Some say that a good team is like a well-oiled machine, flawlessly operating without any problems. At times, it’s not just about having the most popular engine; with the right care and support, certain engines will run smoothly, regardless of its parts.
The same can be said for coaches and their impact on their teams. Having a mentor who can balance the right amount of care and discipline while at the same time serve as the pillar for his students, no matter their skillset, can lead a team to greater heights.
Fortunately for Lasallians, DLSU’s long history of excellence in the field of sports is not just rooted in having the premier athletes represent the Green-and-White, as many great mentors have helped lead them to victory. Roberto “Kitoy” Cruz and John Paul “Japoy” Lizardo are among those excellent individuals. Regarded as two of the most decorated practitioners in Philippine taekwondo history, Cruz and Lizardo are currently the DLSU Taekwondo varsity team’s head coach and assistant coach, respectively.
A legend in his own right
Unbeknownst to many, Cruz was making waves in the combat sport way before the emergence of Lizardo.
Currently both the Green Jins and Lady Jins’ primary mentor, Kitoy’s achievements go far beyond his coaching days as he enjoys the distinction of being the country’s most prolific Taekwondo medalist. Among the awards he garnered in almost three decades of competitive practice in the Finweight division were five consecutive podium finishes in the World Taekwondo Championships where he bagged three silver medals, the most for any Filipino, and two bronze medals; podium finishes in the biennial Asian Championships highlighted by a gold medal in 1999 after settling for silver and bronze in the prior tournaments; and six gold medals in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in a span of 10 years, from 1991 to 2001.
According to his Taekwondo Data Person-ID from taekwondodata.com, Cruz has participated in 17 international tournaments, winning 34 out his total 50 matches. Moreover, Cruz is ranked an impressive 45th on the list of all international fighters with 497 points.
The ‘Milo’ boy
Perhaps every young kid who drank Milo back in the day would remember Lizardo as one of the faces of the country’s most popular chocolate milk drink. He went on to become a Philippine Taekwondo icon but more importantly, he served as a role model for young Filipino athletes that had big dreams.
“Pinili ko La Salle kasi yung coach namin nung Junior National Team, siya rin coach ng La Salle, si Stephen Fernandez,” Lizardo said on his decision to play for the Green-and-White back in 2003.
As with his mentor, Lizardo’s accolades came from competing in the Finweight and at times Flyweight divisions, where he won a silver and gold medal during the SEA Games, three silvers and a bronze in the Asian Championships, and finally a bronze while competing in the Asian Games.
Having participated in 14 international tournaments, Lizardo has been in 27 registered fights, 14 of which he won, giving him a 51.9 winning percentage. With 168 points, Lizardo ranks 615th out of all international fighters according to his Taekwondo Data Person-ID.
Student turned teacher
After years of competing internationally, Lizardo made a decision to go back to his alma mater, a move he always dreamt of. “Sakin naman ever since, sinabi ko sa sarili ko, after ko mag graduate, gusto ko talaga bumalik sa La Salle. Gusto ko ma-impart yung skills, experience, [and] techniques sa mga players,” said Lizardo, who made his debut as an assistant coach last October in the UAAP Season 78 Taekwondo Championship.
Come tournament day, the rookie coach was seen at the sidelines, having been entrusted with the responsibility of coaching the players during matches. “Ah grabe, medyo nakakapressure din,” Lizardo said during the recently concluded tournament where La Salle finished third in all divisions. “Pero next year, alam na natin mga mistakes, so magkakaroon na tayo ng mga adjustments.”
Interestingly, Lizardo was once a student of Cruz back in his UAAP days as an assistant coach for La Salle. “Ah si sir Kits, mabilis lang kame mag-kaintindihan niyan. Minsan isang tingin lang alam na namin kung ano papagawa sa player kasi si sir Kits siya rin naging coach ko sa La Salle and sa National Team. So medyo kabisado na namin isa’t-isa,” Lizardo explained on his relationship with his former mentor and now co-worker.
On another note, it was both a step forward and backward for the DLSU Jins in the recently concluded UAAP Season 78 Taekwondo Competition. Ending last year in fourth place, the Green Jins managed to return to the podium after securing third place, with Kyle Arsenal taking the Rookie of the Year honors. Meanwhile, the Lady Jins fell to third place after a runner-up finish last season. Moreover, La Salle’s Poomsae team also dropped in the standings, placing third.
Despite the bronze finish for all categories, a podium finish with a rookie-laden squad is still something to be proud of. Come UAAP Season 79, this year’s rookies will begin next season as veterans that would already have a feel of the league’s competitive nature. That same squad will now try to improve from their bronze finishes and what better way to make that a reality than having two of the country’s best taekwondo mentors at your side.