From SOF Operator to Business Operator

These days Jordan a.k.a. Fitzy is a husband, father, and successful entrepreneur who lives his life based on a foundation forged operating previously among the top tiers of the New Zealand Military, as a Commando. In short, Commandos provide a Counter-Terrorism capability for the New Zealand Defence Force, in conjunction with elements from the NZSAS.

I met Fitzy in Whanganui in 2020, he was a part of our awesome crew for a three-day hunt (my first), and after much discussion surrounding mindset, attitude and business I decided that the lessons he’d learned and adopted were worth sharing. Fitzy is a hunter, an outdoorsman and though he now spends much time in an office, still craves the adventure of a mission into often uncomfortable territory.

I have followed the progress of his brand, Warfighter Athletic for a few years now. A quick glance over his content will reveal a focused mindset underpinning a drive to build something that educates and inspires others. Fitzy uses the power of social media to communicate everything from business sense to fitness advice, through to mind hacks and insight into building and maintaining an unshakable sense of self-confidence and purpose.

Still to this day, operating far from any sight of a comfort zone in the business world, I believe Fitzy’s words will resonate with, and inspire everyone in some way.

Fitzy, to kick-off, give us a rundown on what it’s like, being an eager teenager, entering the Defence Force? It’s up there in ways to really challenge the norm and push your existing realm of comfort… why did you choose that path?

“I think many can relate to what it’s like being a testosterone-filled and adventure-seeking teenager, wanting to go out and take on the world. My decision to join the army was two-fold, firstly, I wanted to follow a boyhood dream born of watching war movies growing up!

The second reason was a little more personal. Growing up I didn’t exactly have what I would call a “Brady Bunch Childhood”, don’t get me wrong, it was a sporty, adventure-filled upbringing but it was also overshadowed by domestic violence, alcohol, parties, and some memories I never want my kids to have. After many years of ups and downs, I finally had enough, I decided I was going to walk my own path, I wasn’t going to become a product of my childhood, I was going to do something that matters and to me… that was joining the army.

When I look back, it was the best decision I ever made, if I didn’t take that path I don’t know where I would have ended up or what I would’ve ended up doing. When most people face adversity, they run from it, they seek comfort and safety.

What I learned early on was that more often than not, you’re better off running towards it, facing it head-on, and learning to conquer it.

With that said a little thought doesn’t go astray either. Me being me, I got obsessed and did what I saw in the movies, ran till I puked with a healthy portion of push-ups and pull-ups. An older me now knows that isn’t the smartest way to approach adversity, but it got me through the door and to where I wanted to be”

Tell me about selection for the NZ Special Forces. I know it’s far cry from the basic training you started with – what did you learn about yourself and how has it served you later in life?

“Selection was the most pivotal event of my life, the entire experience taught me a lot about myself and mindset in general, many of those lessons fuel my drive today.

Preparing for selection taught me about goal setting and discipline. As mentioned above, when I do anything, I do it obsessively, preparing for selection was no different. Once the goal was set to attend selection, I put a training plan in place and stuck to it like glue. I was rigid, nothing took priority over training. I was up at 5 AM to get ready for work and then I would get home about 5-6 PM and not long after getting in the door I would be heading back out to go and train. If there was a family dinner to attend or anything of the likes when I was scheduled to train, I would skip it, like I said, obsessed.

The actual selection course taught me a lot about myself, my mindset, and quitting. Before selection began, I was the fittest I had ever been in my life, I couldn’t have been any more prepared physically.

Day 1 of selection kicked off; most people know what it consists of from watching 1NZSAS: First Among Equals. It is all the military fitness tests in one day which consists of, a 2.4km run, max push-ups, pull-ups, and crunches. We then go straight into a BET (battle efficiency test) which is an 8km pack march with a pack weighing 40kg give or take plus a rifle, which I believe needed to be done in 72 minutes. From there we conduct a rope climb, scale a 6ft wall, drag another candidate a certain distance, and then fireman’s carry them back.

The day progresses and we head to the infamous ‘hounds and hares’ event, it’s worth noting that at this stage the temperature had reached the hottest day on record for a decade, we were all melting. On this event I learned about pacing myself and understanding the bigger picture, I had gone out too hard earlier in the day and nearing the end of the ‘hounds and hares’ run, I felt like I was going to pass out. If it wasn’t for another candidate giving me his water to tip over my head I might well have hit the deck. After crossing the finish line, I eyed my last challenge for the day, the swim test. The swim test is a double-edged sword, getting in the water was the most refreshing feeling in the world, but the cramp caused by the cold water was not as welcome when you need to swim! Day 1 was in the bag and I was sat there in disbelief at the way I felt. Not a bad day’s work all on nothing but breakfast!

