72 – Greg Probyn: Applying Military Principles To Martial Arts Business

Military man Greg Probyn's big moves in a small town with his martial arts business.




  • Greg Probyn’s mindset in running a martial arts business in a small town with 38,000 population
  • Why Greg doesn’t treat his martial arts business as a hobby
  • How Greg’s extensive military background helped him build his bjj school
  • How Greg was able to start his business with little business experience
  • How to overcome ‘tall poppy syndrome’ backlash
  • And more

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Download the PDF transcription


When we talk about the business, again that's … I don't treat this like a hobby. Again, too many people out there think it's only a hobby. It won't last. If you treat something like a hobby, well guess what? People will respect it like a hobby.

George: Good day this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media Business podcast. So today I'm joined with a special guest, Greg Probyn. So Greg is someone that I'm fortunate enough to work with on a frequent basis in our Partners program. To give you a bit of a background on Greg and then I'm going to let him run the show.

So Greg is a military man, has served in both the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Regular Army, traveled extensively around the world and has deployed operationally to Iraq, Afghanistan and Fiji. Greg started his bjj journey in 2008 and due to being in the military training, gained experience from many different clubs throughout Australia.

So Greg also enjoys competing and coaching, more importantly enjoys coaching kids, helping them develop confidence so that if they are placed in an intimidating situation or being bullied, they can say stop. So Greg welcome to the podcast.

Greg: Thanks for having me George. I appreciate it.

George: Awesome. So, it's worth mentioning or not worth mentioning. This our round 2 of recording this. So we've had a good practice run so you're in for an awesome show. And I won't go into the details why but this is round 2. So this is going to be good. So Greg, I've given a bit of an intro just about you. Do you mind sharing just a bit more, just a bit of your background and how you got into this jiu jitsu journey?

Greg: Yeah, sure George. This is kind of ironic as well for me, because of all the times I've listened to your podcasts and I always hear that question so who are you? I always sit there and go, I wonder if I'll ever have that question asked of me? So yeah. Father, husband, yeah. I'm a veteran now. I have been doing Brazilian jiu jitsu since 2008. I spent, three months shy of a full 25 years of a military history or career, it's given me so many different things.

I'm very much in doctrined in terms of the way people think, not necessarily outside of a box, but when things are black and white, I'm the go to man there. By that I mean if it's our policy it doesn't happen. I think Brazilian jiu jitsu has given me a fantastic way to show people that well not everything is black and white. I'm fighting some of my own demons now that I'm out of the military.

George: So, spending all that time in the military, how does that compliment your jiu jitsu training? And I guess … sorry and I guess just to give context, military … I think very sort of precision thinking and very strategic, clear cut plans, preparation, etc.

Greg: Yeah, you're right on there mate. So, I started my career in the military in the navy and I finished up doing a job, that of a fitness trainer or physical training instructor or a PTI they call them for short. Started … you can't just join the military directly into that role. You have to spend several years in another job. So I was what they call a bosun's mate in the navy – did that for about eight years. Then saw these guys that worked in gymnasiums over that time and just managed to work on their fitness and take a lot of people for their fitness. I thought why not give that a crack.

So I spent though the remainder of my years, eight years in the navy, doing that, and then I transferred across to the army and did the same job, finishing up there. It was really easy to transfer the skills that I had received as a physical training instructor, across to being a coach in the sporting sector.

I also pursued different levels of coaching within the civilian sector, doing like certificates and diplomas and it was really … it was fantastic in that when I did my strength and conditioning coaches courses, I was stuck in a classroom with maybe some university students or people that had done a little bit of work in the civilian sector in terms of the fitness industry.

You sit there going wow, I've got it easy because I've got people that have to be there, in terms of doing their own health and fitness stuff. I don't have to worry too much in terms of what people can't do. I mean they are all fit and healthy and then the ability to transfer what I'd learn into training for the defense.

