When Jeff Waldrom became a student at the nearly 20 years ago, he didn't think he’d eventually run the place.
“I have been a part of its history since I was 16 years old,” said Waldrom, 35, who operates the school with his wife Pamela. Waldrom was a student 19 years ago, then became an instructor, and finally manager.
"A pure love for this school, Martial Arts and a school full of some of the greatest people and students I have ever met” inspired the Waldroms to take over the Academy three years ago, Jeff Waldrom said.
The couple made the business a family affair.
“It is part of a large family that includes the instructors and my wife and even my kids. The instructors are really dedicated, caring people who love this school and do anything required to make it a special place. My wife handles a lot of the office work, marketing, newsletters, website, clerical. My kids help clean the school and talk about how they will teach there when they grow up,” said Waldrom.
Since 1969, the Academy has offered mixed martial arts training, Kenpo Karate, Russian Systema, women's kickboxing and kid's classes to students of all ages.
“To me the most interesting thing is the student base,” said Waldrom. “We have 20 somethings working alongside 60 somethings from all walks of life. We have 2-year-old little ninjas and 12-year-old brown belts. It is super cool to see a real melting pot of people work so well together,” he said.
"Each students brings something unique to the school. We have had students go on to become professional touring hip hop dancers, a professional mixed martial arts woman fighter, police officers who have won top officer awards, kids standing up to bullies, trauma surgeons, moms getting back into shape.”
A Chicago firefighter by trade, Waldrom has a 3rd degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate and a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jui Jitsu. He also holds certifications in Mixed Martial Arts, Muay Thai, Boxing, Systema and Phillipino Martial Arts.
But the best lessons the school teaches are not about fighting at all, Waldrom said.
According to Waldrom, “our ultimate goal here at ASD is to help people achieve their goals through Martial Arts, whether it is physical fitness, self defense, self confidence or leadership skills.” He continued, “A good Martial Arts program will always be more than kicking and punching and we are always working on ways to make it much more than that.”
For that reason, the Academy of Self Defense supplements instruction with its POWerful Words initiative.
“We started POWerful Words as a tool to help parents to instill values into their kids lives. It has been a great way to tell your child, lets practice the word of the month, put it into action and start developing those positive traits we all like to possess,” said Waldrom, adding that the group reinforces words and concepts with “Mat Chats” at the end of children’s classes. “We send out an adult worksheet for the word of the month too. I think it is a good reflection for our students to think about what they would like to improve as an adult,” said Waldrom.
The academy is also launching a Black Belt Club for students in January focused on developing leadership skills. “It is a great enhancement to our students that will cover goal setting, public speaking, winning psychology, weapons training, overcoming fears, anti-bullying, junior instructor-ship and more,” he said.
Waldrom finds that visiting the Academy also sometimes helps people release a little tension. “We have seen people through all sorts of issues, we listen, we train,” said Waldrom. “It is so helpful to come in and work out frustrations, talk with classmates and instructors, get a fresh perspective and go home feeling like everything will be better.”
The Academy of Self Defense is committed to being an active member of the Evergreen Park community, Waldrom said. The Academy has run self-defense seminars for the public, scouts and other special groups.
“We have focused a lot in the first three years on getting the school in line with our vision. This year we are looking to do more community outreach through schools, teaching anti-bullying, stranger awareness,” said Waldrom. “We enjoy seeing the sense of empowerment a new student will have when leaving a seminar.”
Although the economy has affected business, Waldrom said “we do our best to make the community aware of what we have to offer. We work on the best customer service to keep our students thriving.”
With that emphasis on customer service, Waldrom said he and his team want to help people improve their quality of life. “Here our mission is to make this the greatest part of your day, give you a sense of accomplishment, take away the stress you are feeling from things beyond your control,” he said. “There is no other place like this I have seen where people strive to better themselves both mentally and physically in such a friendly and positive place.”
If you've taken a class at the Academy of Self Defense,