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Episode 75: Ultimate Fighter: Colton Smith’s Journey From Army to UFC​

Episode 75: Ultimate Fighter: Colton Smith’s Journey From Army to UFC​

Episode Description

How did an active duty soldier become the Ultimate Fighter? Joining us is Colton Smith, the United States Army’s first and only UFC fighter. Colton shares his remarkable journey of serving in the military, earning accolades such as Ranger Tab, Sapper Tab, CIB, EIB, Airborne, and Air Assault badges, while pursuing his UFC career. Smith reveals how the Army allowed him to stay on active duty while training and competing in The Ultimate Fighter television show and talks about the challenges he faced while juggling both professions and the support he received from his superiors. ​

But it’s not just about Colton’s impressive achievements, he also emphasizes the importance of combatives training in the military, highlighting how it prepares soldiers for hand-to-hand combat situations and builds physical, mental, and emotional strength. Colton Smith also stresses the role of leadership to create camaraderie and respect among soldiers. As someone who leads by example, he believes that leaders should be willing to engage in combat training and combatives alongside their troops. ​

Colton Smith’s achievements include: ​

  • UFC Ultimate Fighter Winner (Season 16) ​
  • 4x UFC Veteran ​
  • 2024 IBJJF Pans Championship Silver Medalist (M2 Black Belt) ​
  • National Wrestling Hall of Fame “Outstanding American” Inductee ​
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger “Out of the Ring” Award Winner ​
  • Brazilian JiuJitsu Black Belt (Second Degree)​
  • Combatives Black Belt​
  • Current Head Coach of numerous State, National and International Wrestling, JiuJitsu & MMA Champions Medalists. ​
  • CoFounder/ Owner of Enlisted Nine Fight Company ​

Learn more about Colton Smith and Nine Line Apparel by following this link. ​

Check out Colton Smith on Instagram and Facebook. ​

Enlisted 9 Fight Company can be found in Virginia – Maryland. ​

​Transcript from June 25, 2024

Ultimate Fighter: Colton Smith’s Journey from Army to UFC

Colton Smith: Make the best case scenario for your situation. I didn’t care what my opponents were going to do, I still don’t. I don’t care that they train at the best places in the world. They have the best nutritionists, the best sponsors, they have the money, whatever it may be. That doesn’t really equate, uh, into how I prepare necessarily. Uh, it’s just that making the best case scenario for my situation, not making any excuses, not cutting any corners. That’s what’s important for me, because I may not have the same cards, uh, dealt that other people have that have that luxury of training full time or training in the best environments. I may not have that, but I damn sure is gonna I’m gonna make the best case scenario for whatever cards I am dealt.

John Berry: Welcome to the Veteran Led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. Today we have the United States Army’s first and only UFC fighter. Colton Smith continues to serve active duty infantry while pursuing his UFC career. Welcome to Veteran Led, Colton.

Colton Smith: Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

John Berry: It’s such an honor. When I think back to the great athletes who are also Veterans, I think of the Ted Williams from World War II, Rocky Bleier after Vietnam, and here you served in Iraq, Afghanistan, EIB, CIB. So, for those in other services, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, uh Ranger Tab. Sapper Tab Airborne, Air Assault. Deployments, multiple deployments, a leader and a UFC fighter. So, let’s get to how did you convince the Army to let you stay active duty and fight UFC?

Colton Smith: I will say, and I like to lead with this. Uh, just so there’s no any preconceived notions. Uh, uh, I received no preferential treatment from the military, from the Army. Uh, in fact, because mixed martial arts is not an Olympic sport, uh, there is no world class athlete program. There is no, uh, feeder program with all Army style, uh, club or group that that leads you into mixed martial arts and allows you to do that for your full time job. So, uh, the entirety of my professional fighting career, I’ve also been a professional infantryman, if you will, a professional war fighter. So, uh, juggling all of that, um, it it was quickly apparent to me that if I wanted to do, uh, both professions, I was going to have to take every single ounce of free time that I have and, uh, dedicate that to that extracurricular, which was mixed martial arts, uh, my UFC dream, if you will, while still active duty. Uh, so I took personal leave for it. Took 54 days of personal leave for The Ultimate Fighter television show. Uh, luckily, I had some general officers and some higher ups, uh, higher, higher up enlisted leaders who, uh, believed in me and allowed me and afforded me that opportunity to take personal leave and go and, uh, challenge the best fighters in the world on The Ultimate Fighter.

