Growing up, I was a chunky, non-athletic bookworm that got bullied daily about the size of my ears to the shape of my head. I spent many times on the losing end of numerous childhood scraps. My mom never really liked combat arts but yielded when the bullying started to go from bad to worse. I was enrolled into a local Taekwondo school where I proceeded to train everyday; at one point, playing High School basketball, training, and collapsing day in and day out. Eventually, I made the decision to opt for Basketball because my goal was to play in college some day.
Fast forward to 1993. Out of High School and entering college, my first exposure to BJJ was watching Royce Gracie and the first UFCs. A far cry from what it is today, that UFC imprinted a simple question on me…what would happen if a TKD fighter were attacked by a guy like this. The other Karate Kids in the room and I discussed it all; always ending up that a powerful punch would negate any form of attack (just like we were taught in training). We postulated that since we could break boards, we could shatter ribs. Therefore, our style was better (traditional martial arts thinking)
Fast forward to 1999…I get my first degree TKD black belt and start teaching soon after. BJJ was not even a thought. Afterall, I was a TKD Black Belt. In comes 2002…I get a second degree TKD black belt. Still no thought as to if any grappler caught my leg what would happen.
Then it changes, just like that. As I’m teaching TKD and half way through my 2nd degree black belt, I was also being used as a training dummy for my buddy and student that started BJJ. Getting dominated by his rudimentary skills at the time, and feeling the power of a choke, and the pain of the arm bar lead my down this road. TKD was not going to survive against a ground attack. So I did what any other cash strapped instructor does (at least I think), I train with my friend wherever I can (at times in just a carpeted room). I buy more books than I can ever read. I buy a judo gi and start trying to figure this out. I did what I thought was right, even when now I know it was dead wrong. I wanted to train…although I didn’t have the disposable income nor the time away from teaching TKD to do so.
Eventually I checked out a few schools. None called to me until I made a call to Mrkulic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I called the instructor sir and everything. Told him I wanted to train. Wanted to respectfully meet him and see his school. So I go to Bloomfield and I see this long space with just mats and some other stuff. I meet this really unassuming guy who was really chill…not knowing who this guy, Mike, really was. I talk to him, say I’m coming back, and come for my first intro class……..where…….
I get smashed harder than I EVER have been smashed by everyone, including a WORLD CLASS GRAPPLER AND INSTRUCTOR named Mike Mrkulic.
After class, he asks how I liked it and I told him I did. He proceeds to explain how (in his words) “he is lazy..and how he wants the maximum result with the least amount of effort.” Perplexed I still sign up. Coming from a strict TKD background, this concept was nuts. And, I came back. Day after Day, Class after Class, Choke and Lock after Choke and Lock, I realized that BJJ was calling me back. The mats at Mrkulic BJJ were calling me everyday. It crossed over into my TKD training (so much so that my instructor belittled me for learning something so violent). There came a time when I had to choose. In late 2008-early 2009, I left TKD…I didn’t leave BJJ. As a matter of fact, I had been increasing my BJJ training time, competed on a small-scale (I wasnt great but who cared)…I started helping out at the academy and eventually was teaching a couple of classes. I told Mike that I would want to teach BJJ one day…he took me under his wing and mentored me to do so.
Years later, I see what a positive effect Mike Mrkulic and MBJJ has had on me. Having taken that first step and countless more, I always just wanted to make my academy proud. I have flown the flag of MBJJ any chance I got. Anyone that knows me would think I have no other clothes than something the Mrkulic logo somewhere on it. I now own my own academy and I still teach the way I was taught. I still teach the kids at MBJJ, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. When you own your own place, time away from your home academy is inevitable…I did not want that for myself.
Now I look back and see what Mike Mrkulic has done for me..he has supported, mentored, and pushed me. He inspired me to get better everyday. He called it how it was, never bullshitted me for a second. He taught me a lifestyle that calls to me everyday. He coached me and trusted me. He became the big brother I needed to get to the next level of my life.
Then I look back at my MBJJ family…to many to list here…and they welcomed me. They trained with me. They helped me develop. They trusted me as I trusted them. I went there when all was sour, saw my MBJJ family, got smashed or did the smashing, and felt better when I left. I have been arm locked, choked to sleep, heel hooked, triangled, by them all. And, because of them, I have learned to be tougher than I ever thought possible. The students at MBJJ gave me what any person wants…a place to belong.
I thank God, that I was able to make the choice to learn from Mike Mrkulic and MBJJ. Without that choice, I don’t know where I’d be. I know that I wouldn’t be here writing this. I can never thank them enough for the positive changes in my life that have come from knowing them and training with them. I want to make them proud of me. And, I want my academy to do for people what Mike and MBJJ has done for me.
And, all I set out to do was to learn takedown and ground-and-pound defense in case a bigger stronger person got me on the floor…go figure how that turned out!