In Abrielle Fuerst’s martial arts classes, students learn self-defense, get physically active and build confidence.
Since she moved to Philadelphia three months ago, Fuerst, 27, has taught martial arts regularly at Caskey Torah Academy. She has also taught at Mekor Habracha and has plans to expand her classes in April, when she will begin teaching at the Kaiserman JCC.
But her reach goes far beyond the Philadelphia area. For the past three years, Fuerst has also taught self-defense seminars for women in cities across the country through her company, Wandering Fighters.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Fuerst, who said she eschews labels but would describe herself as modern Orthodox.
Fuerst started taking taekwondo classes when she was 14. At the time, she was living near Akron, Ohio, a block from a studio called World Champion Martial Arts. She had always wanted to learn martial arts, so she decided to take advantage of the proximity.
Two years later, she had earned her black belt. She had just started teaching classes at that same studio when her family moved to Houston.
In Houston, she couldn’t find a studio that met her expectations, so she decided to start her own.
She went back to Akron and studied intensively under her mentor, Grand Master Gyeong Ho Jeon, for three weeks. She returned to Houston and opened her own World Champion Martial Arts studio. She also got a part-time job as a gym teacher at Yeshivat Torat Emet, a day school in Houston, which helped grow her business.
“I found myself adopting a lot of my mentor’s mannerisms and going back to Ohio once or twice a year just to train and catch up,” Fuerst said. “It was also interesting because I considered myself a student until that point really. It was a transition for me as well into becoming their mentor and trying to become who I saw my mentor to be, and take on that role for my students.”
She taught out of a room in a synagogue and had separate classes for boys and girls.
She started with just a few 5-year-old students and gradually built her business. Eventually, she started teaching her students’ parents as well.
“It started off with a group of kids who had never experienced martial arts before in their lives,” Fuerst said. “By the end of it, I had black belt students that had been with me for six or seven years who were now helping me teach classes to kids who had never experienced martial arts before in their lives.”
Three years ago, Fuerst expanded her services, when a series of incidents in her neighborhood prompted her to put on a one-hour self-defense seminar geared toward women.
The class quickly filled and, after a conversation with her father, the two of them started Wandering Fighters. Fuerst began teaching corporate self-defense seminars for women nationwide using a curriculum she developed, while her father handled the company’s business aspects.
Fuerst estimates she has taught hundreds of people in cities across the country, from Atlanta to San Francisco.
Then, not too long ago, she started to feel like it was time for her to move.
“I felt like I started to max out in Houston,” Fuerst said. “I had this impression that if I didn’t do it now, I would wake up in five years and still be exactly where I was, so I very deliberately chose something new.”
Moving to the tri-state area made sense for Wandering Fighters. She also felt that the greater number of schools in the area would provide her with more opportunities to teach, so she headed to Philadelphia.
To start her martial arts classes here, she began reaching out to organizations and letting them know about her services. The first place she started teaching was Caskey Torah Academy.
The school offers a range of after-school extracurricular programming. Martial arts allows students to get physically active, learn discipline and build confidence, said Rabbi Ari Silver, the fourth- and fifth-grade Judaic studies teacher. Fuerst also had experience teaching in a day school setting, so her classes seemed like a good fit for the school.
“It was something that we were not yet offering for the kids, especially for the girls,” Silver said. “We’re happy it’s working out so far.”
Philadelphia has so far proven to be what Fuerst hoped. It’s also, she said, a great place to be a young professional.
“The community here and the people here are just so wonderful and so receptive to what I’m doing that it’s just been great,” she said, “especially coming in new to be able to reach out to these people and work with these people and watch [my business] develop into something.”
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