It’s never too late to kick bad, old habits, especially when you’re young and you have the passion to improve your life and those of your loved ones.
Several years back, Malabon was among the cities that struggled with youth offenders involved in petty crimes to gang-related violence. This has negatively impacted the city which saw a high case of school dropouts.
Even with unsurmountable challenges, the Malabon City LGU led by Mayor Lenlen Oreta used a time-tested solution to fight the problem – sports. And what kind of sports? Oreta introduced to these delinquent youngsters to Muay Thai – a disciplined form of boxing using eight limbs which originated from Thailand. These youngsters are now part of a multi-awarded Muay Thai team called “Malabonian Ninjas.”
“Sports has a very positive effect especially on the youth. Aside from promoting good health, it instills discipline and values formation. We realized that it had a tremendous impact on the lives of these youth as they are a complete opposite of what they were before. Today, members of the Malabonian Ninjas can look forward to a brighter future filled with opportunities and growth," said Mayor Oreta.
One of the members of the Malabonian Ninjas is Jomarie, now 20 years old and taking up BS Criminology at the City of Malabon University. Years ago, he was an out-of-school youth, wasting time with gangs in the streets, with a bleak future ahead of him.
“I became a different person after getting into the sport. I used to engage in a lot of fist fights that lead to troubles and endless worry for my family. I was really unruly at that time and didn’t enjoy schooling then, so I decided to stop,” said Jomarie in Filipino.
He was restless and took to the streets to vent out his frustrations. One day, he found out that there was this new kind of sport being offered by Mayor Oreta to the youth of Malabon.
“When I heard about it, I became curious. I went to the orientation and found the tumblings very interesting,” he recalled. “At first, it was really hard. I also did not care about the others. But when coach Jerome Kalinga told me to ‘change my old habits’ and guided me to open my passion in Muay Thai, I began to change my attitude and my outlook in life. I realized that there is more to life and I alone can change it if I want to improve my future.”
Jomarie said that even his former buddies were so surprised to see his transformation. His life began to have order. He felt happier as he now sees a brighter future for himself and his family. “In fact, I also inspired my friends to join the group. It was not hard to convince them since they saw the tremendous improvement in the way I think, talk, and interact with others.”
New sense of purpose
As an active Malabonian Ninjas advocate and youth model, Dafnie, 21 years old, describes her remarkable journey toward finding a personal advocacy.
“Years ago, I was an out-of-school youth. I was unsure of myself then and I couldn’t envision a future for myself. But then I heard of the Mayor Oreta’s Muay Thai clinic while I was volunteering at the DSWD office. Mommy Lenie (from DSWD) encouraged me to try it, so out of curiosity and since I experienced taekwondo back in high school, I decided to join,” shared Dafnie in Filipino.
“At first, I thought it was just like a physical education class. But I was wrong as I learned more than that – I leaned discipline, respect for others, love for our country and city, and care for the body. I became more mature as Muay Thai made me realize that I have to know myself in order to conquer the enemy. I learned my capabilities and what I want to achieve can be realized as long as I work hard for it and have a positive attitude,” she said.
Dafnie added that the sports literally helped her bring out the “best” in her not only in terms of physical stamina but also her leadership skills.
Jomarie and Dafnie are only two of the pioneer members of the Malabonian Ninjas under then program head Erwin Tagle, a mixed martial artist (MMA) and trainer. Currently, both are training under Kim Cyrus Banejos. They also act as junior instructors teaching basic Muay Thai in various schools and communities in Malabon as a way to “give back” and serve as inspiration to other out-of-school youth.
“I’m very happy with the success of the Muay Thai program as it has truly changed the lives of the students,” said Mayor Oreta. “Now on its third year, the program not only imparts the rudiments of combat but more importantly, instills the principles of respect, personal discipline, humility, diligence, hard work, and honor among participants as they find themselves back in the right direction of life.”
Apart from strengthening bodies, the rigid thrice-a-week training regimen allows students to engage in various community works in the city. This blend of positive motivations eventually led to wider youth participation even among junior and senior high students, not to mention a future in competitive Muay Thai. In fact, the Malabonian Ninjas has won various competitions, including bagging an overall championship title in a division during a national competition.
The infectious positivism also gave birth to numerous volunteer activities, most of which the Malabonian Ninjas themselves have organized. For two years, they do regular “plogging”, an activity that combines jogging with litter-picking for a cleaner and safer Malabon.
“Helping clean our surroundings and inspiring the youth to avoid drugs and gang violence are our ways to give back to the community, and also our way of thanking Mayor Oreta and First Lady Chef Mel for their care and support to the youth of Malabon,” said the two.
Dafnie is currently taking up BS Criminology at the City of Malabon University and is excitedly planning a bright future for herself and her loved ones. “I am grateful that I am given this chance in life. I never realized that a sport as challenging as Muay Thai can encourage me to dream greater things. When people trust us and give us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn and become better, I am motivated to give my best shot – and best kick – in life.”