Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Tim Kennedy (@TimKennedyMMA), a former UFC middleweight contender who simultaneously served in the US Army as a Green Beret sniper and had tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Tim, welcome to the show. So, you sent me a photograph en route, or I guess just after arriving here, and you had a gi on, open, and blood running down your face.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So, where were you and what happened?
Tim Kennedy: I was not but four miles away from here and we just had the IBJJF World Jiu-Jitso Competition this weekend. And so last week, we were doing very sports jiu-jitso training, getting people ready for the tournament.
I hate sports jiu-jitso. I think sports jiu-jitso is the abomination to what martial arts is, where it takes something that’s really cool and then they make it sporty. It’s like, oh, let’s give some points to do some stupid things. And then people – the mutation that evolves – how it evolves, it loses its balls. And I don’t like things that had balls and then no longer have balls. It’s kinda seems like the emasculated man and that’s what jiu-jitso has almost become.
Jiu-jitso to me is I’m gonna get in mount or side control. I’m gonna pick your face up. I’m gonna smash it into the cement. And then I’m gonna push your eyes and then I’m gonna bite your cheek off. That’s jiu-jitso to me because that’s the origin of it.
Tim Ferriss: The gentle art.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, the gentle art. And so today, we did combat jiu-jitso. So, just to have a total paradigm shift, just to make people’s heads explode; instead of talking about getting four points for back control, or getting four points for mount, or getting a takedown and getting two, it’s like find a place that you can hold somebody down and then hit them. And that’s it.
Tim Ferriss: I was watching a video in prep for this. I think it was from Sheepdog Response and we can talk about it in a second, but you had back control on someone. You’re right on top of them. They were all turtled up on the ground and you sort of wiped your fingers on their eyes. And you’re like, okay, yeah, I just took your eyes out. So, something along the lines of old man jiu-jitso leads to old men dying or something like that. But there’s just such a huge delta between the two.
Tim Kennedy: You have to look at the origin of what things are and then the abomination of what they become. What you see as these really – the genesis of a martial art was they had to learn how to protect themselves. Or they didn’t have weapons, so they had to create something to fight the dictators that were killing them. Or there were the samurai that were really good with swords. So, then the ninjas came along; to use stealth because if you fight a ninja head-on, you’re gonna die. So, let’s create something new.
Then over time, that loses what it is. You have to be – or competitively practice something to get good at it, so then you can implement sport. And that’s what kinda differentiates a lot of this different jiu-jitso, or a lot of these different martial arts, are just really tiny little rules. What’s the difference between judo and jiu-jitso, and jiu-jitso and Greco-Roman wrestling, and Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling, and collegiate wrestling?
So, they’re very small differences. That’s to make them a sport. But if you take those rules away, you get back to what the martial art was, which was how to fight for your life and not get murdered.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and I think it’s also misleading when people think of the term martial art and they turned it into some type of performance in the art –
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, they take body paint and I’m gonna start putting my chest all over this window and I’m doing martial arts.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s actually when you go back to the translation from say – whether it’s wushu in Chinese or any of these bujitso in Japanese – I used to live in Japan – it’s actually martial technique that then got translated to art. So, it’s lost some of its impact through a mistranslation, in a sense. And when I look at your career, I saw you fight live in some early Strikeforce events when I was living in San Jose, and then became fascinated by your military career, which we’ll talk about.
Seems like you’re very good at game-time decisions and acting under pressure. So, I want to talk about training though for a second. Can you talk about what you say to yourself when you train and at least my understanding is it begins with hurry up, dot, dot, dot?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, hurry up and fail. Funny enough, as I send you that picture of me dripping blood out of my face and I have blood already clotted in my mouth, it gets stuck as it starts congealing. It turns into that gelatin up inside of kinda weird cavities inside of your nose. So, if you cough, chunks start flying.
As I was trying to explain what it means to train – so somebody came up to me at the end of practice today. And they’re like, man, I keep getting tired, or I keep quitting, or I had a couple people that just tapped from the position that I was in – or that they were in.
And so hurry up and fail is this mantra of I wanna get to the breaking point of where I can’t go on any longer, and I wanna stay there. Because then the next time I train, that wall has moved. I mean, ever so slightly, but it’s moved. So, then the next time, I can go in and I can get to that point as hard and as fast as I can, and then I can stay there. So, then the next time, it’s gonna move. And repeat until finally, if you look back months later, you’ve progressed so far.
Today I was at Onnit Academy and we did the exact same workout we did two months ago; same weight. And what two months ago left us on the ground almost heaving in nauseous – couldn’t stand up, about to throw up; today, we blew through effortlessly. And Juan, Shane, and I looked at each other and were like, what are we supposed to do right now? Because we have an extra 16 minutes because we went through it so fast. So, in two months, there was such a clear change of looking back and seeing like, man, I got bigger, I got faster, I got stronger, and I ultimately got harder to kill.
So, in jiu-jitso, it’s the exact same. You rush to that breaking point. And by no means do I wanna say somebody’s gonna break me. Because if somebody can break me, I welcome it, bring it. I call over the world to try and find people that can do that, so I can find that point where I’m gonna fail. And then the next time I do it, it’s gonna move. You know?
Tim Ferriss: So, when you then fast-forward to an example of an environment in which the stakes are a little higher – so I’d love to talk about Roger Gracie; starting with an R for you non-Brazilians out there. I was chatting with a mutual acquaintance – actually before we get to mutual acquaintance, I owe credit to the person who made the introduction, who is Donald Park –
Tim Kennedy: Love that guy.
Tim Ferriss: – who I went to college with, who used to be a super lightweight blue belt that I could throw around because of judo. Now I can no longer throw him around because he’s a black belt.
And co-owner of a school, which is where you were training today. What’s the name of the school?
Tim Kennedy: Gracie Humaita. I think it’s – Royler Gracie is – it’s in his lineage, Royler Gracie black belt, but Donald Park and Paulo Brandao are the ones that run this school. And it is a shark tank of passionate people that love family and martial arts. And that’s what that place is.
Tim Ferriss: And for those of you who don’t want staph infections, also a very clean school.
Tim Kennedy: Oh, that’s one of my favorite things. I’m a huge germophobe – not a germophobe, but I’m a crazy clean person. And I walked in today and I could smell bleach. God, I love that smell, you know? I actually have a huge infection on my leg right now because I was in Florida and I got my leg sliced open on the side of a boat after I smashed a window with a tomahawk. And my leg got infected from it because the water – I’m not sure if you know this – in Miami is not really clean.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, right.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. So, I’m cutting my leg open so I can scrub it with iodine so this infection goes away because I also don’t like prescriptions.
Tim Ferriss: Alright. Well, I can’t leave that and go back to Roger Gracie immediately, so we’ll get to Roger in due time. So, you’re in a boat, you smash a window with a tomahawk. What the hell happened?
Tim Kennedy: The boat was on fire and it was sinking. I didn’t wanna drown, so I smashed a window. And then I tried to swim out. And then the glass in the window cut my leg. And then I got what I think is poop water inside of my cut leg.
Tim Ferriss: What’s the context for that?
Tim Kennedy: Well, somebody had pooped in the water, so sorry –
Tim Ferriss: No, why were you – why was there broken glass, tomahawk, boat on fire to begin with?
Tim Kennedy: We’re recreating a commercial fisherman’s worst nightmare, which is being on a boat that’s on fire that’s sinking. And you’re gonna have to make a bunch of decisions at once. Am I gonna try to put the fire out? Am I gonna try to save the boat? Am I gonna start to get my rescue equipment? Am I gonna start trying to find my beacon? Am I gonna start deploying the lifeboat? Am I gonna get my immersion suit?
So, you have a whole bunch of really bad options to choose from and all of those bad options might dictate whether you live or die.
Tim Ferriss: This is for the TV show that you’re –
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: – finishing up?
Tim Kennedy: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: What’s the name of the show?
Tim Kennedy: It’s called Hard to Kill.
