In March of this year, Yangon was buzzing with the news of the much-anticipated fight. Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Aung La N Sang was back from Maryland after 12 years.

Originally from Kachin, Aung La moved to Yangon when he was seven then went to Michigan to study agricultural science. In his Sophomore year in college, he decided to learn jujitsu and that’s when he decided to become a professional fighter. That was 15 years ago. Now 31, Aung La recently knocked out his opponent on the first round, in a mere 2.5 minutes, making this his most memorable fight in his hometown.

Aung La currently lives with his wife and one-year old son, Aung De in Baltimore. When he’s not fighting, he manages and co-owns Crazy 88, a martial arts school in Maryland.

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Q: How did it feel to knock down your opponent in such a short time?
A: It felt good. As much as I love a long and exciting fight, it’s good to end fights fast.

Q: What do you say to those who weren’t happy about that, including your fans?
A: You can’t make everyone happy…my job is to fight hard and do my best to win in my home country.

Q: What do you like best about being a professional fighter?
A: The training. It amazes me what your body can do a er you train it. How you can use your body to break arms, legs, choke people out. (He giggles) To each on your own, right?

Q: What does your training consist of?
A: I wake up at 6am and by 6:30 I’m strength training. I eat breakfast then teach kickboxing, jujitsu and mar al arts at Crazy 88, a gym in Maryland that I co-own.

Q: What do you like about MMA versus other type of fights?
A: It’s a type of fighting that combines all the types of martial arts together.
You have to know everything and use everything together—jujitsu, wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, judo. Also, I like the fact that you can’t hide. If you’re not good at something or a certain technique, it’s gonna show.

Q: Do you remember how you felt during your first fight ever?
A: Yes, it was my Sophomore year in college. The fight was called o because the referee ruled that I couldn’t fight anymore. I was angry because I knew I could have won that fight. I remember I loved the feeling of fighting. It’s such a rush.

Q: What are you fighting for?
A: I want to hold the title of One Championship, which is the most prestigious title you can get in MMA. That belt is going to be mine in the near future. I can feel it in my hands.

Q: Any other goal other than winning the title?
A: I want to come back to Yangon and open my own school, but only when my career is done.

Q: When do you think your career will be done?
A: It’s hard to say when I’m done but I’ll know when I’m done.

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Q: What’s the most important thing to you?
A: If I die today, I’d be okay with it because I try to live my life to the fullest. I work towards a goal that will be positive towards other people.

Q: is training as glamorous as it looks?
A: Day to day training is boring and it’s hard. You wake up every morning and you’re sore and red, but you have to s ll keep training. It’s not an overnight success story, that’s for sure and fighting is the not the most lucrative profession.

Q: What makes a good laughter?
A: Passion.

Q: Is winning important?
A: It is, but progressing is more important than winning, but winning is important because losing is painful.

Q: What changes have you seen in yourself in the past few years?
A: Mental maturity, maturity in technique and acceptance by society, in general. Fighting wasn’t popular or accepted. It wasn’t mainstream as it is now. It was underground back in the days.

Q: How do you prepare yourself before a fight?
A: I make sure my breathing is correct and I’m in the moment. I try not to over think. I quiet my breathing and center my thoughts.

Q: How do you do that?
A: I use a breathing routine and I focus on one thing, so when I fight I’m in the moment. I think it’s good to stop and take a step back and assess where you’re going.

Q: Where are you going?
A: Right now I’m in a phase where I have to do and do and do and do. Later, I feel like I’ll have more me to relax.

Q: You went to ISY (interna onal School Yangon). What kind of student were you? A: I was above average, but not honors.

Q: Who do you look up to?
A: I admire my parents, my dad, I admire a lot of my team mates at Crazy 88. I admire anybody that’s passionate and driven.

Q: What’s the most important part of being a fighter?
A: Being professional and making it your life is most important. Before, I will let my friends or family take away from my me in training but eventually, I learned that you have to cut it o .

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?
A: Thinker, fighter, student

Q: What did you want to do with your degree?
A: I wanted to come back to Myanmar and improve agricultural industry here. I wanted to take it to the next level. I s ll want to, but I don’t know if I have the time. Maybe in my next life?

Q: You’re very passionate about the Kachin refugee cause, yes?
A: I don’t want to get into a political topic. It makes me very sad, but yes I am. It’s always good to be charitable. Burmese are known to be the most generous people in the world. That makes me proud.

