“If we don't end war, war will end us.”
H. G. Wells
Have you struggled with your mental health at some stage in the last two years? 🧐
I certainly have — and pretty much every person I speak with has, too.
Remember, when we talk about the importance of winning the day, the alternative is losing the day. That's the war we fight within … and it's a battle we must fight anew — every single day.
Our guest for this episode has spent a lifetime at war. He's an expert at pinpointing what demons we face and providing practical strategies to defeat them.
Denny Denholm is a globally recognized boxing trainer, author of Fighting Your Demons, and Royal Marine Commando. His extraordinary life led him to Iraq where he played a vital role in the rebuild, served as Head of Security for the Iraqi Government, and even had his own bodyguard school.
On his return from a life at war, Denny has directed his focus to helping people find the positives in whatever adversity they’re facing. With a distinguished and eclectic resume, he has proven to be a solution finder and compassionate leader in some of the world’s most conflicted and challenging environments.
Denny has been an A-list bodyguard, celebrity personal trainer, founder of multiple boxing gyms, and even fought against child sex slavery.
In 2022, he was recruited as Global Operations Director for BreakPoint, a UK-based disruptive consulting company run by his good friend – and star of SAS: Who Dares Wins and SAS Australia – Ollie Ollerton.
In this episode, we talk about:
- Finding calm in increasing uncertainty
- The craziest moments from his elite military career
- The legitimacy of war in today’s world, and
- How you can fight your demons once and for all.
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Denny Denholm!
Denny, so great to see you, my friend. Thanks for coming on the Win the Day show.
I'm honored to be invited onto your Win the Day show brother! Thank you for having me.
What a career you have had. To kick things off, is there a particular story or a memory from your childhood or your time growing up that's still so vivid today?
dd, we'll get to that in a minute – but we're trying to get people to focus on their break points. When did they, like you say, have something in their life happen that they'll remember forever.
My first break point was losing my first boxing fight and then losing seven others – so I lost eight in a row. My childhood was defined by that long couple of years of defeat, even though I kept on trying to get better and keep on going to the gym and stepped up again and got beat again and stepped up again.
That was the defining part of my life. It was like I had to accept defeat and I had to find a way out of it and I suppose here I am, just turned 50 years old. The resilience through that period of time probably made me who I am today.
Accepting defeat is such a big one. We had 26-year Navy SEAL William Branum on the show recently. He said in BUD/S training, a lot of people who go in there to be special forces operators, one of the reasons they quit is because they're just not comfortable dealing with adversity and people telling them that they suck and losing on a regular basis.
If you don't have that growth mindset and resilience, it's a very difficult process to eventually acquire that skill.
I think so.
For me, I wanted an out. I was in a small village and I wanted to go travel the world and when I found out about the Royal Marine Commandos I was like, that looks amazing. So at 15 years old, my whole mind had gone in the direction as I wanted to be this commando character.
It was by going and doing that, I broke my losing streak. I went into the Royal Marines, and right at the very end after you've done all your commando tests, it was the Royal Marines boxing tournament.
I'd retired by then, I was like, “No way. I'm not boxing again! I'm done, my career’s over.” I was forced to step up and go in, and I won that fight. Then I won another fight and then I was the Royal Marines boxing champion before I even went to a fighting unit.
Then I had an opportunity to box with the Marines, box with the Navy, which led me to be a boxing coach, I suppose, because at the end of the day, my time boxing was very small compared to my time coaching, which has been most of my life.
I can imagine there would've been some tough lads in the Royal Marines boxing ring!
There are tough lads in every boxing ring, James! I think maybe there are tougher guys outside the Royal Marines.
Sure, they’re tough minds in the Marines, but I remember coming across the Golden Gloves champion, one of my defeats near the end of my amateur career. This guy, he worked all day. We were the Royal Marines, we were training all day, we were pro athletes.
The civilian mindset can be a lot stronger than the soldier mindset.
I realized that the civilian mindset can be a lot stronger than the soldier mindset, because we were given everything – whereas they had to work hard, go to the gym, put the time in the morning, put the time in the evening. So their drive and their dreams were bigger.