Tim Ferriss: Aptly named.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, but not me. It’s not about me being hard to kill, which I hope I am. The Hard to Kill, it’s to pay homage to guys and gals that do these jobs that are in-freaking-sane. Imagine we’re sitting here talking right now. Some random dude just started rappelling down the side of this window to clean our window. People do that job. That’s kinda crazy. And they do it when the wind’s blowing 30-40 miles an hour. That little crane right there, which doesn’t have an American flag on it – that vex –
Tim Ferriss: You don’t seem pleased about it.
Tim Kennedy: No, that vexes me. I wanna go tear that thing down Hulk style and start throwing those construction guys off until they put up an American flag. Oh, they got their little brands up there, whatever those are, don’t care.
If you’re listening right now and you’re a crane operator, I implore you to please put an American flag on your crane. We want to see it. Alright, so – oh, I’m getting a cramp in my hamstring.
Tim Ferriss: This is the most action-packed podcast I’ve ever done already.
Tim Kennedy: I need to drink some more water.
Tim Ferriss: How did Tim Kennedy pull his hamstring? He was doing a podcast with Tim Ferriss.
Tim Kennedy: They’re really intense. You have intense podcasts.
So, we find these jobs that are super dangerous. And people do them every single day and they embody the spirit of the American people. They do something that provides, that puts food on tables, that puts gas in cars, that delivers medications to people in nowhere Alaska, and these are brave, courageous, fearless people that do the jobs every single day. And then we find, in that job, their worst nightmare, their worst case scenario, their worst day, and then I go and I do that.
So, I learn about the job. I learn about the people. I learn about why they do it. And then ultimately, how they survive or sometimes even perish, and I go and do that thing, which is dumb. Which leads me – I’m 20 pounds lighter than I normally am, and I have a bunch of jacked-up cuts all over my body right now, and I’m trying to march on.
Tim Ferriss: You seem good at marching on. I mean, the common thread that occurs to me at least – one thing that fascinates me about people in those situations, anyone in very high-pressure situations, is the internal monologue, sort of the self-talk. Which I’m gonna use as a segue to Roger Gracie.
So Roger, for people who don’t know who he is – chatting with a second mutual acquaintance who I’m not sure if he wants to be named or not, we can talk about who he is afterwards, but he said you could consider Roger one of the – many people would consider him one of the top five jiu-jitso competitors of all time. Would you say that’s a fair statement?
Tim Kennedy: I would put him top three.
Tim Ferriss: Top three, alright.
Tim Kennedy: I’d tie him with three other guys.
Tim Ferriss: Alright, just out of curiosity, who else would be up at the top in your mind?
Tim Kennedy: Fortunately, Gordon Ryan right now is definitely up there. Lovato and without a doubt, I’d have to include New York – I can’t even remember his name right now.
Tim Ferriss: I’m sure somebody from the internet will recognize who – oh, wait a second. I know who you’re talking about. You’re talking about Marcelo Garcia.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, Marcelo Garcia, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that was the Marcelo-tine.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, the Marcelo guillotine.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Tim Kennedy: Lucien, high elbow.
Tim Ferriss: Marcelo’s amazing. But Roger’s in there. And you fought Roger in MMA rules – or under MMA rules. When you’re walking out to enter the octagon to fight someone like that – and just to flash forward, I mean, the story as it was retold to me, having seen the footage, but it was retold to me by another high-level jiu-jitso practitioner.
He said not only on the feet did you effectively beat the shit out of Roger, but on the ground also you were able to do that. So, two questions; when you’re walking out, are you saying hurry up and fail to yourself on the way out to the octagon?
Tim Kennedy: No, on game day, when I’m putting rounds in my magazines – so when you put your body armor on, put your helmet on, you do a commo check –
Tim Ferriss: Do a what check?
Tim Kennedy: A commo check, a communication with the radio –
Tim Ferriss: Oh, communications check.
Tim Kennedy: – on all the different channels and we have your primary, secondary contingent, and emergency channels. Then the very next thing you do is you chamber a round into your pistol because if you do your rifle first, you’ll forget to do your pistol. So, you do these things and these pre-mission checks in a very specific order so you never miss something. So, I’m in gun fight with my rifle, my rifle runs out of ammunition, somebody’s charging at me, I go to transition, I forgot to put a round in the chamber. You think you’d never do that, but you’re about to have – the helicopter’s getting spun up. Guys are putting their gear on. You can forget, so you do things very meticulously.
When I put that round in my chamber of my pistol before I start putting a round in the chamber of my rifle, which is the last thing that I do before I start taking tape off of charges or making sure all my grenades are prepped properly, it’s like not today. That’s what I’m telling myself. I can fail all the time in training. I can rush to failure. I can hurry up and fail at every opportunity when I’m getting ready, but when finally bullets are gonna fly, or I’m gonna walk into that octagon, or I’m gonna kick that door in, not today; not a fucking chance are you gonna beat me on that day.
Tim Ferriss: Is that what you repeat to yourself when you step into the octagon and you’re waiting for all the announcing to complete or is there more that goes through your head?
Tim Kennedy: I’m actually waiting for the first time I make a mistake and somebody thinks that they’re gonna do something great. That I’m gonna get hit the first time.
Or in Roger’s case, I shot an inside single on him to put him on his back, which nobody thought in my right mind I would do and he got my back. Roger Gracie’s best position; Roger Gracie, if he gets on your back, you’re going to sleep, period. I got there and I was like, hell yeah. Do you know what’s gonna happen? I’m gonna get out of here. I’m gonna start punching you in the face. And think about what that’s gonna do to him.
Tim Ferriss: Psychologically.
Tim Kennedy: Psychologically, I’m in the best – he’s in the best position that he can possibly be in, the thing that he’s the best at, and this little hairy-handed monkey that’s in front of him gets out and starts punching him in the face while he has his back. You know, he just – that was the end of the fight. I was three minutes into the fight and there was nothing he could do psychologically from that point forward because I already beat the thing he did the best.
So, even in my failure, I was like, hell yeah, here I come. I wish I had blood dripping out of my mouth and sending him pictures later of it because that’s the opportunity to really thrive; to grow and to just scare the freaking shit out of somebody.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t consider myself a fighter at all. Well, I mean, I’m not an accomplished fighter in any capacity, but I enjoy interacting with people who are very good at combat sports. And you mentioned Marcelo earlier.
So, I’ve had a chance to spend time with Marcelo simply because his school in New York City is co-owned with a dear friend of mine name Josh Waitzkin, who, for those who don’t know the name, was the basis for Searching for Bobby Fischer, both the book and the movie, formerly considered a chess prodigy. And what they did, and continue to do, at that school is they videotape training sessions, sparring sessions with Marcelo – and this is also including during his competitive career.
And people were like, that’s ridiculous. How would you possibly show your whole hand in a video? That’s crazy. And all these other people are really secretive. And Marcelo’s thinking was that doesn’t bother me at all because that’s my game. It’s like if people try to enter my game, I’m never gonna lose. I will always win. Yeah, you wanna watch my stuff and try play that hand? Yeah, sure, I would love for you to do that. And he’s the sweetest guy ever, so I’m using a tone that he would never use.
Who are fighters past or present who really impress you? Are there any – they could be well-known, but I’m particularly interested in names that folks might not recognize as the two or three guys in the marquis lights that have really been seen before.
Tim Kennedy: Jeremy Horn; he was an old-school guy, but one of Chuck Liddell’s first losses, if not his only loss by submission, was to Jeremy Horn. Yeah, Chuck’s a NCAA wrestler; the Iceman, putting everybody to sleep. Just cool, calm, collected, walks out and you can’t take him down. He’s just gonna hit you with these bricks for hands. And he gets on top of Jeremy and Jeremy just holds onto him; puts him in a head and arm choke in the guard and puts him to sleep.
And waking Chuck up because he’s so unconscious, and that was – he has a really unassuming body shape. They called him Gumby because he’s just – he doesn’t look like me. You look at me and you’re like, whoa, I don’t wanna fight that ape. You look at him and you’re like, well, you can babysit my kids. Can you walk my dog? So, he’s one of those guys that were just so disarming.
