Businessman, sportsman and personal trainer, Tolly Plested tells SBT about his varied life, both professionally and personally, advocating a healthy body and healthy mind with mixed martial arts at the forefront of a fulfilling life and, for him, a career…
Tolly Plested grew up in Eastbourne, and has since made it his home and base for his business, First Generation Mixed Martial Arts. From the age of 7, he made a hobby out of Mixed Martial Arts, including karate, judo, Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, boxing: the works. In young adulthood, he became a Professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, competing against National and International champions. Over his career he has been undefeated in MMA (14 fights, and a pro record of 8) and currently holds 3 National titles. Although not matched with most people’s idea of an entrepreneur or businessman, Tolly is also owner of a multi-discipline Mixed Martial Arts academy for all ages, teaching individuals, young and old alike. He not only inspires them to live a healthy lifestyle, but also gives them the drive they need in their future or current careers through MMA coaching.
Many people, especially busy businesspeople, don’t fully appreciate or act on the importance of exercise. Editor, Jenny Ardagh spoke to Tolly about his MMA background, his business and how it came about, the future and the overall importance of making time for a more fun, driven and intense form of exercise.
So, Tolly, you have a very varied CV and have done a lot in your life, including starting up a business out of something you were passionate about. When and why did you start up First Generation?
I started the business up just over 5 years ago, after realising that I wanted to create my own brand. I was in talks with other investors in other towns who saw something in me: they wanted to take me under their wing in their franchise. I realised that I could create something myself; that I didn’t need anyone else’s brand. In actual fact, my name brought more substance than often theirs did. I think a lot of people now have that choice, and that they should be encouraged to do the same.
So, you have trained for years to get to where you are now. When was the turning point; when you realised this could be your profession and that you could make more out of it?
In 2008, I faced a turning point – I realised that I could make a living out of doing what I loved, which was Mixed Martial Arts. I fought at the Winter Gardens, and the commission was fantastic! So, I went and bought my own mats and started teaching at a karate academy for £15 a lesson. I decided to rent the studio above the Gym, where I was then teaching part time. I began teaching from there myself as I wanted to do my own thing: along the years I had asked for a pay rise from the gym owner I was then working for, but he hadn’t granted me one.
I handed in my notice on the Friday, rung all my students over the weekend and started my first class on the Monday with my new mats. I was a bit anxious that nobody would actually come, but it was a great success and I realised that night that I would never have to really ‘work’ (what I would have previously called work) to make a living anymore. I was teaching people at £8 per class and for that first session, around 27 people turned up. I gave up my full-time scaffolding job and my business was born.
Why choose to teach? Had you done any teaching training already?
Initially, I hadn’t considered teaching, but there were no places in Eastbourne for learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I had studied under my ‘Master’ (as we call it in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ), Jose “Ze” Marcello, a Brazilian national champion and Pan-American World champion, for 8 years to gain my black belt. The biggest thanks I could give him was to pass on his teachings. It was only in finding training partners in Eastbourne that I started teaching the moves that I had learned though.
In terms of training, I’ve passed my gym instructor training, and I’ve also travelled the world, teaching and learning in Brazil, Thailand, America, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and a lot up and down the UK. Much of what I know now is gained through learning about learning itself: how to successfully teach MMA. You don’t sit in a classroom and learn like you would other things. You go to demonstrations, seminars etc instead. Hands-on learning is the done way of coaching.
I have also always had a knack of motivating and coaching people, and I’ve also always enjoyed helping people. For me, Mixed Martial Arts has always been an interest and has kept me focused and grounded, so I wanted to pass that grounding and passion onto others who also needed it.
Has that always been the case? When you were younger, was there a need for something to keep your focus?
Yes, when I was younger, I was far from a star student. I would get into trouble often – nothing serious, but still stuff that may lead me on the wrong path. MMA gave me an opportunity to focus whatever was making me do these things, and gave me a different path to follow, and I’m so lucky that it did.
Training with the children is particularly important to me, because I know how easy it is to be on the other side of the tracks. It only takes a young lad to hang out with the wrong crowd or be pressured to do something they shouldn’t, and before you know it that’s who they are as well. Students at First Generation are immediately associated with positive role models, and are given a positive outlet rather than a negative outlet: exercise over crime, smoking or even drugs. Kids at that age are really impressionable – if they’re even slightly vulnerable, or get mixed up in the wrong crowds accidentally, it could lead to a sticky situation that then defines their life.
Has that focus helped you set up and run your business at its best?
Definitely! MMA is so much more than just fighting – it’s about technique, control, determination, motivation and fitness. It’s fantastic for giving people discipline in life – especially those that, like me, perhaps don’t respond as well to typical forms of discipline or teaching. No one can succeed without qualities, such as respect and determination and you certainly can’t better yourself if you’re not dedicated and focussed, or have confidence in yourself. If you learn to have focus and motivation in one aspect of your life – exercise – more often than not, you’ll automatically have it in other aspects, such as business. What I learned from fighting pro is applied all the time to the way I run my business, and I have MMA to thank for my success.
