The Fighting Family of the South

Familia Liberica

The dreary weather and cold seat on the bus from Manila had me rethinking my trip to Familia Liberica in Lipa City, Batangas. I hadn’t met any of these guys before, and I had only heard of them when they competed in the Toughguys Grappling Championship.

The only interaction I had prior to this planned visit was through several short messages with Andrew Mendoza, one of the team’s head coaches.

However, when I finally arrived, it became clear there’s no need for second guessing. The dedication and familial warmth of the team outmatched the cold weather.

Fighting for Hometown Pride
Andrew, along with his brother Mark, had the idea of building a fight team in Lipa City some 12 years ago. As young fighters fueled by passion, their main goal was (and still is) to bring pride to their hometown. They’ve started chasing the dream inside a humble space with rented mats and a handful of students.

Humble beginnings at Familia Liberica's former gym
Humble beginnings at Familia Liberica’s former gym

A stroke of luck landed on their doorstep when a trustworthy partner invited them to put up their own gym. Without second thoughts, they all agreed to a partnership with hopes of pushing their goals further. And, as fate continued to spin the wheel, they met Kyle Silva, who later became the team’s head striking coach, along with seven other fighters, all hailing from Lipa City. With everyone on the same page and believing in one goal, Familia Liberica was born.

Calling it Liberica
Before I alighted the bus on that chilly Sunday morning, I’d jotted down a few questions in my mind, and one of them was about the team’s intriguing name. Fortunately, Andrew explained it easy enough to understand.

The team initially thought of calling themselves Team Barako. Here in the Philippines, Barako is a type of strong coffee bean grown largely in Batangas. Alternatively, it can also mean a male stud oozing with masculinity.

Grappling, striking and setting up the new gym
Grappling, striking and setting up the new house for rapidly growing members

However, the team was reluctant in using “Barako” as it tends to be associated with excessive boldness and arrogance. Instead, they came up with another name similar to it but not as high-sounding, which happened to be Liberica. As Andrew casually recalls, the Barako coffee bean belongs to the plant species Liberica. The team takes pride in its roots in Batangas, without being conceited, so the name got the nod. The Familia bit is obvious enough, and in fact, it’s what struck me most about Familia Liberica. The team consists not just of fighters, but one big fighting family.

Breeding a Family of Champions
At the recent Toughguys Grappling Championship, Familia Liberica came out on top, taking home numerous medals, along with legit bragging rights. While Andrew recalls their journey to Manila for the event, he smiled widely, which made me stop sipping my drink and ask what’s with the grin. He briefly shared the story of how they were just laughing and having a good time for the entire trip and back. He adds that the team’s instructions were simply to stay loose and have fun during the competition.

Well, that turned out to be the best advice as the entire team truly had a good–and winning–time.

The growing Familia Liberica in Lipa City, Batangas
Familia Liberica: Representing the tough fighters from Lipa City, Batangas

Finally, hopping on the bus home, I came back humbled and sold that the trip was every bit worth it. This visit to Lipa City marks the first gym I visited outside Manila, and with the experience Familia Liberica gave me, I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.

See what’s happening at the Family’s house directly on their page.

Don Gaoiran

Rabble-rouser at Dojo Drifter
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