Carlos Condit is another one where, especially at his prime, he looked like the idiot kid next door that you’d want to mow your lawn and housesit. And clean dog poop out of the back of your house. You’re like, he’s just such a nice looking, pleasant, New Mexico kid. But when that bell rang, it was just pure violence everywhere.
He would be elbowing you, spinning kicks, submissions, scrapple; it didn’t matter where the fight went, he’s just gonna fight. And there’s no – the only way you can beat him is just being inches or seconds ahead of him in something for the whole, entire duration of the fight.
Tim Ferriss: Hard to do.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, really hard to do. Because you’re not gonna knock him out, you’re not gonna submit him, you just have to out-endure him. And when I say endure, I’m not talking Lance Armstrong on a bicycle. I’m talking getting punched in the face for 25 minutes. That’s a really dumb way to out-endure somebody.
Tim Ferriss: Well, so this –
You know, I put Jacare in that short list too of best grapplers.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t speak Portuguese. I think that’s the crocodile, isn’t it?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Jacare; the guy’s an animal. I remember hearing stories. I didn’t see this personally, but of him in jiu-jitso tournaments, literally just ripping the arms off – the fabric arms off of gis because of his strength and grip strength. What a beast.
So, that leads me to a quote. And if this is a misquote, please correct it of course, but here we go. Quote, “My entire life revolves around the concept that I want to be the hardest person someone ever tries to kill. If you’re going to come and think, oh, I’m gonna kill Tim Kennedy, you might be able to, but it’s going to be the nastiest, most evil, disgusting, violent affair that you could ever imagine occurring.” How do you develop – I’ll keep this really broad, but mental toughness and where does that fit in? Or what mental/psychological advantages do you have in life or in battle and how have you developed them?
Tim Kennedy: There are so many metaphors, and phrases, and little clichés of – it’s not the size of the dog, but the size of the fight in the dog.
Tim Ferriss: Right, yeah.
Tim Kennedy: Right? It’s not the size of the dog in the fight –
Tim Ferriss: The dog in the fight –
Tim Kennedy: – it’s the fight of the dog in the fight.
Tim Ferriss: The fight in the dog.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. That is developed. So, bulls; in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they had bucking bulls. And they are hard to ride. So, then what they started doing in the ‘70s and ‘80s, they started finding Mexican fighting bulls. These are mean, nasty bulls and they’re breeding them with the bucking bulls. So, the bucking bulls are big, powerful bulls. And then what would happen in the ‘80s and ‘90s, guys used to be able to ride 60, 70, maybe even 80 percent of the time; they’d successfully get their eight seconds. By the ‘80s, it was down to 50 percent. Right now, it’s down to the 20s and 30s.
The bulls are just bigger, they’re meaner, and they buck just as hard. And the cowboys are not only scared of how hard they’re gonna buck, but when they get thrown, that bull is turning around to try and murder that cowboy because now they’re mean. So, it can be trained. It can be – in a bull’s case, it’s actually bred.
But in Special Forces, there are a lot of different special operations units; Navy Seals and Marine Recon, I’ll even give a nod to the Air Force with their JTACs, the Army Rangers. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets. In the process, once you get past selection, the next six months to ten months, they pretty much just tear away every level of who you are, of your ego. If we’re gonna go Freudian, they’re just stripping away everything down to the most raw element of you as a human. And that you’re worthless, that you can’t do anything.
And you’re so exposed and you’re so vulnerable at this point that then they can start building a fresh foundation. And they start putting the cornerstones of never quitting, of always working hard, of planning relentlessly, and strategically looking for every opportunity to never have a fair fight.
Because we feel so vulnerable and we feel so exposed, anything could hurt me right now. Fuck, if you fart on me, I might die. So, I have to have every single advantage strategically. I need to cheat in every way so I never have a fair fight. If I’m gonna go and kick a door in and there’s four bad guys in there, cool. I’m gonna have 250 dudes with me. We’re all gonna have better guns. We’re all gonna have better ammo. We’re gonna have better sites. We’re gonna have aerial support. While that may not always be an option, that’s what we want because we never wanna fail again because we felt so raw and exposed.
And that’s different from all other special operations and I think that’s why Special Forces specifically has been so successful and so unheard of; so unremarkable that nobody knows the quiet professionals, which is our motto. It means that we’re still successful.
Tim Ferriss: What was the motto?
Tim Kennedy: The quiet professionals.
Tim Ferriss: The quiet professionals.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s talk about how the military entered your life. And I don’t know the exact timing on this, but it seems like you’re – let’s start with – and then you can sort of place us – 9/11. So, it seems like your life changed quite dramatically around that time. Could you tell us who Tim Kennedy is at that point in time –
Tim Kennedy: Do we have to?
Tim Ferriss: – and what then happened, starting at 9/11?
Tim Kennedy: Alright. Well, I’m just gonna tell you a story. Mom, if you’re listening, please stop. I’m at The Pit where Chuck trained out of in –
Tim Ferriss: San Luis Obispo.
Tim Kennedy: – San Luis Obispo. And I’m training; sweaty, stinky. And this pretty good looking girl walks in and I was like, hey, girl. What’s going on? And she’s like, hey, I’m looking for a guy that fought. He was the fourth or fifth fight that fought a few weekends ago at the WEC – the World Extreme Cagefighting fight on – I think it was on Halloween.
I was like, oh, I fought that night. And she was like, oh yeah, I remember you. You look familiar. And I totally didn’t remember her. And she tells me that she tested positive for HIV and that we’d had a huge orgy that night. And she’s trying to contact all of her partners that she’s been with in the past few months to have them go get tested, that they might have AIDS. That pretty much personifies who I am.
Tim Ferriss: At the time?
Tim Kennedy: At the time, yeah. I graduated from high school a few years early, was done with college a couple of years early. At 18, I’m an EMT, firefighter. At 19, I already have my undergrad. I start grad school and 9/11 happens. I got two girls pregnant; girls walking into the – I’m just a talented, wasted piece of shit. I’m wasted potential in every single sense of the word. And at the time that all of these things are going wrong and I’m having this realization of I have to do something, I don’t know what that is, a bunch of planes start slamming the buildings, into the Pentagon, into the two towers, into some random field in Virginia.
And I’m just sitting here watching live these things happen and realizing what a waste of a human I am. Everything was about what jeans am I gonna wear or if I’m gonna bring a good bottle to someplace to impress somebody to be able to hook up with somebody else. It was just this horrible, humiliating slap in the face of you’re a piece of shit. What are you gonna do now?
Tim Ferriss: And then what happens?
Tim Kennedy: So, I walk into the recruiter’s office and I say put me on the fastest course I possibly can to the worst place I can go.
Tim Ferriss: Alright, so you do that. What do the people around you think of that decision?
Tim Kennedy: My mom was scared. My dad was proud. My brother was excited. All of my friends were just like me; so interested in themselves that it didn’t matter what I was gonna be doing.
Tim Ferriss: Right, they were too self-absorbed to really have that much interest.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. My dad, he wasn’t proud yet. He was exhilarated in the sense that I had a chance.
Tim Ferriss: So, in a way, you’d been given a second chance, a reboot opportunity.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, in this case, it was probably my 50th chance. White privilege is a thing and I had every opportunity to succeed in anything I did. I was top ten in the world when I was 22 years old as a fighter, 21 as a fighter. I could’ve done anything and I was just wasting everything.
So, then at this point, it was my dad finally being like, okay, we got another chance. Let’s see how this goes.
Tim Ferriss: So, if you could walk us through what happens in the weeks and months after that? Because I’m very – I mean, I have friends who are both active and at this point certainly more so on the civilian side from military, but I’ve never experienced it myself. So, what happens from that point forward?
Tim Kennedy: So, to get to Special Forces, there are a lot of tests; from intelligence tests – your ASVAB, your GT test.
Tim Ferriss: What are those?
Tim Kennedy: It’s your general technical knowledge. There are high IQ people who can do amazing things on questionnaires and then if you hand them a puzzle, they kinda look at it like – or if you hand them a transmission and you say break this transmission down and put it back together. That’s just a different type of mind.
Tim Ferriss: Sure.
