Sitting down with WAKO USA kickboxing champion, the defiant Latricia Morris
by Dane McGuire
WAKO Team USA Kickboxing’s LaTricia Morris is far more than just a fighter and a national champion. The fighter, fitness trainer, author and mother is considered a modern renaissance woman. By her own admission, she is a shadow of her former self—and that’s a good thing.
“Growing up I was the poor, unpopular chubby girl. I had seasons where I did things like cheerleading and track but injuries took me out of those before I reached adolescence,” Morris said.
“Aside from sports, I had endured a number of traumas and didn’t know how to cope. I was a wreck. I ended up barreling down a path of self destruction, getting into trouble, smoking, drinking and wrestling with addiction with pharmaceutical and street drugs. Thankfully, those days are better than a decade and a half behind me and I am so far from being that girl,” she continued.
Following the events of her childhood, and later motherhood, her foray into the world of combat sports originated during her post-pregnancy weight loss journey. She grew up watching her mother and other family members constantly being severely ill. Her mother especially was always incredibly sick and could not do much of anything with her daughters.
“Her sickness kept her from being able to work and participate in many of the mom things. Instead, she spent most of my life in the bed, in the hospital, being rolled out the door on stretchers, in comas and having repeated near-death experiences until she finally passed away in 2017 at the age of 52,” Morris said.
“Fast forward and here I was a young mom with two kids and over 200 pounds with multiple chronic health conditions. I was sick, tired and knew things had to change so I didn’t end up like my mom,” she continued.
Morris then kicked her journey off with an 11-week initiative with raw foods – focusing on raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some sprouted grains and minimal amounts of anything else. She put scriptures and affirmations on her fridge and pressed through.
“On the other side of it, I wasn’t having problems with my kidneys any more, I was seeing many problems go in reverse from liver/gall bladder to blood sugar issues and so on. I was losing weight and felt so much more energized. It’s what I say was my “eureka” moment as it opened my eyes to just how important nutrition really is” Morris said.
After this point, the Morris of today began to form thanks to the before-mentioned sport of kickboxing.
“I first took interest in kickboxing when I was working to lose weight after having my kids. I had a few DVDs at home that incorporated various strikes as part of a workout routine. When we moved to Pennsylvania in 2017, I told my husband I wanted to get into classes which I did at a gym around the corner from our house,” Morris said.
Morris said she dove in headlong, training six days a week and often for hours at a time. While these were just bag classes with occasional mitt work and more focused on fitness, it gave her a place to start.
“I learned a lot but didn’t know what I didn’t know until I attended a training session with Joe Lewis Fighting Systems Vice President Tom Updegrove. I absolutely loved what he taught that day. It just so happened it was about a week before Action Mega Weekend in Atlantic City in 2019,” Morris said.
“I hopped in my car, showed up knowing no one and just jumped in. Short of the training I’d just done with Tom, I’d never trained like we trained that weekend – I’d never sparred, never run interaction drills. It was all new but I loved every bit of it,” she added.
At this event, Morris met JLFS President Phil Maldonato and WAKO USA President Rob Zbilski along with many of the trainers and fighters with their respective systems. In the month that followed, Zbilski sent Morris the flyer for the national championships hosted in Augusta Georgia in 2019.
“Before then, I had never thought about competing. I was just excited to share the flyer (and) news on social (media) to help spread the word. I then saw the video that Rob posted talking about it being an open for anyone who wanted to participate. My husband encouraged me to go for it so I signed up. I Had no idea exactly what I was getting myself into or how it was going to take my life in a new and amazing direction,” Morris said.
Morris said to say JLFS has had a huge impact on my life would surely be an understatement. From the time Phil Maldonato throat-checked her the first day they met, she knew he was “the one”, her instructor.
She discovered he teaches out of Webb Fitness and MMA in Sewell, New Jersey about two hours away from her home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She said it’s a trek but he’s accessible and training with him is an honor.
