Firas Zahabi - Mastering the Art


Recently had the great opportunity and honor in talking to one of the best in the business. The man behind the likes of Georges St-Pierre , Rory MacDonald, Patrick Côté and other top fighters: Firas Zahabi.

Zahabi and St-Pierre met as amateur fighters in times when MMA was illegal in Quebec. At one point after winning titles in Jiu Jitsu and becoming the Canadian Muay Thai champion he decided to become a trainer.

TriStar has been a home to martial arts since 1991 and when MMA came into the picture Zahabi has sort of fell into the role as MMA coach. The facts, the story is out there but what was going on in the background? Firas Zahabi on effectiveness, motivation, life and his upcoming book. - First off Firas, thanks for accepting the interview. So how was it like from the inside?

Firas Zahabi: - As I was in school - I've graduated with a BA in philosophy - I was doing martial arts too very seriously. I was training daily, studying philosophy, working. It wasn't always doing what I like. I always tell my students you know that me and Georges had jobs, went to school and did so many things. So it's not always like you start with a sponsor, train full time and such. It's usually not the case. It's not easy to get to an extra level. It takes time and there's a lot of work involved. It was a lot of hours of training, suffering and discomfort day to day. I wouldn't recommend this lifestyle to anybody.

e: - How did you find time to keep learning everything, grow your business, raise a family all at the same time?

FZ: - I believe in maximum efficiency and that you have to do everything as efficient as possible but it's not easy. I'm very lucky. My mind is always turning, I'm always reflecting. To give you an example I don't really listen to music very much because when I have some time, while I'm driving to work that's when I do these things. I'm thinking, reflecting. Half an hour there, half an hour back, twice a day. To me that's two hours for reflecting and organizing for that day. That's just one way for turning a negative into a positive. For most of the people commuting is a waste, lost time. It's the opposite to me. It's a time when I'm not distracted and I can be with my thoughts, organize my day and my next moves.

e: - What's the biggest misconception regarding you or TriStar?

FZ: - Well people might think we have a lot of resources which is not true. I've been to other gyms where they have millionaires behind them, a rich coaching staff. Ours is a handful of coaches and myself. We don't have a lot of luxury.

e: - What differentiates you the most from other trainers in your opinion?


FZ: - I think there are a lot of great trainers out there and I watch them, learn from them but I think the biggest difference is that I still spar, I get on the mat, I wrestle all my guys. Yesterday was George's first day back and we rolled, wrestled each other. On the evening I did some boxing, had my class and participated in sparring. I really believe that that's how you learn. I'm passionate about wrestling, bjj and all of striking and I think this is a big part of my success. Because of this my fighters believe me when we talk about what really works. They can't say that I don't understand. I get on the mat with them and there's no script.


e: - What are the biggest mistakes and myths you've seen over the years in MMA ?

FZ: - I think the biggest mistake is that people go to the gym and they look for shortcuts. They don't understand that technique is king. People go into fights and try to use their anger, their emotions, reflexes to win. They try to do better by force instead of technique and strategy. They try to meet the problems head on instead of angles.

e: - How do you see today's PED problems?


FZ: - I believe in health first. It's cheating and I can't understand how somebody take drugs, win a tournament or a fight and raise his hand, smiling. It's a disgrace. What's even more disgraceful is people doing the same stuff in grappling tournaments. It's a very despicable act in my opinion. My athletes are all natural, no drugs, no PEDs. I don't allow such stuff in my gym. It's strictly forbidden.


"If you really want to be efficient train the mind not just the body."

e: - You mentioned health so let's bring up another really important topic - head trauma. How does sparring look like for example at TriStar?


FZ: - I'm very concerned about head trauma and I always make sure at every practice that no one goes too rough. I try to minimize injuries as much as possible and I always tell such guys that they're missing out on great sparring because of the way they do it. Training is for learning. You're not there to fight or play Rock'em Sock'em in the training room. Usually people who go real hard in the gym lack technique. There is no perfect technique but we are there to learn. In the end when I get on the mat I want to use my technique and not strength. If you really want to be efficient train the mind not just the body. You can't let the body and the passion to get in the way. If you want to truly master the art you'll need to focus on skill.


e: - When it comes to preparing for big fights, title fights do you think that it's true even more so that it's more mental than physical for the fighter?

FZ: - The farther you are away from the fight the more it's physical and skills training. Reps, strategy, timing and so on. But the closer you are the more it becomes mental. The week of the fight it's all mental. Are you going to get in your own way or you're going to let your training come to the surface? The best fighters can do the latter.

e: - What keeps you motivated the most and how do you maintain the fire?

FZ: - I work for the fighters and just want to see them win. The biggest motivation for me is the love for learning, the knowledge. It's fascinating to me. There's an intrinsic value to this that lot of people don't understand. Being on a certain path. I'm always learning, sharing the knowledge and I'm really appreciative when someone is sharing knowledge with me.


e: - Do you have a favorite book? Something that was really influential and helped you a lot?

FZ: - Yes actuallyStephen R. Covey's 7 Habits (of Highly Effective People) has influenced me immensely. I had a copy when I was 18 and studied it a lot. I still use it and refer to this book to this day. Actually I'm in the process of writing my own book believe it or not. It won't be just a reflection on the habits but going a step further.

e: - Any plans to cover strategy as well in your book?

FZ: - Regarding strategy one of my favorite author is Robert Greene who wrote 33 strategies of war. It's a book I like very much. But to tell you the truth my strategies come from philosophy. Mostly Greek philosophy. I'm very passionate about the works of Plato and as I'm very analytical the philosophy of Socrates is very close to me (the dialogs for example which I love). Cross-examining your current beliefs and the power of observation is really important to me.

e: - It sounds as if you take this mentality with you and use it everyday, everywhere?

FZ: - Yeah, I use this in the gym and wherever I go. If you say you throw a punch like this way or that way I want you to show me, I need to see and understand the technique. That's why I still box, wrestle to this very day. To see if I can do it. If I make a claim I should be open to cross-examination. Anybody who claims to have some type of knowledge or truth should be open to this in my opinion.

e: - How does a typical day of yours look like?

FZ: - I wake up and I train myself. That's the first thing I do. Physical training. Mostly gymnastics, bodyweight, mobility, stretching. Just keeping my body healthy. Then I watch footage on guys fighting soon, analyze fights. Then I go to the gym and train with the pros. After that I go home to my kids and wife and in the evening I'm back at the gym training with the amateur fighters and everyday people. I go home at night to spend some time with my wife, maybe watch a little TV, some more fights and go to bed. Also besides all of this I have a number of franchise gyms so I have to take care of business as well and I'm trying to be involved as much as I can with Fund a Fighter.


e: - Do you have a team helping you with all of this or you do this all by yourself? Sounds pretty intimidating.

FZ: - Yeah I wear many hats you know. I have a great coaching team but on the business side I'm pretty much alone. I have some business partners now helping me and with them we can grow even bigger and I can focus more on martial arts. It is intimidating sometimes but as the book says (7 habits) you got to do what's really important and you got to do it first. You can't do everything at once so you have to take the most important and do it first thing.

e: - What's the best advice you ever heard and who gave it to you?

FZ: - Good question. It's not an easy one to answer! Regarding effectiveness, martial arts it has to be, again the 7 habits. Putting first thing first, how to organize, prioritize. It's the first habit - be proactive. No excuses. Whether you want to be a fighter, an entrepreneur, a successful person find a way and don't wait for somebody to come and give it to you. There's always a way and you have to believe it.

Thank you Firas! Wishing you all the best and can't wait to see your book!