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Rica Aquino is both a professional boxer and a violinist
Rica Aquino is both a professional boxer and a violinist | Photo Courtesy of George Buid

Filipina violinist trades strings for boxing gloves

I played violin professionally with the prestigious Manila Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest orchestras in Asia. However, there came a point when I needed change. Yearning for something different, I quit the orchestra and began exploring the world of fighting sports.

Rica Aquino
Interview Subject
Rica Aquino is both a professional boxer and a violinist. She used to play violin for the Manila Symphony Orchestra. Now, she is a freelance violinist who sometimes performs for Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra events and runs her own music school. She also dedicates most of her time to boxing. She loves the sport and apart from being a professional female boxer, she is a sports commentator and boxing promoter. She just won her Bantamweight title on August 7, 2022.
Background Information
The Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines serves as the governing body for amateur boxing in the country. According to a 2021 article, boxing is the second most popular sport in the Philippines next to basketball. Boxers from the Philippines – both male and female – have achieved international recognition. In fact, “eight of the country’s 14 total medals have come in boxing, dating back to José Villanueva’s bronze in the men’s bantamweight category at the 1932 Games.”

PARANAQUE CITY, Philippines — I love the thrill, excitement, and physical competition involved in fighting sports, especially boxing. The visceral aspect of using all of my physical and mental skills captivates me. However, it wasn’t always like this. Before boxing, I played the violin.

Professional violinist in the symphony unleashes her inner warrior

As a young girl, my mother signed me up for violin classes. An artist in her own right, she wanted me to learn art through music. Though a technically difficult instrument, I soon learned to create beautiful music on the violin.

It took me a long time to fall in love with the instrument. My instructor in college taught me to love the violin in a deeper and more meaningful way. I played violin professionally with the prestigious Manila Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest orchestras in Asia. However, there came a point when I needed change.

Yearning for something different, I quit the orchestra and began exploring the world of fighting sports. First, I became a Muay Thai fighter which led me to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I trained with the best MMA team in the Philippines.

Eventually, Coach Florence Ferrer discovered me while I was training with male fighters. Coach Ferrer approached me and asked if I wanted to become a professional boxer.

Rica Aquino’s boxing match on 7 August 2022 | Photo Courtesy of George Buid

I chose boxing out of genuine love and interest; I felt I could be successful. I am half Igorot. The Igorot are indigenous people living in the mountains of Northern Luzon, known for their wars and headhunting. My physical attributes derive from the natural strength and power of the Igorot people. In addition to my natural physical abilities, I work hard and have little fear when it comes to trading blows with another fighter. I rely on my warrior ancestry to succeed.

The thrill of hard work and practice, in pursuit of achieving something very difficult, motivates me in combat sports. I see similarities with learning to play the violin. Much like perfecting my ability to play, boxing requires mental fortitude and dedication. You need to completely commit to it.

The struggle of being a female boxer in the Philippines

Few women box in the Philippines so obtaining fights proved a challenge. I could not get fights in my weight class and skill level. Early on, as a debut fighter, many of my matches were cancelled. I also face challenges obtaining sponsorship – a legitimate issue for many Filipino boxers.

As a boxer, I sacrifice my blood and sweat to be in the ring. Yet, at the end of the day, I lack support from individuals or companies. Despite these challenges, my love for the sport keeps me fighting. You can never fully master boxing, so it becomes a lifelong learning process.

My most recent fight, held on August 7, 2022, came after not competing for three years. I fought in the Bantamweight division. I did not feel 100 percent during the fight because it is not my natural fighting weight class. Though unsatisfied with my performance, I won. This bought takes me closer to my dream of becoming a champion.

Rica Aquino (right) won the Bantamweight bout in Elorde Sports Center on August 7, 2022, her first fight since the start of the Pandemic | Photo Courtesy of George Buid

I maintain a goal to fight the best competitors in my division and achieve hard-earned wins. I do not settle for wins handed down on a silver platter. In the next few months, I intend to work hard and train with my coach and my teammate, Lito Dante, who is the new WBF champion. I need to focus on areas of improvement.

Looking beyond championships to train future boxers

As a boxer, I strive to be the champion, but there is more to the profession than just fighting. People reach out to me on social media, and young kids exist in my community who want to learn boxing. I have a social responsibility to give back. To do this, I teach boxing to “scholars” [children from the village of Dagohoy, near the University of the Philippines].

In the mornings, I work with them at UP, jogging and doing sprints. The project, currently in the experimental phase, could be a long-term opportunity. In addition to my own training and working with the scholars, I do promotional work for Lito Dante, and I serve as a boxing commentator. I also teach violin and give music lessons to Igorot children for free as part of the Montanyosa Project.

Trading strings for boxing gloves | Photo Courtesy of George Buid

In my career I do what I love most – practice boxing, talk about boxing, and analyze boxing. I make a point to stay objective and talk about other boxers in a fair manner because I know how tough it is to be in the ring. These boxers deserve recognition for their hard work.

Seeing female pro boxers who also commentate, such as Seniesa Estrada, excites me and I know my career will evolve further. There is so much to learn, and I am happiest when I am learning and challenging myself constantly.

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George Buid is an independent photographer and journalist based in Metro Manila, Philippines. His work has been published in Stern Crime, Transcontinental Times, InterAksyon, and Deutsche Welle news. He also contributes to the news wire Zuma Press. In addition to writing journalism, George is a self-taught photographer who started his photojournalism career and visual documentary storytelling in 2014. He focuses on capturing stories of everyday individuals, communities, and culture. Occassionally, he also covers science, history, sports, politics, art, and human interest.