John Paul Lizardo, Japoy to friends and family, appears on the cover of Sports Digest with Janice Lagman slung over his shoulder. Japoy flexes his biceps (muscled arm fully covered by his taekwondo uniform) and makes a goofy, faux-macho face while Janice flashes a grin. It all comes with a pun-y tagline that says “Let love kick in”. Love kicked in over the Holy Week, when the couple got engaged while vacationing in Baler.
Japoy and Janice are two of the most recognizable taekwondo jins in the country, accomplished in sparring and poomsae, respectively. Sparring involves contact with an actual opponent, hence the need for protective gear and regulations. Poomsae, on the other hand, has to do with sparring with an imaginary opponent and executing taekwondo moves in excellent form. While sparring emphasizes mobility, poomsae emphasizes stability and form.
The couple has also had considerable media exposure. As a former Milo kid, Japoy endorsed the powdered drink and starred in various TV commercials. He hosted “Pinoy Sports Idols” and did guest appearances for a number of noontime variety shows.
Now 28 years old, he has a great number of medals under his black belt. He says, “My first sport was actually swimming then I shifted to basketball. My dad taught me how to swim and play ball. I became part of the basketball varsity team in our school.”
“But when I was in fifth grade, they had to stop the basketball program for some reason. That time, I was also a fan of martial arts. I used to watch Bruce Lee movies. Then one time I saw some students practicing taekwondo in our school. I tried it, and the rest was history.”
As for the highlights of his taekwondo career, Japoy says, “I was able to represent the country in international competitions, get into the national team, and meet Janice.” He has traveled all over the continent to train and compete in the Asian Taekwondo Championships and the Asian Games, among many other prestigious competitions, and is one of the most famous Filipino taekwondo jins around today.
Janice is no pushover either. She won the gold medal for poomsae taekwondo at the Southeast Asian Games twice. She was part of the three-member team that won the gold at the 2009 World Poomsae Championship; she posed with them, a la Charlie’s Angels, for another Sports Digest cover. A perfect example of beauty, brain and brawns, ABS-CBN has listed this taekwondo champ and registered nurse as one of the most beautiful athletes in the country.
She says, “I started in 2000 and was just influenced by my cousins to join one of their trainings. I actually enjoyed it, and never stopped.” On top of her successful run at world competitions, she says passing her black belt promotion test was another highlight in her taekwondo career.
However, training remains difficult and challenging despite the celebrity that comes with being taekwondo champions. Janice says that she stuck with it because it’s her passion. “I just love the sport and learning so many values that you can use in your everyday life.”
Japoy, for his part, says, “My family kept me going, and so did my dream to represent our country in international competitions.”
The pair plays down all the attention. Janice says, “We just see ourselves as models – we inspire other taekwondo players on how to be successful in our field.”
Taking stock of their careers may make you wonder if there’s anything else left to achieve. Japoy and Janice are about to take on the challenge of running their own school. They opened J&J Taekwondo Summer Program in March 2015 at Celebrity Sports Club, Quezon City. They’ve only promoted the program on social media but public response has been overwhelming, with a large number of people (including popular celebrities) expressing their interest.
“We opened J&J Taekwondo to help propagate the sport and of course to help kids become champions, not only in taekwondo, but also in life,” Japoy says. “The goals of the program are to develop future champions – to instill discipline and to develop the right attitude [in our students].”
Aside from the couple’s star power and credibility as martial artists, taekwondo itself comes with a lot of benefits, particularly with discipline and self-defense. Janice also says that taekwondo helps practitioners stay “physically and emotionally fit.”
“There are many perks if you get into taekwondo, not only for self-defense, but you can also learn many values,” Japoy says. Taekwondo is known to strengthen the body and improve physical coordination. Its practitioners also learn to become more disciplined as they comply with a strict but beneficial training plan. In strengthening the body, taekwondo also strengthens the mind.
He adds that it can open up countless opportunities especially for students. “You can also get a chance to represent your school or even the Philippines in competitions, and get scholarships from prestigious colleges and universities in the Philippines.”
“I think what separates us is that we are updated about the new techniques in taekwondo,” he says. “We are part of the national team’s coaching staff so we know the latest about taekwondo.”
Janice says, “We will make sure that sparring and poomsae will be taught well to all players, they will be good in both,” promising students that they will be well-rounded when it comes to these two disciplines.
Moreover, the number of taekwondo enthusiasts in the country is growing. “Actually, it’s good now,” she continues. “The number of taekwondo players in the Philippines is getting bigger and bigger every year, and also we are excelling internationally [in major competitions].”
Not surprising, since the talent has always existed in the Philippines. It’s only a matter of encouraging people to try taekwondo, hone that talent, and discover the champions that they can become.