Q: You recently had a baby boy. how do you juggle family and professional life?
A: Yes, his name is Aung De meaning Big Victory. It’s hard to juggle that and you just have to make me for them. Fortunately I have a good support system.

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Q: Tell me a bit about your wife.
A: She’s from Baltimore and she’s a purple belt in jujitsu. That’s how we met.

Q: What’s your goal with Crazy 88?
A: I do it as part of my love for teaching kids and adults self defense, how to get in shape and reach whatever goal they have.

Q. How do you prepare yourself before a fight?
A: I make sure my breathing is correct and I’m in the moment. I try not to over think. I quiet my breathing and center my thoughts.

Q: How do you do that?
A: I use a breathing routine and I focus on one thing, so when I fight I’m in the moment. I think it’s good to stop and take a step back and assess where you’re going.

Q: Where are you going?
A: Right now I’m in a phase where I have to do and do and do and do. Later, I feel like I’ll have more me to relax.

Q: You went to ISY (interna onal School Yangon). What kind of student were you?

I played sports, but I wasn’t super good at it, but I was good at martial arts. I didn’t party or go out as much. I was pretty socially awkward. I still am.

Q: What’s your hobby?
A: I like cooking. I like eating, I guess. When I cook well, and they eat my well-cooked dishes, it makes me happy that they’re happy.

Q: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
A: I like to make chicken and curry. I’m not great with Kachin food, but I’m learning
it now.

Q: What do you enjoy when you’re back in Myanmar?
A: As a kid, I used to love the ferris wheel and the night market. I also miss the family aspect, the community. I miss the food here. There’s a lot of down me here.

Q: What kind of Myanmar food do you like?
A: I like fried crickets. I like the street food, especially lapha hote (picked tea salad). I love kyay oh.

Q: You seem so determined. You have a centeredness about you.
A: I have a goal, a mission (laughs)

Q: What do you think makes you that way?
A: Even before going to the states (for college), I would wake up at 6:30 in the morning to work out before school.

Q: There’s many people who love to work out, though.
A: I think you’re kinda born with it. Let me tell you why. My son is only a year old. Since he’s a baby, when he cries I’ll tell him to stop and he’ll smile for a second and he might even go back to crying, but he has that resilience. Certain people have that certain demeanor where they’re more calm, centered and resilient.

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Q: Would you say that you are spiritual?
A: I’m a Chris an and it is a big part of me, but I’m trying become a better Christian.

Q: Does that help with your fights?
A: It helps me to become a better person for other people. It helps me to know my maker and purpose of me being here.

Q: What’s your purpose?
A: My purpose is to first take care and provide for my family. My other purpose is to inspire and help those around me.

Q: You seem like such a nice person. So spoken and gentle. How do you manage to fight?
A: You may think I’m nice, but when I fight, I’m gonna be in there for one reason.

Q: What’s your diet like?
A: I eat a lot of complex carbohydrates, vegetables and protein.

Q: Any tips?
A: Don’t eat too much rice because rice has a lot of sugar and that will be converted into fat. I drink a lot of water.

Q: You seem like an extreme person?
A: I believe in moderation. But then if you are going to work for a goal, I believe in extreme. Depends on what your goals are.

Q: I’m sure there’s been times when you wanted to give up?
A: Of course, It happens when I feel like it’s not going where I want to, especially when I don’t see results. Even a er all the sacrifices, when you end up losing, that gets to you, but if you are more focused on progressing than winning, it helps.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?
A: Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.

Q: Wouldn’t you say that you’re pretty talented?
A: I’m not talented. I’m average, but I’m resilient.

Q: Doesn’t getting badly hurt scare you?
A: My fingers are messed up. My whole face is smashed and my nose is broken. You can put a board on my face and smash my face straight. No, it doesn’t scare me.

Q: What do you want your son to be?
A: I’ll definitely teach him martial arts, but I want him to do whatever he wants. I want him to be passionate at what he does.

Q: Any advice?

A: Have some sort of goal. Don’t go with what’s cool or whatscreen-shot-2016-10-07-at-7-56-06-pm’s popular. Go with what you really love because in the end, if you are happy and you love what you do, then you can be resilient and push through the hard times, and when you die, you’ll be able to live with yourself and be at peace.

Q: Any last words?
A: Keep looking out for me because this is only the beginning.

Originally published on Balance Magazine (in print only) in July 2016

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