Malabon’s youngsters find direction and feel a different adrenaline rush
YEARS AGO, Malabon City has to contend with a different group of offenders: the kind that wander in the middle of the night, waiting for trouble to erupt. Often armed with dangerous (often improvised) weapons tucked in the pockets of their shorts, these kids feel an adrenaline rush when in a gang war — their cuss words shattering the silence of mid-morning, shadows running in a chase, if not kicking and punching someone to silence. Soon they end up either in the hands of barangay authorities or the police — bruised, scarred and more defiant than ever.
Such was typical in Malabon’s streets at night even when a curfew was declared for the entire city just for them. Scores of kids, some as young as 10 years old, were not only involved in gang wars. Some of them were also involved with petty crimes.
“This is not the kind of youth that I would like to see growing up in the city,” said Malabon City Mayor Antolin “Len Len” Oreta III when news of reckless out-of-school youths (OSY) have started surfacing in the community and even getting reported on news. “As a ‘father’ to my constituents, I feel responsible for them.”
He imposed a curfew and mandated the barangay peace and security officers and local police to scout for offenders and impose penalties. However, since some of them are considered ‘minors’ they cannot be put in detention and have to be released back to their parents or guardians.
The situation seemed hopeless until he met Erwin Tagle, a mixed martial artist (MMA) and trainer who is also a fighting director for various films. Moved by the idea of helping the youth find a sense of purpose through sports, Tagle started training programs for Boys Town Manila and then he met Mayor Oreta and his wife, Chef Melissa Sison-Oreta. Tagle volunteered to conduct a Muay Thai program to the less fortunate youth of the city.
“Among other martial arts sports, Muay Thai is easy to teach in terms of progress,” Tagle explained. “Muay Thai is not just about teaching the moves and various fighting techniques, but it is also about discipline, mind setting and leading them (the OSY) to the right path.”
Starting last May, 34 students, all of them OSYs from Malabon, enrolled in the program. Lending his full commitment and support, Mayor Oreta converted a portion of the Malabon gym into a mixed martial arts gym. The Muay Thai training program happens every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then, community work follows every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This is to train them not just physically in terms of the martial arts, but also to help them practice selfless service in the society.
To 19-year-old Dafnie, an OSY, she first thought of the program as a complete waste of time. “Akala ko nung una, puro suntok at sipa lang (At first I thought it’s all about punches and kicks),” she shared. Because she had no idea what she had signed up for, she didn’t take Muay Thai seriously. However, Tagle, known to the kids as ‘Coach Erwin’, will not take slackers for students.
“Hindi niya kami sinigawan, pero nung pinagalitan kami, sagad hanggang buto (He did not shout, but when he reprimanded us, it shook us to our bones),” she recalled.
Soon, what would have been a boring endeavor became interesting to Dafnie. She started to get the hang of Muay Thai, from the opening gestures to the combat moves.
“Ang pinakamaganda kong natutuhan dito ay iyong disiplina (The most beautiful thing I learned here is the discipline),” she declared. “Itinuturo kasi ng Muay Thai kung paano mo depensahan ang sarili mo sa panganib. Ipini-prepare ka niya psychologically kung ano gagawin mo sa harap ng panganib (Muay Thai teaches how to defend oneself from danger. It prepares you psychologically what to do in the face of threat). Now she sees herself competing in Muay Thai competitions.
Patricia, also 19, sees her three-month experience as a training ground not only for the sport but also for the foundation of her character. A youth volunteer, the lack of finances did not deter her from dreaming to become a teacher. Having had a change of heart after being in the company who she considered ‘bad influence’, she found herself becoming the object of heckling from her former friends. But she didn’t mind them.
“Ang akala nila sa ginagawa namin sa Muay Thai ay nagpapasikat lang. Hindi nila alam ang pagbabagong hatid nito. (They think that what we’re doing in Muay Thai is all for a show. They don’t know the change it has brought to us),” she said.
During the training, she started to forge relationships with fellow Muay Thai trainers, who she now considers her teammates and friends.
“Nagpapasalamat ako at nakakilala ako ng mga bagong kaibigan dito sa Muay Thai na nagsisilbing mga mabuting impluwensiya sa akin (I am thankful that I met new friends through Muay Thai who now serve as a good influence to me),” she declared, tears of joy overwhelming her. She is thinking of taking up advance training and sharing her knowledge to the kids in her community.
The youngest of the Malabon Muay Thai tem is Jeremy, who even at a young age of 11 had always been in trouble both financially and socially. Born to an indigent family, his parents’ earnings from meager part-time jobs had compelled him to enter all sorts of “racket” in order to contribute.
“Tambay ako ng kalye at nakakahiya po ang ibang nagawa ko dati (I was a person of the streets and I am ashamed of the things I have done before),” he stopped short of explaining what those things were. He was resigned to his fate and thought his dreams of being a soldier would never come to reality.
Despite his youth and predicament, Tagle saw through the kid something he didn’t see in too many fighters in his sport.
“This boy is dedicated and passionate for his age,” Tagle, a trainer of more than two decades, said. “It must be because of all the hardships that he witnessed. If guided well, this kid will be a future champion.”
He even wowed his peers and fellow trainees, and the older ones tend to dote and take care of him like their younger sibling.
“After po naming mag-training, sinasamahan namin siya pauwi para safe siya (After we train, we accompany him home for his safety),” Dafnie revealed. Like Dafnie and Patricia, he wants to represent the country in international tournaments someday and finish his studies.
Jeremy, Patricia and Dafnie now comprise the Malabonian Ninjas, a team that Tagle formed from those who underwent the three-month training this year. Tagle was proud to declare that almost all of the trainees decided to continue learning and represent Malabon City in future tournaments. In fact, they have already proven themselves worthy when they joined the First Amateur Muay Thai Youth Games held last Oct. 26 right at their own turf, at the Robinsons Town Mall. The only team from several city teams that had OSYs, they showed their newfound skills and techniques that saw them winning over their opponents. Aside from gold medals, they won the admiration of their rivals.
Mayor Oreta, an ardent supporter of the group, confessed that he feels proud to help change the lives of these children and imagined what it would have been had the program not push through. “If they were not in school, then they must be interested in something else,” he said. “I am moved seeing these kids overcome their personal struggles and have a brighter future to their lives after undergoing the Muay Thai program.”
The Mayor has revealed that the Muay Thai program will stay, for as long as there are kids who will benefit from the program.
“We want our young people to develop a purpose for themselves, to mature in terms of character and emotion, so that they can contribute to society and develop a sense of pride in being a Malabonian,” he said. “Under our helm, we will assist these kids in achieving their dreams and aspirations, and in turn encourage them to share back their blessings. Our goal is ‘Walang tapon sa Malabon’ (No one gets left behind in Malabon).”
Once, kids like Jeremy, Dafnie and Patricia were kicking and punching at their enemies in the darkness of the night. Now, they are still kicking and punching, but this time they are doing this with victory in sight and passion in their heart.