Jo Zoino is an old soul in a young, extremely agile frame. A fighter with a background in boxing and Muay Thai, he has a mind-body connection that is visible in the command of his body, a graceful flow that is mesmerizing and meditative to watch. But Jo is also a lover in his zen-like life philosophy and appreciation of the simple things like a good cup of coffee, a book, and a sunny day. He believes that it's the journey, not the destination that's important, and tries to live his life accordingly.
We asked Jo about his background, his experiences, and his life philosophy in this week's Lovers & Fighters blog article titled: "It's the Journey, Not the Destination."
YORK ATHLETICS: Where are you from? How did you end up in Boston?
JO ZOINO: I’m originally from Flushing, NY. I ended up in Boston to pursue a graduate degree.
YORK: You recently moved to Connecticut for a job in engineering. How is that going?
JZ: I just started so it has been mostly training but I’m trying to enjoy myself while developing new skills.
YORK: We met you at the Ultimate Self Defense Performance Center, where you were training with coach Xavier Ramos and the Rajasi Muay Thai team. Where did your passion for Muay Thai originate? What's your background? (Were you a high school or college athlete, was there a point in your life where you realized you loved martial arts, where did you train, etc.)
JZ: My first love was basketball. I used to go to the park after school and on the weekends and play for hours. I was more of a street baller although I did play for a year in high school which ended with an injury that required surgery. After my second surgery (again due to basketball) I decided it was time to hang em up. As a kid my mother signed me up for things like Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu but I used to skip those classes to play ball or computer games (until she finally caught me), so I’m not sure how I came to like fighting or the martial arts. I think the interest came after I discovered films like Ali starring Will Smith, Never Back Down, and of course anything Bruce Lee. Recovering from my second surgery and at the start of my undergraduate studies, I needed a physical activity to keep me sane. I met a guy at the school gym who was doing some crazy ab workout on the pull up bar and so I went over and talked to him. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went but he told me he had boxed at a gym in town. So long story short, he started teaching me basics and eventually I joined a boxing gym. I had a few fights here and there but eventually got fed up with boxing because I found myself in a bad situation with the gym. Once I moved to Boston for my graduate degree I shopped around for gyms in the area. I felt like I needed to move on from boxing but, I was still interested in the fight game. I had watched a bit of K-1 on Youtube so I thought I’d try out kickboxing. That’s how I eventually ended up at Rajasi.
YORK: From a training standpoint, how do you think Muay Thai preparation is different than preparation for other sports or other martial arts?
JZ: I haven’t had much experience preparing for other sports competitively except for my one year of playing high school basketball and football so I’m not sure how they compare to preparing for Muay Thai. In my opinion, fighting (boxing or Muay Thai) is as much a team sport as any other with some differences. You have to trust your team and your preparation because without that you won’t have confidence in your ability to perform.
YORK: Do you have any mental rituals that help you stay focused and prepare you for a fight night?
JZ: In preparation for my last competition I practiced visualizing fight night. I would try to imagine my walk out, from the music playing to the people in the crowd. Then I would envision throwing certain combinations at my opponent.
YORK: Have you been given a nickname by one of your coaches? If yes, what is the meaning behind it?
JZ: Xavi gave me the nickname Jaguar lol but I didn’t ask why.
YORK: We talk about our brand ambassadors being fighters in that they understand that hard work and hustle (#lovethehustle) are what makes things happen. You are a Muay Thai fighter, but do you relate to the word fighter outside of martial arts? Or are they one and the same for you?
JZ: I think everyone’s a fighter in their own right.
YORK: What is one of the most personally rewarding thing you have ever done?
JZ: Buying a plane ticket to Europe a couple of years ago. Traveling to a place far from home with no one I knew taught me a lot about myself and how little I actually know about the world. As the saying goes: “The more I see, the less I know.”
YORK: Were there obstacles you had to overcome to get where you are?
JZ: Plenty, including and not limited to countless injuries, expectations, my upbringing, my ego, people that didn’t believe in me, people that didn’t necessarily want to see me succeed, my belief in myself, always moving from place to place because of school or work, and probably more that aren’t coming to mind at the moment.
YORK: Is there a person in your life who inspires you, whether it’s a friend, family member, someone you work with, a client, or even someone famous (alive or dead)? Who is it and why do they inspire you?
JZ: I don’t grab inspiration from one single person necessarily. It can be different day to day and always changing. If I need to draw motivation quickly I’ll listen to guys like Tim Ferris or Aubrey Marcus who have their own podcasts while at other moments I’m motivated by the single mother who is working at the cafeteria or the overweight guy who is at the gym consistently even though he knows everyone judging him.
YORK: Do you have a quote that really resonates with your life?
JZ: I have this posted on the gram but I really do come back to it a lot: “It’s the journey, not the destination.”
YORK: What would a perfect day be like for you?
JZ: I think this depends on where I am in life, but as of right now: wake up, a good cup of coffee (from a hipster café of course), get some training in, hit the sauna, go to work, read a book/listen to a podcast somewhere out in the sun (the beach or a park with soft grass), have a big dinner (preferably a juicy grass-fed steak cooked rare with fries and a big salad), then chill with a girl (if applicable).
YORK: What are some of your fav tunes at the moment?
JZ: I love Latin music so anything Ozuna, Maluma, Bad Bunny, Manuel Turizo, etc.
YORK: Is there a book/podcast/video/movie that you've read/seen lately that inspired you?
JZ: Tim Ferris, Chris Ryan, Aubrey Marcus, and Dan Carlin are all people I listen to very often through podcasts and they usually inspire me in some way.
YORK: What is it about YORK Athletics that resonates with you?
JZ: YORK is a dope brand that makes simple yet satisfying products and that’s what I try to incorporate in my fashion, work, and hobbies. I feel like with so much information in the world today that doing “simple” is not an easy feat. But when done right simple can be tremendously effective. Simple and consistent is what I strive for and I believe YORK has a similar philosophy.
Jo Zoino trained with the Rajasi Muay Thai team at Ultimate Self Defense & Performance Center in South Boston. For more about Jo, the Rajasi Muay Thai team or Ultimate Self Defense, check out these links:
Photo cred: Buck Squibb