While flicking through fun things to do in Asia I floated the idea of learning some martial arts. After all, with all that Ong Bak and Ip Man running through my head, how could I resist?
The first genius idea that popped into my head was to join a Muay Thai camp in Thailand, spending the afternoons punching pads and getting kicked in the head and spending the evenings chowing down delicious Thai food on a secluded beach somewhere. After some Googling, I was already convinced this was the best idea ever and was in the process of booking my ticket when I learned of a place called Legacy Gym, a new MMA gym on the Filipino island of Boracay.
I had never been to The Philippines and didn’t know much about the country at all, which in itself was a great reason to go there, but the island of Boracay just didn’t sound like a good fit. Party island. Lots of tourists. Lots of bars. Lots of passed out Aussies who can’t handle their booze. I had envisioned a quiet, secluded place where I could revive myself in a Mr Miyagi like environment, and Boracay certainly wasn’t it. However, after reading about it I was intrigued. Here was this tiny island that was raved about online, winning award after award for best beach on the planet. I just had to see it for myself.
It only took a few days for me to fall in love with the place. Legacy Gym’s tagline is “Train in Paradise” and I really can’t describe it any better than that. The place is heaven. The culture is so laid back, the people are wonderful and the atmosphere has a soothing energy that makes you never want to leave. It’s incredible that it has somehow retained it’s local charm, despite the huge number of tourists that flood the island each year.
Let me tell you about a day on Boracay. You wake up at 11am and indulge in a hearty Filipino breakfast; eggs, rice, sausages, maybe a soup. It’ll cost you around $3. Then take a seat in one of the many cafes with your Kindle and sip away at a fresh mango shake, looking out over the award winning White Beach. Does it live up to the hype?
Yes, it really does.
At 2pm, it’s time to head to Legacy. Spend the next 4 hours with pro fighters who will push you to get into the best shape of your life, while the Boracay heat causes you to uncontrollably sweat your demons away.
Once training is over it’s time to walk back to your room under the amazing Boracay sunset, the floury white sand beneath you to soothe your aching feet.
Then to soothe the rest of your body, get a traditional Filipino ‘Hilot’ massage for $8, lying just a few metres from the ocean.
Once that’s out of the way head to one of the beach bars and order yourself a gin and tonic. Sit back and enjoy a live acoustic set, dip your bruised toes in the sand, smoke a mint sheesha and relax the night away.
Go to sleep, wake up, and repeat.
If that’s not paradise, I don’t know what is!
Training at Legacy
Let me start off by saying you don’t need to be a “fighter” to train here. The closest I’ve ever been to a fight is when I used to try out Tekken moves in my bedroom when I was 10. The gym is simply a place where you can challenge yourself physically and learn about the many martial arts disciplines, which I must say, are fascinating.
The gym is nestled amongst a quiet Filipino village, surrounded by bamboo fencing and reminiscent of a dramatic training scene out of Kickboxer. From up here there’s a great view overlooking the island. It really is like training in paradise!
The gym is founded and run by Ole Laursen, a pro MMA fighter and central figure on the Asian MMA circuit. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into putting this place together and I was pleasantly surprised at the completeness of the facilities. There’s accommodation on site, consisting of private bamboo cabins up above the boxing ring. That’s where I stayed for the first week.
Every day there were 2 boxing sessions (8am and 3pm) and I usually went to at least one of them.
I’ve never boxed before, so this was a little new to me. However I have the whole Rocky collection at home which I’ve watched a fair share of times so I was extremely well prepared, in fact I was sure I was going to secretly end up being the star of the class. I lasted a whole twenty minutes before I busted my knuckle and had to box one handed for the rest of the week.
Hey, even world champs get injuries now and then.
Boxing was probably my favourite class out of all of them. When we weren’t on the pads or bags we were doing circuit training which had me breathing pretty heavy and in the Boracay heat I could feel the fat just melting off me. After the class finished the trainers lay us down and got a good 15 minutes of abs out of us. This is the place if you’re looking for a good workout while on Boracay. Beginners are welcomed with open arms – I’ve never taken a boxing class in my life and it was no trouble to just jump right in and start punching.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
I only took 1 jiu jitsu class here; the first I’ve ever taken in my life. Once you get over the fact that you’re hugging and wrapping your legs around another sweaty guy you can learn a lot of cool stuff in this class. The class was taken by Richie, a great teacher who is also a pro MMA fighter. After giving us a crash course in how to guard and then quickly going through the triangle and armbar submissions, he paired us up and let us loose to spar. Damn, I was not confident at all and had no idea what I was doing. Needless to say I got a serious ass whooping and was tap tap tap tap tap the whole time. As hopeless as I was, I loved it. I left with a few basic moves and a much better understanding of what fighters actually do on the ground. Whenever I watch UFC now, I actually recognise and understand some of the movements, which is cool.
I’ve done a few weeks of Muay Thai training back home and so this was the only class where I wasn’t a complete beginner. Zebastian takes the class and is an experienced pro Muay Thai and MMA fighter.
After the first few sessions Zebastian starting getting me in the ring for some light sparring. It was heaps of fun. The only problem is the dude is huge and his legs are so damn heavy that just a little tap on your thigh leaves nice tender bruises to help you along on your walk home.
In his words: “I’m not trying to hurt you, I’m trying to teach you that you need to block.”
