”Think about how many stories there are to tell in the airport in this very moment; people going to new places, others returning to their families, heading to work and from life-changing adventures.”
Scott Sonnon, founder of TACFIT lives in Washington State, he talks with me whilst at the airport waiting for a flight, as he watches people come and go. Scott, has had many reasons to ponder the lives led by others and his own place within the world. At a young age, Scott was diagnosed with dyslexia so severe, that he was hospitalized in a children’s psychiatric institution and advised that he should not set very high expectations for his future. Gauntlet thrown at his feet, he went on to become a five-time world martial arts champion, an award-winning producer and author, patented inventor, and a fitness industry magnate. Earlier this year, Scott was named one of the top 25 trainers in the world by Men’s Fitness magazine, and one of the six most influential martial artists of the 21st century by Black Belt Magazine.
Tell me about TACFIT and the inspiration behind starting it.
TACFIT is a recovery-focused interval training system designed to restore musculo-skeletal, biochemical and psychological optimization. Primarily designed for stress-mitigation and functional balance, I received my original training by becoming the first Westerner to intern in the former Soviet Union in their stress physiology program, called Vyzhivaniye, alongside their special forces, Olympic athletes and Cosmonaut trainers.
When no one had any expectations of you as a kid due to your severe dyslexia, how has the tactical fitness lifestyle enabled you to reach beyond people’s initial judgements of you?
Tactical fitness regards using a scalpel rather than a pickaxe on one’s physical life: how to use the sufficient but non-excessive amount of force necessary to induce good stress (eustress) to offset and prevent bad stress (distress). It helped me become a world champion in multiple sports. But more importantly it aided me in helping others recover from high stress occupations: soldiers, firefighters, police officers, paramedics, surgeons, pilots…
Besides your businesses, industry and your evidently strong work ethic, what else holds value for you in life?
Family and God. I live for them both, and try to improve myself as a person and professional every day for them.
You were voted one of the “Top 25 Fitness Trainers in the World” by “Men’s Fitness Magazine”, what does it take to achieve that kind of recognition?
I’m supposed to write a positive response here of a list of virtues that is required for achievement. However, what’s required for recognition (in my case) is time. If you do a job with integrity long enough, eventually those who do not will thin out and only you will remain. Stamina, persistence and determination allowed me to be recognized, not because I was the best, I think, but because I was the last one standing. In June, I was recognized by Train Magazine as one of the Top 5 Most Powerful People in Health and Fitness. Like myself, no one else recognized had less than 25 years of experience.
Young professionals are looking to “fast-track.” Perhaps they can. I wouldn’t have advice on how to accelerate success. I do not know how to avoid failure, except to be persistent no matter what. Success then becomes an inevitability. Just brace yourself for becoming an overnight success in 20 or so years.
Are there any challenges which remain out of your grasp at present?
Always. But I’m no longer grasping. We have ambition only when we doubt the Plan. For me, God has a plan. I work hard, act rapidly on opportunities, and sustain my pace with timed recovery and recuperative periods, so that as the Plan unfolds, I bring all of my marshaled resources and expertise to bear with 100% authenticity.
Is there anything about you which we’d be surprised to learn?
As you know, I was born with severe dyslexia but also a joint disease which led to childhood obesity, and a host of other health related issues. Overcoming them, and learning to see my dyslexia as a neuro-atypical advantage in my life, became my career.
Do you have a party trick and if so, what is it?
Does making people uncomfortable count as a party trick? People who know me are very relaxed around me because they know I’m the safest person in the room. I’ve always felt the passage of time tangibly, so I don’t have very much tolerance for inauthentic communication. As a result, if I’m thrust into a socializing situation, my questions of others and replies to them, seek to get as clearly and quickly as possible to the purpose which drives them. Since not all social situations tolerate authentic communication, I’m often quiet. Inquisitive or quiescent can off-put many.
What do you believe is the most important thing for people to learn if they’re trying to create a new life for themselves?
Find your moral compass, whatever you define it as. Follow it as closely as you can, and get up when you stumble as quickly as possible. Once you follow your compass, you find your Purpose, and once you find your Purpose, your life unfolds in front of you better than you could have dreamed possible.
What do you believe is the biggest psychological hurdle to overcome in life?
Purposelessness. When you don’t feel guided, when you feel alone, when you can’t intimately feel the hand of God on your shoulder, nothing makes sense, everything seems random and chaos rules. The reverse is also true. When you follow your moral compass, your purpose becomes clear, tangible and is confirmed every day in micro and macro acknowledgement of your direction, intent and effort.
Where is your favourite place to train and then conversely, relax?
I’ve been in so many places on the Earth. I’ve come to discover, I don’t prefer any of them. They’re really all the same. I am the only changing factor. So, I’ve come to find my favorite place to train is at Peace. I seek to take Peace with me wherever I go. I’m not always successful, but I strive to keep it with me.
How much does nature and the great outdoors play a part in your work?
Nature is the Great Physician. God created her to heal us. The external environment most greatly influences the internal (hormonal) environment. Stewardship of the external environment improves the internal environment. Abuse of the external environment is nothing more than projected self-abuse. The reverse is also true. Take Peace everywhere you go.
You’re an advisor to many US government departments, how do you assess success in those environments?
Candor and diplomacy are not mutually exclusive. How can you speak the truth in a respectful way? My teachers taught me how to speak succinctly, clearly and truthfully in a way that honors the propriety of the situation. Without candor, actual work cannot be done. Without diplomacy, the message cannot be heard. Whoever can speak the most perspicaciously and the most respectfully can have the most positive impact.
Do you have any psychological tips for those who want to attempt a big fitness challenge such as a cage fight or ultramarathon, to whom it currently feels like an impossible task?
Your big challenges are only lessons you’re going to learn from during the journey, not during the event. The event is just the capstone on a long process of daily transformation of behavioral changes. So, start early: 10 months to 2 years out from the target event. Break your preparation into quarterly and monthly goals, and then into weekly and daily task sheets. Mark them off. As Calvin Coolidge said, “Only persistence and determination are omnipotent.”
You will fail. It’s a necessary part of the journey. You’ll learn more from those failures than from your successful moments. Be error-focused as a result. That’s what you’re there to learn. Exhale, take a moment and allow your inner guide to reveal the resolution.
Which do you feel is the most useful martial art and why?
The most useful martial art is the one that you’ll consistently practice. You are the textbook. Martial arts are only designed to turn your awareness inward to your tendencies, capacities and reserves. You create your own style as a result of practicing a martial art. Certainly there will be idiosyncrasies which differ, but ultimately, they all lead to the same discoveries about yourself. After competing in 5 martial arts at an international championship level, I can say, all of the martial artists looked similar, and all of them looked uniquely individualized.
You’ve mentioned that managing anxiety is a crucial element in coaching athletes, could you explain this a little more?
Life is about positive stress and negative stress, rapidly recovering from excess (let’s call this Resilience), and eventually learning now to resist excess (let’s call this Toughness). You need positive stress to Grow. Growth, Resilience and Toughness are the outcomes of good (self) coaching. Self-destruction, rigidity and fragility are the result of repeatedly over-training. Coaching therefore is as much art as it is a science.
Watch TACFIT’s Tania as she is put through her paces as part of the TACFIT Team Leader certification process: