Outside the Cubicle: John Trigg of BH Fitness finds peace through the brutal art of Muay Thai kickboxing

Once a cocky guy pushing his way up the corporate ladder, John Trigg, regional sales manager for BH Fitness, found humility and a healthy sense of pride through the hard knocks of Muay Thai kickboxing. How did those lessons improve his day-to-day life?
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To further a long-standing goal at SNEWS® to build our community through communication, we launched last month a new column called Outside the Cubicle to highlight the extraordinary, awe-inspiring or just plain wonderful things those in the industry do outside of the work environment (click here to read about its launch). This will give us a chance to write about all the “oh wow” things we hear people did, do or have accomplished that have utterly nothing to do with work and otherwise go unnoticed. The stories may inspire or entertain, or make you laugh, look at somebody differently or prompt you to wonder how they found the time. From the warehouse and sales floor to executive lounge or road-warrior sales rep, we are looking for great stories and great people to profile. Is it you? Your boss? Your colleague? Tell us who should be next. Email us at OutsidetheCubicle@snewsnet.com or call 530-268-8295.

When John Trigg was 25 years old, he was already pushing his way up the corporate ladder in the fitness industry. At Omni Fitness, he was the youngest-ever regional rep to establish a brand new territory, and he then worked as the district manager of Busy Body’s top region in the country.

“I got cocky and very overconfident,” said Trigg, who now serves as a regional sales rep for BH Fitness. “I thought I was really something special.”

Then, six years ago, Trigg’s life took a dark turn. He was fired from a job; his best friend who was like a brother passed away; and he learned his aggressive business style had earned him a not-so-favorable reputation among some colleagues. That’s when he turned to Muay Thai kickboxing, where bruising, full-contact training taught him he said to be more humble and understanding of others and helped him develop a healthy sense of pride, not to mention an overriding serenity. 

The hard-knock life

To get an idea of what Muay Thai kickboxing looks like, simply turn on the television. Mixed martial arts competitions are now regular fare on cable TV, and most combatants employ wrestling moves, plus various martial arts, including Muay Thai kickboxing. Utilizing attacks from eight points of the body, Muay Thai includes punishing punches, kicks and strikes from the elbows and knees.

But that’s only part of the reason life lessons are taught. One thing that Trigg finds appealing about Muay Thai is that it demands not only physical stamina, but also a high level of mental toughness partly through the teachings of its traditions.

“When I step on the mat at night, and I know that the workout is going to be brutal, and it’s not going to feel better the next morning, it’s the fact that I get on there and get past it,” he said. “That’s a wall that a lot of people can’t get past -- the fear of the pain, the fear of the work, the fear of the unknown. Being able to get over that wall -- there are no boundaries.”

Muay Thai also tends to make a person more humble. When Trigg first began kickboxing six years ago at Philadelphia MMA (mixed martial arts) School, he stood 5’ 9” and weighed 265 pounds. He walked into the school carrying loads of muscle and an air of superiority.

“Then a guy who weighed 170 pounds knocked the daylights out of me,” said Trigg. “Immediately, that really shut down that part of my head that had me feeling cocky and egotistical.”

Humility might be the greatest gift that Trigg has received through his martial arts training, and it’s something that he was lacking starting early in his life.

Wake-up calls

In high school, Trigg built up an extreme level of confidence simply as a means of survival. At 15, he took up Taekwondo to defend himself against bullies, and he thwarted at least one attack on school grounds. At age 17, he worked as a nightclub bouncer, and bears a scar on his forearm from foiling a knife attack. But his skills as a fighter bred an unhealthy aggressiveness in his dealings with people, even in business.

“Before, I always thought that to get ahead anyone in your way had to be steamrolled, and you just had to climb over the competition,” said Trigg. “I thought that good guys don’t win; bad guys get ahead. We see it in everyday business.”

Trigg spent his 20s climbing over the competition, and his aggressiveness appeared in his dealings with people outside the work world.

“I remember the second time I met John in 2003,” recalled his wife Suzanne, who at that time managed the apartment building John lived in. “There was a problem with his apartment, and he sent me this scathing email -- it was very much a pump-your-chest-out kind of thing. I cannot imagine him doing that now.”

By 2004, Trigg’s confidence was soaring as he and a friend established a successful Gym Source store, with Trigg racking up the majority of sales. But, suddenly, things unraveled.

The Gym Source management informed Trigg that they were letting him go, explaining that they needed to cut staff to save money. Trigg asked the management to reconsider. “I was going to have a baby soon, and told them I needed the job more than anything else,” he said. Trigg even offered to forego a salary and work on a reduced commission. But the answer was “no.”

Though he was shocked at the denial, Trigg moved on and sought a job with Leisure Fitness. But while being interviewed by the director of retail sales, that’s where he found his reputation had preceded him. He recalled being told, “I heard you were kind of a problem.” Startled, Trigg inquired what the director meant.

“Well, I’ve heard it from a few people who have worked for you over the past few years. I heard you’re a little cocky and arrogant, and you’re difficult to work with,” he was told.