Tim Kennedy: Special Forces, they want smart guys that are physically capable, that have a very, very high acumen in general technical ability. So, there’s some tests that – when you take the ASVAB, which is kinda the general military intelligence test, that has subcategories that – one of which is your GT score, your general technical knowledge. So, make sure your scores are good. You have the proficiency to learn a second language quickly or you already have a second language, which is required in all Special Forces. And then you go to basic training as an infantryman.
If you finish basic training, you go to Airborne School. You finish basic training, infantry school, and Airborne School, then you go to Special Operations Preparation Course. And this is the attritor. This is the opportunity for the Special Forces to get rid of you. It’s run by senior Special Forces NCOs and they – it’s their first access to the fresh population of potential candidates that are gonna go to selection.
If you don’t pass SOPC, then you don’t get to go to selection. If you don’t go to selection, then you go to the needs of the Army. You can go back to being infantry, or you could go to EOD, or you could do anything else. You just can’t be a Green Beret.
Tim Ferriss: What does EOD stand for? Or what is it?
Tim Kennedy: It’s getting rid of bombs; Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, I got it. I got it.
Tim Kennedy: Guys would go to Psychological Operations, Civil Affairs, just kinda any other high speed, cool job, but you’re just never gonna be Special Forces. I think we had – we got there in April and they froze guys going to selection in May, June, July, and August because it was too hot and a bunch of Green Berets keep dying in selection. Well, pre-Green Berets. So, they wouldn’t let us go. So, they had us for four or five months, of all of these recruits coming in. And the 500 of us, they sent 91 of us to selection. Everybody else went away.
Tim Ferriss: Washed out a lot of people.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. And of the 91 of us, 88 of us got selected and then went to – when you get selected, that just means you get to go to the Q Course, which is somewhere between a year to two years of training to show up on the team, and then realize that you know nothing, and that you’re a piece of shit, and that you have everything to learn the day that you walk through the door.
Tim Ferriss: When you got into the Q Course, what were you best at and what were you worst at? Where did you excel and where were you deficient the most, if you remember?
Tim Kennedy: They loved the gray guy. They always said be the gray man. Be the man – be the guy – you know, there are 200 people in formation, be the guy that nobody knows the name of. Which means if you’re gonna run a PT test, there’s the guy that goes the fastest and there’s the guy that goes the slowest. You wanna be the guy that just passes that nobody knows about.
Tim Ferriss: Why is that?
Tim Kennedy: Being so unremarkable is, especially in Special Operations, a trait that’s really hard to find.
Tim Ferriss: Is that for blending in later, for being inconspicuous later?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, and also, we don’t want show boaters. You can go to the Navy Seals. And we don’t want failures. You can go to the Air Force. So, we want that sweet middle ground. We want the gray man that can do anything, that will always pass, and you forget about the moment you take your eyes off him. I’m looking right at you, but where’d you go, man? I know you were right there. You cross the finish line and you’re like, alright, great job. What was that dude’s name again? That’s the guy that we want because that guy’s priceless.
Tim Ferriss: So, were you that guy?
Tim Kennedy: I was not that guy. I was the guy that would finish first. I was the guy that was –
Tim Ferriss: Biceps the size of my chest probably.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, and competitive shooter, a professional fighter. They knew who I was. So, it took a lot of practice, and training, and pain to kinda get the gray man mentality.
Tim Kennedy: I wanted to be – I wanted everybody to be like, oh, look at Tim. Great. Look at that guy. Be like Tim. That’s just not how it is in that culture.
Tim Ferriss: So, how do they beat that out of you? Or how do they –
Tim Kennedy: They beat that – you said it. They beat it out of you. So, if you’re in SERE School, you’re talking about being a gray man. If you’re the tallest –
Tim Ferriss: What is that? That’s – help me out. What does –
Tim Kennedy: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. It’s a month-long torture school where you wanna be the gray man. If you’re not the gray man, you’re being beaten; phone books, hoses, starvation, cold water, locked inside of cages, locked inside of boxes that you can’t take a full breath in, locked inside of a box that you can’t stand up in, that you can’t stretch in, being pissed on
Getting put in a pond that’s frozen, and making you squat so your tiny little dick and the balls which are essentially up inside of your stomach are barely touching, and breaking the ice, and you have to stand there in a half-squat with the water just playing with what’s left of your tiny penis with somebody making fun of you while you’re doing it.
You’re like, oh, look at his little dick. And why are you taller than I am tall? Oh, and then they beat you again. So, they beat it out of you. You’ll get good at it.
Tim Ferriss: I’m trying to think of how to segue here.
Tim Kennedy: Mental toughness –
Tim Ferriss: Now, when –
Tim Kennedy: – it can be taught.
Tim Ferriss: – is it considered graduating from, say, Ranger School? What is that moment? Where does that come after that particular –
Tim Kennedy: So, there’s a bunch of phases in the Q Course. Once you get selected and you start the Q Course, you have small unit tactics. So, it’s learning how to be a guerilla war fighter. And then from there you have to learn your job. So, you’re in 18 Bravo, I’m in 18 Bravo, Special Forces weapons sergeant. I have to learn everything about every single foreign weapon. It’s how to assemble and disassemble a DShK, and then an American M2, and then an AK-47, an M4, an M21, an M14.
I need to know all these weapons, how to assemble, how to disassemble. If you put all the parts into a box, I can pick all the parts out and figure out which gun is which, and then put them together. I can close my eyes. I can do it with every single American gun, so that if you send me to a country and all we have access to is local indigenous guns, it’s cool. We’re good with these. And I know how to work it, and how to clean it, and how to operate it. So, that’s my job. The security of my team, also an 18 Bravo skill set.
And then from there, you would –
Tim Ferriss: What does security mean in this context?
Tim Kennedy: Right now in this room that we’re in, where would I set up early warning? Am I gonna bribe the bum that’s on the street corner that’s watching the front door? Or the guy that’s at the front desk that let me in here and pushed the elevator button. Is he gonna have my direct cell phone line? But if I go to the Dominican Republic to do a counter human trafficking mission, who am I bribing? How am I protecting my team?
Tim Ferriss: I got it.
Tim Kennedy: Or if I’m in country, or if I’m in Afghanistan, or if I’m in Iraq, what is the outside cordon? If I’m gonna level all the bushes, and then I’m gonna put up a high fence, and then I’m gonna have mines in between the high fence and the mid fence. And then from the mid fence to my security positions where I have machine guns positioned with air locked in sectors of fire. So, by the time you get to my little hut in the middle, it’s been a pretty bad fight. I’m supposed to be able to think of all that. I’m a security consultant, but for 12 Special Forces guys when everybody around us wants to kill us.
So, you’ve done SUT, Small Unit Tactics, guerilla warfare, you’ve learned your job. Then you go and you apply it in a phase called Robin Sage, which is the coolest phase there is.
Tim Ferriss: Robin Sage?
Tim Kennedy: Robin Sage. You go to a country called Pineland and you are embedded with 11 other Special Forces guys.
Tim Ferriss: Now, is that a nickname for a real country or is it a simulation?
Tim Kennedy: It’s a simulation and it’s a very Vietnam-era simulation or North Iraq pre-war with the Kurds about to fight Saddam. They put you in and they have 100 role players that are your indigenous fighting force, your militia. And you’re trying to train them; you’re trying to prepare them.
You set up a base of operations that they’re gonna be fighting out of and you start running military operations to overthrow a government, to battle a local other insurgency, a competitive warlord, so that we have the hope of implementing democracy. And then help them write a constitution. And then help them put people into government that can run the country appropriately. And there are very intentional design problems that come up in this phase.
But it’s a full – you pack your rucksack with your food and your water, and you jump out of an airplane into the middle of a forest. And you link up with the local Gs and you start conducting this month, two month long exercise.
You finish that, you go to SERE school. You graduate SERE school; you finally get to go to being awarded your Green Beret. And then you step into an ODA and they’re like, you suck.
Tim Ferriss: What’s an ODA?
Tim Kennedy: Special Forces Operation Detachment Alpha. It’s the A-Team.