John Berry: And that’s an amazing accomplishment. And when I think about as a senior leader, why would I why would I want this to happen? I would think from a recruiting perspective, this is who we want. We want the scrappy individuals who are going out and doing things, especially when we hear that today’s Army is having difficulty recruiting physically fit, uh, members into the armed forces. You know, these 18 year old kids, they’re not fit anymore. But now we’ve got. But if we can find where they are and go there and show that we support this type of, uh, activity, then it’s more likely that they’re going to come join our organization, or at least they’ll know about it. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. And the other thing that you, you know, you didn’t get into yet, which I think is really important, is you’re also giving back to the military in that you are a Special Operations Combatives Instructor and a Combatives Master Trainer, and you continue to train the force on hand to hand combat and what I guess what? Hell, I’ve been out so long. What do they call hand-to-hand combat? It’s still the same. Combatives. Yeah, combatives. That’s correct. And so, you were crowned The Ultimate Fighter Season 16 for that TV reality show. Tell us about that.

Colton Smith: Yeah. So, I, uh, I took, you know, again, 54 days of leave for the filming of the show. Um, and if I were to rack and stack myself 1 to 32 before the show started, uh, if I was being honest, an honest steward here, I would have said I was probably number 30 on the show, ranked number 30 out of 32. You got to think about this at that time especially, this was 32 of the top welterweights in the world that were unsigned by any other organization, uh, that were vying for their spot in the UFC. Of the 32, majority of them, their full time job was fighting, right? Uh, there was a handful of us that had other professions on the show. Uh, but generally speaking, and conventional wisdom would tell you, uh, it’s very difficult to be a professional athlete at the highest level, uh, and have a full time job outside of that. And that be like your, your part time gig as a, as a professional fighter. So, uh, again, being an honest steward, I’d probably say I was number 30 out of 32 if I was leading myself into the house. Uh, however, as time went on, it was readily apparent to me inside of that house. And again, this house is a is a mansion in Vegas. And yes, you have no outside, outside, uh, anything any contact with the outside world.

Colton Smith: You can’t write letters, you can’t make phone calls, you can’t get on the internet. Um, you can you can’t do anything. You can read a Bible and that’s it. Nor you can drink and party in the house. Obviously, I did not partake in that. Uh, and then you train to fight in this tournament, and you’re living with these guys that you’re fighting with. And it was readily apparent to me quickly that majority of these individuals, although they’re warriors, they’re modern day gladiators, if you will. Um, they had never been in a situation where they were away from their families, away from their loved ones, away from their cell phones, away from their gyms, their training partners. Uh, whatever. Nutrition and rhythm. And, uh, just schedule they had day to day. And I realized, wow, I can win this thing. You know, based on my military experience, based on, uh, I guess, the shared suffering that I’ve had as an infantryman up to that point in my career, because at that point I’d already been on deployments and, you know, unfortunately, lost, lost, uh, guys and gals in battle and, um, oh, down, down, down range. And, uh, I think having that experience is why I won The Ultimate Fighter bottom line. And it was also the first time in my career where I could really focus on fighting, where I wasn’t, you know, a full time soldier, a leader at the time, probably a squad leader around that time and, uh, was able to focus solely on fighting.

Colton Smith: So selfishly, this is the first time my, my career where I was able to just focus solely on that. And, uh, that’s why I think I was successful, and that’s why I watched these, these elite athletes, these grown men that were, uh, lauded as the best and the brightest and the fight game at the time, I watched them break mentally and eventually break physically in the cage when I would go against them. And, uh, as the time when progressed in the show, my confidence rose and I realized, hey, I can do this. I can win The Ultimate Fighter. Um, fast forward, the filming was over after, you know, the, the 54 days or whatever it was for the filming. And then I left and went back, uh, to my duty station. And that’s when the fun really began, because the general officer that was in charge of the I believe it was General Milley, was the, uh, III Corps Commander at the time, and everyone expected me to get out of the military. You know, they’re like, uh, so, you know, we’re going to lose you, huh? And I’m like, I think I’m going to reenlist, you know? And they’re like, wait a second, can he do this? Can he, you know, reenlist and military and fight? And JAG wasn’t really sure. It was unheard of. No one’s ever done it before. And fast forward eight weeks, I win The Ultimate Fighter. So not only did I, you know, make it to the finale, you know, top two, but I end up winning. I end up beating, uh, my Canadian counterpart on the show and, uh, pretty pretty handedly. And I also had a, a Veteran in my corner, Tim, Timothy Kennedy, Tim Kennedy, Green Beret, UFC fighter, uh, serial entrepreneur, amazing human being. He was in my corner for that fight, so it made it that much more special, having a brother in arms in the corner and then winning the show. And then at that point, you know, the Army’s really like, wow, you know, what are we going to do with this guy? And to be to be frank, I’m not sure that the Army knew what to do at the time because they never had anybody like that, uh, while still serving on active duty. These are some National Guardsmen and reservists that have done something similar. Um, but I’m not sure if they knew how to utilize me. And I still have still had and still have things within the, the military that I want to accomplish. So, uh, I still was trying to strive for the next rank for the next school lead my soldiers, uh, while still, you know, fighting competitively.

John Berry: So, what are those goals? Do you want to be a command sergeant major or what? What’s the what’s the final military goal?

