Choosing to open your own gym can be an exciting endeavor. But it also can be a nerve-wracking one. Now, imagine trying to do so without ever having a gym membership yourself.
Today, we’re talking to Dave Hedges who will discuss how we arrived at the world of exercise entrepreneurship through an unconventional route. He will share how he transitioned from a vocational vagrant into the co-founder of a successful fitness practice.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Meet Dave Hedges, Co-Founder of Wild Geese Martial Arts & Fitness
Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo with exercise.com and we are continuing our series of interviews with fitness experts and today we have the pleasure of interviewing Dave Hedges, who is the co-founder of Wild Geese Martial Arts and Fitness, over in Dublin, Ireland.
Dave, thank you for joining us.
Dave Hedges: No, thank you for inviting me.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, well just to start off, give us a little summary of your background in martial arts.
Dave Hedges: My background, it started when I was 11 years old all the way back then, so what are we on now? That would be 31 years ago.
Schimri Yoyo: Wow.
Dave Hedges: Yeah, 31 years ago, when I walked into St Martin’s Junior Karate Club in Lancaster, England and I met a guy called Jack Parker who was teaching Wado-Ryu Karate, and I’ve never looked back. So from then we’ve gone on, got my black belt at karate at 18 and then anywhere I’ve moved to anywhere and anywhere I’ve lived, I’ve just trained.
So I’ve been in kickboxing clubs, I’ve been in Wing Chun, Aikido clubs, this that and the other. Until I landed in Dublin and I met Paul Cox at the Martial Arts Academy. It was on Leeson Street in Dublin and he was teaching Kenpo karate under Shane McNamee who was our head coach.
So, we were learning Ed Parker’s Kenpo, and [Paulie and I] just clicked and got on. He was also studying Philippine martial arts. So [he and I] started bouncing off of each other doing that and yeah, that was the very, very short version of what I’ve done.
[Editor’s note: The late Ed Parker demonstrates the proper technique for the Kenpo karate style he helped to popularize.]
Schimri Yoyo: It seems like you guys have many different disciplines that you’re involved with, so that’s pretty cool.
Dave Hedges: Been around a bit, yeah. We’ve been around a bit. It’s the attitude that nothing is really sacred. You know, people get into a pigeon hole. “I do this, this is what I do.” I’ve never had that and I never understood it. Paulie is of the same mentality, where it’s a case of, “No, why don’t we just look at what works best?” Rather than “I do this because my instructor did it.”
I suppose people call it critical thinking, we just wanted to know what was better.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s great. That’s a great attitude to have. Now would you say that you’ve always wanted to be in sports performance as a professional? Or you always looked at it as a career path?
Dave Hedges: No, actually. I would call this my third career. When I left school, I had no idea what I was going to do, didn’t have a clue. Sick of academia, sick of studying. So I left school and I got a job in a hotel bar. And that got me into another hotel and I ended up going through hotel management and this, that, and the other until I was 23 and I just had gotten sick of it.
I just went off, I left the UK, I went across Spain and across here and there, and I just spent a couple of years, we’ll say, just bumming around being a bit of a vagrant. Picking up bits of work. I was doing security work because it was handy or doing bar work because it was handy until I ended up back in Dublin where I worked about 10 years as a full-time doorman.
Because I was always in that training space, I was always collecting knowledge and information. So, when we decided to launch Wild Geese as a little amateur club, I just started to really enjoy it and then we took it professional and then I quit everything else and that became my entire focus.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, so you took the long journey to sports performance.
Dave Hedges: The long journey, yeah.
Schimri Yoyo: Now you’ve worked with a lot of, what we would call, nontraditional training methods and equipment such as the kettlebell and doing Anatomy in Motion. When were you first introduced to these non-traditional methods?
Dave Hedges: Right. I don’t think I’ve ever really been introduced to traditional methods. Like I said, we’ve kind of got a quick overview of my background. Most of my training was in martial arts clubs or it was outdoors, just making do with what you’ve got. I’m a guy that runs a gym and I’ve never had a gym membership. Really. A couple of hotel gyms and what have you. But when I started training, strength training, I think I was 15 or 16 and my karate wasn’t going too well.