Tim Ferriss: I got it.
Tim Kennedy: Where the ODA is the A-Team. And they say go sit in a corner and open your eyes, open your ears, and shut your mouth. And you do that for a year. Then you get to start work.
Tim Ferriss: So, you get to start work. At what point – so I was doing some reading and, again, correct me if I’m wrong here, the guy who once you graduated Ranger School, a place that starves you and denies you sleep for over two months, took a fight six days later in the IFL. Why would you do such a thing?
Tim Kennedy: I’m stupid.
Tim Ferriss: I get it.
Tim Kennedy: I think we have a recurring theme here, right? God, you’re just a dumb person. You’re a smart person, Tim. And then across the table, there’s this other person that’s super stupid.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, it seems to have worked for you so far.
Tim Kennedy: Hurry up and fail, right? I graduated from Ranger School as an honor grad, which is – of the 400-500 people that went, the 200-300 that graduated, there are three that are selected; one for the NCOs, one for the officers, and one as an overall, as the best rangers of that class.
So, I graduate. I actually fought in the Army Combatives Tournament, which is one of the, I think, most grueling unknown tournaments in the world. I fought that the Friday, Saturday, Sunday –
Tim Ferriss: What is it?
Tim Kennedy: It is a three-day tournament. You win on Thursday. Friday, it’s all grappling.
Tim Ferriss: Who are the contestants or the combatants? Where are they from?
Tim Kennedy: Combat arms of all branches of service. So, Navy Seals, Green Berets, Army Rangers, 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, infantrymen; anybody that kicks ass for a living can come and fight in the Combatives Tournament.
Tim Ferriss: The unknown kumite of the military.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. So, first day is all grappling. It’s like a grappling tourney. If you win that day, you go to the next day, which is –
Tim Ferriss: Are the rules sports jiu-jitso? Are they different?
Tim Kennedy: Similar to sports jiu-jitso. There’s no pulling guard, you can slam, you can knock out people –
Tim Ferriss: With a slam or a throw.
Tim Kennedy: – with a slam or a throw, so very combat-focused grappling. You win that, you move to the next day, which is Pancrase rules, which is limited striking. You can kick to the head, open palm to the head, closed fist to the body, knees to the body, and then grappling. All submissions are in.
If you win that day, then you move into the third day, which is full MMA rules, and it’s like a UFC fight, but you’re in your uniform. So, you’re still fighting in –
Tim Ferriss: Oh, right, in your gear.
Tim Kennedy: – in your gear the whole time.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any rule differences between the MMA rules, per say, in this tournament and regular MMA rules?
Tim Kennedy: No, they’re pretty similar to UFC rules.
Tim Ferriss: Got it, more so than a pride. So, you’re not allowed to kick on the ground.
Tim Kennedy: No. So, that was the day I went to Ranger School. I weighed in on Thursday. I fought Friday, Saturday, Sunday; won my third Army Combatives Tournament, and the only person to ever win it three times. And then Sunday night, I checked into Ranger School. I went to Ranger School, graduated honor grad –
Tim Ferriss: How much later was that?
Tim Kennedy: The same day.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I got it, okay.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, finished Sunday from the Combatives Tournament, iced my hands, and then checked into Ranger School that same day, and started Ranger School that Sunday night.
Two-and-a-half months later, I graduate from Ranger School, honor grad, and then eight days later, I’m fighting Dante Rivera in the UFC – or in the IFL.
Tim Ferriss: Now, did you –
Tim Kennedy: [Inaudible] [00:42:17] that’s really dumb.
Tim Ferriss: But did you go into that particular fight, did you commit to that fight because you wanted to win, because you wanted to see if it was possible to do such a thing after the experience of Ranger School? Did you just commit so long ago that you were like, oh, shit, here it is? I mean, aside from you saying it’s stupid, but I know you’re not a stupid. I mean, so what was the thought process? What were you hoping to get out of that?
Tim Kennedy: Right now, if somebody kicked in the front door of this room and ten Mexican cartel guys run in, sicarios with their masks pulled over, what do you think I would do?
Tim Ferriss: What do I think you would do?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I think you’d probably go straight for it.
Tim Kennedy: For sure, right? I’m tearing out eyes, I’m biting out cheeks, I’m taking this glass right here and it’s going through the first dude’s eye. I’m gonna take that stand right there and I’m gonna use it as a baseball bat. I’m gonna make it a choke point right there by the hallway, where it’s like we’re in Thermopylae and see if you guys can get past us, like the 300.
That’s just the spirit of the fight. And I think you have to test the spirit of the fight. When I graduated from Ranger School, I got the call a couple of days later, could you fight in the IFL, which was a new promotion that was on Fox. I knew I was gonna already be heading to combat. And the reason I had to go to Ranger School was I had just gotten back from Iraq and my boss, John McPhee, the Sheriff of Baghdad, he told me I was a piece of shit. And he said that I had no business being in a unit like the one that we were in because we were in a very special unit within Special Forces.
And that I didn’t have the leadership, and I didn’t have the experience, and I didn’t have the military bearing to be in that unit, and that I could maybe get a chance if I went to Ranger School and I graduated honor grad. I knew I was gonna be heading back to combat, so I not only needed to prove to him that I was a good leader, but I was also tough enough that I deserved to be there.
Tim Ferriss: Just if I can hit pause for a second, why did he say that? I mean, with the degree with which you’re comfortable disclosing, what happened that would lead him to say that?
Tim Kennedy: There are a lot of little things. We’re on a night where we’re trying to kill one of the most evil dudes in all of the war; we’re in a war for 16 years, al-Zarqawi. Remember the deck of cards?
Tim Ferriss: I do, yeah.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, he was an ace. He’s a bad dude. He had strung up Americans from bridges and set them on fire. He drug dudes down the road, strapped behind a car that he’d stolen from the Americans.
He was notorious for posing with pictures with dead Americans in front of him, holding their guns like he was an African trophy hunter. Even the movie American Sniper with Chris Kyle; Chris Kyle was going after his henchmen, lower level guys. My unit was going after him.
Tim Ferriss: Zarqawi?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, going specifically after Zarqawi. And there were nights where we’re supposed to have eight helicopters. So, the whole assault force is gonna be going, right? And then error, or the mechanic, or something came up and we only had six. So, my team sergeant’s like, alright, here’s the new load plan. Tim, you’re not gonna go. Little check on my ego; that sucks, why can’t – I’m faster, I’m stronger, I’m definitely the juggernaut of the team. I’m outshooting you guys on the range right now. I’m outfighting you guys every morning in training. Why am I not going? Like a little petulant child; like a spoiled bitch brat; red-headed idiot.
Retrospectively looking, that’s what I sounded like. Like, no, John, why can’t I go? So, I get – there were lots of little, tiny things that I did there; that he was giving me a chance to prove, okay, got it. When you guys get back, I’m gonna have all your gear clean, everything’s gonna be ready to go, so you can drop your gear off and go straight to bed and get some sleep after a long night of gun fighting.
But instead I’m bitching that I don’t get to go; a bunch of examples like that. And I could probably tell you ten. Or the spirit of me; I just wanna be in the fight, but it’s a team, right?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Tim Kennedy: We’re only as good as our weakest link and I’m being the weakest link.
Tim Ferriss: How much of the –
Tim Kennedy: And we’re getting exposed here.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, no, no. I mean, I’m fascinated by all this.
Tim Kennedy: I told you I’d tell you whatever.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’ve been –
Tim Kennedy: And then you’re gonna hold it against and everybody’s gonna be like, pffft, you’re gonna be friends with that guy.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not gonna hold it against you. Looking back then, how much of those instances – so you’re not part of the load plan. Do you think it was because you weren’t qualified to be part of the load versus I wanna see how Tim responds?
Tim Kennedy: Both, I’m sure it was both. I mean, there were times where I know he specifically put me on a load plan that I didn’t need to be on just to see how I’d perform. And the very next day wouldn’t put me – okay, I’m not gonna put you on the helicopter assault force, the HAF, I’m gonna put you on the GAF, the ground assault force.
