The sudden death of Mike Mrkulic has prompted students to remember their time.
For those in Montclair that are inclined to follow the path of learning self-defense, Mrkulic Combat Sports Academy was the perfect place to hone their skills or learn the fundamentals. Located on 19 Elm St. in Montclair, the combat studio was owned and run by an experienced veteran of self-defense, Mike Mrkulic. Sadly, Mrkulic suddenly passed away recently, and the school has had to shut down. Up until his death, Mrkulic made sure that his combat sports academy offered high-level training and lessons for those that wanted to ascend the levels of martial arts.
The studio specialized in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a popular form of martial arts that involves various jokes and joint locks that are utilized in a way that is effective in neutralizing and submitting an attacker. The studio offered lessons every day of the week, a testament to Mrkulic’s dedication and love for his work. The studio offered kids classes, open mat sessions for those that wished to simply train on their own or under the eye of Master Mrkulic and also offered boxing lessons on some days.
In its prime, Mrkulic Combat Sports Academy was a prolific and enthusiastic hub for those that wished to involve themselves in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Dan Honnenmann, a former student of Mrkulic’s and an avid martial artist, said that the years he spent in the studio were valuable and memorable.
“It’s such a shame that the studio closed down for such a sad reason,” said Honnenmann. “I can remember being a freshman in high school and joining the community of people that wanted to learn and improve upon the same things I did, martial arts. It was a great feeling. I almost felt part of a family”.
That sentiment seems to have been a cornerstone of Mrkulic’s time running the studio. An outpouring of support and grief has served to commemorate an inspirational and enthusiastic leader of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Formerly a stockbroker for nine years, Mrkulic opened the studio when he realized he wanted to live his life according to what he loves doing. Mrkulic has been described by his peers as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu “prodigy,” a gifted fighter that earned a bronze medal in 2005 at the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro.
There is no doubt that the town has lost a respected member of the athletic community and a truly valued resident of Montclair. According to Mrkulic’s brother’s Facebook post about the loss, “Mike will be forever missed and forever in my prayers; his spirit will live on through the great legacy that he has dedicated his life to build.”
Mike Mrkulic may not be here to see what his legacy holds, but he would be proud if he could. After Mike’s untimely death, there was a lot of confusion amongst students and associates as to how best go about carrying Mrkulic’s legacy to a place where people could continue to be taught the sport he loved. After many bumps in the road, former student and close friend of Mrkulic Julio Galarza “emptied out his bank account” to create and own a new studio that would honor Mike and bring his teachings forward. Momentum Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, located at 253 Franklin Avenue in Nutley, was born.
Galarza was sure to explain that whilst he may have been the flag bearer in taking Mikes legacy forward, the whole community that Mike facilitated and inspired had to be involved to reach the success Momentum has had today. Galarza, a talented and committed martial artist, was just a student of Mikes, until Mikes acceptance and companionship helped Galarza out of a dark time.
“I had just attempted suicide, and failed. The only place I knew to go was the studio. After showing up, Mike called me in to talk to me because he knew something was up. He looked me in the eyes without judgement, and talked to me about what we were going to do to help me. He got me in the gym every day, and gave me a kids class to teach. I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for Mike Mrkulic and all he’s taught me”.
Galarza is open about his experiences with Mrkulic, and rightfully so. He says the best thing that his new school Momentum does is honor Mike at the end of every practice. Of course, Mike’s character was what touched those around him, but his talent as a martial artist is a big reason Galarza is committed so heavily to Mrkulic’s teachings. “His technique was second to none. I’ve fought a lot of people, but nobody gave me the beating Mike used to. He was absolutely surgical in his movements.”