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Tucson self-defense instructor turns abuse into her driving force
Tucson instructor: ‘There’s a fire in me’

Tucson self-defense instructor turns abuse into her driving force

Cindy Ros-Anderson practices a hold using Tim Powell as a victim at Jenna Herder ‘s Krav Maga gym.

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 and practicing some choke holds, 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.

While the Tucson native has made a life of teaching others to protect themselves, Herder was unable to put that into practice when she found herself in an abusive relationship.

Herder 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.”

Girls can do Krav, too

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. 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.

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.

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.

“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 Tucson self-storage business became the building blocks for Herder’s new life.

Not long after she ended the relationship, Herder took over managing the family business, I-10 Self Storage, 3273 N. Freeway Road. She and her mom are both owners.

Around the same time, she started making and selling nail polish on Esty — a side hustle that grew out of her love of nail polish and her boredom with in-store offerings.

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 it to I-10 Self Storage.

In early 2017, Herder began converting several storage units into a 2,000-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.”

“Grateful to have peace”

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.

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.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett

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