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A few weeks ago, Up & Coming Weekly caught up  and spent a little time with Hakim Isler in the mountains of North Carolina. You may or may not have heard of him, but Isler is on Discovery Channel’s Emmy-nominated Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid XL survival series. Isler, an Army veteran, owns Elevo Dynamics Martial Arts Studio and Gym at 110 Person Street in downtown Fayetteville.. 

Isler mastered his survival on Season 3 by surviving 21 days in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains of India. This season, he joined 12 other survivors in the jungles of Colombia, South America. 

Of course, the question that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue is “Why Naked and Afraid?” Isler’s reasoning behind is participation is sound, and it is wound up in his life story.  

At 21, Isler moved to Ohio to attend ninja training under the American Bujinkan Ninjutsu Master Stephen K. Hayes, winner of the Century Martial Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. With a second degree blackbelt in his ruck, Isler joined the Army. There, he attended the Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape  School. From there, he continued his wilderness survival skills and discovered that inter-survival was just as important as physical survival.  

Moving back to Fayetteville, Isler opened his “DOGYM”, a 24-hour family gym and martial arts facility.

One day, a friend of his asked him why he never saw any African-Americans on survival shows. That grabbed Isler’s entrance, so he took a look at the shows and decided on  Naked and Afraid. He applied and became the first African-American on any survival show. Honored, Isler saw this as an opportunity to inspire other African-Americans to get involved in survival, which he believes has happened since he appeared on the show. 

In Season One, Isler went 21 days with his female teammate Phaedra Brothers. There, his inter-personal strength was challenged by working better as a team than as an individual. Each contestant is allowed to bring one item to help them survive. Isler showed his ingenuity with his “Tengu Ono,” which he designed specifically for wilderness survival. Today, Isler has a patent on the tool and it is produced and sold by RMJ Tactical.

This season, the Columbian jungle proved more challenging. Physically, Isler began to experience intense muscle spasms and cramps. The medical personnel on the show told him that he was dehydrated. Isler said that he was well hydrated, and instead believed that he was over-hydrated.  

At first, Isler and his teammates thought he would be okay, but as time passed, he began weighing what life would be like after the show. 

As symptoms of cramps manifested, he thought about his business, family and his students. On day seven, he and his teammates agreed that he should quit the show. After returning to Fayetteville, his physician and others told him that he made the right choice.  

When Up & Coming caught up with Isler, he was in the mountains conducting “Mountain Quest.” There, Isler and another martial arts expert, Stephen K. Hayes, tested black-belt candidates. Surprisingly, many of those candidates where young ninjas. 

Isler gets joy from teaching kids and teenagers. Nijitsu teaches them self-discipline, respect and self-control. Isler said that the word “ninja” means “one who perseveres and endures.” He is also proud that he teaches them to “think inside the box, outside the box and to ask what it was like before the box and who made the box.” 

Isler continued, “Ninja self-protection is above all about flexibility and adaptability. You have to know how to change the game and become what is needed to succeed.” 

He said on Naked and Afraid the choice of leaving the show was his way of changing the game because his priority was not television entertainment but higher priorities of life here and his overall health. 

Fayetteville actually has two veteran survivalists on Naked and Afraid XL. Although the episode of Isler leaving the show has already aired, he and Fayetteville resident E.J. Snyder (who is still on the show) will appear on the “Dirty Dozen Return” episode on Sunday, Sept. 6. Snyder is a contractor who works on Fort Bragg and lives in Hope Mills.


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