There was a bit of a rush on ahead of Mansher ‘Munch’ Khera’s visit to Ireland last week as Royal Grappling Academy moved into their latest premises in Stadium Business Park. Roger and Foxy led the charge as the majority of team came together to get the place in functional condition with only a few days to spare before Munch’s arrival.
Many hands make light work as they say, and although there was no running water or electricity, we certainly didn’t let it get in the way of the jiu jitsu. Munch put on an excellent workshop over his five days with us, with players travelling from all over the country to learn Marcelo’s signature techniques from the two-time no-gi world champion.
While he wasn’t off slaughtering pints of Guinness and chasing leprechauns, Munch sat down to give us a quick word about his stay. Discussing how he first met Roger, his impressions of the Irish jiu jitsu community and why it was time for Foxy to stop wearing that decrepit purple belt, we gained a lot of insight from the New Yorker.
And it turns out that Roger used to give him a hard time too.
“I used to see (Roger) rolling with my instructor and I was like – who is this guy? He used to have this variation of rubber guard for no-gi and it was so strong, I just couldn’t move. I would be wrapped up real tight like a noodle, he tapped me out with that so many times,” he laughed. “His pressure on top was just so heavy.
“To be honest, Roger is one of the reasons I started training harder and started to pursue a lot of other things. Watching him come in to the gym and how he would roll with my instructor had a big effect on me. I wanted to be like him, I wanted to be that good, you know?
“I can remember when I watched him compete when I was white belt. It was the no-gi Pan Ams and I watched him. He did really well, but it was more about the way he was doing it. He had a match with a wrestler and it was great, the wrestler won. I can remember I couldn’t believe that Roger had lost because of all the times he had beat me up!”
As cited earlier, the Irish BJJ community came out in force to train with Munch. Representatives from East Coast Jiu Jitsu Academy, Team Torres, Kyuzo, SBG, Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood and of course, Royal Grappling Academy, shared the new, spacious mat area and some great training over the few days. Munch expressed why seeing the different clubs coming together to train led him to believe that Ireland has the best jiu jitsu community he has ever seen on his travels.
“It was amazing for me to see all the guys from the other gyms coming up for training and how you all get on so well with each other, in the US you don’t really see that. No as much as you would think anyway. I think in Ireland the jiu jitsu community is much stronger than in America, or any other country I’ve been to.
“Maybe it’s because there are far more black belts in the US. I don’t know really. It’s surprising to see such strong unity between guys that are coming from gyms that are less than an hour away. I didn’t expect that.”
Living like a hippy under the watchful eye of Foxy during his stay, perhaps the most memorable moment for Royal Grappling Academy was when Munch produced a brown belt for the founding member of the team. The young jiu jitsu ace spoke about what Marcelo looks for in a player before he grades them.
“Two or three years ago Marcelo’s mentality was a bit different when it came to grading people. There were two requirements, you had to be competitive and you had to be dedicated. With that, you can be both of those things, but you don’t have to be a great person.
“Since Marcelo had his daughter and now his son, I think his mentality has changed. Now, you’ve got to be competitive, dedicated and he’s going to look at the person. He won’t promote people that couldn’t have a positive influence on his kids. He wants his students to be great people on and off the mat, and I feel like Foxy has that.
“Just being around him for the week I felt so welcome. It’s weird, I’m staying at his house, I’m eating his food, I feel like I’m freeloading off him but he’s been so cool about it. He’s a great guy. Honestly, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so as far as that part of the criteria is concerned, he’s already a black belt.
“Besides that, I’ve been training with him over here twice a day. He trains hard, I didn’t know he was 36 and he was turning 37 this year, initially when he came at me I thought he was about 29 – much younger anyway. He’s a hipster so he’s kept his young looks.
“He trains hard, and that’s what you really need. He makes the effort, he puts in all the work. Some people are born with physical gifts so they can take to a sport a lot easier, but without the struggle, those guys just don’t last in the sport. They won’t be doing jiu jitsu for the rest of their lives, whereas people like Foxy couldn’t live without it.
“He’s been a purple belt for a very long time and he had absolutely no one to grade him. It wasn’t about a brown belt for him, he continued his training and he continued improving. He deserves this promotion. Marcelo sent the word over, he said if Roger thinks he is ready for the promotion then he is.”
Munch claimed that he would love to return to the club again in the future, and even dropped some knowledge on the link between Indian and Irish freedom fighters.
“I would love to come back. If I’m ever in Europe again I’ll definitely drop by, maybe if I’m doing the Europeans next year and I have some more time I’ll come back for another week of training again. I really like it here, everybody made me feel so welcome.
“I’ve always been a fan of Irish people. And that’s not just Roger, the history of the Irish people really interests me. The freedom fighters and things like that have always appealed to me because where I come from, the English imperialized us too.
“There was a freedom fighter over here, Bobby Sands, he went on hunger strike and he died for the cause and that inspired a lot of people in India to do that same thing. I’ve always been keen to come over for that reason.
“I’m also a big Conor McGregor fan. I just really like his mentality. The way he promotes himself, that’s all that is as far as I’m concerned, but I really like to see his mental approach to martial arts. It’s very interesting.”
Peter Carroll is Ireland’s preeminant MMA feature writer. He writes for Severemma.com, the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice.com’s Fightland. When he is not jet-setting around the world talking to the big names of the UFC, Royal Grappling Academy’s first blue belt promotion can sometimes be found footlocking unsuspecting training partners or putting the finishing touches to his “Floating Seal” BJJ instructional series. We are grateful that he was on hand to catch up with Munch while he was here and find out his thoughts about Ireland among other things…