The next few days are nothing but walking, blowing some serious date in the hills, more melting from the heat, and that all too familiar hunger. This is where I learned about the mind and how deceiving it can be. During the long days, you ride an emotional roller coaster, one minute you’re smashing selection, and then next you’re starving, walking up yet another hill with your legs and lungs in a competition for who is burning more.

I made a rule before starting selection and it was a rule that served me well. My rule was simple, no matter how sore, tired, hungry, or exhausted I felt, I would start every day no matter what. I stuck to that rule and it got me through the hills phase. Some mornings I was so sore and stiff that it took me the first kilometer just to warm up and get going again, until that point I walked like I should’ve been in a retirement village.

Next came von Tempsky, also known as The Wall, the Jerrys, or the Dunes. We would have to march for more than 20 hours, clambering through sand, swamps, and up sand dunes in our full kit, carrying 20kg jerry cans. Keep in mind that over the previous days our sleep and food intake had been heavily reduced.

It is this phase that claims a lot of candidates and one that would claim me. Getting off the trucks to start von Tempsky I felt elated, I was here, at the wall, this is where all of the stories about selection come from. To be honest, for the first what felt like 12 hours, I was solid, mentally and physically, I even looked at some candidates and thought to myself “hold yourself together, fucking hell”. As I watched the SAS operators riding around on the quad bikes, picking up suffering candidates, a part of me felt a small win inside. Those who have served know the feeling… we become a bit like death eaters out of Harry Potter, we feed off of the misery of others.

Come dinner time we got a break, a piece of bread, and some soup… that shit didn’t even touch the sides. As we set off for the night I was already pissed at how underwhelming dinner was, and within minutes one of the DS was yelling at me to get my jerry can above my head, that was the beginning of the end for me.

After what felt like a few hours of him zeroing in on me, my temper reared its head, I started to unravel, thinking of every reason why I didn’t need to keep going, about all of the negative things I had heard about the unit and how I had already passed through the Commando gate. My mind was a runaway train and it was about to derail, I snapped. I threw my jerry can into the sand and confessed I was done, I was pissed, and I just wanted to violently attack him.

Very quickly all that anger turned into gut-wrenching regret, I had quit, I actually just quit something, no matter what reason or excuse I ever gave, I quit and in that moment, he won. I can tell you now, this fuels me to this very day. Running a business after a military career with no qualifications is hard, it’s fucking hard, but I will never quit because I have felt it’s searing pain and shame before, I will never feel that again.

After selection I went on to become a Commando, I traveled the world working with SOF and SF units. I had plenty more experiences that have shaped me into the man I am today, but none stick like the lessons I learned and the experiences I had during selection. When times get hard, we start to battle with our doubts and fears, the devil and the angel appear and the back and forth begins. In these moments, remind yourself that you can do it, that you can pull it off, and that absolutely nothing can stop you, this mindset can get you a long way and will do wonders for your performance, that is what the pipeline to becoming an operator taught me.”

NZDF Commandos
Photo Credit New Zealand Defence Force

You’ve held a role in a unit at the speartip of our military capability. What are your top three tips for performing under pressure?

  1. Focus on the mission-critical/ closest target. In high-pressure situations, there’s a lot going on, a lot of information to process, a lot of moving parts, and often it is happening at speed. You can’t focus on it all at once, at the macro-level focus on what is mission critical at that time, at the micro-level engage the closet threat, once that is dealt with move onto the next one. In a non-military context let’s look at rugby, at the macro level are you on offense or defense, what are the mission-critical tasks that need to be conducted in each of those phases? At the micro-level, make that tackle, mark that man, create that space, make that pass, hit that gap.”
  2. Repetition. No matter what field you’re in, there is only one way to become part of the 1% so to speak, repetition. Whatever it is that you do, do it again and again and again, over time you will get better and you will make progress. When you do it enough times, those actions, movements, and drills become subconscious, allowing your conscious mind to process the new and ever-evolving environment around you.”
  3. Communication. You can’t do it on your own, you have to work for the team. For any team to operate efficiently and effectively you MUST communicate in the same manner. Putting time and effort into improving how you communicate is always going to be time well spent. Even in the most chaotic of environments, a team that communicates well is a team that will perform well.”

Let’s discuss Warfighter Athletic. From what I can see, the transition from soldier to an entrepreneur is one few have made here in NZ. What is Warfighter and why does it exist?

“It is one few have made and definitely not as publicly as I have, that last bit has definitely had its moments but there is something exciting about being a pathfinder, especially as I now watch many other operators and soldiers following in my footsteps, building a meaningful exit strategy that will support them and their families beyond the years of their service.