There are tough guys everywhere, James, it's not just in the military, that's for sure.
Plus these days people can think they're tough, but if someone else is carrying a gun or some other weapon, you could find out very quickly that the skills you might have acquired aren't particularly useful for that situation.
Being tough is a local thing. You don't really get guys like us who have been in war and we've been in trouble and been to prison. We've seen the violence, we know violence, and we’ve become destined not to be violent all the time.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Denny Denholm does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
Still, no bully is going to bully me, but my attitude had to change towards violence. It's a great period of my life where I was just so violently minded that it took years of deliberate effort to change. I did that by coming and traveling to Australia and hanging out with Aboriginals – who were violent and aggressive, at the time.
I wanted to learn their beauty – the part of dreamtime that they had – which was soft. So maybe being tough helped them trust me to get to that point where they could share those secrets, I suppose we can call them.
How have you collated all the things you’ve been exposed to – culture, religion, people – in terms of your own personal life philosophy?
That’s a great question, and it could go in so many different ways.
Having been in war, it [Iraq] was a Muslim country and coming from a Catholic environment through the IRA war and the Protestant Catholic war in Ireland, religion has played a big part in the conflict that I could see. Maybe not at a government level, but the people, the cultures, they're very dedicated to loving God.
When I was in Iraq, I really studied hard, the Quran, taught by Shia men and then taught by Sunni men. So I got both perspectives of what the teachings were like, they're very similar, but also very different and it's the same as the Protestants and Catholics. I think the reason I was so successful in Iraq, and the reason I was so successful in what I do now, is because I took time to study the religions and take the peace, love, forgiveness, and understanding.
I did the same with Buddhism. By knowing those culturally dominant feelings or emotions, I found myself able to immerse myself in the culture and not be so judgemental. So I think religion played a big part of me being me.
And by coming to Australia, I had to find my own development in spirituality before I found religious teachings useful. The Aboriginals opened my mind up to a dream and a meditation and things like that, that I was able to then look at different religions without being emotionally attached and just see it as information coming in.
Everyone who's angry is going against their religious writing.
Over the years, you start to understand that everyone who's angry is going against their religious writing. They're making excuses for it, but they're going against it and when you're dealing with conflict and you can remind people who are passionately religious, that can calm them down. The success was because of my understanding and passion for knowledge and what they love or what they say they love the most.
It's hypocritical, in every world that you're in. You're with the victims of the war and trying to strengthen them like we were in Iraq – building them into better soldiers, helping them build a country, and all that stuff. Sure, there's an argument that we shouldn't have been there in the first place, but we were there and these people needed our help.
It was my duty, I thought, as the Head of Security of the Iraqi government, that was what I was doing mostly in Iraq, was to understand their passion for something greater than themselves. When you really understand that, then you start to realize that even though they're saying these things, they're not acting in a way that would say they believe in those things.
It's quite controversial, isn't it? You say you're a really good Muslim or a really good Christian, but you're doing really bad things that go against everything Christianity is doing and the same in Islam, so it leaves you with, you're scratching your head half the time going, what's the point of anything?
How did you end up in Iraq to begin with?
That's a great question. Everything you talk about is figuring out what you want, setting goals, and looking further than where you are.
When I left the Marines, I traveled around Australia and became spiritually aware, thanks to Aboriginal people. Then I came back and I was trying to tell people about this experience, but back in the nineties, that was way beyond people's comprehension to understand self development or meditation, or listen to a tribal guy's point of view to help you dream at night time a lot easier.
People were just like, what are you talking about? You're supposed to be this tough Marine boxer guy and you're talking all this hippy stuff. It was a hard transition coming from the military, going into the spiritual sense of that.
What were some of the craziest things that you saw when you were Head of Security for the Iraqi government?
Looking back in hindsight, there was lots of crazy stuff, but it was all about the development of that country and that was the passion for us who got there. I was the Head of Security of the south central region. When I finally got out to Iraq in the first place, I had been a bodyguard for years.
