the first ever Grade School National Team.”

This summer, Kenn has various offerings. “Not everyone who enrolls in Taekwondo aims to compete or become an elite athlete,” he said. “Some kids enroll for fun, for self-defense, for exercise. With these reasons, I employ different approaches. I want people to know that Taekwondo is a sport for everybody, not only for kids. Adults even 50 yrs. old can enroll in Taekwondo.

To learn the world’s most popular martial art, contact Kenn at 316-3498, 0917-6225366 or [email protected].

The No.1 export of the Philippines

On the morning of April 27, 1521, our first national hero was discovered. Named Lapu-Lapu, together with bare-chested warriors he extinguished the Spanish armada led by the Portuguese, Ferdinand Magellan. Using spears and the Moro weapon kampilan, they butchered and knifed the enemies in the “Battle Of Mactan.”

That was 487 long years ago. Today, Lapu-Lapu’s bravery continues….

Wearing the same brown skin as Lapu-Lapu, Filipinos faced Spaniards. And worse, our countrymen were up against more invaders: the Americans, British, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Koreans, the French—a total of 23 other nations have landed in Cebu to conquer Cebu. This time, the skirmish was named, “Battle at Ayala.”

The 10th World Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships

Ask me to swing a tennis racket, dribble an orange ball, swat a shuttlecock or jog a 10-K and I’m fine. But, the one sport that I admit complete ignorance on is the one activity that’s revered by millions: Martial Arts.

Aikido, karatedo, judo, taekwondo, and many more ‘Do’s that include Kendo, Hapkido, Jukendo—they are aplenty. Add one more type of combat that’s venerated from the U.K. to the U.S. and, above all, in Cebu…. Eskrima. Kali. Arnis.

The three are one. They’re the same. Or so I learned when, last Tuesday night and together with my fellow scribes from the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), we trooped to a home that is a mecca of martial arts.

Taekwondo and Tony del Prado

“I’ve been running since 1996,” said Tony del Prado, “and was able to influence a few into running. One of them is my brother, Dr. Pons del Prado (who, in turn, convinced Dr. Yong Larrazabal to join the sport). I still run seriously but I avoid hitting the roads so as to avoid foot injuries. I’ve always had plantar fascitis. I do 99% of my running on the treadmills of Holiday Gym. I think I hold the record there for most number of minutes (over 3 hours) on a treadmill. Ha-ha.”

Tony, 47, has joined many races in the past. “But my favorites are the Singapore and Hong Kong marathons. It’s a yearly event for me and my brother. It gives us the motivation to maintain our fitness level. Although we only competed in the ‘half,’ it was exhilarating. The last HK marathon attracted 40,000 runners!”

It’s Kicking! Taekwondo in Cebu

It’s alive. It’s kicking. It’s harvesting gold medals. Taekwondo had long been a popular sport in Cebu. But today, Taekwondo is gaining even more popularity. Just the other weekend, the Taekwondo Team Cebu won second overall in the Visayas Taekwondo Championships in the City of Smiles… Bacolod City. Of the 40 jins who represented Cebu, 33 went home as medal-winners. In all, Team Cebu snatched 11 gold, six silver and 16 bronze medals.