That was again easy because you're able to back what you're doing up with current studies or current technique as opposed to maybe having you know do the tricky thing and get waivers for people. They accept what you're giving them is going to be good for them, and well it is. The proof is in the pudding.

I mean the Australian Defense Force has been a fear fighting nation or a fear fighting force since the Boer War. So maybe you've got relatives back there George who might have come across a couple Aussie's back in the day.

George: Possibly. Yeah. So then was training in the military, right, I mean jiu jitsu is quite a physical thing. One thing that's always fun when sparring jiu jitsu is even if you go 100%, you've got the saving grace of just tapping out and you can just take the foot off the pedal, and you know you always set the pace. Normally the pace starts as a light roll and it never ends in a light roll, right?

Greg: You're correct.

George: But the training in the military, you're training at a whole new level and a whole new purpose and I guess the stakes are real, right? Because it's life and death that you're dealing with. So how do you actually train at that intensity and without burning people out?

Greg: Yeah, good question. Good question. I guess to answer that, what I'm going to do is I'm going to rewind the clock to about well it will till about 2008. Now I've been involved in martial arts since about 1999. Started doing various forms of karate and then I went to muay thai and then I found muay thai as a very practical martial art or sport. Fought nationally and internationally and then I had a hiatus of roughly eight to ten years, and then thought bugger this. Got back into the training for muay thai and recommitted my fighting.

t the time I was working at the Australian Defense Force Physical Training School which is on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. You've got, you could say the best of the best physical training instructors lecturing all aspects of health and fitness to people that are aspiring to do that job that I do or did. So you'll either work on what's passionate to you or if you're not … if you want to work on something new or improve your knowledge, you'll research a specific topic. So some of the topics that selected from was strength and conditioning, factors affecting human performance, and they are quite big modules in their own right.

And at that time, there was a … the military self program which was headed by the army and at this stage I was still in the navy and I had to do the course because the role of the physical training instructor was required to undertake this because in the navy at the time, there was a lot of boarding operations going on. Now, what the army had noticed, well the field of operation for them heavy in Afghanistan at the time and Iraq, they'd had these close quarter combat course and then but it was only the special forces that were really getting involved in it.

The infantry units were doing forms of self defense. But, the army they initiated this military self defense program. Now, it was heavily based on self defense and there were components of Brazilian jiu jitsu in it. And, when I did it, the military and armed combat cell, they came down to HMA service where I was at the time. I got involved in the course and I hit it off with some of the instructors because they knew that I was fighting muay thai as well at the time as well.

One of the instructors, he's like, come with me. I'll show you this thing called Brazilian jiu jitsu. Now, I'd see the UFC and I'd had a couple little books of Brazilian jiu jitsu but because of my limited knowledge, it didn't float my boat. I went and did this one lesson and I was just totally dominated and I couldn't believe the control. I couldn't believe how an individual could move or escape from somebody that could be heavier than them, bigger than them. How to control a bigger, strong opponent. And I don't think at the time in the military self defense course, we'd done the groundwork components.

Then the next day or the day after, we're doing basic guard escape or man escape or controlling your opponent while still on the ground. And I was like yup, hook, line and sinker. It's got me. And, yeah this military self defense course, when I transferred from the navy to the army, it became even more apparent how important it was. I mean the navy was using it but it's very, very difficult to do it on a very small boat. And at the time, this was when Australia's policy on the control of illegal immigrants or the boat people, were coming across them.

We'd seen through the news how people were throwing kids overboard and this and that. I mean as much as the media sensationalized it, there was a threat and the threat was only the young single males that had nothing to lose, but when you're on a fishing vessel or a boat that's not even 20 meters long and there's close to 100, 150 people on it, this military self defense program, it was very difficult to utilize because you can't keep your distance on a small vessel like that.

