The Bravehearts of Yakal Street

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Friday, March 7, 2014


FOR those of us who grew up during the Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan era, it’s not hard for us to remember how we begged our parents to go to karate school to be just like the masters we saw on television or in the movies.

Most of the hype faded away after the kung-fu craze of the 1980s and people started to realize that one could not become a martial arts grand master after only three weeks of training – proving how misleading movie montages could be.

However, a new generation of martial artists is now practicing the old ways of the Korean warrior in Bacolod City. A few days ago I was called to interview Master Bong Mercurio of the Taekwondo Academy at Yakal St., Villamonte, home of the Bravehearts. I was expecting to meet someone old, bald and bearded – but if it wasn’t for the dobok robe he was wearing, Master Bong would look like a college student.

The 32-year-old master told me that he founded the gym at the request of his daughter, who, according to him, said “dad, it is my time, and I want to learn Taekwondo.” Bong figured that he wasn’t getting any younger, and his dream of becoming a national champion could only be achieved if he became a “gym rat” and trained every day, sacrificing his time with his family. Instead, he opted to be with his daughter and teach her the way of the kick. Over time, people started to see how good his daughter was at tournaments and decided to train under him and call him sabumnim (master). They started out in front of Lupit church, but soon there were so many students that they had to move to the VSB building, and later on to Villamonte.

The word “taekwondo” is literally translated as “method of striking with the hands and feet,” although it focuses more on kicks compared to other martial arts, allowing taekwondo practitioners to keep their opponents at a distance. Although the power of a taekwondo player’s kick is no match for the power of a boxer’s punch, the kick’s reach may be enough to give the taekwondo player an advantage in a fight.

The Bravehearts are Master Bong’s students – they age between 9 and 15 but even as young as that, the Bravehearts are all champions in their own right. It’s safe to say that the Bravehearts have won more gold medals in Taekwondo tournaments than any Philippine Olympic team in any sport combined (a little bit of sports humor there for those who get it). But in all seriousness, several of the students that hail from the Yakal St. gym are swimming in gold medals.

Most of the proud parents of the Bravehearts enrolled their children into taekwondo classes to get them away from their gadgets like cellphones, tablets and laptops that all the kids these days are glued onto, as well as a form of exercise. Their money was well spent – several parents have noticed that their children are growing more disciplined and are showing more maturity after taking taekwondo classes. One parent, Terry Malakad, even said that taekwondo cured her child of asthma.

The students themselves are remarkably humble for people who consistently perform at the top level. Most of them are just happy to be making new friends and appreciate the discipline and courage that the art has taught them. At the start of a sparring session, it is common for Master Bong to yell “no mercy.” But while the Bravehearts are indeed demonstrating powerful kicks and takedown moves, they are still humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

With that being said, I believe that it is in the best interest of all children, young and old, to enroll in a sport that will keep them physically fit and mentally tough. Taekwondo is a good example of that.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 07, 2014.

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