I'd got out of the society I was in, chased my dreams to go down and be in the security industry, become a bodyguard. I did that for a couple years and worked with some stars and did well on that part of the career. So when Iraq broke out, it was a quick phone call to me to say, do you want to go? I was gone three days later.
The job was to get guys on the ground to secure all the locations in the Green Zone of Iraq, so that they can go on with rebuilding the country. So the first month or two months was amazing, and everyone was getting on really well with the Iraqi people and they were getting on really well with us.
Then around October 2003, there were a lot of terrorist attacks, bombs going off, people getting shot, so we had to tighten our security. So in that part of the early days of me being in Iraq, there was not really a lot going on because we were safe in a little hub of south central Iraq. There were rocket attacks and car bombs from time to time, but nothing really that affected me heads on.
We lost a woman called Fern Holland. The American viewers, you should remember her, as she was the first civilian woman to be killed in Iraq.
That was my first, “Oh fuck, we're at war, this is real.”
She was a beautiful woman, and the night before she died, she sat down with me for hours talking about what she was going to do the next day. Fern was with a guy called Bob Zangas, who was a part-time US Marine Colonel and he was doing the media, she was doing women's rights, things all over the south central region.
Fern had me on my own and she was telling me that she had found a woman who was being abused by some Baath party member of the old Saddam regime. He'd taken over the property of the woman so Fern had decided that she was going... She'd given him lots of eviction notices and he didn't listen.
She decided that if he didn't move by a certain date, she was going to demolish the house and get him off the land. She was telling me the story, and I was just like, “Fern, who have you told you're doing this? Have you shared this with any people? The Expat community?”
She hadn't. I was the Head of Security of that location and I said, “I can't let you leave in the morning, we need to resolve this. You're in danger. If you do this, you're really in danger.” She left, I went to the CIA, and told them, I went to the NCIS and I told them, told all my guys not to let her out in the morning, “We can't let these guys leave the camp, that something's happening that's going to put her in immediate danger.”
She was up with the guys, 6:30 AM or something, left, and they managed to get out nice and early, I don't know what they said to the Gurkhas on the gate. They were gone and we knew where they were and they were in a cleanskin car, no security, just the three of them. Someone that looks like my wife, Lisa, that beautiful blonde hair, blue eyes; Bob, a decent-sized Marine; and their Iraqi translator.
They were driving around the south central region going to these women's centers. Around 4:30 that day, I got a call from the Iraqi police, coming through all the channels that three people had been found in a car, they'd been shot to bits.
That was my first, “Oh fuck, we're at war, this is real.” We just lost three people. I knew she was going to die if she did what she did. Then she died the next day mate, so that was traumatic. For everyone that was there, that was the first touch of being at war.
It was maybe six months into the tour, so we'd done alright until then. Then of course, as that happened, so did the security and the raids and lots of different things but I think that was probably my first realization, oh my God, I'm at war and people are going to die and I have to make sure it wasn't mine. I couldn't help those guys that day, but I knew that it wasn't going to be good.
Blackwater was very heavily publicized for involvement in the region. How difficult is it to balance the enlisted military soldiers with all the private mercenary forces?
When we first got out there in July 2003, the people in the circuits from around the world, the mercenary circuit, we don't call it that, but us guys in that circuit, it was quite a small knit. You didn't apply for jobs. You didn't have CVs. You were called up by someone who got your job in, and that was how it all started. But then as you start to get more contracts out there, there was a wash of people coming in.
Not all the people in the security industry were qualified to be there. So you were starting to see cracks and chinks in the armor, I suppose, of that force. I worked for a company called Global Risk Strategies at the time – I think they're just called Global now – but they work all over the world.
We were the biggest contractor in Iraq. We had all of the Green Zone, up the north, down the south, we were in charge of everything. Then Blackwater came in near the end of my time in Al Hillah, so that would've been maybe April, something like that, of 2004. Blackwater won the contract to take over the South Central region, so that was my first encounter with Blackwater.
Americans and Brits are very different and as Australians and Americans and Brits, we're very different, so there's no comparison to when an American walks in the room and goes, “Hey man, I'm here to save the day.” You know he means it.
Yeah, like every movie.
