Top 5 CEOs Who Are High-Level Martial Artists

The teachings and techniques of martial arts and their obvious impact on physical fitness and health are recognized worldwide without any doubt. However, people are also now beginning to realize the benefits of martial arts for mental and psychological health.

Practicing martial arts is proven to not only improve physical strength but also directly impact mental health and self-confidence, which is invaluable for any individual who wants to achieve the extraordinary. This correlation became more apparent as the world learned about several well-known and respected CEOs of multinationals and famous Hollywood artists who achieved awe-inspiring expertise in high-level martial arts while ruling their respective fields. Want to get inspiration to achieve success similar to these industry movers and shakers? Get to know them first… 

These are the top 5 CEOs leading their companies to unprecedented success with discipline and skills learned from high-level martial arts. 

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Meta, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Fwd.Us, Meta AI, and Startup: Education

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta Platforms and the owner of the world’s largest social media platform, Facebook, has been almost constant on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people since 2008. His many CEO ventures include philanthropic companies like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,, which addresses public issues related to immigration and criminal justice systems, and Startup: Education, a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving education.

His business and philanthropic efforts have been recognized across the world, but they are just one part of his life. He is a loving husband and father to three beautiful daughters. He credited his high-level martial arts practices as a vital driving force that keeps him at the top. Zuckerberg, an avid Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, has won gold and silver medals at mixed martial arts tournaments in California and Brazil. 

Check out our article on how fighters should deal with common Brazilian jiu-jitsu injuries.

His expertise outside the Silicon Valley tech industry and in the martial arts made for quite a newsworthy story upon its grand reveal. During a podcast with Joe Rogan, a UFC commentator and mixed martial arts fanatic himself, Zuckerberg discussed his passion for martial arts, finding it engaging both physically and intellectually.

He completely agreed with the host’s sentiment when he explained the reason behind his dedication to martial arts by saying, “When you compete, you’re not fighting another person; you’re fighting yourself, right?” He said. “You’re just trying to be a better version of yourself.” 

Given his ambitious nature, Mark Zuckerberg also believes martial arts motivate him to constantly improve himself to stay ahead of the competition. He said, “MMA is the perfect thing because if you stop paying attention for one second, you’re going to end up at the bottom.” 

Tae Yun Kim, CEO and Founder of Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions

Before achieving the title of Great Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim, the South Korean powerhouse was once called a curse by the people in her birthplace. Born in a small South Korean village on the Lunar New Year to a family who desperately wanted a boy to pass down the family name, her birth put a damper on the whole family. But she overcame all the adversities that came her way, including the Korean War, a bomb explosion that killed her first friend, and extremely unhelpful guardians who only wanted to marry her off. 

At an early age, she learned ITF Tae Kwon Do (learn the difference between ITF and WTF Taekwondo) from one of her uncles, who helped her break the tradition, as women were forbidden to practice Tae Kwon Do back then. She perfected her technique and training under the tutelage of a highly respected Buddhist master, who initially tried to persuade her to marry like all traditional Korean women. Her dedication to martial arts convinced the Buddhist Master to take her under his wing and pass on his secrets of internal Ki energy to become a formidable high-level martial artist. 

Having mastered the ancient art of Tae Kwon Do, she transformed the teachings into formidable business acumen. She not only established the world-class Jung Su Won Martial Art Academy in the United States but also owns Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions, the world’s leading supplier of real-time contamination monitoring systems for air and water, and airborne particle counters.

Great Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim is the pinnacle of every rags-to-riches story. Her passion for Tea Kwon Do helped her break the norms and become the first female grandmaster in Korea to establish her studio. She is not only a former Forbes Council member but has also been featured in the respected publication several times.

She eloquently explained a fundamental Tae Kwon Do practice for individuals grappling with feelings of uncertainty and fear of opposition. She said, “Don’t confuse feeling weak with being weak. Fear plays a part in any healthy person’s thoughts. You can acknowledge its presence and then move past it, ultimately leaving it behind. We are all linked into a universal life force — one that allows us to overcome our perceived physical and mental limitations.”    

Pablo Fuentes, CEO and Founder of Proven

Pablo Fuentes, the founder and CEO of Proven (, the hiring app that simplifies the recruitment process for small businesses, shares more than his passion for tech with Mark Zuckerberg. He started training in Jiu-Jitsu in 2011, and as of the last update, he is a purple belt who won a silver medal after competing in a national tournament in California. 

Pablo Fuentes is not just a tech guru; he is a devoted mentor helping minorities and female entrepreneurs set up and establish their small businesses in the cutthroat US marketplace. He hosts a weekly podcast called ‘Small Business War Stories’, where he interviews small business owners and operators. Additionally, he has been invited to the White House to spread awareness about his work. With all this pressure included in his work life, he credits his martial arts training with helping him to maintain focus on his mental and physical well-being while leading his company to success. Fuentes shared his martial arts success story with a Business Insider representative, stating, “I just know I am one of the few founders that have gotten in better, not worse, shape while starting a company.” 