Warfighter Athletic originally started out with a big focus on physical training. When I looked at the personal training industry, I thought it was so fake and that for a lot of the high profile PTs, it’s not about the clients, it’s about them…it is all vanity driven. I was in Paris on a weekend away with a mate with who I had served in the infantry battalion and deployed to Afghanistan with, he lived in England and I was on a trip hanging out with UKSF in Hereford. As we sat in a park soaking up the city of love, we went back and forth on the corruption in the fitness industry, I closed off the conversation by saying “imagine building something for soldiers but where you actually gave a fuck”, that was essentially the beginning of Warfighter Athletic.

For a few months I shelved the idea as I was busy on a course in the US and then once returning home to New Zealand, within 4 days I was starting a promotion course (welcome to Special Operations) where the catalyst to take action occurred.

At the beginning of the promotion course, we had to conduct an RFL test, which’s a required fitness level test, you run 2.4km, do some push-ups and sit-ups, nothing crazy. Well, 40% off these soon to be or most likely, already ‘leaders’, failed that test, 40%. For me it was clear a culture shift needed to occur and that the lines between Warfighter and Athlete needed to be brought closer together.

Fast forward 2 and a half years and we have come along way. Starting out physical training and basic apparel focused, to now working with a world-class designer and pouring my heart and soul into the development of superior technical apparel.

Warfighter has grown as much as I have over the last few years but our reason for existing is extremely clear. We are here to design, develop, and produce world-class training systems and apparel. Now, I could talk on this all day as it goes much deeper than this, but I have already yarned a fair bit in this interview so let’s do a followup soon focused on our technical apparel.”

What’s your advice to anyone with an idea, lacking the courage to invest in themselves and explore it?

“I am glad you asked this question; I see so many people struggling with this. Just as I tell my story of becoming a Commando, with a business it is the same, if I can do this, then so can you.

If I had to give 3 tips it would be:

  1. Do it. If you have an idea, a yearning, or even just a “what if” simmering inside you, scratch the itch, if you don’t, you will always be left wondering “what if”. Remember, if I can do it, so can you.
  2. Failure is not fatal! Even if this plan or idea doesn’t work out you will gain skills and experience you didn’t have before which you can carry over into the next thing.
  3. Execute now. I see so many people starting something planning for days, weeks, months, and years, in the end, they end up doing fuck all. Start executing now and learn along the way, you learn by doing, not by thinking about what you’re going to do!”

Who do you take inspiration from?

“This is a cool question as it has changed so much for me over the years, not just who, but why I take inspiration from them. Growing up I took inspiration from guys like Greg Plitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Willie Apiata VC.

Now, I look up to Jocko Willink, but more because of what he has done outside the military. Don’t get me wrong, I respect his service but so many get a title like “Navy SEAL” and then live their life based on the “I use to be, or I was X” mentality, I have no interest in that mindset. Jocko has achieved great success on the outside and I think he sets a great example for those of us who served. Our drive, our motivation, our success, can carry over into the civilian sector, when we leave the military, we are not closing the book on our life, we are simply starting a new chapter.

I owe a lot to Gary Vaynerchuk. What does a kid who grew up in government housing and joined the Army at 17 taking up a combat trade know about business? Absolutely nothing. I have listened to hours, days, and maybe even weeks of his content. I admire a lot of things about Gary, he gives out a lot and I mean a lot of quality information and education for free, he is a selfless man, I take massive inspiration from that. Gary is a beacon of positivity, he has a great way of communicating the positives in every situation, I think we need more people like that in society.”

How do you stay on-the-ball mentally and physically? For many reading this, adventure will be a way of life, and for some, it will be a new and vast realm of feeling uncomfortable…. what advice do you have for keeping sharp and being prepared?

“Now that I am a dad with two kids as well as being an entrepreneur who is obsessed with his business, I’ve learned it can be hard to make time for everything, including self-development and maintenance… but my advice is simple.

  1. Good sleep, food, and exercise are all mission-critical
  2. Live ready. As much as we love the movie where the underdog miraculously pulls it off, that is not how it works in real life. As the saying goes, “we do not rise to the occasion, we fall to the level of our training”, don’t wing it, put in the work, keep your blade sharp and enjoy the adventure of life.”

Any final insight Fitzy?

“Know yourself, when you’re starting to feel burn out, when you notice the mood swings, when you notice the lack of focus, take action, recover, and look after yourself. Our body and mind are our engines for life, we don’t get new ones, so look after them and they will look after you! I will caveat this by saying that this advice is as much for me as it is for you!”

What can we expect to see from you next?

“There is a lot I want to accomplish over the next decade but in the short term you can expect to see the launch of our big project OPERATION TOA and with it, the reveal of all of the hard work myself and the team have been putting in the last year as we developed our first technical apparel range.

I am also going to be working with a good friend of mine on SF survival experiences here in NZ. He is an absolute wealth of knowledge so I know it will be a life-changing and maybe one day, life-saving experience.

There is plenty more in the works but for now, that is all I will share.

Remember, if I can do this, then so can you.