But he genuinely means it. It's an interesting concept because Brits don't talk like that and so I was like, I'm not going, because we were offered the job with these guys to continue looking after that location, because we'd done such a wonderful job there.
We had lots of plans in place. I had 56 Iraqis working all around where we were based and I had 56 Iraqis patrolling the area 24-7. So I was able to give them, I don't know, it was USD $100 a week or something, which was good for them at the time.
That gave some morale into the community. I think that's maybe why we were so lucky there because the hearts and minds had been won over and they wanted to protect us. So we were successful, but when Blackwater came in, they didn't have the same hearts and minds mentality. So as far as I could hear, I was gone, but there was a lot of upset Iraqis after we had lost that contract there.
What happens when a soldier loses their belief in the legitimacy of the war they’re fighting?
It's very cancerous.
What we do with BreakPoint is “healthy body, healthy mind.” It’s the foundation for anything. So when you started to see the people coming over to Iraq, they were out of the military 10 years, 15 years, they weren't healthy, they weren't strong. They weren't able to run a mile.
So, a lot of those guys overreact – and that's all nations here, not just my guys – but a lot of these guys can't react properly. They act aggressively, so there was a lot of murderous things going on in the early days of Iraq. There were a lot of people dying who shouldn't have, probably because of that, people were just reacting to things that were scary, but not necessarily what they thought it was.
“Healthy body, healthy mind” is the foundation for anything.
Realizing when you're at war now, you're not with the military who are training all day. They've got support from air assets or Naval assets or whatever they've got, we don't have that anymore.
You were with French Foreign Legion guys, you're with guys from the Marines, guys from the Parachute Regiment, guys from Delta Force, guys from SAS, guys from SBS, guys from Navy SEALs. They were just all collectively in one AOR, One Area of Responsibility, we all shared it.
It was the most interesting thing I've ever done, for sure. I loved it, I loved my time in Iraq. I joined the Marines at 16 looking to be a warrior and when I left the Marines, I didn't feel like I had done enough. Then five years in Iraq, I was like, I think I've earned my boots to be hung up. I've done five years in the fever of war. I was quite happy to go back to the boxing gym and be humble.
How was the camaraderie between all the special forces units that you just mentioned there?
I think because we were all private company operators, and so working with guys from Delta Force was a great honor. They're great soldiers, great people, same as the SEALs that I had a chance to work with.
The SBS lads and SAS lads, the Rangers, I've got nothing but the highest respect for them all man, because you don't get to that level of soldiering without having proven that you are good enough to be there.
There’s a big camaraderie throughout the world of the coalition that you don't have to prove yourself to be anything, you just are and your character's well received. But it doesn't matter what special forces you are, you get characters who are unlikable. Wherever you are, you'll get a character who's just unlikable, but maybe he's good at his job that you let him get away with it.
What was your journey of self-discovery being on the frontlines of war for so long?
I felt like I was on fire when I was in Iraq. Every job I had was with high, high responsibility and up at a higher echelon, so I'm working in command positions that I hadn't had the experience to and I had a chance to do that for so many years.
When I came back from Iraq after almost five years, to Australia with all my ambitions lined up and all my ideas and goals set, but I walked straight into a divorce, James, I walked straight into hell. I went from a physical war into an emotional war. So I had to use all my crisis management skills in the first few days, in the first few weeks, in the first few months, in the first years of coming back from Iraq.
I didn't really have a feeling like I decompressed. I just felt like I was constantly watching what I was saying, having to be diplomatic in the moves I made. It wasn't till many years later and that's why my wife Lisa and I said, look, let's just go to Dubai, to begin with, then to Thailand and re-energize or recalibrate who I'd become after war, because I wasn't the same person.
I'd seen so much. I'd been at high level of society for so long, the Head of Security of the Iraqi government for three years, running a bodyguard training school, your mind shifts, your dimension shifts, your ability to understand conflict, it's different. So when you come back to a civilian life and you can see the conflict that's fired at you, you're like really? Really, that would cause you an emotional disturbance? What's wrong with you!?
I walked straight into a divorce. I went from a physical war into an emotional war.