Colton Smith: I’m not gonna. I won’t speak on that. That part. Um, but I do have I do have a lot of goals and ambitions in regards to the soldiers, Marines and sailors that that I, that I lead and that I work with day in and day in and day out. So, I’m gonna I’m gonna joint a joint assignment, and I have, uh, uh, individuals from from every service, uh, that I work with day in and day out. Some of the best NCOs, petty officers and officers that I’ve been blessed to serve with in my 18-year career. And I think a lot of what motivates me now is getting them to their goals. And it may not be their goals in uniform, maybe their goals outside of uniform. If I can leave the service after however many years I do, whether it’s 20 or 30, uh, if I can leave service knowing that I made a true impact on those within my span of influence. Uh, whether they’re my subordinates, uh, my peers or my leaders. Uh, then I was successful. And, you know, it took me a long time, uh, in uniform to understand what impact I wanted to leave, uh, whether it’s on an organization that I work for or in service wearing a uniform. Uh, and I think that’s what I want to be remembered as. As, uh, a leader who took care of his people, uh, at all costs. And to set them up for success in life in and out of uniform.

John Berry: Wow. Well, we’ve taken you to the end of your military career, but let’s go back to before your military career. You grow up as a wrestler in Iowa. You get a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a black belt in combatives. How do you do this before you join the military? Or is this part of, uh, your military journey where you start to begin to develop these skills?

Colton Smith: You know? So, uh, I grew up wrestling in Iowa. Born and raised in Iowa and just not a whole lot in Iowa. You know, you got wrestling cornfields and Busch light, you know? So, um, it basically everyone wrestles. And I grew up in a culture, uh, where, where we wrestle. I knew that was what wrestling was around, that that’s a priority, uh, above all else. So that’s kind of how I was raised from a very young age. Four years old, all the way, all the way up through. And there’s an expectation after that to probably wrestle in college as well. Uh, and just keep, keep fighting and fighting for that, that, that dream of wrestling and trying to find what that end state would be, whether that’s, you know, NCAA champion or, you know, the, the Olympic run, whatever wrestlers in the Midwest, that’s that’s kind of where you’re, where you’re, uh, your life leads is, is those goals of being, uh, All-American or, or maybe representing our country on the international level? Uh, that’s when I found out you could wrestle in the Army. And that’s kind of was my first plan was to wrestle in the Army. You know, going to the Army and wrestle. Well, it was the height of the war in Iraq. It was right before the surge. When I joined, I joined in ‘05. The surge started in 2006, and I joined the infantry in ’05 and that in that moment, uh, I realized how much I enjoyed being around, uh, like minded individuals that, um, all had a shared goal and understanding on a team.

Colton Smith: And, and I realized the same thing that drew me to wrestling, uh, on the team aspect of wrestling in the in the singular aspect of wrestling of, you know, you’re by yourself out there on the mat. It was the same thing that drew me to being an infantryman, and how I realized how much that was my calling. That’s where I wanted to be in life, was an infantryman. And, uh, I found myself. I didn’t even try out for the Army wrestling team. I never went, I never, you know, I went out there and trained with those guys and guys and gals out in, out in Colorado Springs and WCAP. Uh, but I never tried out for the team or anything. I just, uh, enjoyed being an infantryman too much. And that kind of led me to fighting, to be honest with you. Uh, I was deployed to western Baghdad, and I got some local DVDs. Our local market, uh, got some DVDs, some bootleg DVDs, and UFC 1 to 43 on my portable DVD player. Uh, you know, I watched those in between patrols and in between shifts and everything else we had going on in that crazy time during the surge. And I was like, you know what? I can do this, you know, and I remember I told my platoon, hey, I’m going to be in UFC 150 you watch. And at that point, you know, I DVD 1 to 43 were probably on UFC 50 maybe at the time and back in America. And I told them, you know, I’m gonna be in UFC 150 watch.

Colton Smith: They looked at me like I’m crazy because they should have, you know, I’m some random private saying I’m going to be in UFC, I’ve never fought, uh, competitively. I fought growing up. I was kind of misfit. Youth got in some trouble growing up. I always found myself a little scraps in wrestling and everything else. Well, seven days after that deployment, I found myself in a cage. When I was on post-deployment leave, and I fought. I fought for organization in Winchester, Virginia, and, uh, luckily I ended up winning. Now, uh, it was the first fight of the night I won, and, uh, if I wouldn’t have won that fight, I don’t know if I’d be, you know, I wouldn’t be. Wouldn’t have fought in UFC. I wouldn’t have been here today. Luckily, I got the W that day. Uh, but honestly, I realized how much I didn’t know about fighting at that point. And then, uh, from that point, I was hooked. So, every waking moment that I had, whether it was at lunchtime before work, you know, after duty, uh, I would I would find a place to train or find someone to train with. So, uh, I say that to say I, I would like to think that I made the best-case scenario for my situation while deployed and, uh, chased my dreams and truly believed it. And that the prophecy of UFC 150 that I. That I said, uh, my Ultimate Fighter season was probably around UFC 155. So honestly, I wasn’t too far off.

