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My teacher, Kiuma Kunioku

(Roxanne Modafferi is more than just one of the top 135 pound female fighters in the world, she’s also a regular contributor to Fightlinker, sharing interesting news and stories of her time living and training in Japan. For a complete archive of her past posts, click here! You can also visit her official site at or help support her by buying the Fightlinker Team Modafferi shirt.)

“So how’s training going?” I asked Kiuma Kunioku as we walked from the dojo to the train station after my lesson.

“I’m fine,” he answered with a small smile, as if I’d said something funny. My job is an “English conversation school teacher” but that was all I could get out of him. A soft-spoken man of few words, you couldn’t tell if you met him on the street that he was such a bad-ass. Just a sporty looking guy who wears nothing but NIKE and rides his bike everywhere.

Aside from sporting the huge cauliflower ears. And a gold tooth.

“Why a gold tooth?!” he laughed in response to my question. “Well actually, a gold one was cheaper than a real-looking one. You don’t think it’s strange?”

“No, it’s cool!” I tried to reassure him.

I’d been training with former #1 ranked Shooto fighter Ryan Bow last year in 2008 to better my striking, until he decided to move back to the US. “What am I going to do?” I lamented, losing my only form of personal coaching.

“Let me introduce you to Kunioku. Maybe he can help,” Ryan said.

My reaction was, “Who?”

“My friend Kunioku, who will be taking over my Kaminari Dojo classes on Saturdays. Maybe he can give you private lessons,” Ryan said.

The former King of Pancrase- in middleweight AND welterweight. His record is 34 wins, 22 losses and 9 ties…that’s 65 fights. Unfortunately, he had a bunch of losses, which must have put a stop on his upward rise. Back in the old days, they were fighting open hand and open weight. He has fought famous names like: Yuki Kondo, Pete Williams, Guy Mezger, Shonie Carter, Matt Lee, Nate Marquardt, Sean Sherk, Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten, Evan Tanner, Genki Sudo, Rodrigo Gracie, and more. He split from Pancrase to fight in K-1’s MMA show “Hero’s” in 2005, since then he’s been fighting in DEEP and Sengoku, where he won his last fight in a decision against the Korean, A Sol Kwon. That was his last fight- September, 2008. Now he’s waiting for a juicy fight offer, hoping to get a call from overseas.

Kunioku first joined Pancrase fresh out of middle school. Yes, he didn’t even go to high school. “I hate studying,” he admitted. I even offered to teach him English … for free! But he politely declined. He had lived at the Pancrase dojo on their salary and ate food provided by them, even fought his own teammates time and time again because that’s what they did.

He has such a vast wealth of experience, and “knows” MMA. His insight is very valuable to me, and I sometimes worry about being a good student.

Check out this Sherdog interview, the only interview with him available in English.

Masa: Now, let’s talk about your fighting career. You fought so many fighters who are way much bigger than you. Don’t you mind the weight difference? Look! You fought even Pete Williams. That’s crazy. Don’t you mind the weight different at all?

Kunioku: Well, when they started Pancrase, there wasn’t any weight division. And I’m small. So I always had to fight against big guys. So I don’t really mind.

Masa: You don’t feel the difference of impact of punches? Between heavy guy and light guy? Kunioku: Yes I do. I certainly do. Believe me I know the difference. But from all of those training and fighting career, my body learned how I have to fight against big guys. I’ve fought Frank Shamrock, Guy Metzger, and I fought Bas Rutten, too.

Masa: That’s incredible.

Kunioku: Well, I think it’s one of the relish of Martial Arts. Lil’ guy kick the big guy’s ass. Now people are start forgetting that zest. Anyway, I really don’t mind that weight mismatch.

I’d finished writing this article and was searching for some pictures. Now he’s 32 years old, but I’m finding pics of him at like 20 and he looks so young. I’m reading interviews in Japanese and it’s really putting into perspective of what a long career he’s had in fighting so far. As he mentioned in the Sherdog interview, fighting has been his life and it’s all he does. I really truly hope he gets the chance to showcase his skills overseas in a major organization soon.