BOZEMAN — One wouldn’t expect two athletes from Bozeman to be at or near the top of their age group for martial arts, but they are. They train at Cunningham’s Martial Arts and actually have been training together for the last six years, bringing the best out of each other on the mat.
Llulisa Mendez began training at Cunningham’s Martial Arts six years ago when she was 14. Cunningham encouraged her to join as she was watching her younger brothers there.
“I guess he was intimidating enough that I took one his classes,” Mendez said.
Thus began an unlikely connection when she was introduced to young Kaylie Monforton.
“I met her when she was eight and I was 14," said Mendez. "I was really quiet and she just wouldn’t stop bugging me and wouldn’t stop talking to me and then eventually I gave in and it’s been a great ride.”
They’ve been training together ever since making each other better every step of the way.
“A lot of her kicks and stuff are just incredible to watch and I think she can go a long ways with it too,” Monforton said.
“Incredible," Mendez said. "She’s really good. She’s really supportive and she’s a really good martial artist.”
The two have become so close, Mendez practically lives at Monforton’s house. And while Mendez has helped Monforton grow on the mat, Monforton has brought the confidence out in Mendez.
“I went from not being able to introduce myself to people because I was really nervous to being able to perform and feeling good about it and not wanting to run away and hide,” said Mendez.
Bringing out that confidence helped Mendez compete on a big stage like the National Martial Arts Alliance World Championships, a place where she couldn’t have dreamed of being when she first began.
“In the moment, it’s just crazy," she said. "The adrenaline -- it’s been a week and I still feel it. I still feel hyped.”
In the NMAA World Championships which took place in Denver a few weeks ago, Monforton took first place in weapons and second in sparring for her age group. Mendez placed second in combat sparring and sparring for hers.
“She has big goals and I stand behind those goals and I’m proud of her success and journey so far,” Mendez said.
“She’s honestly a really great person, really great martial artist," said Monforton. "She’s been able to push me a lot for the last seven years we’ve been training with each other.”
It takes a lot of hard work to get to the point they’re at, but they give a lot of credit to Cunningham’s Martial Arts.
“A lot of it is the community," said Monforton. "We have some really great instructors out here and they’re very supportive. They really help drive both of us to dry and do our best.”