Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Two Decade Dream: Brawler's Lab at Brgy. Karuhatan, Valenzuela City

"Never stop believing that you can fulfill your dreams." - Jose Aldo, MMA 

Twenty years in the making. That's how long Brawler's Lab has to go through to be the facility that it is today. "Ang tagal, di ba?",  Gabay Forlales said during One Valenzuela's visit at the gym which can be conveniently found along MacArthur Highway. He narrated that Brawler's Lab opened on 2014 in a 70-square meter space at Barangay Marulas before being in its current capacious location in Karuhatan. But its vision has been conceptualized and dreamt of way back in the 1990s.

The facility's realization did not come as easy as most people would assume. Gabay, who is a licensed Mixed Martial Arts judge and trainer under the Games Amusement Board (GAB) expressed that "Some didn't accept that there is a possibility that a multiple of disciplines can be synthesized into one thing that actually works together which can become effective when it comes to sports fighting". But as they say, beautiful life works eventually have their breaks. Through time, many of his students trusted in the concept which helped him spread the word.

Gabay Forlales (L) prepares for a training with a student. Brawler's Lab is the first and only dedicated martial arts and functional training facility in Valenzuela City.
Photo Credit: All photos are by LC Santos Acharon, unless otherwise stated.

Gabay Forlales hails from a family with two karate black belters but it did not occur to him readily that he will also travail the same path. He was supposed to pay his tuition during college enrolment when the unexpected happened: somebody tried to rob him. "Sa underpass ng Lawton, madilim na madilim yun dati eh... I was walking at the underpass papunta akong school. May nakita akong lalaki na sumunod sa akin. For some reason, I just felt off. Ang ginawa ko, pababa palang, I was running already. Pagtingin ko sa kanya, he was running towards me and he was holding something. Takbo talaga ako, because I have money to pay for my tuition... sa stairs to my right, may nakita akong jeep na hinabol ko at sumabit ako dahil takot na takot akong maholdap. Natakbuhan ko naman siya. Ang naging problema, since hindi naman ako noon nagbibyahe talaga, nadala ako ng dyip papuntang Divisoria which I don't know. There I looked for a way papaano ako makakauwi... That incident became the trigger that I don't want to have the same feeling of helplessness again," Gabay recalled his college days. He eventually realized that he wants to defend himself when such instances occur again in the future. At the very least, be composed in such situations - not to panic and do something about it. Thus when he went back to school the very next day, he changed his PE class from basketball to Wonhwado, a Korean martial arts class. From there, he took more classes - arnis, judo, and taekwondo.

Gabay Forlales of Brawler's Lab
Video Credit: Brawler's Lab

He also looked for an aikido school along U.N. Avenue, having sensei Henry as his first teacher. He would also accompany his martial arts teachers in their sessions, assisting them in their classes. He enjoyed doing it and passing on the learning which made him the coach that he is today. Recalling the film Dead Poets Society, he says that he liked the impact that the teacher made to his students in the said film. "Gusto kong magturo. I would like to have the same impact to my students. To change lives. I wanted to share what I know. If you are a coach you can be a big impact talaga eh, especially if you know how to. Especially if you show enough that you care. " Gabay added.

Glaiza De Castro trains at Brawler's Lab. She gets personal training here together with kickboxing and cage fitness classes.

He was also invited to come to Malaysia to teach. "Yung regular sessions na ginagawa ko dito sa Pilipinas, they consider it as a seminar there...Mabusisi raw akong magturo and I can actually make them understand it. Sabi ko, if these people can appreciate what I do, sabi ko, bakit hindi sa lugar ko? Paano kung Pinoy pa? Walang language barrier." He eventually opened the idea to his students who supported it and invested on it. Its original concept is a self-defense gym, not a sports gym or an MMA gym, which will empower people to be safe, with fitness on the sideline. From a small space of 70 square meter, they transferred to a larger location due to demand.

Fighters from different places then came to the facility who became part of the team while some would also ask him to prepare them in their upcoming fights. "Those people who are already here really do improve, others see it. From there the reputation came that we are doing something right here in Valenzuela," Gabay said. The very first tournament that they participated in is a Bulgarian Open Submission Wrestling. It is an international event. "Funny thing is, sinabi sa amin ay may novice division...We participated dahil may novice. Pagdating namin doon [sa location], wala palang novice. So my students who are training for three months competed against others who are competing for two years already with an Iranian coach. Underdog kami. There, we got two silver medals. Not bad, considering they are beginners." The students competed with their hearts out.

Mark Daniel Togonon of Barangay Karuhatan has won consistently in tournaments under the training of Coach Gabay Forlales. Photo Credit: Mark Daniel Togonon on Facebook.

Brawler's Lab has been there for its students and many of them are already reaping achievements. Mark Daniel Togonon of Barangay Karuhatan started in Brawler's Lab when he was just 14 years old. Togonon already won in five big tournaments where even foreigners compete: he grabbed gold medals in two Pan Asia Pacific tournaments and in one Philippine Nationals Trials; a silver medal in the  Philippine International Open; and a bronze in the Philippine International Open. With the wrestling programs all set, Gabay sees that Valenzuela City may have a Palarong Pambansa champion, especially if support comes along the way to students like Mark Daniel Togonon. To add, Kathleen Eula, another student of Brawler's Lab, placed third in the 18-34 age division of the Test of Will competition by Underarmour (See results here).

Brawler's Lab is the first facility center to bring Cage Fitness in the Philippines.
This elevates the MMA-inspired fitness training in the country.
Video Credit: Brawler's Lab

Other than the personal training that the gym offers, its flag carrier is the Cage Fitness program. It is a US-based fitness program where Gabay Forlales is the very first licensed coach in the Philippines. The program was developed by former mixed martial arts fighter, Matt Hughes,  and trainer, Kai Fusser M.S. It mimics MMA fighting which makes the practitioner safe because all the techniques like punching, kicking, and lifting are done on cage fit bags. 

Form. Function. Fitness.

There are also classes on: Boxing, Kickboxing (Muay Thai), Brazillian Jiu-jujitsu, Submission Wrestlings, High-Intensity Interval Training, and Flashpoint Circuit training.  Just this July, Brawler's Lab launched its Fitness Kickboxing class - which is different from Muay Thai because the latter focuses on the skills to fight and compete while Fitness Kickboxing is more on general fitness using the moves of Muay Thai. Each client has a personalized punching bag for this with a coach to guide them.

Training equipment at Brawler's Lab

Ending the conversation, people would ask "Why do you always mention Brawler's Lab - Valenzuela? May iba pa bang branch?". Gabay Forlales would say "None, only in Valenzuela City." Then they would further ask, "Why mention Valenzuela?" to which he would answer, "Dahil proud akong maging Valenzuelano". Thinking about it, the city is indeed blessed to have such outstanding people and to have a good facility that is Brawler's Lab.

Brawler's Lab
Address: 203 Juan Reyes Street, MacArthur Highway, Brgy. Karuhatan, Valenzuela City
(Landmarks: Building across Novo; Above Calle Cafe)
Gym Hours: Monday to Friday- 9:00am to 10:00pm
                     Saturdays - 9:00am to 8:00pm
                     Sundays - 9:00am to 12:00mn
Visit their Facebook Page here for updates.

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