Fighting Fit

By Omar Glenn Belo; Additional Reporting by Ceri Thomas; Photographs by Louie Aguinaldo


Best for Stress Relief

"Parang hindi makapatay [ng] langaw." This is how Tai Chi expert Edwin Ang describes this Chinese martial art. "But once applied, it is very effective, both for health and self-defense purposes," adds Ang. But he cautions the eager beaver who thinks Tai Chi is easy. "The basic forms are easy but it will take you years to grasp what the movements are for and how to effectively use them."

Your body is whipped into shape despite the slow and meditative movements you execute. "It's a core strengthening, balance-enhancing aerobic workout," says Ang. You squat for minutes, even hours, in perfecting the forms and attaining harmony. Thus, your legs and abs get a beating but without the risk of tearing any tendons. "It's a physical exercise in a non-bouncing manner, protecting your knees from wear-and-tear," he explains.

Tai Chi is an aerobic exercise without hyperventilation. "It is meditation in motion," says Ang. Thus, you get to breathe deep and stay relaxed. "Deep breathing calms your body, including your internal organs, [that's how] they get to function more effectively. This explains the longevity of Tai Chi practitioners," he adds. Stress is managed effectively as well because of Tai Chi's meditative practice. Not to forget, it is primarily a martial art and a deadly one at that.

While lethal mastery is a long-term bonus, the health benefits to the body and the mind are quick to come. "Sino ba naman ang hindi matatanggal ang stress kung nasa Luneta ka at the break of dawn?" Ang points out. No arguments there.


Best for Mental Toughness

Wushu is building fame because of our national athletes' success in both international competitions and local fighting tournaments. But wushu champion Lester Pimentel warns those who plan to jump on the bandwagon, "Wushu is a very complicated system of martial art, hindi [ito] para sa taong mababa ang tolerance." He adds, "It's very demanding, physically and mentally."

The success of wushu lies both in its technique and training. "Technique-wise, complete siya kasi lahat natutunan mo," says Pimentel. Aside from the striking techniques, wushu teaches ground skills in wrestling and grappling. Weapons training is also taught in wushu. The emphasis in learning the techniques is perfection in form. "The finest details of your body tinatama mo kaya pati ang mind mo, trained din," he stresses.

The training in wushu separates it from other martial arts, according to Pimentel. "Technique is technique but without hard, rigorous training, wala din," he notes. Wushu exercises include a lot of cardiovascular workout, plyometrics, flexibility exercises, and weight training specializing on strengthening exercises. But Pimentel notes that with the right determination, wushu is easy to learn. "This is not for quitters, mga mababa ang tolerance," he says. The rewards far more outweigh the sacrifices. You get a very agile body with a healthy balance of power and flexibility, and you're tough on the inside. "There is progression in training. Fundamentals first, then advanced. With that system, madaling matuto ng wushu," he says. "With the desire to learn, it can get addictive."


Best for Self-Control

Forget your swashbuckling, hack-and-slash dreams, kendo is not for the child in you that dreams of being Battousai or even a Jedi wielding a light saber. Kendo is a very serious art and it can test you to the hilt, both physically and mentally. "It's a very humbling experience," says kendoka Joseph Pagulayan. "The first thing you do in training is wiping the floor, no exceptions, everyone wipes. You basically carry 20 pounds all the time and it gets really hot. Plus, you get hit numerous times within the training session but you have to endure them all."

You can't jump in and move to crossing wooden swords right away. For months, you will be taught to master the posture, the properfootwork, and the proper form in executing strikes. It provides a good full-body aerobic workout with all the weight that you carry and the rigorous exercises you repeat continuously throughout the two-hour session. Beginners basically execute a certain move over and over. Watch out for foot blisters and sore shoulders, though.

But kendo is much more than a physical workout. "Kendo is about sword mastery," adds Pagulayan. "It aims for perfection in form–and you can only achieve that by constant repetition. With such training, you not only attain mastery of the sword but also of your own self." Battle hardiness and mind mastery give a kendoka the advantage in an actual encounter. "Kendo brings you to a higher level of self-control, of anticipation especially in sparring exercises," he explains. Thus, kendo also makes for an effective self-defense despite not brandishing a large stick all the time. Of course, it helps if you have a substitute (a baseball bat, perhaps?) in your car.


