Verbal Sparring: Takashi Munoz (Legends MMA)

Kyokushin brown belt and Legends MMA fighter Takashi Munoz

Kyokushin brown belt and Legends MMA fighter Takashi Munoz

Just the name “Takashi Munoz” alone speaks volumes of his story, but that’s merely the tip of the iceberg for this mature young man.

Born of Japanese and Mexican parents in the City of Angels, Munoz has been a fighter almost all of his life. He currently has a brown belt in Kyokushin karate, one of the more notoriously brutal and violent of the Japanese fighting arts. He took second place in the Kyokushin World Junior tournament at the age of 12, after only a year of training. At 15, he was invited to compete in the adults division – three years before normal eligibility. In 2005, Munoz placed in the Top 16 of 2,300 competitors at the World Junior Division Kyokushin championships in Tokyo. Having joined Legends MMA team just over a year ago, Munoz has jumped into the amateur MMA game and already started to make waves.

But behind those accomplishments is a lifetime of sacrifice. And behind that sacrifice is a clear understanding and maturity that few other men at his age or level possess. Moreover, Munoz is the first to acknowledge that the life he’s lived isn’t the best for everybody – just the best for him.

In this interview, Munoz opened up about the pressures as a child martial artist, his vision and definition of success, and what he thinks about kids looking to walk in his footsteps.

JT: Talk about your training background.

TM: I come from a full-contact karate background. Kyokushin karate. I trained out of Los Angeles. There’s one right here in Little Tokyo. I’ve pretty much been there my whole life. That’s like another place for me to be. I started at 12, on my birthday. . . I got my ass kicked pretty bad, and I was like “man, maybe I should come back again.” So I did, and then, like even though I was getting my ass kicked every day, little by little, I started to learn. . . It took me awhile to get used to it. All the bruises that I had. Then, little by little, I was getting used to it. . . So then I stuck to it and I’ve been doing it for like nine years already.

I teach kids sometimes too. And I sometimes teach fighters class [to kids that want to learn how to fight]. The funny thing is that they don’t want to go through the hard training. That’s one some of them don’t understand. I tell them “right now, as you’re a kid, it’s okay. But sooner or later, you’ll come to realize that you gotta do a lot of stuff to reach for the top.” Some parents, they’ve seen me go through that stuff too, because I grew up with some of their kids too. So they’ve seen what I had to go through. And they tell other kids “hey, listen to him. He knows what he’s talking about. We’ve seen him go through that suffering.”

And then, finally, my big thing in karate – had the first World Jr. Division tournament. There were kids from all around the world coming in. I fought in the open weight division. So you see light guys fight against heavy guys. And only two kids represented from the US. Me and another guy from my dojo.

JT: Did you grow up in California?

TM: Yeah, I grew up in Alhambra, a small town over there. And pretty much, almost everybody knows each other. It’s funny, because, it’s like, you might not have seen them before, but they know you. That’s how it is. People are like “hey, I know you” and I’m looking at them like “umm, alright.” I guess I know you too.

JT: Let’s talk about your name. You don’t see a name like “Takashi Munoz” too often. It sticks out when you hear it.

TM: [Laughs]. I get that a lot. . . My dad is Mexican. . . He was from Texas and came out here. . . And my mom is Japanese. . . She’s a teacher at a language school for Japanese. . . My dad gave me that name, Takashi. Because he had a friend that fought too. His name was Takashi.

JT: When you grew up, was it mostly one culture or another?

TM: I had a little bit of both. It kinda raised me to “hey, y’know – every culture is the same. Or everybody’s different, but to me, it’s like the same.“ I could pass internationally, everywhere.

JT: Your mom raised you to speak Japanese?

TM: Yeah, she did. From what I hear, my first language was Japanese. So it was a pretty surprising thing. She made me go to school for it, in elementary all through high school. . . At first I didn’t like it, but little by little, I was just like “you know what? It’s helping me where I’m at, right now. I know I’m going to be going to Japan here and there.” I visited my family in Japan . . . And sure enough, it did.

