My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 6: Last Days at Lakay

Check out Gina Iniong of Team Lakay in red: that is one fierce striker! Fighting goals.

And it is settled: I’m going to need tiny braids or cornrows if I want to be an MMA fighter. A bun can almost cut it for kickboxing but it is hugely impractical when you’re rolling on the ground.

Yesterday, I went to the Team Lakay La Trinidad gym one last time (for now) to train with coach JC. Seriously, this guy is a badass and one hard-working trainer as well. He handles all the 9:30-11am and 5-6:30 pm classes and does one-on-one sessions in between.

Jonchris Corton, known around the gym as coach JC, is a fighter too. The kind that does this sort of damage to his opponent and walks away looking like this.

Brutal! (Photo courtesy of Jonchris Corton’s Facebook page)

He makes every move he demonstrates in the gym look as easy as flipping a pancake, only instead of a pancake it’s more likely his opponent being tossed in the air.

What I’ve Learned at Lakay

After ten classes and a one-on-one session with coach JC just this Friday morning, to say I’ve learned a lot may be the understatement of my year.

I’ve learned how to spar, how to land hits, and how to take them: pretty basic stuff if we’re talking about MMA but I hadn’t actually done any of this before.

I’ve learned how to execute deadly combinations, fake moves, and not show my opponent what’s coming next. I’ve learned how to target sweet spots like the liver or solar plexus.

I’ve learned how to grapple and get a submission by locking my arms and legs in just the right holds and squeezing the breath right out of my opponent and I’ve had a bit of practice toughening up my neck, arms, and torso to hold off on tapping out.

Yesterday’s private lesson on defensive movement was especially enlightening and I will go back to Manila with lots to practice. In my last group session that evening I learned a few more takedowns and tried to get better at falling.

My Final Sessions

Having come back to Baguio late last Thursday after a few Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu lessons at B.A.M.F. and taking a family day on Friday, I planned my three remaining sessions at Lakay on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Honestly, ever since I first grappled at Lakay three weeks ago my ribcage has been in some state of mild-to-moderate injury. Add a few kicks to the bruised areas from sparring at Lakay and some rolling at B.A.M.F., and I’m starting to wince when I move around.

A bit of stretching, occasional rest, and a painkiller when needed usually does the trick and allows me to keep training. During my second grappling lesson at Lakay last Saturday I made it through the takedowns and rolling but toward the end of the session, the girl I was sparring with got her knees locked around my lower ribs and with barely a squeeze I tapped right out and was momentarily in enough pain that I teared up a little.

I sat out the last few rounds of that training, looking forward to mandatory rest on Sunday when the gym is closed.

On Monday we did conditioning, kicking drills, and shadow boxing: no problems there.

However, when I came in for what would have been my tenth session on Tuesday and we started rolling in the warm-up, I did a front roll on what I must say are some hard mats, landed poorly, and somehow managed to sustain some kind of injury to my ribs and side that rendered me entirely useless for the rest of the training.

After resting on Wednesday, and knowing I would be returning to Manila with my daughter Friday night, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for a private lesson; I know that I still need to do a lot of work on my defense.

While I couldn’t quite put my full strength into the moves JC taught me Thursday morning, I did learn an entirely new defensive stance and style for my height and range that will be totally awesome once I practice it more.

I planned to return that evening to talk with the famous coach Mark and since I would be there any way I asked if I could redo my last class and join the 5 pm training.

I was a bit nervous when we started rolling again in the warm up–and even more so when JC demonstrated the takedowns we would be practicing after that–but everything went fine. The group was five guys and me, but fortunately, they all tried to be mindful of my poor injured ribs.

My last class at Lakay ended with three round of grappling. I am proud to say that in the last round I got the third guy to submit. I got him in back control–so far this is my best move–and executed a rear naked choke. I wouldn’t have gotten the submission, however, if coach JC hadn’t explained that I needed to get my legs in a triangle. I didn’t quite understand this at first, so my grappling partner–whilst in RNC–helped me put my leg in the right position.

Once I had the triangle and a full RNC, I squeezed as hard as I could and the guy held out for a good while before he tapped.

After that, the tables turned and he had me in a choke but I held out until the end of the round: ending my training at Lakay on a high!

Training at Lakay gets serious when the sun starts to go down.

Interviewing the Famous Coach Mark Sangiao

Before leaving the gym, I spent some time watching the pro fighters start on their 6:30-9pm training and sat down with coach Mark Sangiao to talk about the amazing team he built from the ground up.

He couldn’t have been more matter-of-fact when I asked him what has made Team Lakay so famous: “We win fights.”

They do indeed. Team Lakay has put the Philippines on the international stage when it comes to MMA, winning championships in Asia and around the world and sending three fighters to the UFC.

I met one of them, Dave “Scarecrow” Galera, here at the gym when he brought his submission grapplers from Team Gridlock for a group training. The other former UFC fighters are now trainers in Macau and Australia, respectively. Maybe I’ll look the latter up when I go down under later this year.

Coach Mark Sangiao, who is an international MMA and wushu trainer, tells me about his own MMA journey. He was on the national wushu team and he pursued an interest in kickboxing, Muay Thai, and finally, MMA as such fighting sports came into popularity in this region.

(Wushu differs from MMA is that it includes kickboxing and takedowns no ground work; instead, one can throw their opponent off the platform because there is no ring or cage. Now that’s entertainment.)

Starting the first Team Lakay gym in Central Baguio in 2002 was simply a matter of taking his hobby and passion and turning it into his work. Never did he imagine it would become what it is today.

The gym here in La Trinidad opened only four years ago in 2013 but since it is the larger branch it is where the main fighter training happens. In addition to training two-and-a-half hours in the evening, the fighters also have two sparring sessions and two outdoor training sessions every week.

They train some badass women here too. Go, Gina Iniong in Lakay red! (Photo courtesy of SunStar Baguio)

When talking about what makes Team Lakay the best, one cannot ignore the mountain air. In addition, Sangiao points out that the fighters here have a healthy diet of vegetables and meat. Ah, yes, I’m going to miss the abundance of fresh vegetables here when I return to Manila tonight.

Another factor I’m interested to learn more about is Lakay’s warrior roots. Coach Mark explains that here in the mountains, their ancestors were Igorot warriors who fought over the land in tribal wars. Fighting, then, is in their blood.

Joshua Pacio, 21-year-old Team Lakay fighter, recently competed in Macau (Photo courtesy of ONE Championship)

I’m sure he was joking when he suggested that I fight pro-am for Lakay to promote the team. I don’t even think I’m ready to join the 6:30 training, although he invited me to if I return–definitely something to consider and work up to one of these days.

Here at Lakay, they invite kids as young as eight years old to join classes on the weekend and many who train during the week are high school kids. In a country where drugs and alcohol are major social problems, the growing popularity of MMA motivates kids and young people to keep fit and focused and I believe we have Team Lakay and people like Mark Sangiao and other dedicated coaches and trainers to thank for that.

Personally, I would like to thank everyone at the La Trinidad gym–coaches, trainers, sparring partners, the girls who played with my daughter when I had to take her with me–for welcoming me to your gym and pushing me further along on what is hopefully still just the beginning of my MMA journey. It has been a privilege and an experience I will never forget.

Champions are not born. They are made.

6 thoughts on “My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 6: Last Days at Lakay

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