John Berry: Wow. Well, setting that goal and achieving it. Amazing. So, I remember the first time I had heard of Brazilian jiu jitsu. I was a young lieutenant. We were at JRTC in Fort Polk. Don’t know if you’ve been there, but we were training to go to Bosnia in 1999, and there was this kid. He was probably 19 years old. His name was Castro. He was probably 160 lbs. He was in my platoon now. I was a former college football player, about 220 lbs. I was in I was in great shape. I mean, I still maxed the apfd. I was still, you know, running sub-12, two-minute miles, could do the push-ups and sit ups. So, I think I’m just, you know, a physical specimen and this is a skinny little kid. And we go in there and someone said, well, you know, he trained in a monastery in Brazil or somewhere for, you know, a year like, this kid knows what he’s doing. So, I’m like, I’ll take him on because, you know, the platoon leader, right? Everybody looks at the lieutenant like, okay, the lieutenant needs to prove himself. So, I show up and I’m. And there’s a big mat, and it’s like, okay, we’re gonna grapple.

John Berry: And I had never even heard of an arm bar before, but within one minute, I was on my back in an arm bar tapping out. And, uh, this kid, he was amazing. He was a great soldier, but a great fighter. And it was just, you know, it’s tough to take a beating in front of the whole platoon, but it’s great. It’s great morale boost for the team. When, when? Hey, we’re infantry guys. We’re here to fight and we want to get better. And you know what? It’s a meritocracy out there on the mat. The best. The best fighter wins. And look, I wrestled in middle school I for football I wanted to gain weight, not lose weight. So, I didn’t wrestle in high school. But I remember how long, you know, those periods can be whether two minutes, three minutes. That training is intense. And, uh, you know, for those that don’t get the experience, how do you how do you train for that?

Colton Smith: Yeah, it’s definitely difficult. Uh, definitely difficult. Whether it’s jiu jitsu or it’s mixed martial arts. Um, you know, I mean, it is, uh, it is. It’s hard to explain. It’s really hard to train for it in terms of, you know, trying to find, like, hit training, you know, high intensity interval training to try to replicate a fight, to try to replicate a grappling match. And, uh, and I’m, I’m kind of old school in the, in the sense that how do you get better at jiu jitsu? You do jiu jitsu. How do you get better at fighting? You fight? You know, and then I’m still kind of I still feel that way. I’ve gotten a little more scientific with my approach, how I feel myself. Um, you know, how I take care of my body. Uh, but I still am of the mind that, you know, how do you get better at push-ups? You do push-ups, you know, how do you. So, I’ve always kind of kept that that that Keep it Simple Stupid, that KISS acronym, if you will. Keeping that mindset in everything I do. Don’t overthink it. Uh, don’t you know, try to try to simplify it if you can. And I feel like there’ll be a lot more successful. And that’s. I kind of carry that approach in every aspect of life. Uh, hard work pays off, you know? Take care of yourself, take care of those around you. Stay physically, mentally, emotionally strong and everything you do, and you’ll be successful. Um, so to be to prepare for, you know, the, the five-minute rounds, maybe three fives or five, five-minute rounds, uh, man, I just do it. I fight, you know, fight day in and day out at my gyms, you know, at work when I get off duty. Um, so that’s kind of a broad, broad way to answer that question. But, uh, no matter what your profession is, no matter what fuels you, I don’t care if it’s video gaming or if it’s tennis, whatever it may be. How do you get better at it? You just you do that, do that subject.

John Berry: Do the work. And to be fair, we really haven’t even gotten into your accomplishments yet. I mean, you’re a four-time UFC Veteran, 2024 IBJJ Pan’s Championship medalist, silver medal, uh, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Outstanding American inductee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Out of the Ring Award winner. Um, and uh, and the list goes on. And I wanted to I like that the Arnold Schwarzenegger award, because I remember when I was 16 years old and I was training to to play football, my dream was to play football in college. So, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get bigger. And I read about how Arnold talked about when he was in the Austrian Army, that he would get up in the morning and work out and then do a full day’s work. And I think he then he said, get up early, then work out at the end of the day. But he said he was he was exhausted, but he continued to train hard during that active-duty period, and he felt like he made significant gain then. You know, at a time when a lot of us might say, well. Hey, we’re out in the field. We’re calling it, you know. We’re good. So, what do you do when you’re out in the field? Do you find a way to train?