We can instil these skills in children from a young age. Confidence. Respect. I didn’t really respect my teachers like I respect my BJJ instructor. As I said before, I was on a possibly negative future path at one point, and this business, and MMA itself has turned that path into a thoroughly positive one.
You say you teach all kinds of clients. A lot of our readers may sit behind a desk all day every day of the week, and perhaps some of them are unaware of the importance of exercising. Keeping fit clearly doesn’t have to be running on a treadmill, does it? What you offer shows that…
Exactly. I would say around 25% of my clientele are business people, or in office jobs. My dentist, my car mechanic and my accountant are all my students. It’s a much better environment than some of the gyms you go to and that’s shown within the statistics – most people join a normal gym, pay the fee, pay for a couple of months, maybe make the most out of it for that long, then give up. I guarantee that this is because they don’t have the motivation or drive, and let’s face it, people find it boring.
Some people have misconceptions of MMA. I have plenty of business customers who can’t go into work with a black eye or a bloody nose. It’s not about that, but about focussed training. It’s not necessarily for everyone, but I would encourage anyone reading and relating to this to give it a go. You don’t have to like fighting or competition, but I believe that most businesspeople are, in their nature, competitive and enjoy that sense of achievement.
What do you do to help these people snap out of that unhealthy desk-home-wine, sedentary lifestyle?
As a business owner myself, I understand the mentality, and the stress of running a business. I can’t switch off sometimes, but I manage it through training (my positive outlet). People who perhaps can’t manage stress very well immediately resort to what I call a negative outlet: alcohol and ‘comfort’ food. That’s fine every now and again, but not every day of the week.
It’s tough to go training after a hard day at work – I get that. But instead of cracking open that bottle of wine and watching television, you can motivate yourself to go to training and you’ll feel so much better. A lot of people don’t realise how unhealthy that lifestyle is until they face a major health scare, or suddenly can’t get up the stairs as easily anymore. Fitness should be preventative, not a hope for a cure when it may be too late.
Businessmen and women have told me they feel more focussed with their business meetings and day-to-day jobs after training with me. Some clients enjoy being pushed, and conquering adversity at the gym just as they do in their jobs. It is one thing to get them in the door, and another to keep them coming back. I try and make the work-outs as fun as possible and get them working hard. For me, exercise is a way of life – it’s like brushing my teeth. That’s not a natural way of thinking for most, but it’s my job to kick-start it.
As a business owner you have to be at least in part motivated by money, but it doesn’t seem to be all about that for you?
I am not money oriented, no, but it happens to be a great by-product of what I do, which is a great way of living. I enjoy the challenge as a competitor and a businessman, working with and teaching a range of clients. Making a natural athlete a top competitor isn’t too difficult, but helping a young lad with ADHD or a physical disability to overcome that to become a pro fighter – that is a challenge, and one that gives me huge satisfaction in conquering.
I’ve helped people rehabilitate, mentally and physically and believe in working hard to get what you want. I have a tattoo that says, ‘Fight to Live’ – it’s an old Brazilian saying that describes keeping going despite adversity. I think that should be instilled in everyone. Not just for myself but other people.
What are your goals for the future?
My overall goal is to broaden my franchise, my brand and my business, and to grow it out of Eastbourne – perhaps one day even out of the country. That would be amazing! I already have some of my instructors going to Worthing, Peacehaven and Bexhill among other places, and we’ve just taken on another gym in Hastings. I see myself establishing the brand and all these things we’ve spoken about in other gyms across the south coast as well as inland across the country so that people can be inspired as I was by MMA.
Do you promote healthy eating also?
I try and make healthy suggestions, of course, but I don’t push it too hard if the client is resistant. If clients come to me with that in their list of goals, I do help with that but maintain the message that there’s no quick fix. An overall healthy lifestyle includes getting all the right nutrients, exercising and not overeating. Having had to fit into weight categories and constantly watching what I eat as a pro, I completely empathise with people who perhaps don’t want to do that – it’s sometimes not worth it for happiness’ sake.
Having said that, a healthy lifestyle is 85% nutrition – you could train every day of the week and not look any different. You are what you eat: that is so true! Eating small and often, every 3 hours with at least 3 litres of water every day is the ideal way of eating. Except, there’s a lot of prep time in this and it takes a lot of effort and dedication. Business people have to keep that in mind – they will need to be very prepared and dedicated to change their lifestyle to this ‘ideal’ way of eating and exercising. Time is of the essence when you run a business, and have a family. You have to make time for your health. Watching that half an hour of television could be spent preparing your next day or week’s meals, or training.
You can contact Tolly at:
First Generation MMA on 07707541535 or email@example.com
38-40 Leslie Street,
Eastbourne, BN22 8JB