Small but mighty
Faiferlick’s martial arts journey continues in FD
Editor’s note: This feature first ran in a special publication called Hometown Pride, published June 30, featuring people and organizations from Fort Dodge and the surrounding area who are giving back to their communities.
Just six months into his taekwondo training, Justin Fairferlick walked into a real-life self defense situation where he dodged a haymaker thrown by a man twice his size.
Faiferlick, of Fort Dodge, was an introverted 15-year-old in 1984. He wore dark hair and weighed about 100 pounds — a tenacious high school wrestler.
His after-school job was waiting tables at Perkins on the east side of Fort Dodge — in a different location than it is today.
“I was a waiter earning tips and we closed at that time at 2 a.m.,” Faiferlick recalled.
As Faiferlick walked outside after his shift, a 250-pound man, who had obviously been drinking, confronted Faiferlick on the sidewalk and asked him for his money.
“I said, ‘No,’ and he took a big old swing at me,” Faiferlick said.
Doing as he had practiced thousands of times in class, Faiferlick sidestepped the punch and threw one of his own — a compact right hand to the man’s ribs.
“I hit him hard enough and he went down,” Faiferlick said.
Out of instinct, Faiferlick said he still threw two more punches into the air, but the man had already hit the ground. Faiferlick then left on his moped and went home, he said.
“I had did that one step thousands of times that I didn’t have to think about it,” said Faiferlick, who owns Faiferlick Martial Arts and Fitness, 567 S. 25th St.
“That’s what we want our students to be,” he said, referring to learning a technique and not having to think about using it in a real-life scenario.
One steps are counter attacks taught in taekwondo.
Faiferlick was a blue belt then. Today, he holds a sixth-degree black belt.
As a teenager growing up in Fort Dodge, Faiferlick dealt with bullying in part because of his size.
The YMCA was a place he would often visit for recreation.
One day, he walked by Hemann Martial Arts, which was housed at the YMCA. That became a turning point in his life.
“I was just walking by the multi-purpose room and I saw these people doing the blocks and kicks and thought that was pretty cool,” he said. “I walked right in and asked if I could join, and they said, ‘Yes.'”
“It simply caught my eye,” he added. “I had a smaller frame for my age and had some scuffles and knew I wanted to be able to defend myself when needed.”
As it turned out, Faiferlick had the drive, skills and determination to succeed in the martial arts.
Martial arts and military would intersect for Faiferlick, who enlisted in active duty U.S. Air Force right after his graduation from St. Edmond Catholic School in 1987.
“I found the military was a good fit for me,” he said. “I liked organization, discipline, structure and the value of serving our country, both in deployments around the world and here in the states.”
In the realm of taekwondo, Faiferlick was selected to compete in the first three international U.S. Opens and trained at the Olympic Training Center in the 1990s.
“At the time you had to be invited by a letter,” Faiferlick said.
It remains one of many proud accomplishments for him. At his gym, a 6-foot-tall trophy that he earned at a taekwondo tournament in 1993 can be found in the corner. Other medals and trophies surround it.
But taekwondo has always been about more than the hardware.
It has led to many lifelong friendships. It has also meant family.
“Martial arts have helped me as a person by making me a better citizen,” Faiferlick said. “It has made me a better man, spouse, father, instructor and friend. It gave me direction when I was struggling to find what I wanted to do in life.
“Martial arts has been an environment for learning the importance of perseverance and excellence. I refer to martial arts as a way of life. It has permeated my life and creates solid relationships and a sense of justice and respect. I have more empathy and feel a deeper connection with those I interact with on a personal level. All of my best friends are from the martial arts and gym.”
And Faiferlick met his wife, Deann, through martial arts. They met in high school. She was a Dodger, while Faiferlick was a Gael. Deann would sit on the sidelines for many years watching her husband perform.
“She watched me train, teach and compete for about 16 years,” Faiferlick said.
Eventually, Deann participated herself and has accomplished much in her own right. She is an instructor and third-degree black belt in taekwondo. She’s also working toward her Gracie Jiu Jitsu combatives belt.
“She figured if she wanted to spend more time with me, the easiest way was to take the martial arts classes with me,” Faiferlick said. “She was there anyway. Without the love and support of my wife, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Faiferlick’s daughter, Kelsey, got involved in taekwondo in 1997, a few years before her mother. She holds a third-degree black belt. Faiferlick’s son, Michael, started around the same time as Deann. He also holds a third-degree black belt.
“The entire family has taken an incredible amount of ownership in the success of our martial arts gym and are continually finding ways to make us even better,” Faiferlick said.
In 2001, Faiferlick was hired full-time as an officer by the Iowa Air National Guard.
Faiferlick holds the rank of lieutenant colonel, which is the highest rank he can earn in Fort Dodge at the 133rd Test Squadron.
He has served as head coach for the entire U.S. Air Force men’s and women’s taekwondo teams.
On May 31, Faiferlick announced his retirement from the Air National Guard after 30 years of military service.
“Martial arts has outlasted my military career,” he said.