And I was like, I don’t wanna be on the ground. So, how about you shut your face, you go out to that M2 50 Cal. machine gun, you start doing the head space and timing, making sure it’s clean, making sure all the ammo’s stacked perfectly so when you’re on it and if you get in a gun fight, everything’s gonna go so perfectly for you, but instead you’re bitching.
Tim Ferriss: Right, right.
Tim Kennedy: And I know he did that.
Tim Ferriss: So, then he gives you the kinda verbal report card that you described, and you have this IFL coming up, and you feel like you need to show what?
Tim Kennedy: I think I wanted to show myself that spirit of the fight. So, I come back. I not only graduated as honor grad, I also get the leadership award, which is the thing I wanted the most. So, all of Ranger School is like, okay, you’re the best leader of this whole entire class. But I get back to the team – I’ve got a little bit more military bearing, I got my Ranger tab on here sewn with white thread because I graduated during winter and we walked through snow, which only rarely happens.
So, I’m feeling pretty awesome, but I haven’t lost my fight. I kinda wanted to show him that I’m still that same bulldog. I’m still that same pit bull.
Tim Ferriss: I still have the things you liked.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, like that. I haven’t changed as a person and I’m gonna – who’s this Dante Rivera? A Renzo Gracie brown or black belt that is undefeated. Neat, I’m gonna pound him into oblivion. And I’ll come back to the team on Monday and start getting ready to go to Afghanistan.
Tim Ferriss: Alright. So, you’ve been starved, denied sleep for two months. You take this fight. You go into the fight. What happens?
Tim Kennedy: I pound him into oblivion. He quit – he tapped from strikes. I put him in every single position and for a round and a half, I just punched him in the face; from our feet, from the ground, picked him up, put him on the back of his head.
When guys graduate Ranger School, a lot of guys don’t walk for months. Their legs are so destroyed. They’re so malnourished. They’re so sleep deprived. The inside of their legs are so chafed and rubbed raw. They’ll actually get – in the military, you get a medical release where you don’t have to show up for PT test or any physical activity, physical training in the morning because they know you’re so jacked up. And they’ll give you that for months after Ranger School.
So, I wanted to go into a fight a week and a half after graduating Ranger School and scare the living crap out of everyone.
Tim Ferriss: You did.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: A couple of questions that I think are tangentially related, but I was actually very curious to talk about a few things. Briefly, walkout music; what have you used and why?
Tim Kennedy: I used to walk out to the most fun, most disarming song I possibly could; like, “Do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry?” And I’d sing it to them as I was walking out. I was pointing at them. And I’d get in the ring, I’m still pointing at them, maybe batting my eyes, maybe blowing them kisses, just to mess with them. And I’d do a bunch of different songs like that all the time.
And then my friend, Nick Palmisciano from Ranger Up, he’s like, hey, man, do you know the origin of the song Rooster?
Tim Ferriss: Alice In Chains?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. And I was like, yeah, right. It’s a rooster – he’s like, it’s about a machine gunner in Vietnam. He’s writing to his dad who was in Vietnam and would carry the M16 machine gun for the 101st. I was like, no. Are you serious? The forgotten war with the forgotten soldiers; the time when the American people were so disenchanted with what the military was doing, fighting for freedom, trying to destroy Communism.
And I was like, okay. I’m gonna walk out to this every day. So, the last half of my career, I would always walk out to that song, Rooster. And as a homage or a tribute to not just Vietnam, not just POWs, not just machine gunners, not just infantrymen, but for everybody everywhere that’s ever fought in a fight for something that’s bigger and greater than them with no thanks, no appreciation.
Because I wasn’t there fighting for me, I was there fighting for everybody else besides me at that point.
Tim Ferriss: And we were chatting a little bit before hitting record today and I asked you what would make this a successful interview looking back a few months from now? And I might get the exact words wrong, but you said it would be nice if people would stop dying. You talked about helping people become harder to kill.
So, how do people listening – how do you suggest to people listening who may be – let’s assume they’re in not couch-potato shape, 150 pounds overweight, but that they’re non-athletes who are in reasonable shape, but have no military experience, haven’t been exposed to any, maybe, real what they would consider physical hardship in a long time, how does someone like that, if they think to themselves I would like to become harder to kill, what would your program or recommendations look like for them?
Tim Kennedy: One of the hardest things about me trying to inspire and encourage people to train is they look at me and they’re like, that guy’s freaking savage. He’s a Special Forces sniper, Ranger-qualified Green Beret that’s been to combat 12 times, fought in the UFC, ranked top ten in the world. He’s a black belt in a handful of martial arts.
But I’m the exact same person as the other seven billion people on the planet, right? I didn’t grow up with any kryptonite in the fridge. There’s nothing that is different about me in any way, shape, or form. I just work. And I’m just fighting – at this point I’m fighting for not even 1 percent to get 1 percent better. I’m fighting for percentages of a percent; incrementally decimals, the tiniest little bits, just for that much of an improvement.
I long for the day where I would get dramatically faster in a month. That if I was 20 percent body fat, I could be 18 percent body fat; do you know how freaking cool that would be? Right now, if I could just lose 2 percent fat.
Tim Ferriss: Meaning you’re envious of the people who have more as a percentage to gain if they started doing things in terms of training and so on.
Tim Kennedy: But you just said it; if they just started doing things. That’s it. All you have to do is start. So, to everybody, where do I start? Man, anything. You could get up – if you don’t walk around – if you haven’t gotten up and walked around your block a couple of times, do that.
If you haven’t Googled where the closest martial art gym is, whether it’s judo, whether it’s jiu-jitso, whether it’s Muay Thai, whether it’s wrestling. It doesn’t matter. If you haven’t done it, try it. If you’ve never gone to a shooting range and shot, give it a whirl. If you’ve been eating fried food for three meals, three dinners, out of the week, try two. Just anything will make you just that much better.
And then those little, tiny decisions start building on top of each other and then, sooner or later, you look back and you don’t even recognize the person that you are. There’s just this beautiful change where like, oh my God, I can see my dick, I can see my feet, or my wife for the first time in five years.
I saw her look at me when I got up and I walked out of the room. And not looked at me like, thank God that guy’s getting up and leaving. But like, goddamn, that guy looked good. When was the last time in some people’s lives that they felt that way about the person they’d been living with for ten years? Make that girl fall in love with you again. Impress the fuck out of her.
When was the last time that you picked up both your kids and ran to the play gym with them hoisted on your shoulders? And put one up on the other one. The other one, you’re holding. You hand them on the play gym. That’s some massive masculine shit. You’re just playing with your kids on a play gym. But there are these opportunities and there are so many of them for us just to embrace our potential.
I mean, you know more about it better than almost anyone on the planet because you’ve pushed that limit so many times in so many different ways, both intellectually and physically. There’s so much unrealized potential. Back to me at 21 years old; a little piece of shit, self-absorbed, at the centric prick. Unrealized potential; there’s 120-140 million Americans right now that just has total unrealized potential. Just go –
Tim Ferriss: Whatever that is.
Tim Kennedy: – get started, just start.
Tim Ferriss: So, if they wanted to, for instance, develop on top of some of the physical training, the ABCs, the basic literacy of survival. Let’s say they live in an urban environment. What might those be? I mean, taking a two or three-day CPR class, EMT stuff. You mentioned active shooter defense, which I think is particularly relevant in some respects, but what would some of those ABCs be?
If someone’s like, you know what? I really wanna spend, let’s say, a weekend – every weekend for the next eight weeks amassing some of these skills.
Tim Kennedy: I mean, I’ll just say A and B. A is keep the blood in the good guys. And B is let the blood out of the bad guys. That’s it. Alright? If they’re innocent people, they’re cops, they’re firefighters, they’re school children, bunch of people dancing at a nightclub, and somebody comes in, starts trying to shoot people, we wanna keep the blood inside of those people. Alright?
The blood, we only have a finite amount of it. Blood stays in the body of the good people. And then the bad guys, you want all of the blood in them, out of them in whatever way you can. I don’t care if that’s a knife. I don’t care if that’s a gun. I don’t care if that’s a brick. I don’t care if that’s a bottle. That person needs to stop hurting people.
