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Featured Fighter | Joe Buckner, Owner of Beautifully Savage Boxing Studio in Fort Collins, CO.
“Everything worth having in this life you’re going to have to fight for. Life is going to test you and fighters know this. They know they will get hit and how you respond is what matters.” – Joe Buckner
On the day I spoke with Joe Buckner he said: “This morning I stood on the balcony of my loft looking out at the homeless and thinking man, that was me.” Just four years ago, Joe was living on the streets of Fort Collins, Colorado. Today, things are different. Joe opened Beautifully Savage Boxing Studio, is engaged to be married, recently had the opportunity to share his story on the TedX stage and is a brand ambassador for YORK Athletics, Lululemon and Kali Active. Life is better now.
Fighters inside and outside of the ring understand that they cannot avoid getting hit, and as we all know life can hit really hard. We often spend much of our lives trying to prevent getting hit or avoiding getting sick, loosing a loved one or getting fired from a job. Much of this is often out of our control and even the good stuff doesn’t last forever, so it’s important to embrace this reality of life: you will get hit, it will hurt, and life will go on. This acceptance is the first step to minimizing worry and if you choose to live with courage and strength you’ll be able to handle whatever life throws at you.
I can’t think of a more inspiring human and authentic example of this mentality in action than Joe Buckner. He reminds us that you don’t have to accept your current circumstances and one’s own fighting spirit can carry us out of any hole we may find ourselves in. If you’re willing to fight, things will improve. The clouds will pass.
Joe and I caught up a few weeks ago to chat more about how this mindset helped him get back on his feet and create the life he was always looking for.
Mark McGarry, YORK Athletics: “Fighting solves everything.” Can you elaborate on that?
Joe Buckner: In this life, everyone has a battle to fight. Whether that is depression, obesity, divorce or what have you. At some point life is going to take a shot and knock you on your butt. Even the greatest fighter of all time Muhammad Ali was knocked down to the canvas but like any great fighter, he knew how to get up and dust himself off and get back in and win the fight. That's what we have to do when life knocks us down. Get up off the canvas, wipe the blood off of your mouth and get ready to fight for everything that you want. We either fight or die and I choose to fight. This mindset has allowed me to fight through prison, homelessness and open my own boxing studio where we teach folks to fight for their dream life!
MM: You know that saying… “If you identify as a fighter then you'll be fighting your whole life.” It sometimes has more of a negative connotation than a positive one. What’s your take on this?
JB: I agree with this saying 100% because I believe that fighters fight. Period. I often say that a fighter will fight in a phone booth if they had to. Real fighters don't know how to back down from a challenge which is why you see fighters fighting way past their prime. Its not that they want to fight, they NEED to fight because it's in their soul to fight.
MM: How did you find yourself homeless and in jail?
JB: These were two separate chapters of life, but both taught me so much. I ended up in prison for selling drugs because I decided to take the easy way out and try to make fast money. That was the culmination of about 10 years of me being a complete screw up and it ended with me behind bars and headed to a prison boot camp program for nonviolent offenders, which I crushed and came home to fight for my life back. Homelessness came as a result of a relationship abruptly ending and me not having the financial means to get into a new place right away.
MM: When you were living on the streets, was there a moment when you knew that you could get yourself back up on your feet? How did you know that you could trust yourself to get you out of the situation vs. relying on others?
JB: You know, during those 6 months I just chose to be positive and see it as a temporary situation. I knew that if I was the problem then I had to also be the solution. I owned every part of my journey and never expected or asked anyone else to do things for me. I didn't even ask anyone to help me. Just kept plugging away and working to find a job and eventually a place for me and my kids to live.
One thing about me is that I just always own up to my crap. I wouldn't trust anyone else to get me out of my stuff because I got me into it. That old saying, "If it's to be, it's up to me," that always comes to mind. Plus, I knew that my kids were counting on me. My kids needed to see a man who didn't give up and fought to give them a good life. My kids and my girlfriend (now fiancé) were people that I wanted to make proud so I became a man they could be proud of.
