Sports: Man Among Boys

Mark Kurano is not your average mixed martial artist.
Mark Kurano’s two lives: wine sales and martial arts. photo: Rae Huo

When Mark Kurano makes his mixed martial arts debut as part of the Icon Sport: Fearless fight card on June 30 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena, he just hopes his wife—who is set to vacation in South Korea at the same time—doesn’t find out what he’s up to.

The 38-year-old Hawai‘i Baptist Academy alumnus and graduate of Hawai‘i Pacific University knows that at his age, now is the time to show what he can do.

“This is my first mixed martial arts fight, but I’ve been doing grappling arts pretty much my entire life,” Kurano says. “This is the final level of competition. The younger guys have something to prove, but I don’t have much more time to decide if I can compete at that level.”

Kurano, a wine sales representative, has practiced grappling since he was a teenager, but is not a typical mixed martial artist. Not only is the father of two an elder compared to the twenty-somethings who make up the majority of the sport, he is trained in the traditional martial arts of judo and jiu-jitsu—rare in today’s world of fighters, who employ a hodgepodge of disciplines in the ring.

In addition to a black belt in judo, Kurano also holds a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, which he earned after studying under legendary Brazilian fighter Relson Gracie. He teaches his trade at the Shobukan Judo Club, the studio at which he has honed his craft since first taking classes in 1983.

Kurano is preparing with two training sessions a day to face a fellow first-timer, 21-year-old Jose Diaz, a former high-school wrestler and reformed gang member from California who has since turned his life around.

“He’s going to come into the ring with a lot of heart, and I’m really looking forward to it,” says Kurano of his opponent, who is actually closer in age to his 10-year-old son. “I’m just glad to be able to fight someone from the Mainland.” Kurano was reluctant to fight an Islands-based martial artist, since he has so many friendships with members of local training schools. Of course, the tension of fighting a friend may not be anything compared to the tension his wife could create when she finds out.