JT: What was that like growing up, with your dad as a boxer?

TM: It was good because he taught me a lot of tricks that a lot of fighters don’t really see that much. . . He was pretty much, [did] a couple of smoker fights, but he knew what it’s about. He also competed elsewhere. . . He was a hard hitter, so he knows what to do and stuff like that.

He always told me that he was small, and he is. He was shorter than me . . . but he was smart, he said. Because [he] knew they were gonna put him up with insane guys. . . And he knows that these guys aren’t in shape. One thing he always said, “I was always in shape. That was made me smart about it.” He knew that they were gonna pound on him. The only thing is that

Takashi Munoz, victorious at Tuff-N-Uff Amateur Fighting Championships.

Takashi Munoz, victorious at Tuff-N-Uff Amateur Fighting Championships.

he could last. That was the whole point.

He’s passed away, but he was always there for me, every step of my fights. In the karate tournaments, I’ll be like “hey, I won my first round.” He’ll be like “yeah, good.” He doesn’t smile, but he tells me that, y’know, “you still got another one. Stay in the game.” I know he’s proud. My first tournament, I came out second place. And that was with only one year of karate, and I was surprised that I came out second place. I told him “I wonder how I did it,” and he said “you were just more prepared than anybody. That was it. Not everybody could pull that off.”

JT: How did you fall into the mix at Legends?

TM: My friend Tyler knows Chris [Reilly] through K-1 fights. He’s interviewed the fighters for martial arts television. So he introduced me to Chris and from there it happened. Chris told me “hey, come to pro training then. Work your way up.” I started from pro training, so I got my ass kicked. . . I didn’t really talk to anybody. I just stayed quiet and focused. Little by little, I was like “hey, man, this is the home for me. Everybody’s friendly. . .” Chris is a great guy. I trust him a lot. And then Jimmy [Romero], he’s a nice guy to train with too. I started feeling a team spirit here.

JT: What’s the transition like, going from Kyokushin to MMA?

TM: I wasn’t really used to the face hits that much. . . It’s not for everybody, the transition. . . I think after all the years of doing one thing, you have to think another way. It’s like a shock to them. . . I did kickboxing too, between karate. Before I started at Legends. So I kinda got used to the face hits.

JT: Was the ground game a new thing to you? That doesn’t exist in Kyokushin, does it?

TM: No, it doesn’t, but in some karate organizations, it does. A lot of them, the head directors of those organizations, come from Kyokushin backgrounds. They put throws and everything. . .Like Sambo, for example.

JT: Was that a difficult part of the transition for you?

TM: Yeah, it was. Because what I learned – I did most of the pushing. Punching, kicking, you have to kick out. But ground game, you have to pull. It’s the opposite thing. It’s a different kind of muscle. Oh man, I got tired quick. At first, I thought maybe it’s not for me, but I stuck to it to see if I could do it. And little by little, I started getting it.

JT: Did you start with Eddie [Bravo’s] class?

TM: No, I started with the pro team, actually. And then little-by-little, with Conor [Heun].

And then a friend of mine from EliteXC, Jamie Fletcher – I used to train with [him] before I started with Legends. He used to tell me “hey, why don’t you check out Erik Paulson?”. . . He was one of those first generation Shooto fighters. . . I go once in awhile, to see where my ground game is at. The good thing about it is he’s got a lot of guys that fight at my weight. He has me rolling with them for like an hour and a half straight. . .

JT: How far out do you start your training camp?

TM: I start like all year long. It’s better to be prepared for something than to wait for it. It’s better to be prepared ahead of time. My dad. . . he said “fighting – there’s really no day of rest. You gotta constantly keep going. . .you gotta be ready all year long.”

JT: For you, what’s the toughest part of fighting?

TM: I say the butterflies before training. . . And the butterflies before the fight too. . . Because then, really, I get nervous when something new is going to happen. . . I like to be alone before any fight. Be separated from everything. Just by myself. Quiet. I believe that’s the better way of concentrating.

JT: Does it get easier when you step inside the ring?