If you need to do a high double A takedown, you're not just going to take them down under the deck. You're going to take them down under about four or five other people. So it was difficult for the navy to use. They were able to use aspects of it. When you go across to the army, their field of play is totally different. As we move along in the level of intelligence that was being gathered in the army and across the navy and the air force, there are also personnel on the ground from the other two services. But more from the infantry people.

When they'd go to a compound and they'd notice that there was little to no women and children, well they knew they were going in for a battle. It would be the fighting age males, the adult males and they were always the threat. If there was every any hand to hand sort of combat, well the soldiers were able to utilize this military self defense stuff.

But what they noticed was it was too defensive and it's progressed now into an integrated combat, sorry, the integrated infantry combat course I think it's called now. All about control. Very little defense. You're in someone's face with the full military garb. You're wearing helmets, the body armor, you've got your rifle. You are not working with one other person but you're working in the section with eight to 10 people. Whereas the military self defense course in some respects, as good as it was, the entire time you're only working with a second person through the program, not utilizing the rest of a team.

So unfortunately I never got to do the infantry combat course. But it was really, really interesting. Now how do we link that into the Brazilian jiu jitsu? Well after being totally dominated and seeing how that worked in the military self defense course, it was a no brainer for me. I was getting older. My opponents in muay thai were getting younger. It was taking longer for me to recover and I found that again just like you said, with the Brazilian jiu jitsu, you're able to stop when you're either being uncomfortable or you're having your arm ripped off your body.

And now in the military, we've got these integrated combat clubs. And it's a way now for army, navy and air force people to get back to grassroots in terms of martial arts or some form of competitive sport and the transferability now, irrespective of whether they participated in the military self defense course or the infantry combat course, is so easy. So now the soldiers, sailors, and air men, they've got the ability to be put under pressure in stressful positions or altercations and deal with it as they see.

Then if they end up in that field of operation, especially on the ground, and not on the ground as Brazilian jiu jitsu on the ground, but in the area of operation whichever that is. They are able to best handle situations and know tactically what they can do and how their body is going to respond.

George: Interesting. It just reminds me and I don't know how legit this is and depending on when you are listening to this interview, I've trained with a few people from the police force and they use jiu jitsu all the time. For my international and American friends, in Australia, the police don't carry guns. If I'm correct. We don't. I think some do.

Greg: Some states do. Yeah Victoria does. New South Wales does.

George: Yeah. I know in WA, it's more a thing of … it's always hand controlled and these guys use jiu jitsu a lot. And I haven't checked the, how valid this resource is but I saw an article floating around that it's going to be compulsory now for police, I know police in WA, that's Western Australia where we are, that police will be doing jiu jitsu as a compulsory activity as such.

Greg: Oh send me over.

George: Cool. So I want to change gears here quickly. So, Greg's school de Been 100% Jiu Jitsu is in a little town called Wodonga. I believe 38,000 population?

Greg: Yeah correct George. Yeah that's right. We're a small town, right on the Hume Highway heading up to Canberra City. And we're right on the border. The Mary River obviously separates us from New South Wales as well as the Hugh Molly. Directly on the other side of the border, on the other side of the Hume Highway is Aubrey. So there's roughly 60,000 people in that town. So with the two towns combined, we're looking in an excess of yeah 100,000 people. Nice sleepy little town.

George: Awesome. So now for a lot of people when they hear you're in a town of 38,000, there's two mindsets of that right? I'd love to hear your mindset but a mindset I hear often is … it's a very lack mentality. We don't have enough people. We've got too much competition. There's too many schools in too close a range. What's your take and how do you view your business within a small town with small reach?

Greg: Yeah I like that question. All right, so coming to the decision of having a business that is oriented towards the combat sports, some people said no you're crazy. I've got family members, workmates or ex workmates now, that indicated that it wouldn't work in an area such as this one. I don't believe that it wouldn't work. It had to work. The reason why I say that is because if I can get 1% of just Wodonga, well that's only 380 people. There are some … and listening to the podcasts that you've punched out there George, you've got some pretty successful people that you've interviewed.

