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Hakim Isler is a man of many talents — hence his nickname, “Black MacGyver“. He’s an Iraq war veteran and former member of the Army Special Operations community, where he served as a Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Sergeant. Hakim also has extensive experience as a practitioner and teacher of martial arts — he’s a fourth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do under Black Belt Hall of Fame member Stephen K. Hayes, and is an instructor in the Filipino combat system of FCS Kali.
Hakim passes these martial arts skills on to students through Elevo Dynamics, the 24-hour family gym and combatives training facility he founded in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Hakim is also the founder of The SOIL Foundation, a nonprofit that offers off-grid training and excursions to to help veterans, law enforcement, and civilians recover from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. On top of all this, Hakim is the author of Modern Hand to Hand Combat, a contributor to our print magazine (see “Plan of Action” in Issue 16), and a TV personality. In 2014, he tested his wilderness survival skills on Discovery’s Naked and Afraid, and later made another appearance on Naked and Afraid XL in 2015.
His latest project is with the all-new FOX TV series Kicking & Screaming, which debuts next Thursday, March 9th at 9/8C. The show pairs experienced survivalists like Hakim with high-maintenance city dwellers and survival novices:
In anticipation of this TV appearance, we took some time to talk with Hakim about his time on the show, as well as his every-day survival philosophy.
OG: Hey Hakim, thanks for talking with us today. What initially led you to take an interest in survival and self-reliance?
My first awakening to the power of nature was in the Army SERE-C course. Most who know what that is would think that would be the worst place to learn it — while on the run with your team trying to escape capture — but it was not for me. There was a moment surrendering to nature while I laid drenched in heavy rain trying to avoid capture. I had to accept that I wasn’t in control and in that moment I felt a freedom like I had never felt before. Some call it “embracing the suck,” but this was different for me. It was more like embracing the power of nature, and finding solace in letting go and becoming more than I was before.
OG: We imagine there’s a story of ingenuity behind your nickname, “Black MacGyver”. How did that name come about?
I came to be called this in the military because I was always thinking and creating. I would often come up with outside-the-box solutions for issues, and they would work. In layman’s terms, people would call what I do ingenuity, but I call what I do Ninjanuity. Since I am a fourth-degree Black Belt in Ninja Self Protection (To-Shin Do) a.k.a a Ninja, the idea of adapt and overcome is the way I see things. It is that mindset that drives my art of Ninjanuity.
OG: Some of our readers will recognize you from your 21-day survival scenario in India on “Naked and Afraid”. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
The greatest lesson I learned from the Himalayan Mountains while on Naked and Afraid was that war changed me. My last deployment ended in 2007 and I thought I came home in decent shape. The truth was there was a lot I had buried under the mission of work and life. During the 21-day challenge I found that beyond my challenges with my partner, the more depleted I became the less I could suppress the side of me that I had not faced. I had an awakening out there that was never caught on camera, and it was that awakening that caused me to start The Soil Foundation in Robbins, North Carolina. It’s a wilderness therapy and retreat for military, civil servants and youth struggling with emotional challenges such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
OG: We’re excited to check out your latest TV appearance on Kicking & Screaming next week. Tell us a little about the premise of the show, and how you got involved.
This show is going to be epic! The show is about ten survivalists paired with ten pampered high-society individuals with little to no outdoor experience. We survivalists have to help the pampered novices survive, thrive, and win a series of challenges until one group remains and claims $500,000.
OG: It has to be stressful dealing with a survival situation alongside someone totally inexperienced. What have been the biggest physical and psychological challenges you’ve faced?
Dealing with a novice when you are trying to win a prize that big was a little stressful, but it wasn’t because my partner was a novice. My partner is Angelica Bridges and she was a Baywatch star. She is an amazing person and she was awesome out there for someone with little experience. Since I am a survival instructor that teaches kids, I had no problem working with a novice overall.
OG: How has your past military and martial arts training experience prepared you to guide a novice partner on “Kicking & Screaming”?
This is a great question. My military experience really beat into me the idea that “team work makes the dream work”. It was both my Ninja training and my PSYOP training that helped me mentally and emotionally. To be a true instructor, you have to understand how people operate and then how to use that knowledge to help them reach their potential. In addition to this skill you have to understand how you operate — knowing self is the foundation to knowing and connecting with others. We operate physically in this world based on our mental and emotional platform, understanding this is one of the main skills of the Ninja and of course an Psychological Operations specialist.
OG: When you’re not busy filming for TV or writing for our magazine, how do you spend your time?
When I am not busy filming TV shows I am serving my family and community. I own the worlds first DOJYM, a hybrid Ninja martial arts facility and 24-hour gym called Elevo Dynamics. I am also the founder of The Soil Foundation, a nonprofit wilderness therapy and retreat organization we are developing on 60 acres of land in Robbins, NC. We are currently trying to build a community center out of shipping containers. There we can house those we serve for three day or week long events. We currently offer outdoor camping retreats for military, civil servants, and youth that struggle with emotional challenges such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. Our community center will help us serve those in need and their families. We are currently trying to raise funds on our Indegogo and at our website www.thesoilfoundation.org if anyone reading would like to help support.
OG: Every survivalist we meet has a different take on every-day-carry gear. What sort of EDC items do you normally carry during your daily routine?
Hmm the everyday carry item for a Ninja? Ahh, my mask and my sword! (laughs) Not really. I have two things I carry with me. The first is what I call The C.M.S. — the challenge mindset. This is the mindset that forces me to think outside of the box. I never carry the same items consistently because I don’t want to become reliant or complacent. I am always challenging myself with “what ifs” and “how would I…” This way, if I go somewhere where I can’t have an item like a knife or a gun, I don’t feel lost or naked. Life is constantly changing therefore so am I.
There is one physical thing I carry in my car or my bag, and that is a creation I made called the Life Baton. It’s a survival kit that has everything I would need to survive outdoors. So the simple answer is C.M.S and the Life Baton. Most of the time being a instructor in FCS Kali and Black Tiger Kali, I also carry a knife, but not all the time.
OG: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. For those of our fans who’d like to stay up-to-date on your latest projects, what’s the best way to follow you?
For more information on Kicking & Screaming, check out FOX.com/kicking-and-screaming or tune in on Thursday at 9/8C.
Photo by Jeff Neira / FOX Broadcasting Co.
Hakim (top left) with the rest of the cast of "Naked & Afraid".
KICKING & SCREAMING: Hakim Isler, Martial Arts Instructor. "Survivalist" CR: Jeff Neira / FOX. © FOX Broadcasting Co.
"Beautiful day off the grid yesterday showing my little girl the wonders of outdoors." Photo: The SOIL Foundation