Colton Smith: There is a lot of times, especially as a young, like fire team leader, young, young infantry squad leader, uh, where we would be out in the field, you know, we’re out there for a couple weeks at a time, you know, whatever it may be, or NTC for 45 days or whatever different mission sets we were doing supporting other agencies and stuff like that. And I remember and a lot of people talk about it still to this day. Uh, man, I remember when you were we grapple people, you know, over by the ammo shed or you, you know, and I would, I would pommel, pommel with people. I would wrestle with people. Anybody that wanted to wrestle or grapple with me, I would grapple with them. I’d bring mitts and gloves out to the field, you know, so literally as a live, live fire ranges going on as my platoon or squads coming off, you know, I’m hitting mitts, you know, next to the tree line. Um, and I think I truly think and I, I get it, conventional wisdom would tell you, like, you can’t be successful in a sport or an extracurricular if you don’t solely focus on that at the highest levels.

Colton Smith: Um, but for me, it’s always been make the best case scenario for your situation. I didn’t care what my opponents were going to do, I still don’t. I don’t care that they trained at the best places in the world. They have the best nutritionists, the best sponsors. They have the money, whatever it may be. That doesn’t really equate, uh, into how I prepare necessarily. Uh, it’s just that making the best-case scenario for my situation, not making any excuses, not cutting any corners. That’s what’s important for me, because I may not have the same cards, uh, dealt that other people have that have that luxury of training full time or training in the best environments. I may not have that, uh, but I damn sure is going to I’m going to make the best case scenario for whatever cards I am dealt during a fight camp or during a train up camp for, you know, uh, jiu jitsu tournament or whatever it may be, and then also taking that knowledge and, you know, bringing that down to the to the next generation of, of fighters and grapplers.

John Berry: Well, let’s face it, this is the ideal hip pocket training, right? You’re in the field. You got you always have downtime in the field. And everybody that watches war movies assumes that it’s all action. There’s always a lot of downtime during deployments. There’s downtime in the field. But to be able to give that hip pocket training to your soldiers to get them actively engaged and learning something, because I always believe that the brilliance of the NCO Corps was that they understood there was never enough time to train, and they didn’t care about the commander’s training schedule as much as I need these soldiers to be combat ready. So, Captain Barry, that’s great. You got a training schedule here. We will follow that. But there’s some other skills we got to train on, and we will train in between. And this is called hip pocket training. This is how we’re going to do it. And I really respected that. And it seemed like, you know, the hip pocket training where you’re teaching somebody about how to identify terrain features on the map is less engaging than having, you know, every soldier say, grab a buddy. All right. We’re going to practice. You know, we’re we’re going to practice, uh, combatives right now. And here’s, here’s the first thing I’m going to teach you and walk them through and let them do it. Right. Because wasn’t it Bruce Lee who said, you don’t do it till you do it right. You do it till you can’t do it wrong.

Colton Smith: That’s right.

John Berry: So when you when you’re out there, obviously you’ve been a first sergeant. So you’ve been in a position where you have to have that, that you have that downtime, you have that opportunity. Uh, how do you how do you decide what what is the hip pocket training we should do? Do you mostly make it combatives or do you do other, other military skills?

Colton Smith: I am, uh, partial to combatives, and I do believe, uh, combatives is very underutilized across all, all the, all branches. And again, I don’t care what your occupational specialty is. Um, combatives. When I think of a hand-to-hand engagement, I think of that being the most intimate form of of fighting, uh, of war that you can engage in when you take away all of our tools, our weapons, all the cool gadgets we have nowadays. What are we left with? Hands and hands kill. Um, you know, and that’s something that I, that I am very, anytime I have the opportunity to get a platform like this, uh, to speak about how important combatives is to our force. And, you know, there’s obvious, you know, also physically, mentally, emotionally, uh, makes you stronger, makes you more, uh, confident, competent as a leader, as a soldier. And, like you said, stepping out there with one of your soldiers and you’re the PL, you’re the platoon leader, you’re in charge of that platoon. And you stepped out there and you rolled with a soldier, and he balled you into a pretzel. And you know, the respect that that platoon probably had. Man, my PL stepped out there and rolled with, you know, this dude right here who’s, who’s a freaking BJJ, you know, phenom, and yeah, he got balled up, but the respect they’re going to have for you, and I feel like especially combatives a lot of leaders would not do that. A lot of PLs, platoon sergeants, senior NCOs, officers would never ever allow a PFC to get one up on them or a private to get one up on them, but it shows that you saw the bigger picture. Like my my platoon is going to understand that, hey, I’ll be in the. Inches with you. Win, lose or draw, I’ll be in there. And I think that’s something that I like to really impart on as many people as I can in uniform, out of uniform about the importance of combatives outside of the obvious. Let’s make sure that we’re ready to go. We can tussle with the enemy and all that. Uh, just what it does for for leaders, you know, and it brings everyone down kind of like the even ground, you know? So, it doesn’t matter what your rank is. Combatives is like ultimate equalizer. And, you know, when you get out there and you’re tussling with the with a PFC with some jiu jitsu experience.