And I look at it like this, why can't I get 1%? When you look at it like that, it's pretty inspiring I think. 1%. 1. Yeah, 1%. Why couldn't that occur? And then if you looked at the entire, well if you put the two towns together, well 1%, that's 1000 people. And I've heard you've interviewed people there who have got multiple schools. So when I first came to this idea, I was training at another facility and I shared this dream of mine. Well it's actually not mine. It's my wife's. So I'm very lucky in that respect. I shared this dream with him and he didn't really take kindly to it.

We left, not on the best terms but I remember him saying you'll never go full time here. The place is too small and that's what exactly what I said to him. Well 1%. If I can't 1%, there is something wrong. So I'm a third of that not, and we've been open not yet two years. Which is … I'm happy with. That 1% keeps driving me, you know? 380 people. But we've got people who are traveling as far as 40, 50 minutes to come and train with us. In terms of my competition and I was asked this last night, this same question. I said to this gentleman last night, I said my competition is Aussie rules. Swimming. Hockey. Water polo. Believe it or not. It's huge here in this reason. Net ball. And a little bit of rugby and of course soccer.

And he said well what about other Brazilian jiu jitsu? And I said, they are not competition. We've got to try to raise the profile. Raise the profile of the sport. There are people out in this region that don't really know much about it. They will see it on the UFC. Think it's more of a thugs game. I will laugh when I have MMA people come in, I just tell them MMA is a thug sport. Come and do something with a bit of finesse.

George: Sorry to all the MMA fans listening.

Greg: Yeah, so he was really shocked. There is an older guy, I'm not sure what sort of martial art he does and I'm not sure how he drives his business model, but I don't look at him when I see him in his van and go that's competition. I look at him and I go, let's ban together and try to raise the profile of he's karate. People say to me, well Brazilian jiu jitsu, martial art and I say well you can look at it like that, I'll look at it how it's a sport. I'm big on looking at it as a sport. I treat it like it's a sport.

When I have people talk to me about the self defense applications, I'm like well come down. You're still going to get the same benefits out of it. I might talk about points in the class. I might talk about holding position for a certain amount of seconds to get your points. But at the end of the day, you're still able to, I took at class last night. We were doing transitions.

I shared with this woman, it was her first class. The knee on the belly. And I made a reference about it being points. I said if you want to look at it as a self defense application, what better way to control a human. You've got your knee on their chest. One hand might be controlling clothing or an arm, while the hand is pulling at the mobile phone. You're calling 000. Help, I need some help.

So, she walked away out of the class thinking oh wow. I never thought of it in these different aspects. But yeah. That 1%. Always refer back to that 1%. That's what I want.

George: That's awesome. You brought something up that's … I really want to highlight this for any entrepreneur and I guess any, yeah anybody in business. I mean the worst advice you can get is asking people in the workforce an opinion of you starting a business. Because none of them are going to support it. I don't think they mean bad intentionally, it's more a sense of they are dealing with their own internal dialogue of, it's not possible for them. And they don't want you to get hurt or whatever the case. So it's easier to just shut you down and not support the idea or the dream.

And I saw somebody post a quote yesterday. It was something about, it said, ‘what will they say?’ And below it was ‘these words have destroyed more dreams than any other words’. Because the focus is … you are influenced by what people say. When you've got this idea and you want to create this business and you think I'm going to do this thing and you've got this vision, but you've got this vision and now you've got to tell a family member or somebody you care about, and it's just … I mean that's the first people you want to tell right because it's the people you care about. And you're hoping for that support, but for most people, you just don't get it, because it's just a completely different way of thinking and completely different mindset, right?