“I actually never got to meet Joe. I didn’t learn about him or his association until after he’d passed. I do wish I could have met him though. I absolutely adore the people that make up JLFS and from the stories I hear and the videos I see on their site, I would have absolutely loved beyond words to have had the opportunity to train with him first-hand,” Morris said.
“As far as any threat I pose as a fighter, I feel like it’s more heart and head set than anything. I’ve been through a lot in my lifetime. It’s not in me to tuck tail and run. My journey with martial arts helps me in many ways, especially in how I approach adversity in and out of the ring. I don’t look at myself in terms of being a threat. I’m just not inclined to roll over,” she added.
Morris is a fighter, mother and business owner. For her, it all comes down to leaving a legacy.
“My journey, from overcoming all the messy life stuff to the health struggles I’ve faced to the injuries we pick up along the way in our sport, has given me an amazing opportunity to teach my kids to live a life that defies the odds – one where we choose to step up when most would lie down, one where we refuse to concede to any other outcome, Morris said.
“As a fighter and as a business owner, I need them to see grit and tenacity in action. I want them to learn by example what it means to dig in and refuse to settle. I want them to dare to go for big things and to see the fruits of faith, discipline and determination,” she continued.
She said one thing motherhood teaches as you watch the time pass too quickly and the kids grow so fast is the value of the present. She said today is an opportunity to teach, to learn, to grow in some way and to embrace a moment you’ll never get back.
As if she doesn’t already have a full load on her shoulders, Morris has put out multiple books
“I actually wrote, illustrated and published 2 kids’ books earlier on in my journey with nutrition. It Came from the Cupboard and The Good, The Bad & The Broccoli were published September 2016,” Morris said.
“Writing the kids books and doing all the illustrative work was quite a task. I put in many late nights, putting the kids to bed and staying up to the wee hours of the morning working on illustrations and layouts but it was certainly a joy to see them come together,” she continued.
She has created works for both kids and adult audiences, which she said were drastically different experiences.
“Writing for adults was definitely a different task altogether but one I look forward to doing again with other projects I have in mind/in-process. Life being life, I’ve had to start, set aside and return to my work as an author but little by little, it comes together,” Morris said.
Sometimes the gaps help me reassess my writing and revisit it with a fresh take/set of eyes that ultimately helps to clarify the vision for the project and to make sure that I’m conveying the intended message best I can.
What was your experience at the 2021 Nationals like, especially as we are in a pandemic?
“ALL of my experiences with WAKO have been all incredibly top notch. I absolutely love the people and the sense of class they bring to the sport, sophisticated and with high standards, not sloppy bar brawls in Bill’s backyard,” Morris said.
“Seriously, I’m always so impressed with how “on top of it” they are. They run things so well. I’d say the obstacles presented by the pandemic have merely given them yet another means to showcase their adaptability as they never break stride from their grit and professionalism in moving things forward in that organization and for all those it impacts,” she continued.
You’re a national champ! How do you feel?
“Coming home with the gold, I returned very grateful but also very humbled. The level of competition there was absolutely incredible. All of the fighters brought so much energy. Over 200 highly skilled martial artists. They brought a lot of what and a lot of heart. It really inspired me to see what can be achieved as I continue to train and work to improve,” she said.
Morris’ immediate plans involve training, training and more training. She doesn’t have any fights currently lined up but believes in continuing to refine her skills with no less passion or enthusiasm as she would if she had one lined up for next week.
“At present, I’m working to release my apparel line in soft launch phase now and preparing for the soon-coming hard launch for Defiance Fitness + Nutrition + Defense. (I hope) to continue to move things forward with my mission and business there, helping people take their lives back with fitness and nutrition,” Morris said
“I have many major goals and am ever working to progress toward them. I tend to be one to keep my goals and ambitions to myself for the most part. I’ll share tidbits but like to hold my cards close and grind things out,” she concluded.