I grew up around artists and innovators and we always believe in the phrase, “Don’t give a native Filipino artist an idea or they will get ahead”. The Filipino ingenuity is either a problem or a solution. We can make anything work, and it’s in the blood. We do not see a coconut tree as a mere tree. We see the lumber, the oil, the raffia broom, scrub, orchid husks, straw mats, wall covers, flooring
materials, food ingredients, decorations, charcoals, piggy banks, ropes, and a lot more ideas while quenching our thirst with coconut water. And yet the hunger to learn never stops. Take a good look around the country, from the cities to the regions, basketball is seen in every corner, boxing became a job, singing is not only a pastime but also a way to get re-cognition. Computer hacking is just a hobby. So it’s no surprise that when a Filipino begins to learn the grappling arts, they will make something out of it to excel.
Meggie Ochoa has been reaping gold and silver medals in different regional jiu-jitsu competitions when her coaches decided that her skills are ready for a tougher environment. The testing ground was in Long beach, California, The World Jiu-jitsu Championship. Traveling this far to chase a dream needs cash and not just a measly amount. She needs to raise a total of $4,000 to cover everything, and this is just the first of the many hurdles to overcome. Looking for help, Meggie used the Internet and communicated with people through social media. A friend advised her to look into the website called makeAchamp.com and see if they respond. And they did. What made it more interesting is that she got the attention of a corporate sponsor. The competition is indeed the universe’s gift to Meggie as she came home with a gold medal shining around her neck.
On July 5, 2014, I thought of visiting the dojo of one of the top coaches of judo in the Philippines. This is the day when members under Atos Brazilian jiu-jitsu nationwide will test their skills and continue their good camaraderie. I met Ali Sulit, coach par excellence, years ago in a mix martial arts (MMA) event. But long before that, I have already seen this guy dominating the mat game.
Almost a hundred participants filled up the Ateneo Judo hall. The atmosphere was great, the new generation of gentlemen and ladies got together for a common interest and find ways to improve themselves. Among the crowd, I met once again Erwin Tagle, another friend who is also doing his share in shaping and improving the MMA industry in the Philippines (I’ll save this for another story).
I have seen all grappling arts from every corner of the world. From the Orient around Southeast Asia, to Europe and America most particularly the Brazilian brand of grappling.
Even us Filipinos have our very own grappling style. I have joined many of these groups from different countries so I can learn the difference of each style for the purpose of education and not consumption. If there’s one thing that’s notably lacking among the members of Atos Philippines, it is ego. As one of the trainers of the Russian Special Forces in a military academy, I have developed a sense to detect aggression or a bloated ego from a hundred meters. But in this occasion, in this training hall, in this training team under Coach Ali Sulit, there’s just too little of it to be recognized. The students are indeed the reflection of their teachers. Hats off to the coach and the senior members of Team Atos Philippines.
The name Atos in Portuguese means “acts” pertaining to The Book Of Acts in The Bible, and this name has been chosen by the two founders of the team namely Ramon Lemos and Andre Galvao, who are devout Christians. The Team Atos was established in the Philippines through Ali Sulit’s initiative in 2010.
Ali Sulit is one of the members of the team that first put judo in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) in 1998, and immediately became the man to beat in his weight division. His coaching started in the same year when the team realized his unique approach to the sport. In 2002, when he was a third degree black belt, he started training in jiu-jitsu and incorporated the discipline into his judo game. In 2004, he started teaching with only five students. One of those is Ralph Go who is soon to become one of the head coaches within Atos. It didn’t take long for this humble team of five to gain recognition and a good number of followers in the industry. In 2007, one of the students, Carlo Peña joined Sulit and Go and helped manage the team using their own tried and tested winning formula. Go and Peña traveled together to Brazil, Guam, and America to further hone their skills and make a good contribution to the young team. A year after, they made a strong decision to be an independent team of jiu-jitsu in the Philippines.
This independent team functioned well and excelled in every competition they can find here and outside the country. The only drawback to being in this team is that there is no way of grading the students in terms of belt level, and the absence of an authentic sport jiu-jitsu affiliation. In 2010, Ramon Lemos came to Manila and conducted a weeklong seminar that inaugurated this independent team to become the official Team Atos in the Philippines. Ralph Go’s efforts of traveling back and forth to Brazil established connections with Brazilian black belts like Gilbert Burns, Rodrigo Caporal, Bruno Frazzato, Claudio Calasans, and of course, Andre Galvao, a multiple-time world champion and one of the two founders of Team Atos International. A new door was opened for Filipino jiu-jitsu practitioners under the management of Ali Sulit and Team Atos Philippines. They’ve been the overall winners of all the gi (jiu-jitsu garb) events of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the Philippines, and continuously producing world champions like Meggie Ochoa and Eros Baluyot, to name a few. They made a name in other prestigious jiu-jitsu tournaments such as the Pan American Championship, European Open, Asian Open, The Brazilian National Competitions, Abu Dhabi World Pro Championships, The Hongkong Open, The Bangkok Championships, the list goes on and on and all of these simply reflect the quality of coaching that Ali Sulit has been giving to his students.
Afterall, Ali Sulit’s journey into the grappling sports came a long way. From winning the UAAP, he became a five-time national judo champion and a silver medalist in the Southeast Asian Games judo championship. During his competitive years in jiu-jitsu, Sulit bagged a lot of golds in the Pan Asian Championships, The Philippine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu International Open, The Philippine National Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships, The Bangkok Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships, Copa de Hongkong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships, The Asian Open Jiu-jitsu Championships, and many more competitions under different banners. He is the youngest judoka in the whole country to hold a rank of 5th degree black belt. Currently the president of the National Capital Region Judo Association, The vice president of the Philippine Judo Association, the sports director for the Philippine Judo Federation. In Ateneo De Manila University, he is the program head of the Ateneo University Athletics Office where he is the overall coach of judo teams.
The Team Atos, which is based in Ateneo is not just a sport program where students can learn the methodologies and principles of the grappling arts. This team follows the values of traditional martial arts, respect, honor, discipline, and compassion.
“Mumbakki” Daniel Foronda is an MMA champion and a Filipino martial arts expert. He is currently based in Russia where he is a combat tactical trainer to the country’s Military Special Forces.