In the 1985 Tae kwon do World Championships in South Korea, the Filipino jins were falling against their rivals one after the other. They were getting knocked down, knocked out in the biggest taekwondo stage in the world.
The then very young and inexperienced Monsour Del Rosario was the last hope for the Philippines. And he was about to face Lindsay Lawrence, the most feared fighter in the European taekwondo circuit at that time.
Monsour saw how the British jin snapped the forearm of his Egyptian opponent with a turning side kick, and he was scared of facing the guy.
Monsour’s coach Grandmaster Sung Chon Hong was quick to point out that he must cast his fears aside.
“I know what you’re capable of and I know you’re scared of him. But if you don’t fight him with the way I know you’re capable of fighting, this is your last tournament. I’m going to take you out,” Grandmaster Hong said.
“If you lose but I see you fight hard, even if you get knocked out, I will keep you. I’ll give you another shot. But if you lose and I know you’ve chickened out and you ran away and you did not fight this guy, this is the end of you,” his teacher added.
Monsour uttered his prayers even calling the spirit of the late Bruce Lee, his martial arts idol to guide him. He then stepped into the ring without any protective gear other than his groin guard.
Monsour won the match and it was then that his name became a legend among Filipino jins.
Martial arts journey
Manuel Monsour Del Rosario was born on May 11, 1964 to a Filipino father and a mother with Greek, Syrian and Turkish blood. His mother spent her early days in Lebanon before migrating to America with her family.
Monsour was born in Manila but grew up in Bacolod. He had a happy childhood though he recalled being in frequent fights with bigger boys.
Such experiences prodded him to take up martial arts. He first studied the Korean art of Moo Duk Wan when he was 10 under his father’s friend Joe Lopez Vito. Sometime later he decided to try Shotokan Karate with Mike Vasquez Sensei.
In 1977, the then14-year-old Monsour discovered tae kwon do during his highschool days in Manila. His first instructor was Rudy Lopez while he was studying in Colegio San Agustin but their relationship did not last so long after Monsour was forced to temporarily quit the sport at age 15 because of an injury.
When he turned 16, Monsour met Hong and his skills flourished under the tutelage of the Korean master.
“Coach Rudy was a good coach but when I met Master Hong, the Father of Philippine Taekwondo, his system was different, it’s on a whole different level because he was the one who brought tae kwon do to the Philippines. I was more motivated, more inspired and at the same time I was able to challenge myself more under his program,” Monsour said.
Under’s Hong’s guidance, Monsour won a medal in an international meet in 1985.
Though he didn’t win the gold, fighting in that championship taught him an important lesson, “You may have won 200 medals, 200 trophies and you fall once and you don’t get up, you’re a loser. You never won that much, you fell five times and continued, that’s what matters more in life,” he said.
And just a few years later Monsour became the most decorated and most popular tae kwon do jin in the country.
Movies, marriage and politics
After conquering the world tae kwon do meet, Monsour was encouraged by Hong and his superiors in the World Taekwondo Federation to enter show business with the aim of popularizing the sport. He gave credit to the late Philippine Comedy King Dolphy for opening the showbiz world’s door for him. Monsour’s showbiz stint proved successful with him given a break to appear in some American films.
Monsour enjoyed the life of an actor for some time before casting away his fears of having a family of his own. He married late; he was already in his late 30s when he tied the knots with his wife Jocelyn with whom he now has two children.
“I was afraid to get married when I was young, because I came from a broken home. If not for my wife, maybe I would not have married at all,” he said.
Monsour entered politics in 2007 and was recently reelected as councilor of the First District of Makati for a second term. He was also assigned as General Secretary of the Philippine Tae kwon do Association a few months ago.
Monsour has won many battles as a fighter but there is still one test he would like to pass, he aims to have a father and son conversation with his dad before it’s too late. Monsour’s father had been diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer recently and he is living with his second wife. His mother has emphysema and is living 30 minutes away from Monsour’s brothers and sister in America.