When I was in college my friend showed up to the lecture with bruises on her face. I got worried and asked her; what’s wrong? She said; Nothing. I insisted to know. I said; who did that to you? She answered; my brother and father. I said; why you didn’t defend yourself? She said; There is nothing we can do Lina. Women are weak! I said; women are not weak, and I will do something about it. That was the birth of SheFighter.
My name is Lina Khalifeh, I am the Founder of SheFighter the first Self-Defense academy for women started in Jordan in 2012.
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start SheFighter?
My background is in Taekwondo. My parents enrolled me at a very young age in a Taekwondo school because I was being bullied by boys in the streets who thought girls belong inside. I never cared about what they think, but my stubbornness gave me bruises from these bullies throwing rocks on my face and chasing me threatening to kill me until I leave the streets and go back home.
I was a Fighter by nature. I was never afraid to get injured. I was never afraid to get rejected. In fact, I got rejected almost every day in my life since I was born. That is all because of my gender uniqueness and my confidence that confused many people.
I got my black belt 3 DAN in Taekwondo and won 20 Gold Medals. I thought my destiny is Taekwondo, but there was an energy stronger than me trying to push me away from pursuing my dreams of competing at the Olympics. It started as a feeling and because I never payed attention to it and ignored it for years, it ended up throwing me with a bad injury in my knee that I had to operate twice in order to walk properly. I was devastated and depressed. I didn’t know what to do now. I lost my strongest skill which is Fighting. I was lost for a while trying to understand why this happened to me. Why I always get the bad punches from life.
I never got answers. But I knew what I can do now is heal and get back in shape. Doctors were not optimistic about my condition, but I never listened to anybody trying to tell me what I can and can’t do. It’s my life and my story and it’s up to me how to write it, not everyone else.
In few years I healed and went back to light exercising to get my fitness level and strength back on track. That’s when I had the encounter with one of my friends who was suffering from domestic violence and I started a movement and an academy for women called “SheFighter”
What motivated you to start your own business?
I started at the basement of my parents of my house with less than 500$, buying some equipment’s for the training and using the space. I have only two clients/students at that time, but I was the only one behind the vision of SheFighter, no one else.
Then one day my father asked me to leave the basement and look somewhere else to continue the training and he told me that’s not even a Job for a lady. I didn’t care about what he said and decided to go talk to gym owners to rent the space at their gyms. It worked out really well for a while, before the gym owners kick me out fearing of competition.
I was left alone again with myself to try to find a solution and a place to train my clients/students. One day a client called me and said; Lina there is a cute space that was a Jujitsu Dojo and the guy is leaving the space, why don’t you go check it. I said; I really have no money to rent it out. She said; just go check it. I went to check the space, it was 100m2 and I fell in love with the space, so I convinced the owner of the space to pay only the first three months of the rent and then I’ll pay him after I get more clients, and he agreed. It was June 1st 2012 and that’s the start of the SheFighter first and only Self-Defense academy for women in the Middle East.
I started training women physically and psychologically how to be confident and not accept fear as a way of life. I started providing seminars about the dark side and the light side of life and how to deal with both equally.
How did you get your first three customers?
We have started with two clients but so far, we have trained more than 18 thousand women and certified more than 600 instructors globally.
I trained women from Syrian Refugees in Jordan camps to CEO’s and celebrities in London, UK and the United States.
Who is your target demographic?
Our target customers are kids, girls and women starting at 4 years old all the way to 75 years old. I had a grandmother with a grandchild training at the same time. We are empowering women in different age groups.
What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?
One of the funniest stories I had and Its sad at the same time is that I got a sue case by an angry husband whose wife punched him back when he tried to hit her. He blamed us for teaching her how to stand up for herself and he sued me and SheFighter.
I had to deal with this case legally and not let haters try to destroy what I am trying to build.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
I faced lot of challenges and still do, but there is always an answer to every problem, just give it sometime and try different ways to solve it and eventually It will be solved. Sometimes we are too blind to see the answers while they were always right there in front of us, but if you take one step back and get back to your clarity, you will see the answer clearly and say; HOW COME I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT?!!
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
Building a team for SheFighter was not an easy process. I thought the most skilled people would be a great fit for my work. It was not. I realized that the most skilled people will leave you for better opportunities. They are not loyal to you and your mission.
So, I decided to train my students to become teachers, even though they have no background or strength, but I decided to do that to empower them. It was a successful way of building SheFighter. I hired 100 female trainers in Jordan and had over 60 Trainers working globally for SheFighter, and the numbers kept going up.
What has driven the most sales?
I didn’t focus on building sales at the beginning. I was focused on bringing the community in to support building SheFighter together. Now the team in Jordan took charge of SheFighter as I left for Toronto, Canada to expand SheFighter in North America.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
Building a sustainable company needs lot of time and effort. You cannot stop building even during tough times like COVID- 19. We moved all the work online and now we certify trainers online from all over the world.
2020 I also Launched my book that talks more about my story “ SheFighter: From Trouble Maker to Global Change Maker”
I am on a mission to train 1 million trainers globally online to expand the movement and the philosophy of SheFighter.
We have a collaboration now with ESPN and Vital Voices in Washington dc to build the online work and reach more countries.