I’d grown up. I was long and lanky, but I had no real strength. And my instructor said, “Dave, you’ve got to go and get strong.” So, my friends at school that I used to knock around with, they were on the school rowing team and they were rowing like the top—think they were 12th in the country for schoolboy rowing. So they weren’t amateurs. I asked them, “Can I join your gym sessions?”
The very first weight training exercise I ever learned was a power clean. I was on Concept 2 rowers back then when I was 15; so we’re talking 1993 thereabouts, on Concept 2 rowers, doing power cleans, pull-ups, jumping around like lunatics doing these mad circuits and bench polls and what we call chest supported rowers now I suppose.
And that was my introduction. Everything outside of that for years I was training with bodyweight because that’s all we had. Or I was out in the woods doing pull-ups off tree branches and that. Running up and down the mountains because you had a mountain.
And then when we started the gym, we’re a martial arts-focused gym so floor space is our priority. We need floor space to be doing martial arts on. We looked at the most efficient training tools we could have. We had a couple of barbells, so that was obviously the key, and then I started to discover this thing called a kettlebell, which if you can think back to 2007, 2008, the information around then for kettlebells, it was all coming from drag and door. So you had Pavel [Tsatsouline], and you had Mike Mahler putting out information. Steve Maxwell, Steve Cotter, that was about it. There really wasn’t much else.
So I think I must have read almost everything Pavel had available. Almost all the Mike Mahler stuff. And at that time Steve Maxwell was putting out a lot of stuff that just seemed to tick the boxes for me, the way he was using the kettlebell bodyweight combinations fit with how I’d always trained, and it fit the environment that we were training in there at the Wild Geese studio.
And then a few years after that I met Steve Cotter. And that was, sorry before Steve Cotter, Vasily Ginko from the IUKO, the kettlebell sport former world champion. Met him, it was the very first time I think he taught in Ireland. It would’ve been one of the first kettlebell workshops in Ireland. So I attended that and yeah, we just took a deep, deep dive into the world of the kettlebell from there.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. Yeah, we actually interviewed Steve Cotter a couple of months back. He’s a really interesting guy.
Alright, and then you mentioned your co-founder and business partner, Paul Cox. So you guys have been a team together for a long time, how did you guys come up with the concept and the name of Wild Geese and the brand?
Dave Hedges: So the name, Paulie always wanted to use that name. That’s his. We’d been training in the Martial Arts Academy and we were working on the door together as well. We spent a lot of time together. We’d be bouncing off each other in the martial arts school for three or four hours a day and then we’d go to work on the door, we’d stand for five hours on the same door together.
We used to stop at a coffee shop for a bite to eat on the way. We’d sit and we’d chat and he had this idea: He wanted a martial arts display team. And he said, “I want to call it Wild Geese.” Why Wild Geese? And he explained that it’s very much the Irish history.
So if you look back when (I think it was) Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland and started taking over. At that time, England was at war with pretty much everybody, including France. So France was supporting Ireland, fighting back against England and ships used to come up the west coast of Ireland and they’d drop off supplies, elicit supplies. And lads then, because there was no point fighting in Ireland, they were just too overpowered.
They would get onto the ships and they’d get shipped back to France where they could join the Irish Brigade in the French Army because the French were also fighting England. And what the French captains did in the ledgers, the ledgers on the ships to say what they had, they’d just write cargo, wild geese.
Yeah. So the name became synonymous with, essentially, mercenaries who would go anywhere to take on any fight, any battle, any challenge. Like I said about my history of traveling all over the world and doing this, that and the other, Paulie has the same. He’s lived in all sorts of places around the world and whatever’s been there is what we’ve done. We’ve just taken on whatever. We never really turned down a challenge.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome.
Dave Hedges: And it’s stuck with us. That very much set the attitude of what we expect from our clients. We want them to have that same attitude whereby they’re training for something. They’re training for the ability to take on whatever comes at them.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s good. That’s a great backstory. So when you and Paul are not training or coaching, what are some things that you do for fun?
Dave Hedges: Train. Read about training. Watch videos on training. What do we do for fun? Well, I have kids now so I try and spend as much time as I can with them. You know, go on the bike. So we’ll go across to the sports field and we’ll mess around. I’m too small-minded, but yeah, we really live and breathe what we do. We always have done it.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. Now, did you never get the bug for The Premiership?
