Martin Kistler grew up in Switzerland idolizing his older brother, an international judo champion who competed in the '92 Olympics. He inspired Kistler to practice judo every day, enter matches on weekends, and set himself up to go for the gold. Then, when he was just 20, a debilitating back injury stopped him in his tracks.
"From seeing what tournament comes next to wondering if you'll ever walk again," says Kistler, "was pretty intense."
At the time, he was studying architecture at a Swiss university. After graduating, he was, he says, "not quite ready to start the adult life." Inspired by Frank Gehry and a lecture he'd attended in Zurich, he decided that pursuing a master's at Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles would be the perfect detour from the real world. While in L.A., he began making TV ads and music videos.
The TV work "took me away from regular architecture," says Kistler, but he felt "the training was very similar: You're a visual storyteller." As his business grew, he hired 20 freelancers. In 2003, he formed them into a full-fledged advertising agency. Ignition Creative now has more than 250 employees, clients such as Netflix, Amazon, and Sony, and annual revenue that tops $50 million.
That settled his career. But he still wanted something to make him sweat. Ten years ago, a friend brought him to a boxing gym. "It was the best thing that could have happened," says Kistler. "It strengthened everything I needed, from my back and my core to having this outlet."
These days, Kistler, who's now 49, trains at Wild Card West, near Ignition's Playa Vista headquarters, four or five times a week. When he spars, he generally goes seven or eight rounds. ("It takes a lot of stamina," he says.) And staff who want to train at Wild Card West get a discount. "I'm not forcing anybody, but it's a nice perk," he says. "I believe in the balance of mental, spiritual, and physical health."
All that time in the ring has taught Kistler focus, even when he's not punching, jabbing, and ducking. "In boxing and in business, you want to make sure you're right there," he says. "If somebody tries to swing at you, there's no time for daydreaming. The concentration, the focus, is a good model for everything you do." And his hobby has given him a mantra that he also uses when the gloves come off: "Don't back down."