Muay Thai, Taekwondo Champion Valerie Sanchez lends her talents at the Ray


Amber Stoutenborough

Valerie Sanchez, 21, is a female mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter who is majoring in public relations and entrepreneurship at DePaul.

What do the titles student, teacher and national champion all have in common?

They all belong to a martial artist from Maywood, Valerie Sanchez.

Sanchez, 21, from Humboldt Park is a fighter majoring in public relations and entrepreneurship at DePaul.

“I really enjoyed judo, just because it’s really cool to be able to throw grown men,” Sanchez said.

She has also been crowned a national champion in taekwondo and Muay Thai.

“I just wanted to [get back into] martial arts because one of my friends, my childhood friends, she actually committed suicide and it was a really hard time for me and I wasn’t really doing much,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez found her peace in a Muay Thai kickboxing gym after 12 years of taekwondo

“I realized that me just sweating and  getting in there made me feel so much better… I realized I wanted to compete because I was just getting better every single day, and I just wanted to challenge myself,” Sanchez said. “It kind of makes me feel like a superhero sometimes because when you’re competing, you’re not really in your body. It’s kind of like an out of body experience.”

Sanchez enjoys sharing her passions with the world through teaching. She started teaching classes on Jan. 20 at the Ray Meyer Fitness Center.

The class is held every Friday at 2 p.m. for women, while the next hour is open to all DePaul students.

The classes are inspired by her taekwondo teacher, Master Han, who focused on teaching women basic self-defense techniques. Sanchez used to aid Han in these classes as a child.

“I wanted to bring that to DePaul just because I thought it’d be a great way to get to know other women, share my passion for martial arts, and kind of give back to the community because I have the ability to do so,” Sanchez said. “So, I feel pretty honored to even have the job here because it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.”

During a class, Sanchez began by pairing her 10 students into groups.

Latin music booms through the speakers and cultivates a casual and fun atmosphere.

Every Friday, the class focuses on ground kicking, elbow striking and technical break falls.

Sanchez’s class, made-up of all women during the first hour, starts with practice elbow strikes on hand-held cushions held by each woman’s assigned partner.

Then, in a line, they performed technical break falls onto a floor mat.

The students, dressed in sweats and athletic wear, performed disciplined drops away from an imagined assailant; they are careful to have their bottom hit the floor first and then prevent their head and wrists from smacking the padded ground.

Sanchez showed how to kick an assailant from the ground and then her students perform the motion on her; a foam pad being the only thing between her and a bruised femur.

Despite the simulated violence being practiced, the demeanor in the room was lax.

“Even though I might be an MMA fighter and they don’t know anything about MMA, we can relate on the fact that everyone starts at square one… It’s not about getting mad at them if they do it wrong. It’s just kind of guiding them and nurturing them. Kind of like children, you know?”

Everyone, including Sanchez, filled the room with laughs and encouragement.

“I come here every week, so I really like it. Makes me feel empowered,” said V Derrick, one of Sanchez’s students. “I love Valerie. She’s great. She’s like one of the reasons I keep coming is because she’s such a cool instructor.”

The class ended with a traditional martial arts bow after students demonstrated one thing they learned from today’s class.

After class, students exited the room excitedly talking amongst themselves.

“I feel like I could really work on what we just did right now. But I feel proud of myself for learning something new that could help me… I’m really excited to keep learning more,” said Adela Diaz, another one of Sanchez’s students.

Sanchez said she is excited to share her passion for martial arts.

“I think my favorite part is just knowing that I got to expose martial arts to someone that probably didn’t know too much about it before,” she said. “Hopefully, it exposes women to martial arts in a way that isn’t scary or intimidating but a safe welcoming space where we can all learn to be powerful.”