John Berry: Well, I would love to say. Yeah, that my that my, my idea that there was that was my lofty goal. No, I just didn’t want to get punked. I was like, all right, this this kid thinks he can go, let’s go. Right. I’m a competitor and you know the NCOs are there. So, I appreciate that. In hindsight, they may have respected me, but when I was on the ground within a minute, they were all laughing and, you know, oh LT man, you still think you’re so big and so strong. You just got taken down by 19-year-old kid that weighs 150 lbs. You know. But that was great for camaraderie too. But you’re right. We used to talk about the FEBA, the Forward Edge of the Battle Area. Right. Like that was like linear battlefields that we no longer see. Now it’s we’re clearing rooms and there is no rear echelon anymore. Right? Build it. We’re fighting in cities and that’s where there’s a lot more likelihood of hand-to-hand combat. And that means anybody I don’t care whether you’re in the Finance Corps, you may be subject to a situation where you’re going to have to know combatives in order to survive.

Colton Smith: Well, you look at our near-peer adversaries, right? You look at, look at, um, you look at like, look at Russia, look at Russia. Right. Uh, a lot of those young Russians are doing sambo. Combat sambo, uh, you know, they, they wear shorts and a  gi top. So, something you can grab a hold of, similarly to what you wear in combat, where you have your fatigue top on, you have your plate carrier on. Um, so there, there used to at a very young age, either wrestling or doing sambo. Um, and you know, you better believe that their military is doing the same thing. So, you look at a near-peer adversary, we could potentially, um, God forbid it happens, but could potentially go to war with. And you may have to get to a situation where, you know, you’re an American soldier and you’re fighting someone who’s been doing sambo since they were four years old. You better have the requisite skills to survive, because you may not be able to thrive in that situation, but survival. There’s something to be said about that. When I teach self-defense, uh, I don’t give people delusions of grandeur. I’m going to teach you something in a weekend that you’re going to survive, or you’re going to thrive in a situation. No, I’m hoping that you can survive if that happens. Uh, but I’m not naive to the fact that, uh, the odds aren’t in your favor if you don’t train this full time.

Colton Smith: You don’t train this, you know, uh, regularly. It’s a perishable skill just like shooting. Just like land navigation, whatever that may be. So when I train, when I’m teaching combatives, I’m thinking of who could our, you know, who would be the worst opponent for us, who you know, what country, what terrorist faction would be the worst, you know, possible enemy for us? I want us to get to a level where we can fight individuals that have been doing different martial arts around the world since they were little, little kids, you know, living in squalor, just doing this martial art, that’s what they eat, sleep and breathe for. Now, they’re serving in the military or serving in, God forbid, for, uh, the enemy. And now we have to fight those individuals. We better be ready for that. And that’s why I think combatives is so important in our services. Um, again, take away all my tools, take away all my technology, everything at my disposal. What am I left with? My chassis, you know, am I physically, mentally, emotionally strong? I don’t know, am I? You know, do I have the requisite hand-to-hand skills to fight? And then do I have the hand-to-hand skills to fight long enough to get back to my tools, get back to that technology, back to that radio, get back to my RTO to call for support?

Colton Smith: Um, so that is why I think combatives it is that’s part of your chassis. That’s what you’re building off of. It’s no different than doing PT every single day. It’s no different than staying physically fit. Emotionally fit. You know, smart, not drinking, you know, doing the right things, how we’re fueling our body, all these things. I mean, we’re combat athletes. People don’t like to hear that term, but we are, we’re combat athletes, uh, Difference is we don’t make millions of dollars doing it. Uh, but the also the difference is, is worst case scenario for them, they lose on the basketball court or football field. Worst case scenario for us, we die. We don’t come home to our families. Uh, so why not train yourself like you are that LeBron James, or you are, you know, whoever on a football field or baseball diamond or a professional fighter. That’s how we should train as soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Space Force. I don’t care what service you’re in. That’s how you should train day in and day out. And that’s basic discipline you should have within yourself and not be told to do it.

John Berry: Yeah, because you have to have that tough conversation with the soldier that second place in combat is death. You’re going in there not overconfident, but over prepared.

Colton Smith: I think the way I and you know, it’s we it’s so much different to you know, I think some of the fighters truly believe that this is life or death. We’re fighting in a cage. Man, the worst case scenario in the cage or in the jujitsu mat or wrestling mat. Worst case scenario, I wake up, wake up, single legging the referee because I got knocked out or choked out. Uh, I take a little nap from getting choked out, and I think that is something that’s stuck with me, that that’s the reality of it. You know, I’m not going to die in the cage. I’m not going to die on the wrestling mat or jitsu mat. Um, and when I hear people draw comparisons, you know, of fighting in the cage to what our men and women do overseas day in and day out on behalf of this nation, there is no comparison. And I’ve caught flak for this. When I won The Ultimate Fighter, uh, one of the first things I caught flak for, two things I said, I, I said, you know, two things I said. The first thing I said was profess my love for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And I caught a lot of flak for that. And then, uh, I said, you know what we do inside this cage, this Octagon is easy.