Best for Flexibility

Learning aikido is harder than it looks. "The movements are easy to learn but to make it work, it takes time," says aikido sensei Ernesto Talag. "Aikido does not fit with the habitual reaction of people towards aggression. Conquering that habit takes a lot of patience and practice."

It is also tough to measure your development in traditional aikido unlike other martial arts. "We don't measure ourselves by competition against others," he says. The best test in aikido is the student's proficiency in actual situations. This explains why aikido does not have a sport or competition structure. "Our greatest competition is against our own selves, in controlling our mind and body to become one," Talag adds. Don't write off the competence of the moves, though. They may not be flashy but, as he recounts, "Aikido works. Many of my students have had experiences where they have averted peril using aikido."

Aside from its life-saving capabilities, aikido can build a better body as well as a better mind. "Aikido training will fortify your health in many aspects," says Talag. He emphasizes that aikido training improves your flexibility and agility through its exercises. With a mixture of holds and throws involved in training, aikido boosts the body's flexibility. Agility is enhanced by the training on the circular movements built to deal with multiple attackers. Injury prevention is also one major benefit from aikido as it trains you to roll out of the impact of being thrown.


Best for Anger Management

Yaw-Yan is billed as the Philippine's most lethal martial art. Created by Master Napoleon Fernandez, this gracefully swift and powerful martial art derives its name from the phrase, 'sayaw ng kamatayan' or the dance of death. Sounds deadly enough for you? If not, try and feel just how hard Yaw-Yan fighters' arms and legs are; you might fear for your life just imagining those solid logs smashing your frame.

A Yaw-Yan fighter's build may not look intimidating but his whole body is rock-solid. It is their main and only weapon as they train in simulating real, actual streetfighting situations. "Our emphasis in training is quickness and power," says Philippine Yaw-Yan Martial Arts president Roman Roger Wanasen. He stresses that with such attributes, Yaw-Yan is more equipped to handle real danger situations. Also, Yaw-Yan keeps on improving its techniques to keep pace with the changes of the times. "It is an ever-evolving art where the student is trained in reality fighting, not point competition," adds executive chef and gym owner Chris Romine. "Master Nap Fernandez devises new methods to adapt to changes in the real world and make Yaw-Yan a more complete self-defense tool for Filipinos. Once you train in Yaw-Yan, it not only gives you self-defense, it becomes part of you."

Training in Yaw-Yan is not for the weak-spirited. Romine and Wanasen both say that heart and desire are the foremost ingredients for the brave and interested soul. "Exercises pa lang lalagnatin ka na, wala pang kicks, punches, and sparring," says Wanasen. When he says training in kicks and punches, he means hitting bags and tires incessantly. This makes for one good outlet for anger now, doesn't it? The physical benefits are tremendous, too. "It's a great whole body workout…it gives you great conditioning, flexibility and sturdiness," Romine proudly claims. "You get loyal brothers along the way, too."


Best for Cardiovascular Fitness

Muay Association of the Philippines coach Billy Alumno sums up Muay Thai training in one slogan: gentle like a cat, attack like a cobra, fight like a tiger. Let's dissect this, shall we?

The soft, gentle movements in Muay Thai explains the first part. Training in Muay Thai involves a lot of flexibility exercises. Alumno says that this is done to prevent injuries. Muay Thai is also known as the science of eight limbs. "Ginagamit dito both fists, elbows, knees, and feet. Kaya in training, we make sure na buong katawan ng fighter, flexible and nimble," he explains. That way, injuries are avoided and the moves appear graceful. Muay Thai also teaches respect, especially to your own teachers. This is shown by the execution of the prefight ritual, the Wai Kru. It is a way of paying respect to your teachers and serves as a good stretching exercise as well.

Don't be deceived by the gentle movements, though. Muay Thai attacks are so swift and vicious that, as Alumno describes, "hindi ka makakapaghanda, tatamaan ka na lang ng matindi." Muay Thai fighters need to be quick, agile, and in tiptop shape in order to execute powerful attacks with blinding speed. "The power of Muay Thai comes from speed and timing," he says.

Muay Thai also trains your body to take tremendous punishment. The common Muay Thai fighter physique may look lean, but it's hard as nails. "Muay Thai builds a tough body kasi tatanggap ka ng malalakas na tama pero kailangan lumaban pa rin," says Alumno. The conditioning you get in Muay Thai is topnotch since you are expected to roll with the devastating blows, and to hit back harder. "In the ring, Muay Thai fighters are tigers, they never back down."


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