I think I was in shock for the first couple years just doing what I could to be part of that. I wrote Fighting Your Demons, I became a boxing coach, personal trainer, all these things so I could operate in society. I surrounded myself with positive people.
It wasn't till many years later that I realized that I've nothing left to give. I was giving everyone everything and then all of a sudden, I just felt like it didn't make any sense. That was probably, maybe even last year so that's what started... It was a long time before I started to realize, wow, like I need to readjust who I am to get more out of life because I'd found myself stuck around in the same circle all the time.
I can imagine being in war with all of the assets, weapons, and resources at your disposal, to come back and fight a personal war without any of those things where you feel like you're by yourself in a civilian life, it's got to be tough.
In a different country too, right? Because I moved from Scotland to be in Australia.
I look at everything now and say, well, I'm glad that happened because it was the making of who I was to become. In 2008, I didn't know who I was as a civilian. I didn't know what I brought to the table. I was inspiring people to do workouts and inspiring people through my book. It just was normal to do it, but I hadn't analyzed yet, why? Why am I doing that? Why am I constantly trying to help others for no reward?
I remember you sent me Fighting Your Demons, I had it printed out. What an amazing read.
One of the most vivid memories I have is driving from where I was working in Brisbane to the boxing gym in Newstead and just walking in and giving you a hug and being like, “Dude, this book is incredible, so engaging, so many great lessons, hell of a read.”
It must have been a good feeling to get all of those words out on the page from a lot of the experiences that you've had at that time.
Well, that was exactly how I dealt with what was going on, this personal war you've been talking about.
And it was a war. Anyone who has been through a divorce and child custody battle, you know that there's nothing good about it ever. There's no, “Oh yeah, that will work out.” It doesn't. If it's angry, it's wrong and if it's angry, the kids will suffer then.
But when I wrote Fighting Your Demons, it was a case of... I come from the old style Glasgow type. You don't tell on people, you don't tell people's stories because it's going to give you some fame or anything like that. So I made a decision a long time ago that what happened in Iraq, stayed in Iraq. Sure we can make movies and we can write novels and we can make these incidents fluff around and be something different.
I realized that I've nothing left to give. I was giving everyone everything and then all of a sudden, I just felt like it didn't make any sense.
But those things that happened there stayed there. It was war. You don't bring war home because my philosophy of it is, we went to war to protect you, James, and guys like you so you would never have to see it. So coming back from war with all these stories of war defeats the whole point, you were supposed to miss that.
So when I wrote Fighting Your Demons, the attitude was, I want to use boxing as my genre of explaining things and teach young warriors that you learn a lesson from every failure, every hard thing that goes on, there's a lesson in it.
I had to learn that in my personal war, because even though I wanted to rage, sure, don't get wrong, I'm not innocent, I had a couple of rage moments, but only enough to make me pull back and go, “I'm not that person. I'm not going to be that person.”
So Fighting Your Demons, it was cathartic. It was just nice to get all this out. I knew I was a great leader when I came back from Iraq, I knew I'd probably never have a chance to lead like this again, thousands of men under my command at one point, generally hundreds, so I felt like I was a good person. I felt like I was good at my job. I'm good under pressure and I set out to learn how to live in society under the small gaskets of everyone's emotions.
The book that came after that was The Bible of Boxing, they were the saviors of my life. Being able to write that and then teach that through my troubles, be able to teach these lessons and believe in them, in myself. That was the main thing.
When do you feel that war is legitimate and valid as a course of action, given obviously, the great sacrifice and costs that come along with that?
War, that should never be an option. War should be off the table because of the destruction we have witnessed in our lifetimes, our grandparents witnessed it in their lifetimes, and their grandparents in their lifetimes.
So we know, for the population, for society, there is no benefit. There's no benefit for the victor. There's no benefit for the victim.
There're no benefits to war, unless hundreds of thousands of people are trying to just walk over your border and kill and rape and pillage, of course then defend against that – and I'll be the first one up there doing that.
But when it comes to political dialogue that went wrong, or little skirmishes here and there, which were just little fires that could get put out, these are not reasons to go to war. I think then, I'd go back to my religious studies and what's most important to me. It's like, well, if we're going to live for love and in love, then we have to have love on the table, even at the time of war.