Colton Smith: What the men and women do overseas, my brothers and sisters in arms, that’s hard. This is easy. That’s hard. And I caught so much flak for that, you know, for a long time. Still, people still probably talk about it, uh, in a negative light, but it’s a truth, though I don’t I don’t care. Anybody thinks, you know, I don’t. These athletes at the highest levels of the UFC, MLB, NHL, NFL, it to me, it doesn’t hold a candle to what the men and women do day in and day out overseas. And I’m not talking about myself. This isn’t like, uh, me gloating about myself. This is about the men and women that I’ve been blessed to serve with. Um, and lead. I mean, the most remarkable human beings on earth, the most selfless human beings on earth, uh, are in the United States military. Still, I don’t care what the news says or what newspapers say or anything like that, it’s still the truth. And, uh, I just pray that it remains the truth and remains, uh, to be the institution that I’ve given my entire adult life to. Uh, and again, I’m happy to serve because of those individuals.

John Berry: Absolutely. And you make a great point that when you step into a cage, it’s, you know, the fight is coming. For those of us deployed, we never know. And it might be the person on a convoy who had no idea and they hit an IED. So, every day there is real risk, whether we’re expecting it or not, which is a lot different than a competition when we know what’s coming. And so, there’s a different amount of preparedness that’s required, a different amount of guts, because you don’t just have to have those guts for the time you’re going to be in that ring competing. You’ve got to have it for the entire deployment, and then you’ve got to have the guts to come back and probably deploy again and again. And that’s just that’s just some intestinal fortitude that you’ll never see if you’ve never joined the military. Now, the other part is this you raised your hand to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. You protect our First Amendment right that protects religious freedom. If anybody should be able to speak out about their religious beliefs, it should be you.

Colton Smith: Yeah, yeah.

John Berry: I say you. I mean, the American military, those of us who have defended freedom, those of us who swore a sacred oath to uphold a solemn oath to uphold those constitutional rights. So that always bothers me, uh, especially when I see a soldier who wants to proclaim their religion, whatever it is. Hey, they earned that right, and we need to respect that because they’re protecting all of our rights for religious freedom. So, uh, good for you. Uh, you know, it’s important to I think that when we set the example for young children too that, that faith is important. And unfortunately, uh, with social media, everything else, we sometimes blow by that, whatever, whatever that faith is, it’s important because it goes back to our values. And if we grow up in a household with values, when we come to the military that has values, it’s a lot easier to adapt and to understand that the military culture. That being said, I want to take you to the After Action Review three examples of great leadership and three examples of horrible leadership. You don’t have to name names, but I’d love to hear.

Colton Smith: Three examples of great leadership. You know, I will say this. It took me a while to realize this. Um, I didn’t have the best leaders. When I first got in the Army. I felt like for a long time, I was a little scorned about the leaders that I was given. Some of the leaders I had, whether they were like, uh, most of them honestly were at a higher echelon. Um, and I didn’t think they were very good leaders. And I was I was young, I was naive. There’s things that I’ve looked at now like, okay, I understand where they were coming from now, you know, I took some time. Um, but man, I had some leaders that like, there was times where I was like, man, it’s Ashton Kutcher going to come out. Am I getting punked, like, is this are these my leaders? You know, um, and I did learn I will say this on a broad spectrum. I know you asked for three and three, but I will say this about, uh, the worst leaders I’ve had and examples of that, something I that resonated with me. I had a very good leader and, and, uh, a very good platoon sergeant of mine at the time. Someone that I really looked up to, uh, I had I had a lot of issues with, with my first sergeant at the time. He was not a very good leader, uh, just to paint a picture, you know, he’s an infantryman of probably 20 years, and he shoots himself in the hand on deployment, uh, with, uh, with his with his M9, with the service pistol.

Colton Smith: And, you know, it just was kind of, uh, I don’t want to say icing on the cake for this guy, but he just was not a good leader. Uh, morally, ethically was not the kind of person you wanted to look up to as a as a young leader. You know, I was a young team leader, fire team leader at the time in Iraq. And, uh, looking up to this individual wasn’t going to happen, but my platoon sergeant gave me some wisdom that has carried with me forever. And it’s the most simple thing he said to me. He said, Colton, you know, or Sergeant Smith, Corporal Smith, whatever it was. Um, you know, when you see somebody like that and you looked over at the first sergeant, you know, this is this is before he shot himself, too, by the way, uh, when you when you see someone like that, you know, sometimes it’s just you can learn from them because you don’t want to be that person. So just do a 180 from what they do, and you’ll be successful. And it seemed it’s just such a basic thing to say. Uh, but it literally a light bulb went off in my head. And from that point forward, I realized there’s people in our lives, people in our day to day lives that we’re not going to get along with, whether they’re leaders in the military. I don’t care if it’s going through a drive through, customer service representative that’s not very, you know, not being friendly, whatever it is. But I feel like you can learn from every single person you come in contact with. And worst-case scenario, you just do a 180 for whatever they do, you’ll be successful if they’re not a very good person. And this, this first one I had, uh, kind of he’s one, two and three of bad leaders. You know, he’s that kind of leader that that’s. Yeah. So, the second one someone brings up bad leader I think of that individual and I obviously I won’t say his name.

