Greg Mendes owns and operates Mendes Tang Soo Do, a martial arts school for all ages that teaches a plethora of fighting styles.
The group of tiny 5- and 6-year-olds - adorably clad in miniature gi (the traditional training uniform worn in Japanese martial arts) - huddled around their beloved instructor with stern concentration.
“One, two, three,” said the instructor.
“TUNG SO!” came the students’ emphatic reply.
“Dismissed,” the instructor responded, and lined up his “Little Dragons” for a round of high-fives before they pranced away.
And then the instructor, part-time Somerset Police Officer Greg Mendes, eventually began training for his other passion: brutal hand-to-hand combat inside a steel cage.
It was just another ordinary day.
Greg Mendes owns and operates Mendes Tang Soo Do, a martial arts school for all ages that teaches a variety of fighting styles.
Located in Taunton at 239 Broadway, the school offers martial arts training for children as young as three up to adults, mixed martial arts training for ages four and up, boxing, and cardio kickboxing.
Mendes’ original instructor, Johnny Gouveia, was instrumental in “imprinting a certain attitude” in his hard style of training, and Mendes credits former owner Bob Burt for giving him the opportunity to run the school after Burt moved.
“I started getting involved with martial arts when I was 17,” Mendes said. “And after eight years I got my black belt, then I opened up this school when I was 25. This is our 19th year, and I love it. I tell people, I don’t come to work one day in my life.”
And as those days of teaching tots turn into nights of grueling mixed martial arts training with his Snake Pit fight team, Mendes embarks on a comeback of George Foreman-esque proportions.
“After a couple of amateur fights, I retired from fighting five years ago when I was 39,” Mendes said, “and just focused on training and running the school. But after five years, I figured: I’m getting hit as hard in the gym as I would in (actual) fights - why not fight again?”
At 44, Mendes answered his own question earlier this month at Full Force Fighting Championship’s Untamed 19 at the Plymouth Memorial Hall, with an electric 45-second submission victory over fellow lightweight Pete Reveredo in his pro debut. The loss drops the 32-year-old Reveredo’s professional record to 0-2, while Mendes improves to 1-0.
“I heard that (Reveredo) was a stand-up fighter, and I love fighting that way,” Mendes admitted. “I planned on giving the audience a good show with two stand-up strikers, and if I started losing badly on my feet, I figured I’d shoot and take him to the ground.”
The donnybrook got underway immediately between Mendes (152 pounds) and Reveredo (155½ pounds), with Mendes’ right hand beating his opponent’s left hook and flooring him barely five seconds into the bout.
Reveredo quickly scrambled to his feet and ate another right as he threw a leg kick. A third right snapped Reveredo’s head back violently, and he responded with a right head kick setting up his shot, as he bulled Mendes into the fence.
Mendes pulled full guard immediately while securing a guillotine, and after 20 seconds or so of struggling, Reveredo was forced to tap out.
“After the right (I landed), he tried to shoot on me and I caught him in the guillotine,” Mendes said. “When he shot, he left his neck exposed and it was a perfect spot for me. Then I got him (in the submission) and finished the fight. Whatever was there I was going to try and take advantage.”
It was Mendes first fight as a professional after a 2-2 amateur record that included a close loss to the UFC’s current 11th-ranked lightweight contender Joe Lauzon.
“In the fight with (Lauzon) I was 38 and he was 18,” Mendes said. “I was beating him standing, then he shot and got me with a heel hook. I love hard fights. In a hard fight, win or lose, you still shine.”
Mendes attributes his recent outstanding performance in his pro debut to his vigorous training regimen at his school.
“I trained really hard for this fight,” Mendes said. “I did a lot of cardio at our kick-boxing class for endurance, and a lot of sparring and grappling with my team.”
The fact that Mendes teaches children and trains professionally for mixed martial arts at Mendes Tang Soo Do is a reflection the school’s remarkable versatility.
“We have about 150 students from all over - Taunton, Raynham, Berkely, Dighton, and Lakeville - and probably 70 percent of them are kids,” Mendes said. “And we have curriculum designed for each age group, working with United Professionals, which is a company that helps martial arts schools teach appropriate material for each age group.”
“We have everything here. A lot of schools just have traditional teaching, or just hardcore training. If you want hardcore, to work hard and fight hard - we have that here. If you don’t want to go to work with black eyes and just want to learn, we have that. If you need a gym to just get in shape, we have that, too. And even though there’s 150 students here, we have more than enough room for more.”
Mendes Tang Soo Do’s most inspiring students are also its tiniest however.
“Coming here and seeing their little faces, when the kids smile, you can’t have a bad day,” Mendes related. “It’s the little things, when the kids tell you about their vacations or what they’re doing in school. It’s a fun time, and such a fun job.”
But while having fun and learning forms and other techniques are essential for the kids, they benefit even more from Mendes’ teachings about respect, responsibility and staying safe.
“We have a saying. I ask the kids, ‘What’s the most important thing?’ and they say, ‘Respect sir!’ ” Mendes said. “They know not to use martial arts outside of the dojo, to respect their parents, their teachers and their authority figures - but also to respect their peers.”
The importance placed on respect for the youngsters is in evidence by the themes of their mantras, which include putting toys and other things away, getting ready for school on time, brushing their teeth, doing their homework and listening to their parents.
Teaching the kids about “stranger danger” plays another dominant and important role in youth classes.
Children learn effective blocks and defensive techniques to prevent being grabbed.
They perform a variety of offensive, defensive, and escaping activities punctuated by the tikes yelling, “STRANGER!” They also learn about potential predators likely tactics, like “The Magician,” who pretends to know the child’s parents or other intimate details in order to gain trust.
“I was thinking years ago about how to protect little kids,” Mendes said. “You can teach them how to fight and block all you want, but you need to teach them safe practices in interacting with adults in order to keep them safe. We let them know that it’s not only strangers to keep safe around either, that uncles, aunts, grandfathers--anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or sad--they should tell a trusted adult about it.”
“We teach them to not keep secrets. That there are happy secrets and sad secrets, and sad ones you have got to tell someone about. And several times I’ve had parents come up to me and say that their kids were approached on a playground or somewhere, and that they were able to handle the situation.”
“Our school is very family-oriented. We have several instances of parents and children training together here, and that’s what I like about it. We have no walls here in the school; it’s an open floor so parents can watch. That’s how I want it; we don’t just teach kids, we try and help parents too.”
Mendes is hoping to get inside the octagon again as early as April 12 at Full Force’s Untamed 20, but has a definite date with the cage on May 31 at Untamed 21.