“I told him it was confidence that comes off as cockiness, and he said he’d hire me anyway, but would keep an eye on me,” said Trigg.

Then, six months after he was hired by Leisure Fitness, another huge blow struck: Trigg’s best friend, Andy Schmidt (pictured far right with Trigg), died at the age of 29 from cardiomyopathy, a structural heart disease that causes obstructive damage.

TriggandFriend.jpg

“He was really more like a brother to me,” said Trigg. The loss was worsened by the fact that he and Schmidt had not spoken much over the prior four months since they’d had a falling out and had avoided each other out of sheer stubbornness. Just days before Schmidt’s accident, they had reconnected and were scheduled to have lunch the day Schmidt died.

“I think John felt a lot of regret because they had been on the outs,” said Suzanne Trigg. “I think he’s always regretted that they missed that time together.”

Among other things, Schmidt had been Trigg’s weight-lifting partner, and Trigg soon quit working out. “I didn’t want to go to the gym anymore. It hurt too much,” he said.

But that didn’t last long: Two months later, Trigg’s life grew brighter with the birth of his son, Johnny. “I had an epiphany holding my little boy. I knew I had to change,” said Trigg. “I could not be the guy I was.” He realized that stubbornness and overconfidence had damaged his work life and robbed him of time with his best friend.

“I looked back at the previous year before Johnny was born, and I’d had two different jobs,” said Trigg. “I didn’t want to be hopping from job to job. I didn’t want to be sitting in an interview with someone ever again who said, ‘I heard you’re kind of cocky and arrogant.’”

Trigg was somehow led to Muay Thai kickboxing and it didn’t take long for his whole mindset to change.

Balance with the black-and-blue

Dating back to the 14th century, Muay Thai has rich traditions and history -- not just warrior tendencies although it stemmed from the battlefields. As with most martial arts, Muay Thai students are taught to adhere to its traditions, which helps them set aside their own ego and become part of something greater than themselves.

Mel Bellissimo, owner of the Lana Muay Thai school in Toronto, one of the many schools where Trigg trains when he travels for business, said that Trigg very much bought into this concept. “He is always extremely humble and respectful when he visits Lana Muay Thai, and he is very passionate about the sport,” said Bellissimo. “He is especially interested in its history and traditions.”

One of Muay Thai’s traditions is that its practitioners show honor to others, particularly any Kru, or sensei, as well as opponents. But students are also taught to generally be respectful of others, and Trigg has incorporated this idea into his life beyond the training mat. Most of all, Trigg said, he tries in earnest to be an exceptionally honest businessperson.

“I’m not just a rep for BH, I’m also the dealer advocate,” said Trigg. “I won’t lie to my dealers about anything. I don’t pull sales pitch routines. I don’t stretch the truth.”

Dealers aren’t arguing that statement. “I like dealing with John. He’s no-nonsense and direct,” said Mark Walsh, owner of State of the Art Fitness in Nanuet, N.Y. “Even if something is not going right, he’s honest, and I know he’ll deal with it. John acknowledges issues and calls a spade a spade.”

While kickboxing has changed Trigg’s approach to business, it has also brought more balance to his home life.

“He’s just much more calm and patient,” said Suzanne Trigg. “I see it in regular, everyday things, where he just doesn’t fly off the handle like he would before. Like today, we had a problem with the bank, and I let him talk to them because I knew he wouldn’t yell at anyone.”

“I think,” Trigg acknowledged, “I’ve just got my head screwed on straight. I’m more mentally grounded, and a much better parent than I could have been, and a lot more understanding.”

A young man’s game

Of course, being a family man and having a demanding job makes it that much harder to train in martial arts at a high level.

“I need more time to train than other people would because it’s not my full-time job,” said Trigg. There’s his work with BH Fitness, but that’s just one responsibility. “My wife and my kids are my full-time job,” he said. That’s not something he would have admitted a few years ago. “I really used to believe that business came first, and if your family didn’t understand that, it was too bad for them.”

Trigg is also at a disadvantage simply due to his age.

Bellissimo said most Muay Thai fighters are 18 to 25 years old. Most are not burdened by demanding careers, family obligations or bodies compromised by age. In the past two years, Trigg has had all three heads of a bicep tendon torn off the bone, and he suffered a knee injury that required surgery. It has taken him the last 14 months to recover to the point that he can train heavily. He hopes to compete this August in a “smoker,” a Muay Thai competition involving members of various fight camps.

Despite the challenge of balancing martial arts with work and family, he always looks forward to stepping onto the mat.

“It mentally sets you up to know there’s no boundary out there that you can’t overcome,” said Trigg. “No matter what you do in your regular life, if you set boundaries for yourself, you can never get beyond them. And choosing these arts and this form of workout came out of tragedy, but I was able to find something that made me much more centered, and it really changed a lot of the person I am now.”

--Marcus Woolf

Can we profile you or something you have done? Do you think your boss does amazing things outside of work? Do you know a colleague who deserves to be featured? We want to know! Your stories are important. Email us at OutsidetheCubicle@snewsnet.com or call 530-268-8295.

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