BTU #196 - Active Duty Army to UFC Contender and Discovery Channel Show Host (Tim Kennedy)

I went in nearly naked with a mouthpiece and a pair of gloves and fought some of the best fighters on the planet. I don’t know if there’s a cleaner measure of one’s toughness and grit.
— Tim Kennedy

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Tim Kennedy is a former UFC middleweight contender who competed in the Octagon while also serving in the US Army as a Green Beret sniper. He started his military career in the Army in 2004 and has served tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, earning a Bronze Star Medal with V device, which was awarded for valor under fire. He works with Ranger Up, a military-themed clothing line, and also leads Sheepdog Response, an organization that trains civilians in self-defense and counter-terrorism skills. He has been featured on television shows including the Spike TV series Deadliest WarriorHunting Hitler on the History Channel, and in the 2016 indie film Range 15. He is currently involved in an upcoming Discovery Channel show called Hard to Kill. In April of 2017 Tim re-enlisted and is currently a member of the Special Forces wing of the Texas National Guard. He is a three-time winner of the Modern Army Combatives tournament, a grueling three-day event that tests mixed martial arts skills among other things. 

Why Listen: 
Tim not only competed in the UFC while on Active Duty, but he is the host of Discovery Channel's Hard to KillIn this motivational interview, he shares tips about fear, balance, and pushing yourself to reach your full potential.

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Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Manhattan is Tim Kennedy. Tim is a former UFC middleweight contender. He fought in the octagon while also serving as a green beret in the Army. He began his career in the military in 2014 and has served tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq where he earned a bronze star. He leads Sheepdog Response which trains civilians in self defence. He has been featured on the Spike TV show Deadliest Warrior and Hunting Hitler on the History Channel. He is also featured on an upcoming show Hard to Kill on the Discovery Channel. He is currently a member of the Special Forces Wing of the Texas National Guard. He is a a three time winner of Modern Army Combative tournament.


The show Hard to Kill is going to debut on the Discovery Channel on July 31. Can you tell us more about it?

I’ve been involved in it since its conception. The producers had seen some of the things I had been involved in before. The show is my way to bring attention to the beauty found in our country.


So the show is you in different parts of the United States doing crazy things?

The show is about people who do really different and unique jobs like avalanche control experts, test pilots, bullfighters, and EOD bomb techs. The show is really about the incredible people that do these jobs.


What has it been like putting this show together?

It’s like a deployment. When you’re filming, your at the beck and call of whatever needs to get done. I host the show and then feature the people doing these extraordinary things. Filming is hard work. My day is a 13 hour day so I get up at 4 am to get a work out in. Then we do some early morning filming. In between takes, I’m checking in on other businesses I’m involved in and then toward the end of the day I’m starting to plan for the next day.


Has your life always been this full?

I try to make use of every waking moment of my life. Right now, I just walked away from an AOL live audience show. And then I got in the car to go to the airport to fly to California to do some promotions. And then I’m headed to North Carolina. And in between in each one of those, I’m using the time to work on other things.


What lead you to re-enlist last year?

It was the right thing to do. I think everyone is looking for a shortcut or a quick fix. But there are just some things that there isn't a quick fix for. I have teenage daughters and a young son. If I walked away from the military at this point, my kids would know I’m quitting. I don’t need to do this but it’s the right thing to do. In World War II, there were champion boxers that enlisted because it was the right thing to do. I have every excuse in the world to get out but that doesn’t mean that I should.


Do you have any words of advice surrounding work/life balance?

I worry all the time - about my kids, the quality of video we’re working on. So worry and fear are not bad things. It’s about what you’re going to do with it. When I recognize fear or failure, I recognize it and then kill it. The transition out of the military is scary so recognize it and then defeat it.


You were recently featured on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. On the podcast, you mentioned the concept of “hurry up and fail”. Can you discuss more about that?

Failure is not bad. I hate failure and I loathe the occasions where it occurs. But if you look at my fighting career for example, I had a lot of success following a failure. The way a muscle works, if you make it fail, it will build back up stronger. Life is the same way. You can fail, you just have to get back up and succeed.

That’s what “hurry up and faill” is. You experience a big failure and use it to then find success.


What got you into mixed martial arts?

Everything I’ve ever done, it’s trying to find the most extreme way to measure success. I went in nearly naked with a mouthpiece and a pair of gloves and fought some of the best fighters on the planet. I don’t know if there’s a cleaner measure of one’s toughness and grit. It’s the same reason you want to see your business grow and take new risks in life.


What is a typical day like for a UFC fighter?

I would wake up early and do strength and conditioning training early in the morning. Then I would go spend time with my family and take my kids to school. Then when they were in school, I would continue to train. I would usually work on a very specific skill depending on the day. Then after school, I would come hang out with my kids again. In the evening, I would usually do some live sparring. On a typical day I would eat about 5000 calories.


Did you have coaches or was this done on your own?

A lot of it was on my own. The UFC isn’t like the NFL for example where there are teams of doctors, physical therapists, and trainers. The UFC is a pretty primal sport. I had to find my own diets and training plans. And I made some mistakes but it’s just the name of the game.


What advice do you have for someone that is interested in going down this path?

You’re signing up for pain, there’s just no easy way to go about it. There’s never going to be a handout. You have to surround yourself with the best coaches and competitors to make it. You have to go to one of the top gyms to receive training. It’s not an easy life. The fans are really fickle. They’ll love you one minute and hate you the next. You have to have a really thick skin.


Do you have any advice on how someone can build that thick skin?

I think the only way to get that is through pain and suffering. Diamonds don’t get made is gentle conditions. People are no different. You have to be willing to do the work if you want to find success.


I really love that thought that many times pain can be the best teacher.

I was hazed brutally in basic training and the Special Operations training course. It was an unforgiving world. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. You don’t want the first time you feel pain to be in the middle of battle. We’re in an era where people want to avoid pain. But it’s impossible to avoid pain if you want to find success.


How did your experience as a green beret prepare you for being a UFC fighter?

It made me better at everything. I’m the first guy that shows up at the gym. Yesterday every moment of my day was planned to the minute for 14 minutes. I go that logistics, planning, and dedication due to the military. Ultimately I wouldn’t change anything.


What was it like to go from Special Force right into the International Fight League?

Some guys graduate from Ranger school and they can’t walk. It takes their bodies two months to rebound. I finished Ranger school and six days later, I was flying to Connecticut to fight in a UFC fight. I’d rather go into the octagon and lose than not have tried.


What would you want listeners to know about Ranger Up?

It’s a military apparel line. The company was started in 2005 and it is the best of our military community. Ranger Up is a family that gives back to the community. I think we’re just going to continue to get bigger and better.


Do you have an resources you would recommend to people?

Peers are huge. I have people like Joe Rogan and Jocko Willink that would consider to be peer influencers. So I have soundboards for various ideas. These people are different than me but I respect all of their opinions.

When people are leaving the military, there seems to be a sense of entitlement. You have to understand that you don’t deserve anything. The only reason people are going to do business with you is because you can do something better than everyone else. Just work and work harder than everyone else.


Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would want to share with listeners?

What we didn’t talk about is giving. The military gave us a community, discipline, family, food, and shelter. That giving needs to continue. You have to give back. There has to be some kind of selfless and help other people succeed. Ranger Up has a ton of competitors and I want us all to be successful. And that applies to all other avenues of things I’m working on. I want to see other people succeed.