No soldier wants to kill another soldier. Even though you've got Commandos or the Special Forces, we're all trained to do it. Once you've done it once or twice, it's not something you lust after, and you're broken if you do.
It's a sacrifice for the freedom of our people. I don't think there's ever time for war. There's definitely time for Special Forces, because there's so much work to be done in the world and these are the best trained people in the world. They could do loads of great work, helping people to become not homeless or in poverty.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Denny Denholm does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
These people are bred to help and motivate, and they could do great jobs at that. Sending them to die in a political war is probably the saddest thing that I've ever heard about. I didn't know anything like this until I'd been to war, came back, and did my own research. If you asked me in 2008 about this, I'd be like, what? No, that's my job, that's what I do.
No soldier wants to kill another soldier. Once you've done it once or twice, it's not something you lust after, and you're broken if you do.
I do it for you, selflessly. Then you come back from war, you watch the news, or you do your own research and you start to realize that war could have been avoided, or he lied about that. That was terrible, but what happened to that person who lied? Well, he still lives in his mansion. Why is that?
War is a fog for sure, but the deceit behind the one who started the war needs to be brought to the table. We need to be seeing these people tried for crimes and make a law that, if someone tells a lie that causes other people to go to war to die, then they should be up for execution – and there shouldn't be even a discussion about that.
So you’re okay with politicians making the decisions to go to war on the condition they're held accountable for all the decisions along the way?
If you're going to send them to war, then you personally have to be held accountable for the decisions that led to that war happening. For example, Tony Blair, George Bush, these guys should be held accountable for what they did.
I was in Iraq. I was the Head Security of the Iraqi government. The Iraqis were building and had the capability to build nuclear and biological chemical weapons. That's never been denied by them, but they didn't have the resources and they didn't have materials to be a threat to the world. That was a lie, so that's coming from them.
We should bring these people who sent us to war to trial and bring those people who gave them that intelligence to trial and knuckle this out so we can avoid it in the future. Not just pretend. In Afghanistan, they're much the same.
Even with the Afghanistan withdrawal, with Biden, the pointless heartbreak, pointless deaths for political gain, and people suffer. Look at Ukraine. Another crazy poor victim of the West. In Russia, bad business deals going wrong, and they were the victim of that. The West should be responsible for that too, because they've been throwing business over there with no real thought of the future.
They've got Russia pushing back saying, “I don't like it.” It's gotten to a conflict. Now Ukraine's part of the EU. I don't know what that means. Does that mean that the EU armies now can join and go to war with Russia? It looks like that's how it's building.
So when you've learned war at a command level and you know war at a soldier level – I've got experience in both of them – I would say it's very important at this part of their life, for the people to have a bigger voice, that their leaders don't do things behind closed doors that will cause the death of potentially millions of people.
I'm not big on war, mate. I think it can be avoided and I think politicians especially have to be held accountable for the actions that they're taking and the lives that they take.
Boxing's been such a big part of your journey, it's always kept you centered, and it was how you and I were initially connected.
If you were teaching someone the art of boxing so they could acquire that skill as quickly as possible, how would you teach them?
The key to boxing is repetition. You can show someone how to punch and they'll forget it in three seconds. You tell that to someone who's never boxed before, it won't retain.
So, what you've got to do to someone who is absolutely novice in boxing is to say that repetition is a key to everything. Time your feet with your hands so when your left jab hits the bag, so does your left foot, and get that in rhythm. Don't think about any other punch, just do that a thousand times until your arm falls off.
Then do the same, land that cross and do that a thousand times till your core is breaking and your whole body is sore. Then land the hooks, then the upper cuts. and just keep on doing that for six months and then come back and then you'll be ready to start the mastery course. Repetition is the key to everything.
How did you become a celebrity personal trainer to people like The Veronicas?
Lisa and Jess of The Veronicas in Australia, it was just by chance.
