Charley Palos

SA Judo Champion & Kickboxing Coach

1. Can you summarize for our audience what you and/or your business does?

Now that I’ve retired from professional sport, and having personally trained over 10,000 students, I use my skills and knowledge to train others regardless of age or ability.

My youngest student is 3, and my oldest is 72. I analyze what individuals are capable of and design a program tailored to the individual. I’ve worked on rehabilitation following personal accidents and trauma, with people with disabilities, with a student who had polio, and another who’d had a stroke and had been left with the use of only one side of his body.

I started in martial arts at the age of 3 myself and I’ve been involved in judo, MMA, kickboxing, and shoot boxing for more than 54 years now. My interests span all aspects of fitness, health, and nutrition.

I had my own world-class boxing gym at the Italian club, Bedfordview, Johannesburg for over 25 years, but was unfortunately forced to close it due to Covid. During that time, I ran 4-5 classes a day from Monday to Saturday and many well-known personalities trained there. These included Gerie Coetzee, the first African in history to ever fight for, and win, a world heavyweight championship – he held the WBA title from 1983 to 1984; Francois Botha (The White Buffalo), Heavyweight (boxing/kickboxing/MMA) Cruiserweight (boxing) who fought Mike Tyson, and Miss Italy.

I’m particularly interested in helping kids get off the sofa and away from their computers. I’ve noticed their balance is wrong, so I teach them how to fall so they don’t hurt themselves, which is useful in a wide range of sports. My teaching promotes agility and develops speed and fitness.

2. Is there a story to tell about your journey to success that might inspire others?

I worked hard at my sports and became a South African Judo champion as well as achieving my Springbok colors in shoot boxing (a standup martial art where fighters use all limbs as weapons).

In my early career, South Africa was still under apartheid and we were forced to work very much “under cover”. That said, we did manage to take a team overseas. There were officially no overseas judo tours of course, we couldn’t go to the Olympics, the Commonwealth or African Games. However, with shoot boxing in particular, we found holes in the system.

When I was fighting as an amateur, most of my fights were in the townships of Gauteng. Unusually, when we got selected for the South African squad, there was a mix of black and white guys, bearing in mind this was during apartheid times while we were still segregated along racial lines. We kind of got round it, we went under the radar so to speak.

I was lucky enough to fight in America, and through my sport, I saw the world – Brazil, Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe, and more. Thanks to multiple sponsorships, there are only a few places in the world I haven’t been.

I remember this one black guy, Ali Charki, who came from a real rural area of South Africa, and next thing he finds himself in Disneyland, Orlando, and Universal Studios. Of course, being from deepest South Africa he’d never seen anything like this in his life. We rode in a cable car and the next thing you know a massive King Kong grabs the car we were riding – now how does he describe that to the folks back home?

3. What’s your vision of the future for your business and yourself personally?

My vision is to build a program where students don’t even need to be at the gym, a program they can work on by themselves. My vision is for an online program where someone comes to my site live, checks out what we’re doing for the week, I’m filmed doing it, and they can work out at their own pace and in the comfort of their own homes following my example.

4. What change would you make in the world if you had the power to change anything you wanted?

There are a lot of CEOs, businessmen, and entrepreneurs who know they’re unfit and overweight, but they wouldn’t necessarily go to the gym. These guys are stressed out and unhealthy and they know it. However, they may not be motivated to do something about it. I want to change that and impact lives by motivating people to do something about it, perhaps using my online course.

I want to make it as easy as possible to take back control and get in shape again.

5. What’s the most interesting, unexpected, or quirky thing we don’t know about you?

I love animals and I love the wild, and all the bush has to offer. I prefer it to the sea although I live by the ocean now. I think this goes back to my army days when I was serving on the border (Namibia then Southwest Africa). I really enjoyed those times.

I ran the comrades ultra marathon (88 kms, 54.6 miles) as a bet and with hardly any training – it’s a mind over matter thing. It’s hard work, sure, but it’s more mental than physical. It’s like asking someone to stand on their feet, in one spot, for twelve hours. You can allow them to watch TV, eat, and drink, but not to sit down, just stand. They can’t take a walk, just stand in one spot. Try that for 12 hours and you’ll see just how hard that is.

6. Who or what do YOU look to for inspiration?

Thomas Hearns (the first person to win world boxing titles in four weight divisions) inspired me. My judo coaches inspired me, Bruce Lee, Muhamad Ali, Marvin Haggler also. And of course, Diego Maradona of Argentina for his soccer achievements.

7. What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken so far and why did you take it?

The biggest risk I’ve ever taken was giving up my job to go to Springfield, Missouri in the States to turn pro. Leaving friends and family behind was hard but luckily I didn’t have a wife or girlfriend to worry about, thank goodness. I went with just a kit bag to my name and fought all over America. I slept on gym floors on a mat for more than a year.

I took the risk because it was simply the biggest opportunity of my life.

8. Please briefly describe the most innovative or impactful project you’ve worked on to date, the one that grabbed your attention and you just knew you had to go all in.

There are two of many that spring to mind.

The first was when we did work for the Salvation Army and Strathyre Girls Home in Gauteng, SA where my team and I went with paint and painted the jungle gyms. I gave them a class, we fixed their swings, and cooked for them. It was very inspirational because these poor girls are there from 4 years old until matric (18), about 80 girls.

The other one involved the Transvaal interprovincial judo team. Our competitors, the Northern Transvaal were always huge favorites to win, but we were determined to get the gold, so we did our own practices, we inspired and motivated each other. We ultimately went on to win our prized gold medal against all the odds. It was a huge honor for me.

9. Do you have any recent wins you’d like to share, feel free to boast just this once?

My biggest wins were becoming SA judo champion, going overseas to the US, turning professional and climbing the world rankings.

More recently making the move from Johannesburg to the Western Cape. It was something I always wanted to do, but I was always held back by my responsibilities in Johannesburg. When I was forced to close down my gym during Covid, I took it as a sign it was time to finally make the move.

10. On reflection, what would you have done differently if you had that time again?

I can honestly say there’s nothing I would have changed in my life or done differently. Representing your country in any sport is an honor. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many inspirational sportsmen including professional soccer and rugby players.

If I was really pushed hard, perhaps never having a shot at the judo world-title. Having said that, I never lost a professional match. You have to bear in mind that in those days South Africa was still under apartheid and there were no overseas judo tours allowed

11. What advice would you give to inspire someone who sees what you’ve achieved and might want to model your success?

The only advice I would give is follow your dream. The first step is making the first step. Don’t wait for opportunity to find you, go look for it. If you wait, the opportunity of a lifetime may well not present itself, so go seek it out. You’ll recognize it when you see it.

Oh, and don’t spend your life complaining and saying, “life isn’t fair”. Go make chances for yourself, don’t rely on others.

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