So, yeah, that might be CPR. That might be learning how to put on a tourniquet. That might be learning how to prevent it from happening entirely, which is situational awareness.
My good friend Shane and I, when we go out to eat here in Austin, we almost play games; biometrics and atmospherics, where we’re sitting in a restaurant and we look at everybody in the room. Well, the first thing we do is identify potential threats in our threat assessments. And then we figure out where the guns are in the room. Who’s the guy that is wearing the come-and-take-it shirt, that has the fanny pack, or that has that bulge on his right hip, or that has that appendix carrier? It’s like, dude, that guy is not Dirk Diggler. He is not that big. There’s something in the front of his pants.
And then we start making assumptions about who’s in the room. The two people that are sitting together that kind of are awkwardly interacting; is this their first date, is this a business meeting, is it the first time that they’ve ever been alone, or are they married and they’re not supposed to be – they’re not married to each other, and meeting up for the first time. But we start making these assumptions. And then we develop another skill set, which is I go up and I start chatting these people up.
I’m like, hey, what’s going on? Is that your truck out there? Man, I love those rims. And in a disarming way, start eliciting, very passively, information out of them to confirm or – to prove us right or wrong in the assumptions that we’ve made thus far. So, it’s developing two things simultaneously.
But that is the first element of being safe, is being aware of your surroundings. Knowing where I’m gonna run. Knowing where the out is, where the exit is, where my car is parked, where a threat is gonna come from. What’s the most likely course of action? What’s the most dangerous course of action?
If I’m at a taco place, the most dangerous course of action is somebody coming and setting a bomb off. The most likely course of action is just somebody coming up and being like, hey, give me the money in the register. But I need to think about what the different degrees are of what the threats possibly could be. My kids never know that all this – maybe they have a clue. They’re smart. But they never think about this stuff. They just know that they’re safe; that I have a way to get out.
The backpack that’s right here next to me that has a gun in it, that has two tourniquets, and it has an IFAK in it.
Tim Ferriss: What’s an IFAK?
Tim Kennedy: An Individual First Aid Kit. So, even all of us right here, I have enough stuff, if all of you guys got shot, to plug your wounds. I’ve got my backpack right here and a good gun with an extra magazine.
Tim Ferriss: What type of a gun, just out of curiosity?
Tim Kennedy: It’s a GLOCK 43, but I’ve got good frangible rounds and a couple extra magazines. So, we’d be alright.
Tim Ferriss: Alright.
Tim Kennedy: It’s tricked out though; good sites, good trigger, good barrel, because I don’t wanna fight fair, because I wanna cheat in every way.
Tim Ferriss: Well, it makes me think of – I think I’m getting this right. I think it’s Hackworth. That makes sense, right? That’s a real name.
Tim Kennedy: It sounds like a real name.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, if you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. I think my favorite fight in the world would be the dude’s laying on his bed asleep and –
Tim Ferriss: There it is.
Tim Kennedy: Right behind me.
Tim Ferriss: Just in case I make any odd moves. Do you find it – what is your emotional state when you’re doing these types of checks? Is it playful? Is it serious? Is it stressful?
Tim Kennedy: No, it’s living. It’s freedom. It’s freeing. So, I had this huge level of awareness, where it’s kind of like I’m radar; ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. And when I see something that’s off – in the military, everything is uniform. Everybody wears the same thing. Everybody dresses the same. Everybody makes their bed the same. And that’s so when you look at something that is off, your eye catches it right away. That’s why everything’s uniform in the military. Did you know that?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Tim Kennedy: So, it’s easier to see when something’s wrong because everything looks the same.
Tim Ferriss: Makes perfect sense. Yeah, right, it makes perfect sense.
Tim Kennedy: So, have you ever worked counterfeiting stuff?
Tim Ferriss: I’m sorry?
Tim Kennedy: Counterfeiting? So, if I was trying to find – the easiest way to find a counterfeit bill is to put it with a whole bunch of bills that I know are good. So, your eye is like, well, that one looks –
Tim Ferriss: It’s the one thing that sticks out.
Tim Kennedy: That one looks weird. The color’s off or the dimensions aren’t right, or the paper doesn’t feel right, or compared to these other 100 bills, this one – that one’s wrong. So, it’s the exact same. What you have to do is you have to train your mind what normal is.
So, in Austin, where it’s South by – as you know, we’ve got a little bit more traffic. We were talking about it. That is a very casual way of being situationally aware. That’s setting up the sample of what is normal. So, then when something is off, when something’s weird, when something’s just a little bit awry, my eye goes from awareness to assessing.
I start looking specifically at that thing; that guy that’s wearing the white muslin prayer robes that’s swearing. Everybody else, they’re holding beers. They’re like, hey, here, let’s do a selfie. Okay, let’s hashtag South by Southwest. You’re like, that’s normal. Even though, unfortunately, that’s normal. That one thing looks off.
We can see that very clearly because we know what normal is for what’s happening around us. So, the first thing is kinda be learning about cultures, learning about the areas that you’re living, the demographics, the socio-economic classes, the races that should be there.
I do that to everywhere I go. I just came from Ocala, Florida. That was the last place that I was in. And I know that percentages of races, who should be there with what kinds of cars people should drive. That it’s 73 percent white, and of the remaining 27 percent, half of them are Mexican. And then the other remaining 13, 12 percent are split between black and Asian.
Tim Ferriss: Where do you get that information? Is that the State Department stuff? Wikipedia?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, it’s on the census.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Kennedy: I mean, that’s all available online. And it’s one little search. And that’s just a couple of quick, little numbers so that you can kinda wrap your head around it. But if I go to Walmart, I’m gonna have a different crowd than if I go to Target; two different people shop there; different socio-economic classes. Different types of cars are supposed to be parked there.
But in the parking lot, where am I gonna find the drugs? Where am I gonna find the guy that has the guns? The guy that’s parked in the back trying to get a blowjob; the guy that’s parked around the side of the building where there are no lights and maybe a camera that’s busted because he’s about to do a drug deal. So, just knowing how people work; okay, I’m not gonna park there. Then I’m gonna park here. It’s really simple stuff.
So, then when I say it’s freeing, all that stuff happens so effortless now that now it’s just – I’m just at lunch with my buddy Shane and we’re just talking shit about people
Tim Ferriss: Right, right, right. And it just happens.
Tim Kennedy: And it just happens.
Tim Ferriss: Why did you re-enlist in the Special Forces? The date I have is April 16th 2017. Why did you re-enlist?
Tim Kennedy: Man, I don’t like losing fights.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I imagine.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, I’ve lost a few.
Tim Ferriss: Some close ones too.
Tim Kennedy: They’re like a thorn, like a burr in the back of my neck. It’s always just irritating. I hope to the day I die that they irritate me. And we’re losing a war. I fought in places like Ramadi, and Sadr City in Baghdad, and Fallujah, and those were cities that good friends of mine got hurt in. And I was fighting next to Iraqis that wanted freedom so badly. They wanted to have a chance at just living. Muslims, Christians, didn’t matter; just give us a chance. And all of us are fighting together for that chance.
And then all those cities that we fought and that we won, ISIS comes in because of policies, because of presidents, because of secretary of defenses, and bad decisions, bad war planning, and we lose ground. And I can’t explain to you how bad that hurts guys like me to see things that they fought for, and they bled for, and they got blown up in just given back to an enemy that’s even more evil than the evil that we won it from. I’ll take ten Saddams over an ISIS.
And I see Mad Dog Mattis is coming back as Secretary of Defense. And I see not just him, but other people being put into positions of authority within my chain of command that believe in a winning. And I like winning. As much as I don’t like losing, I really like winning. And this is gonna be chance for us to be winning again.
In a year, what was the ground that ISIS has had, they’ve lost 99 percent of it in one year. That’s winning.
Tim Ferriss: What do you attribute that to?
