At age 19, Derrek Hofrichter thought he knew how to defend himself. Then, while riding public transit in Washington, D.C., he realized just how wrong he was.
“Someone tried to grab my laptop bag … and I just froze,” he says. “And for me, that’s not acceptable.”
So he started practicing martial arts, and at the suggestion of his mother, found a class at his local Jewish Community Center that taught Krav Maga, a combat system developed for the Israel Defense Forces.
Fourteen years later, Hofrichter is the chief instructor at East Valley Krav Maga in Tempe, which he founded in 2011, and just earned the title of Senior Krav Maga Instructor at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, Israel.
Hofrichter first went to Wingate in 2013, training in the same facilities where Krav Maga founder Imi Lichtenfeld once taught.
“It’s one thing to only have trained in the U.S.,” Hofrichter says. “It’s another thing to go to the source to see where it started.”
Hofrichter became the first Arizona instructor to receive the Practical Instructor certification from Wingate. This year, he says, he was ready for a new challenge.
“There’s more knowledge, there’s more training, there’s more that I could bring back to my school, bring back to my members, and so I wanted to go after it,” he says.
On May 20, Hofrichter boarded a plane to Israel. Two days later, he was in the Wingate cafeteria, eating breakfast among Israel’s top athletes and Olympians, ready to start the first of six grueling 14-hour instruction days.
“It’s really in-depth and really intense,” he says. “It’s like Hogwarts for athletes.”
Hofrichter says mornings were spent in the classroom discussing teaching methodologies – the most effective ways to deliver information, how to lead a safe class, etc. Then, after lunch, Hofrichter and his seven classmates (four other Americans, two from the Netherlands and one Italian) changed into their workout clothes. They would then spend the next few hours doing intense physical activity.
Altogether, Hofrichter completed about 70 hours of training in the six-day program.
“There’s a lot coming at you at once, but you get this perspective that I didn’t have before,” he says.
After graduation, Hofrichter got to spend a few days touring the country –two days in the Old City of Jerusalem, a day floating in the Dead Sea and a couple of days relaxing and hanging out in Tel Aviv. He says his Krav Maga training has helped him form a deep connection to Israel.
“I feel like I have the beginning of some roots there,” he says. “This is the source, it’s kind of like if you’re a basketball fan, and you get to train with Michael Jordan.”
Hofrichter has only been back for a few weeks, but he is already busy implementing his new skills at his studio. He says the things he learned can be beneficial for all 10 instructors who work for him One of them even went with him to complete her Practical Instructor training this year.
“I think they’re feeling my passion for it,” he says. “[Wingate’s] emphasis is not to be the best Krav Maga fighter, it’s to be the best Krav Maga instructor.”
In the meantime, he is also spending much of the summer bringing his knowledge into the community. He led a session at Phoenix Comicon earlier this month. He will also be a summer speaker at Maricopa County Libraries, and has speeches and demonstrations planned with various companies. His studio will also hold a special seminar on July 2 featuring John Whitman, the first American to complete the Senior Krav Maga Instructor certification at Wingate (and Hofrichter’s mentor).
Dylan Abrams is a video editor and freelance writer based in Phoenix.