The Man Who Lives With A Bullet In His Spine

 

Upon meeting Alvin for the first time in a dim bar in Taguig, he didn’t look like the Father of Philippine Mixed Martial Arts, or the President of Philippine Wrestling, or the first Southeast Asian Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt. His presence was more down-to-earth, turning up with a shy smile and observant eyes. If you haven’t heard of him in the news or on TV, it wouldn’t even cross your mind that he can knock the lights out of you in mere seconds.

This isn’t a classic story of pain being turned into power. Alvin Arthur Aguilar was already fighting long before he knew what it actually meant. 34 years later, he has changed the Mixed Martial Arts scene in the Philippines forever.

Alvin is a native of Bacolod but he grew up and lived in Manila. He was quite the hyperactive child and always moved about, which he admits, made him quite the handful to bring up. He was that kid in class who played with hermit crabs under his desk rather than listen to the teacher.

From a very young age, Alvin was drawn to all the action he’d see on TV and on the movies. After getting into his very first fight, he immediately knew it was what he wanted. “I loved the action, adrenaline, and the high feeling it gave me. I only excelled in it because I devoted everything I had into getting better.”

Growing up, he learned so much about how to get things done and striving hard to achieve your goals from his father. Who, in his own words, is a “super-achiever in anything he does”. His mother devoted every second of her life to raising him and his sister. “I was able to get through everything and achieve everything in life because I had such supportive parents.”

By the time he was in college at De La Salle University, he knew that he wanted to fight or be around fighting. He confessed that the high fighting gives him is unlike anything else and that only those who have competed at high levels will understand exactly how it feels. In 1994, he flew to the California to train under the Gracie family, one of the most prominent families in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, whose name is practically synonymous to the sport.

He laughs when asked if he’s been into any trouble in his life. “I've been in at least a hundred street fights. Being the leader of both your frat and a martial arts group in the 90's was a sure way to attract trouble.” He had been beaten with fists and knees, hit by sticks and bats, and received multiple wounds from stabs. Most controversially perhaps, was an episode almost 15 years ago, when he was shot three times by an M-16, two of which made exit wounds. One bullet is still an unwelcome visitor right in his spine to this day. His close brush with death left him with hundreds of stitches but more unfortunately, his cousin, who was with him during the encounter, lost his life. As Alvin recounts:

“When I got to the hospital, all their attention was on the person next to me. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. There were doctors trying to resuscitate him.

I hope that’s not gonna be me.

Then I heard them say, What’s the name of the deceased? What’s the time of death?

Deceased?! I knew then that the guy’s dead.

When I looked over, I was met with lifeless eyes and a gaping mouth staring back at my bleeding body.

My cousin was dead beside me.”

That was the first and only time that Alvin has lost a loved one because of fighting. While it was a moment of heartbreak, Alvin was thankful not only for being alive but also because of it, he knew then who his real friends were. “I do help people too much but I also hurt people too much if they’re my enemy,” is what he’d say would be the best and worst thing he’s ever heard about himself. “I believe when you have enemies, you have to crush them totally. The thing is, you know, I’ve destroyed a lot of my enemies by making all of them my friends.”

After hundreds of fights underground and hundreds more worth of wounds, Alvin wanted to change the fight scene then which was destroying the martial arts community in the country. He founded the Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) in 2002 and is Southeast Asia's first Mixed Martial Arts league. They have beaten all foreign promotions here in the Philippines in ratings making them not only the biggest, but also the most exciting in Asia. They are now a global brand and will very soon be one of the largest promotions in the world.

“I just knew that if I trained hard and searched for the highest level of instruction, I would be able to produce high level students.” Years after he founded and continuously coaches the now DEFTAC-Ribeiro Jiu-jitsu team, Alvin has singlehandedly produced the most national and international Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu champions in Asia combined. His training facility is rightfully called The Factory of Champions.

Thanks to his father, allowing him to train with the Gracie Family from his late teenage years made him deeply realize that there is always something new to learn. That there will always be countless of methods to improve oneself. “I don't believe there is a ‘master’ of any art as that would mean he would know everything about the art. All arts are infinite in all their possibilities and techniques.” He is constantly going beyond his limits and pushes himself further than the last. “All of my students inspire me when I see how much they have all improved.” 

For Alvin, those who fight needlessly on the streets are ‘idiots’. He’s spent a significant part of his collegiate years literally beating up these types. “Nowadays there are so many tournaments and competitions to join if you want to test yourself.” In the previous decades, fighters didn’t have any choice and went underground to fight. All of these changed when the URCC was established. At this point, Alvin and his team’s efforts have cleaned out most underground fighting and is now being regulated through the URCC.

The BAMF MMA Center is where Alvin trains and conducts his advanced classes everyday. This humble gym in Parañaque used to be barren land covered by trash and dirt. In 2008, Alvin, fueled by his love for fighting, built the gym from scratch. The entrance was small yet welcoming. It didn’t look like the door to a place where countless of bodies are choked and grappled every night, all for the sake of doing what they love and becoming champions in the process. Standing in the huge yellow circle in the middle of the empty mat, you could feel the sensation of hard work and effort emanating from the people who train tirelessly to improve their craft. You could almost hear the grunts and slams of the fighters nailing the perfect pin. (You can actually sign-up there and become one of his students.)

To anyone who wants to learn mixed martial arts or who is already taking them up, Alvin has a piece of advice: “Learn it and enjoy it, as it is an endless and awesome journey. Never use it to impose yourself on others though. Remember we are only strong for a while so we can help other people around us.”

When he’s not on the mat training world champions and international gold medalists, he’s busy picking-up hermit crabs in beaches to bring home to his boys. While he lives a life of fighting, his household is also full of love, from his equally beautiful and strong wife, to his three sons, five dogs, five cats, a tank of hermit crabs, and a bunch of other animals you can (or can’t) imagine as pets. With the coming of his baby girl in the next few weeks, he humorously compares his house to Noah’s Ark.

At 43 years old, Alvin’s thirst to be on the mat all day never changes. While people say that the only thing permanent in this world is change, for Alvin, it is and always will be his remarkable love for the art of fighting. His strength extends far beyond what he’s accomplished in the international arena as his determination will go down history forever as the man who lives with a bullet in his spine, literally fighting to change lives.

Want to walk in the footsteps of champs? Let Alvin lead the way. Mark your calendars now, August 12, for URCC XXX.

Stay tuned to SA’ICHI for parts two and three of the URCC phenomenon. Bakbakan na!

SA'ICHI

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