MM: You mentioned earlier in your career a mentor advised you not to “tell your story” as it could have a negative impact on your career path. How does it feel now to be in a position of strength and be able to remain authentic to yourself by sharing your story with others?
JB: Probably the biggest factor in me starting my own business was for me to be able to share my story! Once I started living my truth, so many great doors opened for me. I felt that it was important for me to be raw and real as I feel that is missing in our world of social media highlight reels and people always trying to pretend that everything is perfect. I also know that I wanted to change people's perception of ex-felons, homeless people and anyone who has struggled. I want to be a shining example of what a person can accomplish if they are given the chance and have even just one person believe in them. I want people to know that whether they’re homeless or an ex-felon, divorcee, obese, depressed, or whatever tough situation people find themselves in. It's all only temporary... even the good times.
MM: What was your TED Talk about?
JB: The title was "Fighting Solves Everything" and I used the platform to share my past but also weave in the 5 top traits of a champion fighter and how to apply them to your life. Being on stage in front of hundreds of people sharing my life was so surreal but worth it. I’d love to share the video for this piece but the guy who put on the event has not released the videos yet.
MM: How's life now? What's a normal day like for you?
JB: Life is so crazy now! I have my boxing studio open in Fort Collins, CO. Currently engaged and planning to launch our first boxing retreat in Mexico in March. I am no longer homeless--I live in a loft in downtown which is my dream space. I travel as much as I can and I coach a lot. Typical day starts at 3:45am and we have classes that start at 5am. I start with my private clients around 7am and usually go until 1pm, which is when I start to work on my business duties or hold meetings until about 3pm when I start with private clients again before we have classes that start at 5:45pm and end around 8pm. I do my best to schedule a workout during the day so that I can keep my mind right and then I spend time with my fiancé before getting ready to do it all over again the next day.
MM: Do you have any daily ritual that helps keep you grounded and balanced?
JB: I keep a gratitude journal that was given to me by my business coach. I do my best to box 3 or more days a week, lift 3 days a week and then mixing in things like spinning class, yoga and reading. I also write and am working on a book.
MM: What is the single most important message that you want to put out in the world?
JB: My message is simple. Always fight for what you want, never give up or give in. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually the road will rise to meet you.
MM: I can't think of a better human to represent our brand and what we stand for. On the flip side, what was it that spoke to you about YORK Athletics when you first reached out to us?
JB: This is so humbling and I thank you. When I found YORK on IG I did some research and read an article about your brand and loved the vibe of wanting to create shoes that perform but are also minimal. It seemed like a dope counter culture movement. I loved the connection with the term "fighting" and how you also use it as a positive term. It seemed like a match made in heaven. It also seemed like we were at similar paths in our journey and I have always been a guy who wants to be a part of a movement and growing with a team that is building something amazing.
MM: What’s your favorite YORK sneaker to train in?
JB: So far it has been the Featherweight Knit in red but I am in LOVE with the Henry Fighter's Edition in white and black. I own tons of sneakers from Yeezys to Jordans and to me the Henry Fighter's Edition in white and black is the most striking shoe that I own.
Mark’s writing explores mental & physical conditioning and mindfulness meditation. He is the CEO and Co-founder of YORK Athletics Mfg., a training footwear brand that honors the fighting spirit. His work can be found on their on-line journal, Lovers & Fighters, where you’ll discover healthy living tips and inspiring stories from his circle of athletes, professional fighters, meditation teachers and entrepreneurs.
Mark is married, a father of two boys, a surfer and co-owner of YORK Athletics MFG and MCGARRY&sons. He trains with the Rajasi Muay Thai martial art team and is a student of mindfulness meditation at the Benson Henry Institute at Mass General Hospital. He lives in South Boston, MA.