Tim Kennedy: To kicking ass. I mean, it’s plain and simple. If you take a bunch of pit bulls, and you put them in cages, and then you let chihuahuas out, they’re never gonna go – and you’re supposed to be catching wild boars, that chihuahua is never gonna do anything, right? It’s gonna bark and then it’s gonna run back. But if you open those cages, there’s only one thing those pit bulls know how to do, is just kick ass. And that’s all that happened.
We’re just like, okay, we’re gonna go I saw that you killed some of our Green Berets in Southeast Afghanistan. Cool. We’re gonna drop the biggest bomb that’s not nuclear that we have in our arsenal on top of you, which is what we did. It’s like, oh, you killed some Green Berets in Niger. Neat. We’re gonna fly in 800 shooters and wipe all of Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS off of the map entirely in your country.
It’s like, oh, you had Fallujah, Sadr City, Ramadi; not only are we gonna take them back, but we’re gonna take them back and we’re gonna put conservative Muslim leaders in there that are so far from fanatic radicals that girls get to go back to school. I mean, do things that would just irritate radicals so bad. They have freedom again.
And so what I attribute it to is giving the guys that know what they’re supposed to do the opportunity to do it. That’s it.
Tim Ferriss: How old are your – you have two kids?
Tim Kennedy: I have three.
Tim Ferriss: You have three. And how old are your kids?
Tim Kennedy: 16, 15, and 2.
Tim Ferriss: What do you say to them if – I don’t know if you’re – I don’t know the nature of the re-enlistment and your activities, but if you’re going to be at risk, how do you explain the decision and so on to them?
Tim Kennedy: I’m at risk. I’m deploying two times in the next year; one time really, really, really soon. And I’m glad we got to sit down and chat because I’m gonna be gone for the next year.
They know that this is what I was made to do and they love it when I get to do it. They’re proud of me in the sense that if they walk onto a military base with me, everybody is walking up to shake my hand. It’s different than being in Austin where people wanna come up and take selfies. They wanna come up and shake my hand because they know what I’ve done and they know what I’m gonna do.
And that makes them proud; a 15 and 16-year-old girl, that’s awesome. A 2-year-old is just like, I have poop in my pants.
Tim Ferriss: Right, a different conversation.
Tim Kennedy: But is he gonna understand Dad being gone for six months? No, he’s gonna be pissed. And he’s gonna take it out on my wife.
My girls are gonna – they’re gonna be pissed, but they also know that I would rather be fighting that there than in front of their school. I’ve tracked down guys that were riding down the street on motorcycles throwing acid on little girls that were walking to school because they didn’t think girls should go to school. I want that to happen nowhere on the planet and in the places that it does, I wanna go there and stop it from happening. I don’t want that to be here.
That’s on a rise in the UK right now. It’s increased by almost 1,000 percent as people are trying to prevent girls from going to school, specifically with acid. Okay, send me to the UK. I can fix this. You’re not gonna like how I’m gonna do it, but I can fix it.
Tim Ferriss: How do you think about risk? And maybe that’s not the right word, but you get deployed, ostensibly something bad could happen to you. How do you think about that yourself?
Tim Kennedy: When we’re stripped down – you go all the way back to the most raw, exposed version of that Special Forces soldier and they start building those cornerstones in the foundation, we’re risk adverse. We’re trying to set ourselves up for success in every imaginable way so that we can’t fail. If and when things start failing, there’s so much training, and there’s so much rehearsal, and there’s so much practice, and there’s so much strategy, and there’s so much preparation that that quote of I’m gonna be the hardest person somebody ever tries to kill – imagine fighting 12 of me, or 24 of me, or 36 of me.
Tim Ferriss: No thanks.
Tim Kennedy: With an AC-130 flying over us, and an F-16, and a couple Apaches on standby, you’re not gonna deal with one of me, you’re gonna deal with me and all of my friends that have been born and bred to do this one thing, which is give people a chance to fight for their freedom.
You don’t wanna fuck with us. We really like that freedom thing.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have a contingency plan if something happens to you?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: You do?
Tim Kennedy: Yeah. My family will be very well off, probably better financially. All the guys that we’re with, they know – these are horrible conversations to have and things that I don’t want my family to know, but if I break my back or if I’m so badly burned, to what degree are they gonna try to save me? That’s a conversation we have. Maybe don’t put me on that bird; maybe just let me die right here.
But that’s a conversation for me and my friends. I’ve had dudes be like, alright, listen. All I want you to do is take my cell phone, smash it on the ground, go take my laptop, smash that on the ground, and then make sure my body goes to my wife. Which is funny, but these are conversations that we have. And everybody’s is different. But as a team, sure as shit, I’m gonna make sure that dude’s – I’m not only gonna smash his laptop, I’m probably gonna microwave it and then I’m gonna throw it in the ocean, or the river, or Tigris. Yes, we have contingencies.
Tim Ferriss: If you could put one word, question, short message, anything on a billboard just to get it out to millions or billions of people, metaphorically speaking, what might you put on such a billboard?
Tim Kennedy: One word?
Tim Ferriss: No, no. It could be one word, it could be a sentence, it could be a question, could be anything, could be a long quote that you like. It could be anything.
Tim Kennedy: I just want people to work. We’re in a society of – a culture of entitlement where it’s like everybody wants the fast, easy, quick fix for everything. Like, oh, I’m sick. Give me a prescription. I’m fat. Give me that quick, easy diet. I’m not successful at work. Just give me that promotion even though I don’t deserve. Everything is just on the far side of hard work. So, that’s what I’d put. Everything you want is on the far side of work.
Freedom; the only place freedom exists is on the far side of hard work. The only place success exists, financially, sexually, in relationships emotionally; it’s on the far side of work. If you want a good marriage, fucking work for it. You want to have amazing sex? Cool, work for it. Unless you’re this fictional character in – I don’t even know the movies. Like Dirk Diggler, right?
Was that based on a real guy? Was he even good at sex? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what. Somebody that really wants and is committed to being good at it is gonna be good at it. And that goes for everything; success, sleep, even sleep. You want good sleep? Earn it. Go work for it. Put your iPad away. Go eat a good, healthy dinner, work hard all day long for 12 hours, and play with your kids, and sweat, and fuck your wife. Give her 15 orgasms so you fall over in the bed and you’re just passed out for eight hours. That’s some good sleep right there. So, on the far side of hard work.
Tim Ferriss: Everything you want is on the far side of hard work. We could keep going for hours, and hours, and hours, and I think that we might – I was gonna say we should do a round two, but it might be a year from now. I’m okay with that.
Tim Kennedy: I’ll be a pretty – when I come back from combat – because you’re such a – right now, we’re having these – not existential conversations, but we’re kinda getting philosophically – projecting what we’d be doing or billboards of inspiration, I’ll be a raw asshole in a year from now after being overseas.
Tim Ferriss: Well, open invitation.
Tim Kennedy: I’ll talk anytime with you.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, different conversation.
Tim Kennedy: Yeah, probably.
Tim Ferriss: But where can people learn more about you? What would you like them to check out and where can they do that?
Tim Kennedy: Freedom’s awesome, so believe in it and go vote for it. And then you can find me – timkennedymma is me for everything; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I try to get on there a lot. I am pretty exposed, so if you wanna – this is not a – you’ll get a very honest conversation out of me in every way, probably too much of a degree.
Tim Ferriss: Are there any websites you’d like people to take a look at or anything you’d like people to look up?
Tim Kennedy: Sheepdog Response is – our motto is make you harder to kill. And we’re trying to make people – the A and the B, keeping blood in the good and letting blood out of the bad. We’re trying to teach people how to do that. Ranger Up is one of my companies. We make satire military shirts, and jeans, and Woobies Shoes.
I’m an entrepreneur like you, but it’s – nah, just go work for freedom. I’ll work for my companies. I’ll work for my wealth. I’ll work for my everything. I’ll work for my freedom. You go work for yours.
Tim Ferriss: Take it. Tim, thank you so much for taking the time. And everybody listening, everybody watching, we’ll provide links to everything we’ve talked about as per usual in the show notes of tim.blog/podcast for this episode, every other episode. And until next time, work hard, it matters. And thank you for listening and thank you for watching.
Posted on: June 26, 2018.
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Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.