Dave Hedges: The Premiership? Soccer?
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah.
Dave Hedges: No. I lost interest in soccer years ago. It just got not interesting.
Schimri Yoyo: I understand.
Dave Hedges: I watch rugby. How can you watch soccer after watching rugby? Are you familiar with the GAA, the Irish native game?
Schimri Yoyo: Yes.
Dave Hedges: Gaelic Football and the Hurling?
Schimri Yoyo: Yes.
Dave Hedges: How could you watch that and then watch the soccer? I mean they just don’t-
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, I’ve seen some highlights on YouTube. YouTube is great for everything.
[Editor’s note: Case and point. Watch the YouTube highlights below of the 2019 All Ireland Final.]
Dave Hedges: Good yeah. No, my boys play Hurling now. What a sport, what a great sport.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, very intense, very physical.
Dave Hedges: Very, very physical.
Efficiency of Movement and Mechanics
Schimri Yoyo: Right. Now speaking about your philosophy of training and methodology. You touched on it a little bit, but what would you say is the one word that best describes your training philosophy?
Dave Hedges: You know that’s not an easy question, don’t you? I’m going to say efficiency. You’d sent me a primer on some of the questions and that was a question that’s been wrecking my head. What one word? That’s not an easy question, mate. But, I would say efficiency, because you’ve got, what, 24 hours in a day, you’ve got so much energy that you can use. You need X amount of rest. You’re limited in all these ways.
We’ve always joked, I wish there were 25 hours in a day. I wish we could just do this. If I had my knowledge and my strength and my experience that I have now, but in the body with the energy levels I had when I was 21, you know? Just imagine. So you’ve got to be as efficient as possible.
So can you train in a manner that gives you the biggest return for the effort you’re putting in? And that’s what we’re looking at. So if I’m training, I’ve got a couple of very competitive martial arts people at the minute, judo, jujitsu, Kyokushin Karate, et cetera. And they’re training their sport at least once a day, maybe twice a day. And then they’re coming to me on top of that and they’ve got a full-time job and they’ve got this and whatever else.
So how can we be as efficient as possible in the training room, in the gym? Why would we waste that precious energy that we’ve got so many things pulling at that energy, so many things pulling at our time. It’s too precious to waste. So that’s very much what the star point is, the core point of what we do.
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Schimri Yoyo: So, you want it the greatest return on your investment. That’s a great, great mindset. Now, how do you incorporate nutrition as part of your training?
Dave Hedges: I personally don’t. It’s not a topic that interests me. If anybody asks me about food, I just tell them, meat, veg, foods of one ingredient. That’s about as far as my advice goes. I have Seb who works with us. Seb is a trained nutritionist. So, anybody that starts asking me about food, I direct them straight to him and he will sit, he does the full thing, the full nutrition story. And he’ll sit down with them for a couple of hours and he’ll go through, he takes copious amounts of notes and he speaks to me about it and it just goes over my head. It’s just not my space, you know what I mean?
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good business savvy. You’re self-aware and you know when to take on things in your expertise, and you know when to outsource it to other experts. So that’s good.
Dave Hedges: Well, absolutely. If I spend time studying that, then I’m not studying the things that I’m really good at. You know what I mean? So yeah, I’d rather have somebody else do that.
Schimri Yoyo: And how important is it for you to emphasize proper technique as part of your training, especially with the martial arts background?
Dave Hedges: Oh, vital, vital. I think having that traditional martial arts background, that karate background where attention to detail is so critical. So you start as a white belt and yellow belt and orange; you go all the way through until, eventually, you hit this black belt. But each level you’d be tested on the same movements and there’s expected to be a technical improvement in those movements up until you get up to the higher belts, whereby you should be moving like a Rolls Royce. You shouldn’t really swing.
And that same philosophy can easily be taken into a kettlebell swing or a power clean. Even a pushup where a beginner does it good enough, and you keep working, working, working on that technique, technique, technique. But, whereas you’ll only expect a white belt in karate to do maybe 50 practices at a kick, you’d expect a black belt to do 150. And every one of his 150 should be crisp, sharp and identical. Whereas the beginner might do 50 different ones, but gradually getting better week after week.
