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Free Style Defensive Arts

Local Sifu uses life experience, faith as basis for martial arts school


People respond to adversity in different ways.

Joe Peel found God, a fact the 49-year-old martial arts instructor credits to his present day success.

"There was a point where all the bad was taken out of me and replaced with good," said Peel, from his west Boise studio. "That's when things started falling into place."

It was in the garage of his family's Boise home where a dream began to take shape. What started with a few neighbor kids asking for demonstrations has now grown into Free Style Defensive Arts, a Kung Fu-based mixed martial arts school that has expanded to about 150 students and counting. Sons Robert, 23, and Chase, 15, are heavily involved in the business and are in position to take over when Peel and wife Gina are ready to retire. A third son, Nicholas, is serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and is also involved with FSDA when he has the opportunity. Things are looking great for the Peel family.

But life wasn't always this promising. Backtrack to almost 40 years ago, when Peel discovered he had a talent for fighting.

"I was a much different person in my younger years," said Peel, who is a second-level black belt in Judo. He also holds a first-level belt in Tae Kwon Do. "My family consists of a group of rough and tumble men who liked drinking and fighting. I got my first pair of boxing gloves when I was 6. My dad and I went rounds in the living room and I gave him a bloody nose."

Peel became interested in the martial arts when he was 11, after attending a school-sponsored Judo demonstration in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

"That was about 1967," he said. "I also got hooked on wrestling. By the time I was 16, I was twisting my dad into pretzels. One day I came home and he told me he volunteered me to teach a community Judo/wrestling program through the school district. We were living in Reno, Nevada, by then. I've been teaching ever since."

All the while, Peel lived a life of drinking and fighting, which led to him being stabbed three times, bitten and even shot at. He continued living a free-wheeling existence until about 10 years ago, at the height of an overwhelming personal and spiritual battle.

"I can only tell you that I had fallen into some horrible traps in my life. It seemed to come to a head one day when I laid my 320-pound boss on his backside," conceded Peel, who worked at Micron at the time. "Of course, I lost my job. At that time, my wife and I were like two ships passing in the night. She is a dental assistant and works days. I was working nights. The time we did have together, we fought like cats and dogs. We were completely incompatible.

"Suddenly I found myself standing at a crossroads. Yeah, I always believed in God, but I was going to do my own thing. I felt I could take care of myself."

One night, Peel decided to do what up to that point he had been afraid and unwilling to do—ask for help.

"I went home one night and nobody was there," he recalled. "I got on my hands and knees and asked, 'God if you are real, if you are the God they say you are, I need an answer.' Well, to most people, God is this soft character, but he wasn't with me. He came up and put me through a sort of spiritual body slam. All I can say is that when he's got your number, there is no getting away.

"For six weeks, I went through this transformation. Something changed. After 17 years of marriage, my wife and I actually talked and broke down a lot of barriers."

Peel then spent time working security for entertainment events throughout Boise, before quitting in order to devote his efforts to completely developing Free Style Defensive Arts. The work and dedication invested over the last 10 years has paid off handsomely. Peel and his wife, their three sons, and his brother David are all instructors at FSDA, which continues to grow, adding new students every month.

The school has become popular among families and individuals looking for a way to transform areas of their lives. The Christian and family based philosophy offers that opportunity, underscoring the basic precepts of a sport that is rooted in self-discipline and respect for all humans.

Success has come, partly, in the form of a world championship title. In 2004, FSDA took its X-treme Martial Arts demo team to the International Martial Arts World Championships in Las Vegas, where they performed for over 100,000 athletes and spectators.

X-treme Martial Arts takes the ancient discipline of Karate to a new level. "The kicks are higher and everything is quicker," Peel explained. "There are moves being done in X-treme martial arts that have never been done before. Only the elite of the elite are involved."

The FSDA X-treme Martial Arts team, dubbed Team FX, consists of Joe, Robert and Chase Peel, and Boise martial arts prodigies Trevor Judy and Trevor Hattabaugh, both 9. The team has become successful in the new style and took the world title at the 2004 championships.

Robert Peel, a second-level black sash FSDA, is a head instructor who, at only 23, has produced a handful of world champions.

The school offers instruction in self defense, Tai Chi, Qin-na, Weapons, Wushu Weapons and XMA (X-treme Martial Arts), with locations in Boise, Meridian and Nampa.

For more information, please call Joe Peel, master instructor, at 284-4493 or 362-0597, or e-mail him at, or log on to