TM: Yeah, it does. I feel calm once they say my name. And I know “alright, I’m here now. I’m finally here. Thank you.”

JT: Does it help you that you’ve been through that before? Do you go “okay, it’s just another fight?”

TM: Yeah, it does. A little bit more. It helps me more, because in the karate tournaments, in Japan, they were like in stadiums. So you have the crowd looking down on you. You’re in the middle of the whole place.

JT: What’s the biggest crowd you’ve ever competed in front of?

TM: At least 60,000 people. In Tokyo Stadium. Not the Dome, but . . . That was my first time . . . on the big screen . . . [that was about] two or three years ago. The World Junior Division tournament. 2,300, and I made it to the top 16.

JT: Was that the highlight of your Kyokushin career?

TM: Pretty much. . . My teammate lost in the round before. My division was hard. I had nothing but Russian dude after another. The first guy, I knocked him out. The second one, he went through two extensions. This kid was tough. And it’s a tournament, so you have to rest as much as you can. Now I’m going into two overtimes with these guys and it’s like “shit!” Finally, at the top 16, I got a long-legged Russian guy. He was just beating me down with his front kicks. That was it . . . that guy that I lost to, he ended up being the first World Junior champion.

JT: Would you go back to Kyokushin again?

TM: Yeah, I would. I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Just to keep the tough spirit up. That’s what Kyokushin is all about – spirit and mental toughness.

I believe that helps me in my fighting now.

JT: That leads into another question – Having fought for as long as you have, being a fighter really is a part of who you are as a person. That said, you’ve got to have some kind of a philosophy or outlook on training and fighting.

TM: I really don’t. . . I’m still learning as I go, right now. What I’ve learned, fighting is like an art. You sketch it during training, and then you paint it at the fight. . . Even though I’ve been fighting for nine years already, I still haven’t figured it out. Like everything, every day, you never stop learning.

JT: What do you do for your downtime?

TM: I just hang out with my girlfriend. Or hang out with friends. Or just relax. Sit at home and watch TV. Be like the next Al Bundy. Just sit there, lazy. Remote control, hands in the pants. It’s like “wow.” Because training takes a lot out of you. It’s like shit, you don’t want to do anything after a hard day. And MMA especially, you’re using your whole body. It just breaks down. I just sit there sometime and watch a movie at my girlfriend’s house and relax.

JT: Was she at your last fight?

Wanderlei Silva awards Takashi Munoz with "Knockout of the Night" honors.

Wanderlei Silva awards Takashi Munoz with "Knockout of the Night" honors.

TM: No, she wasn’t. She doesn’t like to see me get hit. And she worries that this is what I have to do. This is my life. It’s not part of it. It is my life.

I sacrificed my whole childhood for fighting. I didn’t party. I didn’t get to go out. I sacrificed all that, just to fight.

JT: Who are some of your favorite fighters?

TM: Cro Cop. Because he had that striking, and that “nobody can take me down” mentality. And that’s like mine. I don’t want to be taken down, but I’m gonna knock you out standing up. It’s better to knock out than tap somebody out. Because when you knock them out, they’re not gonna come back up. That’s my mentality.

Shogun was another favorite. He was always that hustle-hustle kind of guy. Always in shape, too.

JT: What do you think about his performances recently?

TM: I didn’t really care, because I know he’s recovering from his knee injury, and it’s been awhile since he fought. I know everybody [says] “hey, Shogun looked horrible,” and I’m like “hey dude, how you would look if you came back from a knee surgery.

JT: What is the best and worst memory in your fight career? Either the whole thing or just MMA.

TM: Getting my ass kicked. . . Every day is an ass kicking. I get beat up, and to me it’s like I’ve always got to be hard. For some reason, I was always hard on myself. Even though Chris [Reilly] tells me “no, don’t be so hard on yourself.” To me, I have to do well, then I know I’m in the game. If I don’t do well, I feel like shit.

JT: It sounds a bit like what you described your dad instilled in you. No matter how good you are, keep it hustling. Keep the pressure on.