So, why can’t you take that same thing into your kettlebell swing, into your pushup, into your squats? If a beginner’s good enough then they’re not going to get hurt and there is—we can make one thing, one change to make it a little bit better and give them time to work on that. Then when they’ve got that, we add the next thing, right? Make this thing a little bit better. Now, it depends on the individual, depending on what we change. And then that gets better, that gets better, that gets better. And each time we just change the one thing that’s the biggest change, the most important change.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. That makes sense. And get a gradual improvement and a progression. It makes total sense.
Dave Hedges: Absolutely. So I’d love to be able to say, right, you’re a white belt level and all this, but it’s not such a smooth process. I tried once, it didn’t really work out. But yeah, it’s the exact same mindset that we had in the karate.
Wild Geese Is Not Work
Schimri Yoyo: Now, you mentioned a little bit before about being efficient with your time and energy. So how do you balance that, your time and energy between being a coach and then also being a businessman?
Dave Hedges: I have a friend of mine who is very much in this business coaching space. He said a little while ago, something that just hit me right slap bang in the chest and he says, “The thing you give is the thing you most need to receive.” Or something along those lines. But basically what you’ve asked me is how am I efficient in my own life, and I am not. So the way I coach people is very much the way I wish somebody would coach me. So, I need all the same help that I’m giving people.
So, work-life balance, yeah. My rule on that is, I come home and the kids are awake, I try not to work. I’ll spend time with my boys, with the wife, and that’s it. They go to bed. Well, I might start working again. Might get the computer out or might get the phone out or might get a book out, might start writing programs, but yeah, work-life balance I don’t think is a real thing – especially when you’re so involved in what you do.
Do you know what I mean? I mean this whole training world, whether it be martial arts, fitness training, all that. How the body works, the magic that is this human animal, it’s magical to me. And just to look at it and just to study, that’s not work.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah.
Dave Hedges: So how can you have a work-life balance when there’s something that you’re doing is not work?
Schimri Yoyo: That makes sense. It has been said that work-life balance is truly a perpetual work in progress.
Dave Hedges: Oh yeah. But yeah, my family sets my work-life balance because when I’m with them I try and be with them. You try to be present for all that’s in front of you. You know what it’s like running a gym, you’re out all hours some days and you don’t really have—it’s not Monday to Friday. It’s not nine to five. So when you do have time, you try and make the most of that bit of time.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah. That makes sense. Be present where you’re at. That makes sense.
Alright, Dave, I’ll give you a chance to brag about your team at Wild Geese Martial Arts and Fitness, what makes you guys unique?
Dave Hedges: What makes us unique? Do you know what? I ask this quite a bit to my guys, what is it about what we do that makes it unique? And you know the answer that always comes back? “No BS.” We don’t do fluff, we don’t do BS. Everything is just cut to the bone. The results we get, we’re really good at injury rehab. We’re really good at getting people back who have been injured.
Getting them back to a place better than where they were before they got injured and we’ve got the results to prove it in mountain biking, in jujitsu, in Kyokushin, in judo, kettlebell sport. We’ve got the results to prove all that. My non-athletes, exactly the same. They are discovering that they come in, they might be referred to us by a physio or they might just come in because their mate said to, and they start training; then, a few weeks later, they’re noticing that “Well, I’ve got more energy.”
Probably my favorite bit of feedback ever is when the lads come to me, not just the lads, the girls as well and it’s like, “I can play with my kids better. I can keep up and get down on the floor and jump up and chase them up the stairs.” Do you know? Like that, that’s worth any bloody European champion medal or whatever else, is when the parents that train with me say that they can now do those things with their children.
I had a lad work with me a while ago. He’s an IT guy and he’s everything that an IT tends to be. He was overweight and he was unfit and he was hunched over. And he had all these health problems starting to stack up. There was a couple that run in his family, but then his lifestyle wasn’t helping any of that, do you know what I mean?
And he’s a photographer and he keeps his big bag of photography equipment on top of his wardrobe. And he said, he came in one day and he says, “I just got my camera stuff down off my wardrobe.” And I went, “Right okay.” And he went, “No you don’t know what that means.” “What does it mean then?” And he said, “Well usually, I have to get it and then drop it down and wrestle it and all this because it’s heavy and it’s awkward. But I’ve been training with you for six weeks and I’ve just reached without thinking and I just grabbed it and I put it down.” And it’s those little things, those stories like that are just, that’s the magic.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah. The improved quality of life.
