J.Narantungalag: Give your best shot and you’ll feel like a winner

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The following is an interview with Mongolian martial artist J.Narantungalag, who has been globally recognized for his signature “Chinggis Khaan’s Axe Kick” in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA). He began training in martial arts at a young age, and after winning his first gold medal from a competition in 1993, he quickly gained prominence within the world of Asian combat sports.

The ambitious Mongolian fighter not only holds an impressive record of championship titles in karate, kickboxing, combat sambo, and MMA, but also conquered the Legend Fighting Championship Lightweight Champion in 2011.

Recognizing J.Narantungalag’s talent and potential, the government awarded him the State Honored Athlete of Mongolia title, making him the very first mix martial artist to receive this title.

You mentioned that imitating combat moves from Bruce Lee films drove you to take up martial arts. Have you ever considered acting in a film before?

At the moment, I don’t have any plans to do a film, but in high school, I did play the lead role of “The End of Rep Dance – Princess Tales” play back in Erdenet city, Orkhon Prov-
ince. A director called Batbold wrote a tragic play with fight scenes after being inspired by the song “Princess Tales”, composed by Nis-
vanis Band’s vocalist Amgaa. Members of Suns (Ghost) band also performed in this play. It’s about the leaders of two rival rep dance groups falling in love with the same girl. The girl dies while trying to separate me [the protagonist] and the leader of the other dance group during a fight. In the end, I end up in prison. The play was a big hit in provinces at the time and we performed in Erdenet city, Bulgan and Darkhan Provinces, Shariin Gol soum, and Khutul city.

While acting, I also worked as a fire fighter at the 056 Unit of Erdenet city for three years. Participating in a Junior Fire Fighter’s Competition in seventh grade and learning about fire trucks, clothes and tools used for extinguishing fire, and the lifestyle of fire fighters opened my eyes and inspired me to become a fire fighter. My uncle Bat is also a fire fighter. A true friendship is created among fire fighters. It’s a wonderful job.


Breaking a leg was definitely one of those unlucky moments in life. I’ve grown quite old and I’m starting to doubt that I will be able to succeed after recovering from my injury. My friends and family are advising me to stop now.


 

Have you ever had any life-threatening experiences?

When I had just begun working as a fire fighter, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of a building. I was assigned as the first fire fighter, in other words the person in charge of the main fire hose. There was almost no oxygen in the building and while it was getting ready to explode, our team smashed the window and went in. The warm air seeping through the broken window made me feel as if I was going into a hot stove. Right before I stepped into the room where the fire started, the fire hose pulled me back. It was too short. The walls and the floor heated up though the armature (electrical engineering) of the building and my rubber mask almost burned my face. I was supposed to spray water all over myself before entering but since I was a newcomer, I had forgotten to do that. It felt like taking off my mask would help so I tried to take it off but smoke went into my throat and I couldn’t breathe. The fire fighter who was right behind me helped me get out of the building. It was impossible to tell them that the fire hose was too short while going down the stairs and in the end, I fainted in the smoky stairway. Later, I was told that the third fire fighter helped me get out of the building. I was extremely embarrassed after gaining consciousness. Still, I reported that the fire hose was too short, linked a different one and went back in to assist my team extinguish the fire.

Why did you stop working as a firefighter? Three years is considerably short. Were you ashamed to have fainted?

My mother signed me up for a stunt actor’s course while I was working as a fire fighter. Right after graduation, the school expanded into a college and moved to the capital. I was hired as an assistant instructor. Unfortunately, the college went bankrupt when our first students were in their third year. Our students transferred to the

Mongolian University of Arts and Culture, Music Hall School and the Mongolian National Circus. I worked temporarily at Zavkhan Province until I begun training at a sports club in Erdenet city.

Instructor Otgonbayar taught me combat sambo there. It’s said that there weren’t many people who could skillfully learn this type of combat style at the time. I learned many things from my first mentor and that was when I became interested in learning various types of martial arts.

one must first defeat oneself in order to defeat an opponent

Martial arts is sometimes described as a philosophy. You had to train in many types of martial arts to become a mixed martial artist. Are all styles of martial arts different?

All of them guide you to find yourself. Martial arts help you realize how mentally strong you are and how you think and react under pressure. You will learn to assess your opponent only when you’ve understood and gotten to know yourself. My instructors taught me that the main principle of martial arts is that one must first defeat oneself in order to defeat an opponent.

How well do you know yourself? What kind of a person are you?

I realized that it’s important to just be yourself and to not put up a front. It’s in Mongolians’ blood to constantly overcome difficulties and have a great deal of endurance. We must differ from foreigners through our patience and endurance. I started to think that Mongolians’ thinking skills might be far better in the arena during a fight.

Does “defeating yourself” mean making an achievement or something totally different?

A competition is just a hobby. You might have defeated yourself even though you lost to your opponent. No matter how much you love sports, doing intense training for several months isn’t something that is desirable. I’m worried about getting an injury during practice. Even if you exert immense amount of effort, both mentally and physically, and win the championship you’ve been training hard for numerous months, it will not seem like a victory if you weren’t able to show what you got. On the other hand, if you gave everything you have and did your best to win, you will feel like a winner despite your loss in the actual game.

  • J.Narantungalag (left) during the Legend Fighting Championship Lightweight Champion in 2011
    J.Narantungalag (left) during the Legend Fighting Championship Lightweight Champion in 2011

Did you give your best shot during the match you lost your championship belt and broke a leg?

Breaking a leg was definitely one of those unlucky moments in life. I’ve grown quite old and I’m starting to doubt that I will be able to succeed after recovering from my injury. My friends and family are advising me to stop now.

Had I fought with everything I had and truly believed that I couldn’t defeat my opponent in that match where my leg broke, I would have willingly taken off my championship belt and given it to him. But I had a feeling that there was so much energy still inside of me so I told myself to fight until I couldn’t handle it anymore. I picture in my head how I would fight my opponent after studying his moves and special traits from his previous match videos. In that same way, I tried imagining how the current me would fight the old me. When the current me started winning, I knew that I could continue to fight and I went back into the arena.


 

Even if you exert immense amount of effort, both mentally and physically, and win the championship you’ve been training hard for numerous months, it will not seem like a victory if you weren’t able to show what you got.


 

It seems that people watch the UFC more than MMA Championships. Are you interested in trying out for the UFC?

The UFC became popular as the four MMA championships merged. MMA championships are different in terms of rules. I lose in quick matches that count scores and don’t allow strong punches. In long matches, my endurance and stamina become my strong point and help me win. The UFC prohibits knee kicks and kicking in the face when any part of the opponent’s body other than his soles are touching the ground. If the opponent sits down while I’m kicking him in the stomach and my knee accidentally hits his face, I would lose the game. But in One Championships, all of this is allowed. Though it’s said to be the most fierce category, people like me, who enjoy fighting, like it.

Do you pity your opponents during a match?

I want to be liked by my opponents. When looking at their previous games and studying them, they are often excellent fighters. They are people who overcame their weakness and are ambitious just like me. Instead of pitying, I want to win fighters from countries where MMA is well-developed and fighters with impressive technique since not many Mongolians have succeeded in this sports category. Pitying them would be an insult to them. Still, it’s quite hard to fight against fellow Mongolians. For some reason, I don’t feel as motivated as I normally would. Rather than fighting against each other, I believe it’s better to train together and fight against foreign athletes.

Narantungalag defended his title at Legend FC8
Narantungalag defended his title at Legend FC8

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