Greg: You're absolutely right. Now I can't … I'm not going to talk too out of turn here, because I end up in deep water, but we've got some very close family who when we talk about the business, again I don't treat like this like a hobby. And again, too many people out there think it's only a hobby. It won't last. If you treat something like a hobby, guess what, people will respect it like a hobby. So when I talk to these couple of individuals about the business, one of them is very aggressive towards it. And the other one is very defeatist about it. Like, over Christmas, it was like oh I didn't think you'd be … you'd still be open this far down the track. I'm just like how can you be like that. Just support what's happening.

George: It's the typical tall poppy syndrome as well. I've mentioned it before but for anybody in the states, tall poppy syndrome is the visual aspect of a crab in a bucket. Pulling down anything, anybody that succeeds behind your level. The term exists of trying to pull them back down. It's almost like people want to see you succeed but they don't want to succeed, they don't want to see you succeed more than them.

Greg: That's it. That's it.

George: They want you to succeed but once you go beyond me, I've got to pull you back. I've got to pull you back into my level of thinking and comfort zone.

Greg: Yeah, you're dead right. And look, you asked me that question in terms of like the military mindset and I said I think too much black and white. When this idea of having a business centered towards Brazilian jiu jitsu popped up, well I had to think straight away, well what do I need to do in order to get this happening, you know? I'm not just going to open a place up and people start coming in, we're training, and it's like oh crikey I've got to pay the electricity bill. Well I need money for that. Do I have it there? Or we've run out of toilet paper. How do I go there?

Even having stock on hand to get people thinking with the green side of their brain in terms of the buying power and the military doesn't really give you the opportunity to do business style type courses, so I had to go and research my own thing. I found a company out there oriented towards the personal training industry and I thought, because you know working in the fitness industry? No brainer. But, how do I run a business?

Okay, so I did a little bit of research and I found this one company and they are called the Max International College for Fitness Professionals. I got in contact with them and I said look, I'm just after your business side of things and they had this program. You do your certificate three four in fitness. You do your diploma in business and advanced diploma in business. I said well you know I'm not interested in the fitness components because I've got a diploma up there and I've done this course and that course. They are like well it's a whole complete package. It all sort of intertwines and works with each other.

And I thought all right. I remember seeing somewhere or heard somewhere or something about if you failed to plan, you planned to fail. And, I thought well you know, what do I got to lose? Do everything because it's still going to give me that, the business components that I needed. This admittedly being in the military, you're not walking around with people who are all happy and bubbly all the time. And you know, because you've got this … like a sergeant major and there are all these grumpy people and you're like do this and do that. Just like you see in the movies, people getting their faces ripped off because they might have looked sideways wrong or poor timing.

These people were all happy and bubbly and I remember saying to one of the directors, I'm like is everybody like this all the time when I'm communicating with them? And he goes yeah that's right. Is that a problem? I said that's not reality. And he goes, in my world it's a reality. In your world you've got sharp edges. And you've got nasty corners. So there's that black and white mentality. These people, and they are not walking around with rose colored glasses. I'm like okay. I have to drop a few barriers, get on their boat, start paddling with them because we're all going in the same direction.

This Max International College of Fitness Professionals paved the way in order for me to then get the business up and running and be successful. That comes back down to what I said earlier. If you have your club or whatever martial art that you're doing and you treat it like a hobby. Well everybody else is going to treat it like a hobby as well. We've got people who have participated in other martial arts. I remember when they first started training with us, oh Greg do you want to help us clean the mats? I'm like no dude, you're paying my fees. That's part of the service I provide. I clean the mats. I clean them regularly because that's where we are lying on the mat face down sometimes if you're unfortunate.

But these people are like oh yeah but our last sensei made us do this or the last coach used to make us do … I'm like that's fine but I hope you weren't paying the same amount of fees that you're paying now. And you can see them, they start thinking and it's like oh okay. Then there's a bit more of a respect that comes through as well. So I think people appreciate it more too, when you have that professional outlook and if you pave it professionally, make it professionally. People don't see it. Like the family.

