Martial arts training as therapy

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
Martial arts training as therapy
The stuntmen in Erwin’s team.
STAR / File

More than just training for Topakk, a movie being produced by MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) instructor/fight-sequence director Erwin Tagle set to start shooting on March 23 (a Tuesday), JM de Guzman and Sid Lucero claimed that it’s also a therapy.

“It’s not just for fitness,” JM told Funfare in a phone interview, “it’s also for therapy. It helps keep the endorphins and the happy hormones up para hindi ma-depressed.”

“I was into substances (yes, plural!),” admitted Sid. “Seven years ago, Erwin pulled me out of my old social circle and I just quit everything when I started training under him. Since I began regularly training in November last year, I have lost 35 pounds. From 185 lbs., I am now down to 150.”

JM and Sid were interviewed during a break from working out at Erwin’s studio in Metro Walk, equipped with padded floors and walls wrapped in rubber. They trust Erwin to keep them fit physically and mentally, for a time grappling with mental-health issues.

Topakk stars JM de Guzman  and Sid Lucero draw from their experience in portraying their roles. At center is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) instructor/fight-sequence coordinator-director Erwin Tagle, producer of the movie.

“Hindi biro ang mental issues,” confessed JM (who has undergone drug rehab). “It’s very painful, very hard. That’s why I volunteered to be a co-producer of the movie to make people aware of this reality. It has become my advocacy. The point is to continue fighting, move forward, and not get stuck in (addiction).”

“The best thing about this movie is its thrust of making people aware of the dangers of drug addiction,” agreed Sid who, like JM, has been there and done that. “People in authority should realize that addiction is not a crime, it’s a mental-health problem.”

In Topakk, JM plays an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to war shock. It’s a role right down JM’s alley.

Explained JM, who is a Philippine Air Force reservist sergeant, “My character is trying to lead a new life when he meets old friends na katulad niyang may topak and they clash.”

Sid described his part as two characters rolled into one, “one gets affected and the other one becomes a psychopath. Both are called may topak.”

They are both comfortable and at-home with Erwin.

“Bata pa ko idol ko na siya,” claimed JM. “He was already my idol even before we met, from the time he was competing in MMA tournaments. I love his style — aggressive, technical at malinis lumaban.”

“I have known Erwin since I was in high school,” shared Sid. “He’s the best friend of my brother Gabby (Eigenmann). I work out with him in my free time. Before long, I was already competing in jiu jitsu. Erwin helped me drop my bad habits. I’m always available as speaker in his drug-related seminars.”

Know more about Topakk

The action-filled thriller focuses on mental health awareness, written and directed by Richard Somes. It is a collaboration of Richard and JM intended to raise the standards of Filipino action films, comparable to those of the United States, Japan and other countries.

Erwin is the son of art impresario/concert producer Elizabeth Sison Tagle and artist Ernie Tagle. He has served as fight director of Sam Milby and Eugene Domingo in Kimmy Dora, Ang Kiyemeng prequel, and was the over-all fight-sequence coordinator for Star Cinema’s Kid Kulafu, the Manny Pacquiao bioflick in which Buboy Villar played the young Manny.

“We trained Buboy in partner-drill. We concentrated on the Pacquiao footwork and his ‘killer’ left which was very obvious during his early years.” Erwin said.

Other celebrities who have benefited from Erwin’s fight direction include Liza Soberano, Yassi Pressman, Nadine Lustre, Ryza Cenon and Vice Ganda, besides Sid and JM.

Before the pandemic, Erwin was the local stunt director for the 10-part US series Almost Paradise which was shot in the Philippines and set for airing in the country soon. Shot in the Philippines, the series was produced by Fil-Am Dean Devlin and line-produced by ABS-CBN with a reported budget of $55 million. The cast includes Filipino actors and actresses.

Erwin started dabbling in martial arts (boxing and Muay Thai) more than 10 years ago.

“I love to compete,” he told Funfare. “Fighting is the highest level of competition. When a worthy opponent goes all out, in the heat of a competitive situation or event, you learn to dig deep and discover reserves you never knew existed. Your opponent gives you the distinct opportunity to learn valuable lessons. And that’s why, after every bout, fighters thank their opponents.”

Through Topakk, Erwin hopes to strengthen his advocacy of giving value, importance and livelihood to Filipino stuntmen, long-maligned and belittled. He is very vocal about the cause of stuntmen and has partnered with LGU chief executives such as Mayor Lenlen Oreta of Malabon and Mayor Lino Cayetano of Taguig, and soon with Vice Mayor Gian Sotto of Quezon City, to be able to provide the jobless stuntmen with a means of livelihood.

He has thus taken a small step towards improving the lives of Filipino stuntmen, who are essential to action movies, during this time of the pandemic. Already he has secured the help of FDCP chairman Liza Diño-Seguerra, who is sympathetic to his cause.

On this subject, he bewails the inaction of certain people in high elective offices who, if they wished to, could alleviate the plight of the stuntmen.

Topakk, which provides stuntmen with much-needed jobs, is another step towards Erwin’s goal.

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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