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Vital Force - Meet PT And Martial Artist Yvonne Mo

As seen in our Spring issue!


Credit: Jay Sullivan


The gym is my home. I first picked up weights when I was 12 years old, when my karate teacher took me to Harbor Fitness in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. By 14, I’d bought weights and created a gym at home. At 16, I started working for Harbor Fitness so I could get a free gym membership. Regardless of what I was going through in life, from my teens to adulthood, I’ve always had the gym as my mental home base. The moment I touch a dumbbell, it’s the start of an emotional meditation, and my body feels loved and cared for.


I identify as a butch lesbian. I am single, and looking for a monogamous relationship with a partner who can balance my energy but share a similar foundation. As a kung fu martial artist, I think in terms of energy balance, even in romantic relationships. I hope to find someone who has opposite strengths and weaknesses; however, I want us to share similar morals and values.


I was working on a degree in exercise science at the University of San Francisco when I gave up my scholarship, due to the school’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. I didn’t have much of a plan; I just knew that I couldn’t live in an environment that put me back in the closet. I’d only come out a few months before. One day I thought I was going to be a soldier; the next day I was looking for a job to repay the scholarship money. Training was the only thing that felt natural. I used to teach karate and train friends just for fun, so I became a professional trainer even though most people who cared about me looked down on it. I just knew two things: I love training, and it helps people.


One of the kung fu styles that I practice is ving tsun. It is the only martial art that was developed by a woman. She was a Shaolin nun, and created this close combat style as a means of self-defense for young girls. The most famous figure in ving tsun is Bruce Lee, who learned it from his sifu (kung fu teacher), Ip Man. Though I think all women should learn ving tsun, I think it is just one of the two martial arts that women should practice to improve their health. The other is tai chi. It is extremely powerful when done correctly. It is more than the slow moving you see at the park; it can be very dynamic. Your qi (or vital force) becomes very strong, and will carry over and give you energy throughout your day.


My philosophy is to do what works. There have been so many fads since I first entered the gym 18 years ago. Everyone is different—so the best way to achieve fitness might be different for each of my clients. If something isn’t working, I change it. I re-evaluate the baseline requirements for what we’re targeting and form a new program. Staying open-minded to different fit- ness ideologies has made my work with clients effective because I’m not afraid to throw out a program and try other things. My clients appreciate that I’m willing to journey with them to see how the workouts and diets are changing them.


Obesity rates are higher in the lesbian community than in any other group. Though I believe in loving your body and not having to hold yourself to ridiculous media standards, I also believe that we need to have healthy baselines to prevent illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. I started working out as a kid to feel strong, because it made me feel good—not to look hot or to get girls. I think we need to redirect our attitude toward fitness, and see the need to work out as a way to live happier and healthier lives. Fit- ness is something that you do for you, not for anyone else.


I treat my clients the way my martial arts teachers treated me. I see personal training as more than just a one-hour session, more than just a financial transaction. I am here for my clients because I understand that they take care of me as well, and not just monetarily. I know fitness is for a lifetime, and I am not afraid to refer them out to other trainers, or to other forms of fitness training. I think I understand what I can do to help them—and I love them enough to make sure they get their needs met. That’s what sets me apart from other trainers. I know my clients appreciate that I am quick to refer them to a sports medicine specialist instead of just guessing about what is causing their pain, or to a marathon running coach instead of pretending that I am the best coach for that specific goal. In the end, I know that as long as I do my job well, and I care about my clients more than I care about money, I will have a successful career.





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