This past month I interviewed my childhood Mixed Martial Arts instructor Sensei (meaning teacher in Japanese) Scott Zapfel of Tiger Schulmann’s MMA. After graduating from Rutgers University, Sensei Zapfel worked for an environmental engineering company and became severely out of shape. He discovered Tiger Schulmann’s in 1995 not realizing that his destiny would soon begin to unfold.
In the Eye of the Tiger
Sensei Zapfel earned his 1st degree black belt at a school in Toms River, New Jersey. In 1999 he was given an incredible opportunity to work for Shihan (master instructor) Ron Schulmann, the younger brother of Master Danny “Tiger” Schulmann, at their flagship school in New York City. After a few months, under the direction of Shihan Schulmann, Sensei Zapfel entered the apprentice training program. He then spent the next 13 months training directly under Master Tiger Schulmann. Here he was pushed to his limit each session to ensure his dedication and commitment. This kind of commitment is what Master Schulmann wanted and looked for in each of his instructors. The only way out of this program was either by promotion to Sensei or by quitting. In June of 1999, Scott Zapfel was promoted to Sensei.
Heart of a Champion
Sensei Zapfel has competed in a variety of competitions, including the Challenge of Champions prior to earning his black belt. Once earning his black belt, there was a full contact division that Sensei was able to fight in. There he had won 3 out of 4 bare-knuckle fights from December of 1999 to March of 2000. His overall competition record was 11-3.
90 Day Journey
Sensei Zapfel tries to live every day as healthy as possible. When he entered training in 1999, Master Tiger Schulmann had him embark on a 90-day fitness regimen. This included a very strict nutritional program, which became 180 days when it ended. Since then he has always maintained a pretty simple and healthy diet.
Lifelong Role Model
I have personally trained under Sensei Zapfel since I was 6 years old. I did not have many male role models growing up and he certainly filled that void. Under his auspices I learned the importance of discipline and responsibility at a very young age, something I uphold with honor to this day. By the age of 10 I had completed training for my first-degree black belt. My time at Tiger Schulmann’s concluded when I was 12 after fracturing my kneecap during a tornado kick competition. I did however win the competition. Little did I know that 10 years following my injury I would find myself returning to train under Sensei Zapfel once again. I now realize how influential this lost piece from my childhood was on my individual growth. Sensei Zapfel’s father once said, “Whatever the job, do it to the best of your ability.” This is just one of the many lessons he has passed unto me. Thank you.
Written by GUADS intern Joe with contributions from tsk.com.