A Virtual Sit-Down with a Small Business Owner

As I have gone through my career in sales thus far, I have realized that relationships are the single most important aspect of business.  In my opinion, they are far more important than what you sell, how you sell it, what your business plan is, or what kind of talk track you have.  When you can form a genuine relationship with someone, everything else suddenly comes a lot easier.

That is one of the reasons why I have focused a lot of my energy on building relationships with my customers as well as my mentors in the field of business.  It makes my job a lot more enjoyable and a lot easier to do when I know the person rather than the company.

With that in mind, I am hoping that this is a genre of blog posts that sticks…

I took some time to virtually interview Joel Ellenbecker, owner of Fortitude Krav Maga in Neenah.  If that company name sounds familiar to our readers, that is likely because we did a piece on the benefits and security that Fortitude can provide for its clients.  That post was coming from one of their clients’ points of view.  This time I wanted to shake things up and allow our readers to get to know the man behind the business, as well as a little bit of his story.

Having led with all this, the interview is available below.

The Dude Behind Fortitude

I took some time to virtually interview Joel Ellenbecker, owner of Fortitude Krav Maga in Neenah.
Fortitude Owner, Joel Ellenbecker

CJ – “How did you realize your love of martial arts and Krav Maga?”

JE – “Growing up in the early 90's I was always interested in Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.  My grandmother thought that I could benefit from learning the life skills of respect, self-discipline, courage and wanted to help me with my physical skills such as balance.  She took me to my first martial arts classes in 1996-1997.

I honestly barely remember a time in my life where martial arts was not a part of who I am and what I do.  To answer your questions of when I realized my love for it... {it} came when I was in 8th grade.  I had just earned my second-degree black belt in Karate and – like other pre-teen/teenagers – I thought it was a good time to take a break so I could hang with my friends more.  I spent about 6 months out of karate lessons.  It was the most unfulfilling 6 months of my life...  I quickly realized that the growth, workouts, and community of the martial arts was something that was truly helping me be the best version of myself.  I rejoined and have not looked back since!

I was introduced to Krav Maga shortly after I had made the decision to pursue teaching martial arts as a career.  Coming up through the ranks in Karate, we had done lots of Krav Maga techniques and drills without me even realizing it.  Once I started training in Krav Maga and preparing for my instructor certification, it dawned on me that Krav Maga was all my favorite parts of Karate mixed into one system.  I absolutely loved learning self-defense technique, striking pads, and getting to test those skills in sparring.  I also really enjoyed knowing that everything I was learning and practicing in Krav Maga was meant for me to go home safely if I found myself in a self-defense situation.  The confidence I gained from the system and the stress relief that comes from the training is so important to me.”

CJ – “When was the moment that you realized this is what you wanted to do with your life?”

JE – “It is hard to say if there was one exact moment or if it was a series of events over time.  I think there have been many times throughout my journey that gave me the momentum, courage, and belief that this is where I am meant to be.  When I was 17-19 I worked a ton of jobs; anywhere from side jobs helping with roofing to working for a dry cleaning company.  I spent most of my time earning money to just stay alive.

Then my Karate instructor asked me if I would be interested in helping out with teaching Karate.  It was honestly the first time in my life that it occurred to me that this was an option.  I had never believed that I was "good enough" or skilled enough to be able to teach others.  Just for reference at this point I was already a 3rd degree black belt and had been practicing Karate for 10 years.

My instructor believing in me was one of the defining moments of my life.  When I saw that he believed in me it ignited that confidence in myself.  I started realigning my priorities, attending more classes, and adjusting my work schedule to be able to make it to help out with teaching.  It even got to the point where I turned down a job offer that was consistent hours with benefits so I could be more available to teach.  I quit another job that kept scheduling me during the time I was teaching and then took a job cleaning a bar late at night.  I truly did whatever it took to be able to pursue my dream.”

CJ – “What was the name of the person that inspired you the most in that journey?”

JE – “I would have to say the most influential person in my journey so far is Matt Schaefer, owner of Karate America in Neenah.  He was the instructor I mentioned above who believed in me and ignited my self-confidence to start this journey.  I cannot express enough the importance of having a mentor, coach, or instructor in my life.  I cannot even fathom where I would be without his guidance.  Having someone that I look up to who truly cares about my well-being and success changed everything in my life in the most positive way.”

CJ – “Why do you spend so much of your time ensuring others are healthy, happy, and well-prepared in the art of self-defense?”

JE – “Honestly, it helps me be who I want to be in the world.  Spending time helping others and sharing what I have learned is a blessing.  It all started with Karate, then Krav Maga, and now as I have grown and learned more, I am able to coach people to general health, wellness, and nutrition.  The purpose that I chose for my business is my own personal purpose:

‘To ignite self-confidence and empower people for life.’

Living out the purpose and being the person required to do it is so important to me.  Being held to that standard helps me show up as the best version of myself, which in turn helps everyone I get the opportunity of working with.”

CJ – “To finish, what do you enjoy most about the everyday grind?”

JE – “My wife and I were just having this conversation recently…  We all have the same amount of time in the day and it can go by really fast!

I am up to some big and exciting goals but keeping up with my to do list or tasks can be really challenging.  I think what I enjoy most about it is that I am choosing to do the things I want to do in my life.  All the time, effort, and energy I have put in over the last two decades has really set me up for a beautiful life.  I get to teach and share the things I am passionate about, surround myself with like-minded individuals, train myself, and learn what I am most interested in – all while raising a beautiful family and making intentional time to be with them.  I enjoy the freedom of being able to choose who I want to become and what I want to do.”


The most beautiful part of interacting with people and developing relationships is getting to know who they are, what makes them tick, and why they act the way that they do.  After having read through the interview again, I can easily see why Joel is so successful and why has such a loyal client base:

He is genuine, empathetic, and incredibly motivated.

In my relatively small amount of time knowing Joel, that is something that I picked up on fairly easily.  He is the kind of person that I would happily work with time-and-time again, whether I am his client or vice-versa.  Trustworthy people are hard to come by, but if you are looking at getting healthier or learning better self-discipline, there is not another person I would send you to other than Joel Ellenbecker.

If you or a business owner you know would like to take part in a spotlight interview like this down the road, please reach out to cjones@qaom.com and I would be happy to sit down and chat.

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