Dave Hedges: Yeah. Not everybody’s an athlete. Not everybody wants to be an athlete. We love the athletes and they’re the cool stories that everybody latches onto, but it’s the little things like that that just, they make it magical.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright. Well, Dave, we’re very appreciative of your time. Just a couple more questions before we let you go. One of them is, what’s one thing that you’ve learned as an entrepreneur that you wish you would have known when you first started?
Dave Hedges: Everything.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s good enough.
Dave Hedges: Don’t try and do everything yourself. Yeah? Don’t try and do everything yourself, because it just does not work. Does not work. We said earlier on about referring nutrition stuff out to Seb, that’s a good example. But that goes as far as fixing the lights, cleaning the toilet. Do you know what I mean? Just don’t try and do everything yourself. It does not work.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. That’s a great piece of advice. Delegation is key.
Dave Hedges: Oh yeah. Now, when you start off, you have to be doing everything, but as soon as you get the opportunity to start outsourcing and delegating this stuff, you just have to really.
Schimri Yoyo: Right. Lastly, I ask all of our experts this because we want to know what you’re reading or what you’re into because that’s often honestly how we find people like you; through the referrals of others.
So, what are some resources, whether books or podcasts, that you would recommend to our audience?
Dave Hedges: Right, so right here I’ve got, this is Joe Jameson’s MMA conditioning. You can see little bits of paper sticking out of that, can’t you?
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah.
Dave Hedges: I’ve got Pavel’s The Quick and the Dead, his latest bit of work. I’ve got James Earls, Born to Walk. And they’re sitting on my desk here now. I’m reading The Body by Bill Bryson at the minute. It’s a fascinating book. He just walks you through all the bits of the body and how they all fit; it’s a really nice book. Oh yeah, my mouse mat is Gray Cook’s Movement. Gray Cook is fantastic.
Schimri Yoyo: Yes. He is definitely an OG in this space.
Dave Hedges: Oh, god, yeah.
Schimri Yoyo: He often gets shouted out by our fitness professionals, so he’s definitely one to follow.
Dave Hedges: Podcasts? You mentioned Anatomy in Motion earlier on. My teacher in Anatomy in Motion, the founded it is a guy called Gary Ward. If you can look him up, he’s no stranger to podcasts. He’s done a good few. If you just stick his name in, Gary Ward podcasts. There’s a lot of yoga schools that have had him on. Have a chat with him.
Helen Hall, another friend of mine, she’s a lunatic. She’s this mad endurance athlete. She’s done, I wouldn’t even want to say how many, five or six full Ironman triathlons. She’s just, I think has she done or is she going to do her final one? She’s in her fifties now and she says this is getting silly. She does them in Vibram FiveFingers shoes.
Schimri Yoyo: Oh wow.
Dave Hedges: I’m working with her at the minute to do some massive, can’t even remember the name of it, it’s like an eight-day outdoor offroad adventure race thing; like an eight-day, it’s almost like a military selection test. It’s that sort of level. But she has a phenomenal book. If you work with anybody who runs, her book is called Even With Your Shoes On. Just did a podcast with the Simply Faster guys. So Helen Hall, seriously look her up, fantastic work.
Schimri Yoyo: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, that’s a lot of good resources and I’m sure our audience will definitely glean from all of those recommendations.
So thank you again, Dave, for those recommendations. And we just want to say thank you again for your time and just for sharing your knowledge with us and some of your stories. You’ve traveled a long way in your journey of fitness, and so we’re definitely excited to hear from you and we look forward to hearing from you again.
Dave Hedges: No, thanks for thinking of me. Thanks for inviting me on.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright. Have a good one, my friend.
Dave Hedges: And yourself, sir. Good to meet you.
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Schimri Yoyo is a writer for Exercise.com and a financial advisor with active life and health insurance licenses. In a past life, he covered Villanova Men’s Basketball and Big East Football for Examiner.com. Schimri has also produced freelance copywriting, editing, and proofreading for various websites and online publications for over a decade. He is an avid sports fan, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco 49ers. Schimri is an educator and a storyteller who is eager to assist individuals and families to stay financially and physically fit.