TM: Right. And best memories are, like, being up there, in the ring, finally. To even think that “oh wow, I’m in the ring now.” A lot of people don’t even dare. . . and then, knowing that one hit could end your life, pretty much. Knowing that, it’s like “oh, wow” . . . you gotta really be in there.

I remember what the movie 300 says. In the beginning, he says “give them nothing, but take from them everything.” And I’m like “oh wow, that’s exactly like fighting.” You’re not gonna give them nothing, but you’re gonna take everything from them. Their pride, their glory, everything.

JT: What are your goals, either within or away from fighting?

TM: Be the best that I can, pretty much. Be who I can be. The world title feels like something for me. But then, on the other hand, being up there is at least an honor. . . Of course, belts are nice. But I don’t think so high above yet. Always think low, because it’ll lead to higher things. That’s what I think.

JT: “Think low” meaning what exactly?

TM: Don’t think too proud. Don’t think “oh, I’m the winner.” In fighting, you never know what’s going to happen. You have that mentality that you want to win. Of course, you have to have that, but always remember “be prepared.“ Because it takes that one lucky shot, and that’s it. That one lucky shot.

JT: Some people will say that the winner of a match isn’t necessarily the better guy. It’s more that [the winner] was better than the other guy that day.

TM: My dad told me, when I won my tournaments, “you’re just a winner today. Tomorrow, everybody’s gonna forget about it.” So you gotta constantly be the best every day. That’s why I’m saying I’m trying to be the best that I can be – inside and outside of the ring. Because outside of the ring, I’ve learned that kindness comes from strength. When you’re strong, you’re more kind. Because you don’t need it. Only when you have to.

To me, I say be the best you can be every day.

JT: When the match is over and the bell is rung, you’re going to your victory dinner. What’s the first choice?

TM: First choice will be fast food [laughs]. In-N-Out or Carl’s Jr. It’s like “finally! I can at least pig out for this day.” Cutting weight, you’re disciplining yourself by not eating so much bad stuff. You gotta be healthy. And finally that day comes and it’s like “ugh, finally!” You get to eat something good now.

JT: Talk about being a teacher.

TM: I love kids! Because, working with them, it shows me different perspectives. It shows me more patience. It’s like, you know they’re little. They’re not gonna understand it. If its adults, it’s like “c’mon, you gotta fuckin’ understand.” You’ll be yelling at them. But with kids, it’s like “ok, do it this way then.” If they can’t do it this way, then you gotta break it down a little easier. And then, yourself, you’ll start seeing “oh, alright. I guess maybe I’m not doing this either then.” You learn from kids. . . and you find your mistakes.

Kids are fun. But to everybody who walks around that has kids, I wouldn’t suggest that kids fight as a career. If they want to do it, I’ll help them, but I wouldn’t suggest them doing it because I’ve seen the suffering that I’ve had to go through, the sacrifices. And when you see these kids – “oh, I’m willing to do it” . . . that came to me for their karate tournaments, to help them, and they never followed through. And I learned – I tell these kids that this is a long road. Are you willing to sacrifice everything? Your fun, everything? To be the best?

JT: What was the toughest sacrifice for you?

TM: No fun. I’m a little kid. I didn’t get to play. . . I didn’t really get no laughs when I was a kid. Getting my ass kicked was depressing every day.

JT: Would you have traded it?

TM: Nah. I wouldn’t have traded it at all. Now that I see different things. It was worth it. Hard work does pay off.

Shortly after this interview, Takashi Munoz scored a first-round TKO victory at Tuff-N-Uff amateur MMA event in Las Vegas, NV. He hopes to fight again as early as May.

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2 Responses to “Verbal Sparring: Takashi Munoz (Legends MMA)”

  1. hay my name is anthony munoz..i been trying to find away to get a hold of my tio nd i finally found u..i know u rember me tio im ur familly..so please get back to me on facebook…much love

  2. its me ur familly anthony munoz please get back 2 me.i been trying to get a hold of my outhere side of the familly so please get back 2 me

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