The last thing Francesca Ling contemplated growing up was putting on a pair of gloves and taking a swipe at someone.
“I always thought it was kind of intimidating,” the Chicago native told Hayabusa during an exclusive interview. “I thought only, like, big, strong guys did that kind of stuff.”
What didn’t intimidate her was stepping foot on stage and acting. Ling has an extensive theatre history, which includes a roster of productions from West Side Story to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Ling, who is also a classically trained operatic soprano, has sharpened her thespian skills at Acting Studio Chicago, the British American Drama Academy, and the University of Southern California, just to name a few places.
After moving to Los Angeles, she discovered that one thing she wasn’t sure she was cut out to do — Muay Thai. As it turns out, it was something that actually spoke to her. About seven years ago, she had a shift in thinking after meeting with a woman who owned and operated a Muay Thai gym.
This pairing has played a crucial role in her pursuit of happiness.
“I love the discipline that it's given me,” Ling said. “One, with my fitness, and two, with my life. I find that what I learn in the gym permeates throughout my entire life. So it's the lessons in the discipline of training, the commitment of showing up, the focus to work hard, and the community of people that it's created for me. We are all getting stronger, mentally and physically.”
As Ling navigates the world of acting, the level of discipline Muay Thai has rooted in her actions has been essential. She’s landed roles in Hawaii Five-0, The Good Neighbor, and a recurring role as "Parker" in CBS’s God Friended Me.
Practicing a combat sport has afforded Ling the ability to comfortably focus her perspective on happiness and healthy expectations. It’s given her a level of patience that is a classic byproduct of martial arts.
“I think in our world, we can get really distracted with the chaos of everything and allow those negative thoughts,” she said. “And sometimes the downside of social media can be that we are always comparing ourselves, what we should have, and that's not necessarily the truth. I feel like my life as an actor has been all about having patience for myself because it's hard to measure success with any one specific job.”
The fight is not with somebody else. It's not with the other person in the ring. The fight's with myself. So it’s about constantly working toward being better every single time.
Instead, she defines that success by determining her level of happiness. And yes, she’s happy.
She isn’t busy comparing her life to someone else’s. Instead, Ling works on improving what makes her a better version of herself.
“The fight is not with somebody else. It's not with the other person in the ring,” Ling said. “The fight's with myself. So it’s about constantly working toward being better every single time. Learning about myself. What are my weaknesses? What are my strengths? That's what combat sports have taught me.”
It has also ingrained in her the ability to maintain a high level of focus, especially considering she often travels to shoot on film sets and works long hours. She stays grounded at home by doing the things that bring her joy: baking, spending time with friends and, of course, Muay Thai.
And in all of that, she continues to work on elements of herself that ensure she’s centered and able to pursue whatever it is that is in front of her.
“My own strength, both physical and mental, has grown tremendously. And I had a goal in mind. And I think I've reached that many times over. … It's about having patience with yourself and going on that journey of learning and growing.”