Pablo Fuentes is also an honoree of The Registry, Bay Area’s respected list of 40 Under 40: Tech Diversity Silicon Valley in 2015. This award is a testament to his outstanding achievements, including career success, volunteer work and community engagement, diversity initiatives, and honors.

Dan Schulman, President and CEO of PayPal and Chairman of Norton LifeLock 

PayPal CEO Dan Schulman has been practicing Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art, since his teen years. He believes the experience has influenced the way he approaches both business and life. Talking on the BI podcast “ This is Success,” he said, “I’ve done martial arts almost all my life, and that’s informed not just fighting skills but living skills as well.”

Dan Schulman has had an extremely busy and productive professional life, from being the president of the Sprint Telecommunication Corporation Prepaid Group to being the CEO of the multinational brand Virgin Mobile. He has been awarded many titles, including the Entrepreneur of the Year award and the honor of being one of the 100 most creative people in business. 

He credits many of his accomplishments to his prime personality-shaping years spent learning the martial arts. He explained that he started learning martial arts as a teenager while spending time in Israel. Although the practice is known for being physically demanding and has left him with numerous scars, the most valuable lesson he learned from Krav Maga is how to choose his battles wisely. 

Practicing the philosophy of martial arts, which is ‘Never stand still,” he has made decisions that have made people doubt his proficiency, like his decision to leave AT&T as the president of the consumer division at a not-so-young age for a stint at Priceline. However, he explained that it was riskier to stay still and stagnant. To grow as a competent businessman, he had to take some risks going forward. This martial arts philosophy has helped him in his professional life and has helped him get ahead of the competition. 

Comparing the business world to an unforgiving MMA tournament with high stakes, Dan Schulman said, “If you’re engaged in a competitive battlefield like we all are in business to some extent, even if things are going well, you can’t stand still because that’s just asking to be hit. You constantly need to be innovating; you constantly need to be thinking one or two steps ahead. You need to trust your intuition.”    

Adena Friedman, CEO and President of Nasdaq

The first woman to lead a global exchange, Adena T. Friedman, is a trendsetter who has been honored as being one of the world’s most powerful women in the Forbes Annual Power Women list multiple times. As one of her first big professional moves, she joined Nasdaq in 1993 as an unpaid intern!

Later in her career, she was promoted and eventually served as the head of data products and then Chief Financial Officer before leaving the company to join the private investment firm Carlyle Group as CFO and MD. She later returned to Nasdaq as president and Chief Operating Officer before becoming CEO in 2017. She has held this position ever since and is leading Nasdaq to new horizons from the very front. 

Her love story with the world of martial arts began after she became a mom to two kids. Friedman got her first taste of Tae Kwon Do after taking her kids to the classes, and she decided to join them to make it more of a family activity. The physical and mental health benefits she reaped from Tae Kwon Do made her adhere to its training faithfully, and she is now a black belt in this Korean martial arts technique. 

According to Friedman, practicing martial arts has now become more than just a way to keep her active outside of work. It has helped her embrace and tackle the challenges of her role as the head of the second-largest exchange in the world. She explained that martial arts have taught her discipline, focus, and self-control, which are all important qualities for any successful career in finance. 

In a Fortune interview, she explained how practicing martial arts helped shape her leadership skills. “I do think that if you look at the lessons you learn from Taekwondo in terms of self-reliance—and we always say ‘might for right’, so you use your strength to do the right thing, you also use it for defense more than offense—I think there are a lot of lessons that you can apply to business.”

All the names listed above came from different backgrounds, had different ethnicities, and even belonged to different countries. The one common trait that each of them had was their love and respect for the martial arts. Learning, practicing, and adapting the teachings and techniques of their preferred type of martial arts helped them gain unparalleled success in their own respective fields.

It is well known that many artists in the entertainment industry around the world practice martial arts not only to keep themselves in top physical shape but also to perform demanding roles that sometimes require strenuous physical activity for the best results. However, it is important to note that the physical and mental demands placed on leaders and executives of large corporations and companies are equally challenging and taxing. Martial arts is the perfect way to develop resilience and coping mechanisms to deal with adversity in different aspects of life.

Most martial arts emphasize the mind-body connection, fostering a holistic approach to well-being through awareness of the body, movements, and surroundings. This practice is invaluable for people who work in highly demanding and rapidly changing work environments where even a small oversight can have major consequences not just for themselves but for the teams they are leading as well. 

Given what these CEOs have done, it is a no-brainer to follow in their footsteps and start practicing your favorite martial arts. 

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