It was this kind of teaching style that made me really enjoy his classes, and he taught us a lot of techniques and combos that you see him actually use in his real fights. He also taught us a cool jumping kick which I wasted no time in trying out as soon as sparring time came around. Being the gifted fighter that I am I landed super awkwardly and heard the beautiful sound of a rip through my ankle.
I’m sure my technique was perfect, the floor was just a bit slippery that day…
Strength and conditioning
For me this was definitely the hardest session of all of them. Strength and conditioning is twice a week and takes place out on the picturesque White Beach which might have the clearest ocean you’ve ever seen. However during Richie’s session you won’t be admiring the water but rather battling to get oxygen to your brain to stop yourself from passing out. The class starts at 8am before the sun has fully risen and the beach hasn’t crowded up.
On my first day Richie and I are the only ones there so we get to it. We head out to a small patch of sand that sits about 5 metres offshore at low tide. I take a look back along the beach and admire the early morning seascape. White sand for miles, a neverending sparkling ocean and a cloudless blue sky to watch over it all. It really does look incredible.
Today we’re doing shuttle runs. We mark out 15 or so lines 1 metre apart and get started. Sprint there, jog back. Sprint there, jog back. I feel my body struggling early on as I’m still half asleep at this hour of the morning. Before long Boracay’s scorching sun slowly starts to come out. We’re only halfway through and now the relentless Boracay sun is hitting me right on the face, I’m shrivelling up from sweating so much and I can feel my legs about to collapse under me at any minute. Yet Richie seems to be just Sunday strolling along like it’s his usual morning jog. I plod foot after foot and it’s now changed from sprint there jog back to jog there, stumble back. Running on sand f***ing sucks and I can hear my calves screaming at me, begging for mercy. Around this time we’ve probably been running 20 minutes but for me it feels like an eternity. Finally I find myself at the last couple of lines which serves as a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Just…a…few…more………..steps. The stubborn voice in my head constantly taunts me not to give up and embarrass myself at my first session, and with every kilojoule inside of me I finally manage to crawl over the final line. My legs turn to jelly and I collapse into the ocean, gasping for oxygen and swallowing a few gallons of sea water in the process.
After a good 30 seconds of catching my breath, Richie looks at me and goes, “Ready?”
“For what?” I ask.
“We got one more set. Let’s go.”
After 4.5 weeks at Legacy I was probably in the best shape of my life. I shed so much body fat and was fit, toned and feeling amazing, despite being injured a couple of times and missing around 10 days of training in total.
I used to train 2 classes per day, usually a boxing class and a Muay Thai or MMA class. That worked out to 4 hours daily, and with a 20 minute jog to the gym and back it really got the body working. It’ll also make you feel better about knocking down some beers on the beach at night.
As for my fighting skills, I think I’ll leave that stuff to the pros 🙂
I know this may sound airy fairy, I’m reluctant to even write it, actually, but one thing I learned here was that martial arts is really good for the soul. Fighting often gets a bad rep because it’s associated with hurting people. I don’t see it that way. Everyone is frustrated about something in their life. When I was an office dweller, I felt like I was forced me to lie to myself, to be someone different to who I really was. An environment like Legacy provided an outlet for me to just express myself. Whatever you’re feeling, whether it be anger, focus, or calm, you can express it through fighting. Think about the things that are bothering you and just beat the hell out of the bag. Or really focus and try and master the techniques that are being taught to you. Hit the bag as hard or as soft as you want. Push yourself until you’re about to puke, or just relax, watch and learn. I’m not a fighter by any means, but that gym was a place for me to just be raw and uninhibited, yet still disciplined, all the while bettering myself physically and emotionally. I really felt like a different person by the time I left.
I remember Bruce Lee once said in an interview, “Ultimately, martial arts is about expressing oneself honestly.”
At the time I just thought, what the f*ck does that mean? Isn’t martial arts just about whooping someone else’s ass? However when I watch that interview now, it makes a whole lot more sense to me.
Details for training at Legacy Gym:
The gym is located about 5 minutes walk from Diniwid beach, a little way out from the main tourist strip, which is probably a good thing because it weeds out the photo tourists and keeps the classes to people who actually want to learn. From the main strip it’s around a half hour walk, otherwise a trike will get you there in 5!
The only downside with living at the gym is the eating options are a little limited in that area. I stayed at the gym for a week and then later moved to a small hotel room on White Beach. If you’re on a tight budget, staying at the gym is a great option (it’s around $75 a week). However if your wallet is a little fatter and you want to be closer to the action, you might prefer to stay around Station 1 or 2. Still not too far from the gym and a lot more stuff to eat and do.
When I was there we had girls, old dudes and even some kids in the class, quite a few of them beginners, but everyone had fun and took the lessons seriously which was the main thing. The trainers here are all pro fighters and some pro fighters prepare for fights here too, but everyone is welcoming to beginners who have never thrown a punch before, as long as you’re taking it seriously and not wasting their time.
If you’re looking for something different, healthy, challenging and probably a little out of your comfort zone, I’d highly recommend heading down and trying out a class. Learn to punch and kick a bag, then some pads, and maybe end up sparring a little if you’re ready. I’m sure you’ll love it!
For full details, check out their website here.
Heading to the Philippines?
- If you’re looking for affordable accommodation in the Philippines, I highly recommend using Agoda. You won’t find better prices elsewhere.
- For reliable and fuss-free travel insurance, I always book with World Nomads.
- For more useful websites for cheap flights, accommodation and more, you can check out my Resources page.
Note: This is a personal review and I paid for my training camp in full. Read my disclosure policy here.