These other members within the family that I've got that are the negative ones. They haven't come in and seen what I do and how it looks, but we're not in a shed. We're not in a factory. I'm actually in an air conditioned and heated facility. It looks pretty neat I think. Well anybody who walks in and walks out, I always get the compliment, wow I never would have thought it would be like this.

George: Awesome. So on that thinking of that planning and that black and white I want to just, before we wrap it up, I quickly want to bring up something, your vision statement. Just to give it a bit of context. Greg works with us in our Partners program and part of our Partners program, we also bought websites to make sure all our members got the right tools. So, before creating the website we always have an interview with a school owner and just ask a couple of questions so that we can formulate a good sales proposition on the website, so it's all customized.

So a question we always ask and it's a question I never really get a straight answer, but I did with Greg. Right? And the question is, what's your mission statement? And it's important for us to know, because then we can sort of get a good perspective on how the club owner sees it. So you nailed it and you just … I was almost shocked that you had it sort of down to a T. Do you mind sharing your school's mission statement?

Greg: Sure. We rolled out vision and mission statement in together and we've added our core values as well. So we foster a family ethos where each and every member feels part of the team environment but more importantly at home we have like minded people. We'll provide the opportunity for you to improve your health and fitness and well being through education and confidence building. Our core values, I like the acronym of TRIC, is teamwork, respect, integrity and confidence.

And it does it and it paves the way. You asked me earlier George about why? Why this mission statement? It gives me direction. It gives people that come in direction. We don't have any … every club or academy or affiliate or what not, they have their cliques. We try to break those barriers down. Everybody is part of the family. You know I've got white belts that will say to colored belt that's visiting, you know where is your shoes if they are walking around bare foot off the mat. And people get shocked. It's like okay fair enough. We're in somebody else's house. And then if we've got somebody that's being negative, within the group, it's not me the head coach that's trying to pull them back into line. It's other people. They are saying to them, you know, well here we do it like this. It would be good if you're like that.

I'm really proud of the ethos that we've got on the mat and that's … I put that back down to the mission statement. It's all about being part of the family.

George: Good note for us to just wrap it up. Greg, thanks so much for being on the call. Thanks and I'm glad that we nailed it this time. We'll get into that story later. But if people want to know more about you, where can they find more about you Greg?

Greg: Oh fantastic George. Well we're all the www.debeenjiujitsuwodonga.com. You could also go to the de Been Jiu Jitsu Headquarters website as well and we'll be there, linked into them. We're on Facebook. Again de Been 100% Jiu Jitsu Wodonga. And we're also on Instagram. Just the hashtag. Just make sure you put Wodonga in there, otherwise you'll probably see someone from maybe Ipswich. There's a de Been in Ipswich. So that one. That's how you'll find us.

George: That's good. We'll put links to all those in the show notes of the interview.

Greg: Fantastic. Thank you very much George.

George: Thanks Greg. It's been great speaking. Speak to you soon.

Greg: Take care mate.

George: Awesome. Thanks for listening. If you want to connect with other top, smart martial arts school owners, and have a chat about marketing, lead generation, what's working now, or just have a gentle rant about things that are happening in the industry, then I want to invite you to join our Facebook group. It's a private Facebook group and in there I share a lot of extra videos and downloads and worksheets. Things that are working for us when we help school owners grow and share a couple of video interviews and a bunch of cool extra resources.

So it's called the Martial Arts Media Community and an easy way to access it is if you just go to the domain name martialartsmedia.group. So martialartsmedia.group. G-r-o-u-p. There's not dot or anything. Martialartsmedia.group. Then we'll take you straight there. Request to join and I will accept your invitation.

Thanks. I'll speak to you on the next episode. Cheers.

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George Fourie

Hi I'm George Fourie, the founder of MartialArtsMedia.com. When I'm not doing dad duties or training on the mats (which I manage to combine when my son is willing! :), I'm helping Martial Arts Gym owners grow their business through the power of online media.