For a fighter, Sensei Artemio Mancol has what one might call a deceptively vulnerable figure. Standing at just a mite over five feet—and admittedly without much discernible brawn—Mancol, 40, does not exactly put the fear of God into your heart at first glance.
As you can imagine, this strain of misapprehension was a problem for Mancol in his youth. He knew that he wouldn’t allow himself to be pushed around, his small built notwithstanding. And so, as a boy of nine, Mancol resolved that he would grow to be a fighting man. I wasn’t a troublemaker, he recalls in Filipino, but I knew even then that if push came to shove, I would never back down.
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Fate worked in Mancol’s favor when he found himself under the auspices of Sensei Victor Canon, a teacher of Shotokan, a sub-style of Karate focusing on punches, hand and elbow strikes, and knee strikes. In Karate, Mancol discovered a way to better himself, a way to anchor a confidence that he, a son of a humble construction worker and a washerwoman, had never before possessed.
“Normal lang sa sarili ko na lumalaban ako,” Mancol says. “[Pero] isa ‘yong karate na nakita ko pa para i-express yung sarili ko. Isa rin ang karate na nakapagpabago sa sistema ng kaisipan ko. ’Yong training ng competition na sinasalihan ang nagbigay ng mas malalim na idea kung bakit ako lumalaban.”
Full contact fighting
A decade later, after having bested his share of bigger, taller men in sports, Mancol came upon opportunity to share this discovery to children, kids he felt needed the gifts of Karate more than he ever did.
This came with the introduction of Kyokushin Karate to the Philippines. In September 1997, Shihan Steven Foo, global partnership director of the International Karate Alliance, founded Kyokushin Karate-do Philippines, a non-profit organization that endeavors to promote martial arts to the needy and less fortunate.
Mancol began as an instructor, who, at the time, was also just getting acquainted to the fighting style.
“Noong magka-anak ako, aside sa income ko sa trabaho, kailangan ko ng extra income kaya naghanap ako ng ibang way,” Mancol, now a father of five, says. “Nakita ko yung opportunity sa pagtuturo. Noong time na yon, part-time lang. Noong 1997, nagshi-shift kami pa from sport karate to full contact karate.”
Kyokushin Karate is distinct among other types of Karate for its intense full contact style. This means participants are not to wear protective gear during competition. It was founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama, a Korean-Japanese karate master and former aviator, and has since expanded to 120 countries with over 12 million practitioners globally.
In 2019, Mancol finds himself in a unique position to share this fighting style to Filipinos. Currently, Mancol sits as the country director for Kyokushin Karate-do Philippines, which currently has 16 branches throughout the country. He had been given the reins by Shihan Steven Foo himself in 2018. Since then, his goal has been to drum up support from both the public and our government.
With this in mind, Kyokushin Karate-do Philippines organized and held last December 7 the 1st Euro-Asia Kyokushinryu Full-Contact Karate Tournament in Antipolo. It gathered 300 fighters from 14 countries—a decidedly tall logistical task for any organization. And yet, with Mancol at the helm, the tournament ended as a success; the leader was naturally elated.
“‘Yong tipong, na-achieve mo yung isang bagay na hindi naman pangkaraniwang ginagawa,” Mancol says. “Ang hirap mag-organize ng international event, ‘yong preparation ang mabigat eh, ‘yong three months kang nag-prepare, coordination sa mga fighter, training sa mga fighter ng Philippines, coordination sa mga branches.”
The tournament is only the latest in the organization’s efforts to invite people to take up Kyokushin. Since its formation, Kyokushin Karate-do Philippines has sought to forge partnerships with local governments to be able to teach the fighting style for free.
Mancol has been unflagging in his efforts to formalize these proposals with LGUs. But unceremoniously, these proposals have so far all been dismissed—with the exception of Antipolo, which has already put in place a program that includes Kyokushin Karate.
“Ang tagal ko na nagtuturo, ’yong mga branch namin all over the country, wala akong nami-meet na support from local government. Sa Antipolo lang. Bilang country director, ang kaya ko lang gawin is magbigay ng information sa branches, magbigay ng advice kung ano man kailangan nila, proposal letter, designs, from here sa central office,” Mancol shares.
Mancol adds that, perhaps because of years of strenuous physical training, he has learned to be persistent with his duties. He says that for every tournament they hold, he would, without fail, produce a proposal letter and deliver it himself to the city hall—to ask for help with venues, trophies, and other tournament concerns—all for it to be met with dismissal.
But then there is the challenge of having to send fighters abroad, which Kyokushin Karate-do Philippines does regularly at their own expense. Next year, Mancol intends on sending the winners of the Euro-Asia tournament for an international competition in Singapore. His struggle remains the same: an absence in government support—and all the while we share one flag, Mancol observes.
But notwithstanding present hurdles, the determined country chief is well aware of the merits of his organization. That Kyokushin can encourage a child of whatever background to apply himself in a sport—as he once did as a boy of nine—is enough for Mancol to keep his faith that, one day soon, the rest of the country may pay closer attention.
The proposal letters, he assures, will continue to be written.