The other day I was getting my hair cut by a 35-45 year old woman. She was married to a man with a daughter from a prior marriage. Her friend, the owner of the salon, had been trying to get her to move to the city for years. She finally made it to DC around a year ago, and she’s absolutely loving it so far. Basically, we had very little in common aside from the fact that I have hair, and she knows how to cut it. That was until she asked me how I stay in shape.
“Muay Thai Kickboxing,” I answered.
“Oooo, so are you a fan of the UFC??” she excitedly asked.
The rest of the time my stylist was transforming me into Ryan Gosling, we spoke about our favorite style of fighter, the most recent Jon Jones (the #1 mixed martial artist in the world) fight, and The Ultimate Fighter, MMA’s premiere reality show.
It was a conversation that I’ve recently had with an ever-diversifying set of humans. But, admittedly, MMA has an extremely long way to go before it’s appreciated or even understood by the general TV audience. Most people who channel flip still dislike or detest the sport, mostly because, unless you’ve practiced martial arts, the chess match between some of the best athletes in the world, simply looks like a bloody bar room brawl with “some true awkwardness on the ground.”
It’s the same deal with people who think ‘golf is boring’ or ‘Nascar is just guys driving in circles.’ Simply put, we don’t have the attention span for those activities of which we do not understand their nuances. The fascination towards a unique swing, or the beauty of the perfect line around a track cannot be comprehended without some self-education.
So, with my love of MMA and with The Ultimate Fighter debuting their first season with female fighters, I was extremely excited to catch up with Roxanne ‘The Happy Warrior’ Modafferi.
Modafferi has fought some of the best martial artists in the world both abroad in Japan and here in the U.S. within Strikeforce, King of the Cage (two top MMA promotions), and presently as a cast member in the UFC’s Fox1 reality show. What most people don’t realize is that until very recently, a career in fighting for female martial artists wasn’t even an option. So, at the same time she was competing in Japan, she was teaching english courses through Berlitz while training Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by day.
In the show, Roxanne is known as the ever-positive, intellectual, zen-like athlete. Check out this video of her talking strategy before her Ultimate Fighter debut, and follow-up with our interview below:
TANR: Where do you think your ‘happy warrior’ attitude comes from?
My mother always stresses trying to see the positive side to things. She said that our emotions come from our ways of thinking, so if we can be conscious of, change and control the thoughts that go through our heads, we can change our emotions for the better.
I apply this to everything I do in life, including fighting and martial arts.
What was one life lesson you learned as a result of living and teaching in Japan?
Every human being is a different individual, influenced by culture, upbringing, and personality. As a teacher, and also as a human, I have to take that into consideration when dealing with others. I teach different people in different ways. We have to be flexible and sensitive, and not force things on people just because we think it’s ‘the best way.’
What role do you think your positive attitude plays in helping you to reach your goals?
I think staying positive has helped me persevere during the hard and challenging times. It’s mentally healthier to smile a lot, and it makes other people warm up to you.
Who were your mentors as you’ve developed as a martial artist and what’s one piece of advice/wisdom that you continue to think about along your journey?
I looked up to all my teachers. Especially Kirik Jenness has always been there for me, first in training me, and then being a cornerman for me when I flew in from Japan and couldn’t afford to fly in a corner. Hiroyuki Abe from the dojo AACC said once, “tatsujin ni naritai.” That means, “I want to become a master of my art.” That phrase stuck with me and keeps me focused on, not my lofty aspirations of being a champion, but rather perfecting my art. taking personal satisfaction in that, and THEN using those elite skills I’ve acquired to win. But the focus should be on self-improvement. Katsumura-san from the dojo Groundslam taught me a lot and helped me get my confidence back.
Before a big fight what thoughts are going through your head?
I just want to do the technique I’ve been training so hard to do. I want to make myself proud, and make my teachers proud, and show them that I can do it.
Do you do any type of visualization or meditation to help quiet your mind and/ or envision your goals?
I like taking walks, especially at night (in a safe area) listening to music. The music depends on my mood. I just let my mind think about whatever. Before I fight, I tend to visualize different ways I can win. If it’s just a normal day, I let my mind wander and work over any problems or issues I’m having. If we force our brains to think, it takes energy. But our brains are still working, while just walking and listening to music.
How do you deal with the fear of losing and injury?
I try not to think about it. There’s no use in worrying over a possibility. I alleviate that by preparing as best I can.
What part does healthy eating and living play in your martial arts journey?
If I eat healthy foods, my body feels good, but if I eat like crap, I feel sick and get stomach aches, or I’m tired. Eating is the most important thing to my health, I think. I always eat a wide variety of foods, but I can’t cut out ice cream!
What does your ‘morning routine’ look like when training?
My body always wakes me up super early. I’m lucky if I can get past 5 AM. I eat a big breakfast, take a quick walk, warm up and stretch for 15 minutes. Then I use the computer for a few hours before going to the gym and training, or doing chores.
I’m always trying to convince my non-MMA loving friends how great of a sport it is. How would you describe the sport of MMA in its purest form?
MMA is applying a variety of physical techniques on another person to make them give up. Your body, mind, and physical strengths are your weapons. It’s interesting to see who has what kind of weapons in what quantities.
How’d you convince yourself to follow a passion like MMA despite the incredibly slim chances of anyone truly becoming successful enough to make a living from it?
I didn’t believe that I could make a living out of it, until a few months ago. That’s why I lived in Japan teaching full-time almost my entire professional career.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s teetering on the edge of deciding whether or not to follow their own passion or play it safe in life?
If you are teetering, then you probably aren’t motivated enough to make it to the top. If your mind is already churning out possibilities and ways to somehow get funding and survive while training…you’ll work hard and get there some day!
Last question: (We try and ask this of everyone)…What is the most important book in your life that you’ve ever read?
I’m not sure if it’s THE most important. However, there’s a French play called Cyrano DE ‘Bergerac, and I’m actually named after the heroine “Roxanne.” Cyrano was a famous swordsman who was an amazing poet, but had a very ugly long nose. He was in love with Roxanne, but was too afraid to say anything, since he thought he was ugly. However, another soldier was also in love with Roxanne, and Cyrano helped him by writing poetry for her. But she fell in love with the soldier, thinking he was writing. The ending was a tragedy because the soldier was killed, and Cyrano was also fatally injured. Roxanne found out it was really him just as he was dying. It really made me think, we have to be honest and true to ourselves and not try and guess what other people are going to do and think. You owe it to yourself to make yourself happy.
**Thanks so much to Roxanne for the thoughtful answers!!
NOW, Check out Our Interview of an Insane Interview: We Interviewed This World Class Watermen on Fearless Living, Spirituality, Entrepreneurship, and a Winning Morning Routine.