Even though Jenna Herder can kick some butt, she has a heart — and home — that glitters.
Herder, a 36-year-old Krav Maga instructor and business owner, spends her evenings teaching adults how to defend themselves against attackers. This is serious stuff. Krav Maga is a self-defense system and form of combat originally designed for the Israeli military.
After throwing some elbows, practicing some choke holds and making her knees count, Herder retires to her private space that she shares with five chihuahua-mixes, dangly chandeliers and fairy lights. If she has some spare time, she might fill an order for her homemade nail polish business, Lacquistry.
This is the life she has made for herself. And Herder is grateful.
Girls can do Krav, too
Herder, a Tucson native, started learning Krav Maga as a 24-year-old looking for a practical form of self defense. With its emphasis on survival, not spirituality, Krav Maga gave her what she wanted.
"It's my longest-term relationship," she says with a laugh. "I've done other stuff, and I always get bored and move on, but every day, there's a fire in me."
In high school, she remembers wrestling with guy friends and boyfriends and their remarks about her strength.
"But I never thought to do anything with it because I'm a girl, and girls dance," she says.
So that's what Herder did — ballet, belly dance, flamenco, ballroom dance. And track in high school.
"But when you discover what you're capable of with this body that you're given ... and to be shown that I could be strong and actually be effective at deterring someone from attacking me ... and that I have strength physically and inside, that changes everything," she says.
A few years in, Herder started teaching. Flattered at first, she found the shift from student to instructor robbed her of this outlet she had discovered. Burnout ensued, so she took a break.
But the real fight was still to come.
When shame is your attacker
Herder's break from Krav Maga coincided with the escalation of an abusive relationship.
Her then-boyfriend disliked that she trained with other men — sometimes practicing physical technique with them. But, she rationalized, he was the love of her life. She stayed with him for about four years.
Herder says the abuse started with psychological and emotional manipulation and progressed physically. Although she knew she could defend herself, she didn't. That's where the psychological abuse comes in, she says.
But she continued teaching other people to protect themselves against the violence that characterized her personal life.
"I was basically a hypocrite and living a lie, and I was very ashamed of it," she says. "Everyone is like, 'You're such a badass; you're so strong.' And I would be so ashamed inside because I was choosing to allow it to happen to myself."
The shame and burnout forced her out of something that had become a source of both physical and mental health.
The breaking point came when her boyfriend called her mother, furious.
"My mom is my most precious relationship," she says. "And for him to try and destroy that, that was my final straw. That was it. I was done."
Her mother, JoAnn Herder, knew nothing about her daughter's living nightmare until it fell apart, but in the next six years, the mother-daughter duo would tackle Herder's shame together.
Building a new life
As it turned out, the storage containers at the family's self-storage business off of Interstate 10 became the building blocks for Herder's new life.
Around the same time, she started making and selling nail polish on Etsy — a side hustle that grew out of her love of nail polish and her boredom with in-store offerings. She started experimenting with nail polish formulas in a spare storage unit.
She estimates that in the last six years she has made at least 100 colors. She's partial to anything that sparkles.
Her return to Krav Maga followed, about a year after the relationship ended. That's where she worked out the hurt and anger and feelings of weakness and insignificance.
"Getting back to my roots of Krav Maga reinforced my internal strength by showing me my physical strength," she says. "I had forgotten that I could be a strong person ... because I was weak and powerless and victimized. I was proving to myself that that was over and that chapter was closed."
Temporarily running an existing Krav Maga studio with a partner set Herder up to pursue her own business when that studio closed.
With students wondering if she would move the studio elsewhere, her mom encouraged her to bring the studio to I-10 Self Storage.
In early 2017, Herder began converting several storage units into a 2000-square-foot studio, removing partitions, taking out bolts and putting up drywall. She installed a climbing wall and punching bags and mats on the floor. She did almost all of the work herself.
The conversion took about six months of work on weekends and evenings.
When she opened Combat Krav Maga: Unit 545 a few months ago, her students followed.
"Even with the seriousness of what she's teaching, she still manages to make people feel relaxed," says Larry Cassen, 48, a student who followed Herder to her new studio. "She manages to bring the right kind of humor to make people feel welcome and make them want to come back again."
Happiness is practicing gratitude
Most nights of the week, you'll find Herder teaching students in her studio.
On Fridays, she teaches a self defense class for women.
"I've been the victim," she says. "I haven't always been the tough girl. You never know what someone struggles with in their private life or what they're really going through."
Her own experiences help her relate with her students.
"For a woman who wants to learn self defense, her being a woman opens it up for other women who might not feel as comfortable," says Kelly Amsler, 30. Amsler also followed Herder to the new studio and tries to make it to class three times a week.
Herder has become self reliant. She is still wary of dating and marriage. Her parents, a few girlfriends, her pups and a cat keep her company.
"I'm just grateful to have peace in my life," she says. "I'm just grateful to be alive."
Notes of encouragement from her mom are scattered around her house, reminding her of all that she has accomplished — she's certified by the United States Krav Maga Association and has a second-degree black belt.
"I have seen her go from somewhat shy to a very powerful woman..." JoAnn Herder says. "She'll just run on top of the roof to fix a leak. She'll run and clean out a unit. She'll take care of customers with the utmost concern ... She can handle anything."
Herder has come into her own, both fighter and feminine. In her bedroom, a diploma from the Krav Maga Association of America, Inc. hangs next to a framed portrait of Marilyn Monroe.
"For someone who is very tough and hardworking to also make nail polish and have little dogs and like sparkly things and wear pink — she's relatable," Amsler says.
For Herder, gratitude is a daily practice with roots in an anxiety and depression diagnosis when she was a teenager. She practices thankfulness everyday.
"I don't do anything just to get through it," she says. "Everything I do, even if it's yard work or cleaning the customer bathroom or renting a unit or teaching a class, everything is done with a driving passion and joy for what I do. I enjoy everything I do because I'm grateful for everything I have."