Um, now, now when you talk about leaders, that leader of consequence, a leader that will stand up, uh, even when it may not be popular. Um, man, I was very blessed in my career. At a certain point, I was able to work directly for the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Um, for a lot of people don’t understand that position, but it’s, uh, the highest-ranking enlisted member of the Department of Defense. There’s only been five of them, I believe. And he was the 3rd SEAC. His name is, uh, Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell. Uh, the term SEAC is actually its own rank now, too, as well. All services, if they achieve that rank, you’re a SEAC now. So SEAC (Retired), John Wayne Troxell and I was able to work directly for him when I was in Afghanistan previous to that, I was I was in Afghanistan as a sergeant, first sergeant, and he came over with the Chairman, uh, to come speak with us after an operation, and he offered me basically as my broadening assignment, he said, hey, what’s next for you? I said, well, I probably got to leave FORCECON. I’m probably not going to be able to, you know, go to another FORCECON unit to deploy or whatever it may be. So, I’ll probably have to go be an RI. I’ll probably go be, you know, at the time I was a senior sergeant first class, first sergeant, whatever at the time. I was probably going to do my RI time and uh, he said, okay, so what about you come work for me? And what does that look like? And he’s like, well, you’re going to travel the world, you know, 255 days out of the year for two years. Uh, and it’s going to be like drinking from a fire hose. And we’re basically General Mattis’s, Sec Def Mattis’s, 10,000-mile screwdriver. And, uh, so I said, that’s fine. I’ll take it.

Three months after that deployment, I found myself at the Pentagon and I traveled the world for, for, for about 18 months with him. And you want to talk about a leader that I was able to just soak in everything that he had done for, you know, 35, 36 years of service. You know, he jumped into Panama as a staff sergeant just to paint a picture of, of, uh, you know, how long he served, jumped into Panama as a staff sergeant, fought in every, every theater of combat since then. He’s retired now obviously, but, uh, being able to be a fly on the wall with, uh, John Wayne Troxell larger than life. Um, I learned so much from him, uh, being there, being his right-hand man, if you will, uh, for those 18 months. And, man, there’s 100 things that he taught me throughout that time and still teaching me. We’re very, still very, very connected. Um, so I think a lot of people that have made an impact on me and, and most recently, it’d be John Wayne Troxell before I, I took the leap of faith to, to move over to where I am now. I was with him for about 18 months traveling the world. Um, and, uh, yeah, that was invaluable that time that I had learning from somebody like that, that literally was about selfless service. When you when you serve over 30 years, that’s there’s nothing selfish about that. You’re giving your life to this profession of arms. And that’s what that’s what he does and that’s what he epitomizes. And I think of being dedicated to something so much that’s larger than myself. And that’s probably the biggest lesson he taught me was, was selflessness. And, uh, yeah, I don’t know if I have that in me to serve 35 years. Um, but I look at guys like him and, uh, I was I was subjected to great leaders at an elite level of special operations and of the strategic level during that time. And it really changed my mindset of those guys at the top. You think of sometimes like, oh, one of those guys in the Pentagon know? They don’t know the real struggle, you know? So, uh, I know you asked for three examples, but it’s hard for me not to give, give, you know, personal testimony of people that made an impact on me. And, uh, John Wayne is, uh, is one of those people.

John Berry: Well, and you’re right, it’s tough to surpass what he’s done. He was a soldier’s soldier, made a big difference. But in one way that you can, you know, he says, hey, if you’re out of weapons, use your e-tool and you’re saying, no, no, no, use your hands. So, you’re going one tougher than him. So, uh e-tool is better to swing than the bear. Or at least, you know it’s a weapon. So, uh, e-tool nation. That’s right. That being said, another thing that rubbed off on you that I can tell that you may not know you have, like, like, John, you have a clothing company and a gym. You’re already setting up for your transition. And that’s what that’s what John Wayne Troxell did with E-tool Nation. And I think as warriors, we must always be prepared for what’s coming next. We will have all of your awards and accolades in the show notes if people want to check you out. But if people want to learn more about you, where can they go? Colton?

Colton Smith: Instagram, Facebook online, you can Google me. Uh, but yeah, Instagram, Facebook, Colton Smith MMA uh, both sites, uh, I do monitor as much as I can when I’m, when I’m on there. Um, and anybody can come to any of my gyms. So, we have two gyms in Maryland, one gym in in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and about to open up a couple of North Carolina and possibly one in Texas. So, and Enlisted 9 Fight Company martial arts gym. We also have functional fitness there. Fitness instructors fight gym. So come on out and, uh, learn how to make your hands lethal.

John Berry: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting Veteran leadership in business, strengthening the Veteran community, and getting Veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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