Brains, beauty, and brawn. They say you can’t have them all, but why choose just one? If you’re Jinh Yu Frey, two-time Invicta FC atomweight champion, you don’t have to.
In addition to being a top-ranked MMA star, the indisputably beautiful Frey, of Arlington, TX, is also a radiation therapist with a master’s degree to boot. She visited Austin in January to co-headline the Onnit Women’s Sparring Party, a female-only event developed to build community and connections for female fighters of all skill levels. Afterward, Frey took time to discuss cyberbullying, body image, and education, proving that she kicks just as much ass in everyday life as she does in the cage.
Q&A with Jinh Yu Frey
Onnit: What got you into fighting?
Jinh Yu Frey: Originally, I got into MMA just to stay in shape, but I’m such a competitive person, and I don’t really do anything half-assed. Once I start doing something, I’m like, “I’ve got to be the best at this!” [laughs]. Even if it’s just walking down the street behind someone, I’ll think, “I have to beat this person!” When I first started training, one of the girls I was training with was going into her first match and, watching her, I thought to myself, “I can do this.”
When you are in the middle of a fight, hitting and getting hit, what does it feel like to you?
It’s like a rollercoaster. I feel so much pressure, because I train so hard and my coaches have put so much time and energy into working with me. I feel that I have to do something amazing in there. At the same time, fighting is also very freeing. When I was younger, I thought I would be a regular artist. But fighting, being a martial artist, is still creative, and you still have a chance to express yourself and test your abilities. It’s a double-edged sword, because I’m so stressed out when I prepare for fights [laughs], but then fighting itself is so amazing because it’s my time.
What kind of supplements do you use to stay in shape?
Your sister-in-arms, fighter and fellow Onnit Pro Tiffany Van Soest, has been vocal about taking on cyberbullies on social media. How do you handle internet haters?
I try to look at the big picture. Maybe this or that comment is hurtful, but everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and not everybody is going to like me and what I do. But those people are not in my social circle. They don’t see the work that I put in or the ups and downs that I go through. They don’t see the obstacles and struggles. So what do they matter? Who cares what they think? Am I losing sleep over it? No.
I’ve actually had to tell my husband to stop defending me online. For a long time he thought he had to be my knight in shining armor and I’m like, “Stop. You can’t be on social media for three hours going back and forth with people. Just put your phone down and let’s watch a movie. Let’s hang out.” Social media becomes a problem when it takes up that much of your personal life. It doesn’t matter.
I usually get on social media just to post what I need for sponsors, and then I shut it down.
How did you balance your fighting career with school?
Man… I did not get a lot of sleep! [laughs] I thought I would fight until I got accepted into graduate school, but then I got signed by Invicta FC. At that point, I thought I would fight just until I was done with school. But Invicta was such a great opportunity, and I decided to keep fighting.
My Mondays were insane! I would get to work at 8 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m. Then I would run to UTA [University of Texas at Arlington], which was right around the corner, and I would go to wrestling practice for an hour. Then I would shower and drive to Fort Worth to go to more classes from 6 to 10 p.m. I was going for 12 hours a day straight. But I was passionate about everything I did, so it wasn’t as hard as it sounds.
Education is important to me, and I really wanted to get my degree so that I could have something to fall back on. Fighting was something I didn’t want to give up, either, because I was really starting to get some momentum in my career and there were so many great opportunities for women that weren’t there when I first started as an amateur. I think when you are passionate about things, you find a way to make it all work. Maybe you have to sacrifice a bit of sleep… or maybe you have to sacrifice a lot of sleep [laughs]. Maybe you don’t get a lot of time to do things on the weekends that you would want to do. You just have to prioritize and figure out what is important to you and what makes you happy.
You mentioned that you wanted your education to give you something you could fall back on. What are you career goals outside of fighting?
I finished my master’s degree and then, right after that, I quit working full-time, which I know is weird. Now that I have had more personal time, I really value that time versus being stuck in the 9-to-5 rat race. Once I’m done fighting, I would like to find a way to make a living, maybe teaching in a gym or something else. It would be great if I could use that expensive-ass degree [laughs] so that I don’t feel like it’s for nothing. But fighting is what I am focusing on right now. The clock is ticking! I have a limited amount of time that I can fight. I want to enjoy my later years, so, ideally, I would like to get out of the sport before I have any major injuries in my knees, back, or neck. I don’t want anything to happen that will be chronic or limit what I can do in my later years.
How do other women who aren’t fighters react to what you do?
It’s mixed, but I would say the reactions are mostly positive because cultural norms lately have really shifted. People want to see strong, athletic women. I still hear that I must be on performance-enhancing drugs or that I have the body of a 14 year-old boy, but I do what I love and my body is made to be a machine. I don’t care to impress anybody; I’m just here to get in the match and beat somebody’s ass [laughs].
Sometimes, when I dress up, I wish I could be more curvy and feminine, but this is what I got. This is what I have to work with.
What advice would you give women struggling with low self-esteem?
I think you need to find what it is that makes you feel beautiful, strong, and empowered. If I didn’t fight and I just had this straight, no-curves body, I would probably feel more self-conscious about it. But I’m fine with it because my body is a machine for fighting right now. I put it through hell, and this is the product. This is what it looks like so I can do what I love. So as long as you find what makes you happy, you will find acceptance within yourself.
You once said in an interview that many people think fighters aren’t smart and can’t do anything else. But you’re living proof that that’s false. How can we dispel that myth?
Get more people involved in martial arts. Martial arts speak to people from all walks of life. It is not necessarily just for people who are uber aggressive. Training is a great equalizer. I go to my jiu-jitsu school and have physicians and lawyers in my classes. The values martial arts teach speak to all people.
Outside of your sport, what are you passionate about?
Travel! I love to travel. I visited Iceland recently and it was pretty awesome. I actually spent the tail end of one of my fight camps there. It was a pretty wild experience.
The head coach was this seven-foot tall Viking and he would just be screaming at me in Icelandic! I had no idea what he was saying but I got the message. I thought, “OK, go harder!” [laughs] But Iceland was beautiful; it’s like a calendar everywhere you look.
Follow Frey on Instagram, @jinhyufrey.