I was looking for a math tutor for my son who just couldn't get his math skills up and so I came back from Iraq and I was like, alright, don't worry. I'll get you a tutor. I phoned around a couple of companies and one company sent a guy to me called Julian. He was teaching Gabriel and it was all great and Gabriel was coming on. I was like, it's amazing.
Julian was leaving one night and I said, “Oh, what are you up to tonight?” He said he had to pick some merch up, and I asked him if merch meant merchandise. He went, “Yeah, my sisters, they've got a clothing brand or something like that and I said, who's your sisters’ mate? He said, Lisa and Jess from The Veronicas!
Then I was like, “Hey, here's my card, if they want to train and get strong.” It was the Hook Me Up Tour, for their album Hook Me Up. Literally a couple days later, Colleen, their mom called me, God bless her, she passed away recently and she called me up and she said, can you come down and meet the girls? I think that was about 6:30.
So by 8:00 PM I was there in their apartment having a chat with them, telling them what we could do, and signed them up. The next day we started training and that was a relationship we had for a couple years. They trained like twice, sometimes three times a day, for six weeks leading up to the Hook Me Up tour and that was the beginning of me andTthe Veronicas.
I went on tour around Australia, not on the whole tour, but from being a bodyguard to a personal trainer, to the stars, it was a lovely jump.
Your book Fighting Your Demons is a really impactful book. What are the demons that you see other people faced with these days in this increasingly volatile, complex, and uncertain world that we're in?
That's a brilliant question, James. I say it to all, I've said it to my wife, I'm saying it to all of you too – if you're angry, you're wrong. That's just it. If you're angry, you're wrong.
If you're angry at your children, it's the wrong way to be teaching them. If you're angry at your husband or wife, it's the wrong way to get them to believe in your story and why you are angry. You've got to find a way of just not being angry.
I tell you James, with BreakPoint, we mainly talk to corporates, but we get a chance to speak to kids and the main focus is to let them understand the collaboration between the mind and the body. The junction between that is breathing.
If you're angry, you're wrong.
We got them to do the plank for 30 seconds and 50% of them could do it. You know they could do it, but their mind was bored. Then we got them up and we said, “Did your body give in, or did your mind give in?” They were like, what? Then we got them doing breathing techniques, we got them doing a few exercises to warm up.
Then we did it again and 100% of them lasted the 30 seconds that we asked them to do. That was the lesson. The lesson is: if you breathe and prepare yourself, everything else becomes easier. You become stronger.
So my lesson to the whole world is if you're angry, you're using lots of energy. You're erratically breathing, you're frustrated, everything that's good about you is gone. If you could just take the time out just to take a couple of breaths, just like we do when we're under attack, take just a few moments, recalibrate yourself.
We say here at BreakPoint: breathe, recalibrate, and then deliver. Just put breath in between your reactions of anger, calm down two or three breaths, and then speak what it is you want to say. If people started doing that, we would be out of conflict and be out of war.
One of the keys that the greats have given us is to focus on the importance of breath, focus on the importance of calming yourself down and staying out stress. If people could do that, the world would be a much better place.
Emotional reactions can’t compete with the presence and intent so you can calmly map out the best outcome and give yourself the best chance of success for all parties. It seems like an absolute no brainer.
My dad, he passed away last year in July. A year or so before he passed away, I went to give him a cuddle. He's in Glasgow and he’s a really uptight guy. I gave him a cuddle and I couldn't believe it – it was like hugging a tree. He was so rigid and so angry, and all his life he's so highly strung, so anxious, so angry, and would fly off the handle so quick.
So I had the experience of having that lunatic bring me up, and then being that lunatic throughout a lot of the years and then going, “I don't want to be like that. So why can't I do the opposite?” And it was to calm down, because I'm an athlete and because I teach relaxation as part of the recovery period of being an athlete.
If you breathe and prepare yourself, everything else becomes easier. You become stronger.
I could see that if I'm teaching people to box, I'm looking for relaxation in everything they do. In every movement, every jab, every cross, every slip, everything, I want them to be doing it in a relaxed way. So when you teach that every day, it's hard to be able to be angry and get away with it because people just stand there and go “Really!?”
