Discipline, drive, dedication keep martial artist at the top

After moving often as a child growing up in a military family, Kelley Weatherford today has found two homes Reno and the martial arts community.

Weatherford spent much of her time growing up around Southern California, and came to Reno in 1996, beginning a sojourn that's by far the longest she's lived in any city.

She attended the University of Nevada, Reno, and began looking for something to fill the hole left by the end of her gymnastics career after 12 years in the sport.

She had a hard time finding a new outlet for her athletic abilities until she took a martial arts class.

"I knew right away this was it. The meaning of it was physical when I started, but then you meet the people, and you come together. It's amazing," Weatherford says.

Fourteen years later, Weatherford is still as passionate about martial arts as she was that first day. She's now the co-owner and lead instructor of Freestyle Martial Arts Academy, plus holds a fourth degree black belt, and a purple belt in Brazilian ju jitsu.

Her husband, Tres (pronounced "Trace"), has been practicing martial arts for more than 30 years, and between the two of them, they've created a school offers what Weatherford calls an evolving style of martial arts, which encompasses disciplines such as tae kwon do, muay Thai boxing and her favorite, Brazilian ju jitsu.

Brazilian ju jitsu, a male-dominated sport, often looks intimidating for women due its wrestling-like grappling. The sport teaches defensive maneuvers from the floor, rather than a standing position, which Weatherford believes makes it a great fit for women. The sport is one of technique and leverage, not strength, which evens the advantage men often have over women.

"As far as self-defense is concerned, it's one of the best martial arts out there," Weatherford says. "And it's definitely changing. We're seeing a lot more women become interested, and it helps we have women teaching it."

Teaching has been a consistent theme for Weatherford.

She taught gymnastics at martial arts schools when she arrived in Reno, and she studied to be an athletic trainer before finding her calling in the fitness world. Now she reaches out to local school kids, and hoping to encourage them to learn to love fitness, too.

"So many schools have cut P.E. and this gives the kids a fun workout," Weatherford says. "People sometimes think martial arts is just an aggressive, physical sport, but it's so much more. I wanted to give back, and felt it was important to educate the community about nonviolent communication skills."

The benefits of martial arts for children include the teaching of discipline, and Weatherford says many life skills are involved as well.

"It's about teaching respect, and while you can learn that in other sports, martial arts are geared toward life rules, keeping your eyes, mind and body focused. The things we teach reiterate that you are a martial artist, even outside of class. It's respect, confidence and self-esteem," she says.

That message attracts parents looking for positive outlets for their children, but it also brings the parents back to class themselves.

Weatherford says one family that's been with Freestyle Martial Arts Academy six years. The son got his black belt, the daughter is getting hers, and the mother just signed up for classes herself. The school has other students who've been with it for 11 years.

"All businesses have had a dip lately, but we've kept a positive attitude for our students. We haven't had to let anyone go, and we're always positive. When you do that it creates an energy people want to be a part of," she says.

If there's one thing Weatherford has, it's energy. When she's not motivating the staff and students at Freestyle, or helping at local schools, she's training and competing in ju jitsu competitions. While she defines herself as a teacher, she'd also like to develop a wider reputation in competitive martial arts and ju jitsu.

Martial arts are not just her job; they are her family, her friends, her goals and her fun. So what does this petite dynamo do when she has the occasional day where she doesn't feel like working out?

"I just figure it's God telling me to take a day off," she says with a laugh. "I listen to my body. But really, my workouts are so fun, it doesn't happen that often.

"This is what we love," she says of herself and her employees, all of whom she counts as friends. 'It's what we do for fun."

Combining business, hobby and passion, Weatherford is certainly living her life in the "no regrets" manner she teaches her students. And to any aspiring martial artists out there who are still on the fence, she offers a bit of advice, dispensed with her always-present smile: "The worst thing that can happen is you don't like it, and you stop. But you may just be passing by something that could be absolutely wonderful."

Disciplined teacher

Who: Kelley Weatherford, co-owner and lead instructor of Freestyle Martial Arts Academy

Family: Husband, Tres

Favorite quote: "Don't be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try."


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