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Drop In: Manila, Pt.4

I warm up quickly and trot to the back of the mat where I find some space to start my rolls. Open mat rolls to me are always chill compared to rolling during a class. The rolls I have with the guys are filled with positive energy. Coach Lee and I have a very fun, technical roll starting from standing. Coach Lee has an impressive wrestling background, having wrestled on the Filipino National Team. He took it easy on me.

After a few more fun rolls, I introduce everyone left on the mat to Game of Rolls. I picked up G.O.R. during the Roll Thru: Thailand. The creator, Victor H., wanted to create a game that was fun, but also help your grappling get better.

Everyone enjoys flipping through the cards and taking in all the different positions to finish from. The wild cards are crazy too, the blindfold and handcuffs cards. My wrists are tied up with a belt when I go with Dulnuan. I shower up, grab dinner and say my goodbyes to Jerry and the team.

I wake up the following morning to the sounds of Manila. I tiptoe out of my AirBnB and make my way to the bus station. I’m going to see my good friend in Bagac for some fishing before heading back to Taiwan. It’s been four years since the last time I saw him, and I can’t wait to catch up.

Slowly the bus makes its way out of the hectic Manila traffic, and I am surrounded by lush green mountains and rice paddy fields. Soon the bus arrives in Balanga, where my friend Onjon is waiting in his truck. We exchange smiles and bro hugs before jumping into his ride and heading towards his town in Bagac.

Once there, I am greeted by the community with open arms. I am constantly asked if I am in the UFC. I tell them no, politely, while trying to explain the difference between MMA and sport grappling.

I drop my things off at the same room I stayed in four years ago, and we have dinner with Onjon’s wife’s family. It’s great to see old faces again, and to meet new faces. I turn down multiple marriage arrangement attempts before retiring to bed. Tomorrow is all about fishing.

You would think everywhere in the world has wifi by now, but some places still don’t. I don’t take it for granted. I set my alarm and pass out immediately. Four AM comes fast, and the rooster outside lets me know.

I am out the door by five and can see Onjon waiting for me with a crew of fishermen standing by his boat. We pack his boat up, push it off the sandy bank and follow the river out to sea.

I sit down on a bamboo oar and watch the fishermen bait each trap to catch curachas, also known as “cockroaches”. The name was coined by the locals due to their small, hairy legs, similar to the insect. They taste like lobster or crab.

While my friends speed through baiting traps and tossing them out into the water, my eyes get lost in the morning sun rising above the mountains. I think back to each Drop In, and all the great people I have met.

So you want to grapple? And the gyms near the town where you live aren’t half bad. And you start to improve. And then you hear about this gym...In a faraway country...What then? How far are you willing to go? What sacrifice are you willing to make in order to find the perfect roll?