You've got to be calm and I think that for me, that's the biggest lesson that anyone could get. The Aboriginals taught me that way, way back. If I was to listen to what the animals were saying or singing, or how they were moving, or where the water would be, you've got to open all your senses.
So you're listening to how the birds are singing, moving, the flight path. You're listening to the shrubs and whatever's in the shrubs and where they're moving to, and then you can start to map out their path and from their path, then you can start to understand, they're going to sources of food, or they're going to sources of water, and you can tap into the energy.
There's constantly something in the way of that calm, and this is where people go wrong. It's like, just “Calm down, man. You're never going to be a professional boxer or an elite champion if you're stressed out.” You’d get so far and then you’d meet one of these guys who's super calm, and he's going to eat you up.
It's the same in life. You can be angry and justify your anger, but you're just causing problems.
Composure. Such a big one.
You're doing some great work with Ollie Ollerton over at BreakPoint. What are the things that's coming up that you guys are most excited about?
The thing that's just happened was probably the most exciting thing I've done in my life.
I was in Thailand with a boxing gym for 10 years with a music bar as well, but predominantly we were boxing over there, and Ollie invited me over to the UK to become part of his BreakPoint team. He made me the Global Operations Director, which made me feel really special and really great.
For people who don't know, Ollie Ollerton has been a friend of mine for 30 years. We were in the Marines together, we worked in Iraq together. He was the co-founder of a TV show called SAS: Who Dares Wins in the UK, and in SAS Australia.
So Ollie and I have been friends for a long time. When I got out here, it was a chance to, not just catch up with an old friend, but jump into his fame, which was bizarre because, you're walking down the street and people are like, “Oh my God, Ollie, I love your show!” It's been great.
Last week we were working with an app called TruConnect, a fitness app. I'll leave a link to it as well, James. I'll give you a link for this so people you want to go across, you can get the first two months for free and we have programs coming up. We were filming them last week, so all last week we're filming.
Basically I wrote these programs much the same as we used to do, James, when we would do Three to Be Free. We did these programs, there's a lot of basic moves, but high intensity for 30 minutes, the first four, and then we did a second four, different phases. They'll be due to be released in August and it was just brilliant to get in front of the camera, and do what I do with Ollie. It was brilliant.
We're down in the Pen y Fan, which is a mountain range in Wales where we've got 120 or so people going to climb that mountain on that day and then we've got some other stuff going on all around the year.
It's been pretty busy mate. So it's been nice to come away from my Thailand hideaway straight into the limelight out here with Ollie. He's done some amazing things, his books – like you've read – are Battle Ready and BreakPoint. These books are absolutely brilliant. He's created a program where he goes around the country teaching people to recognize that point.
So we are just focused on that right now. The world's obviously coming out of COVID and the lockdowns. Mental health is a big issue. We can see it. We're having people talk to us all the time about it. We're inspiring people to get on with their life and not look behind them and see, today is a new day.
Like your podcast, Win the Day, which I love. To see today as a new day. What happened in the past, we can't change it, but what we're doing for tomorrow is, we can invest today. So let's invest in tomorrow not massively changing everything about your life, but just incremental little bits often so we can get people out of this depressive, fearful state that the whole world seems to be in right now, James.
Such important work and you guys are doing an amazing job.
On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?
I am strong.
That's it. I was teaching the kids just the other day too. I am strong. I say it all the time. I am strong, simple. I am strong.
Final question. What's one thing you do to Win the Day?
My first thing in the morning is to get up and have a shower and a cup of coffee. If I miss the shower on the way to the coffee, my day doesn't go the same way. I have to have a shower as soon as I wake up otherwise, I'm grumpy dad, for sure!
Just get in the water. Let it heal you, wash away yesterday, and the day's good.
Brother, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Thank you very much, James, always a pleasure talking to you, brother.
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Resources / links mentioned:
📚 ‘Fighting Your Demons’ by Denny Denholm
⚔️ ‘Battle Ready’ by Ollie Ollerton
🧠 ‘BreakPoint’ by Ollie Ollerton
🍿 BreakPoint podcast with Denny Denholm and Ollie Ollerton
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