It is not often that world-class athletes open a sports-oriented business in our neighborhood, but that's what happened the first week of January when Alaa El-Idrissi and his wife Kristin opened the El-Idrissi Judo and Martial Arts Studio.
It is not often that world-class athletes open a sports-oriented business in our neighborhood, but that's what happened the first week of January when Alaa El-Idrissi, 33, a judo national champion in the U.S. as well as in his native Morocco, and his wife, Kristin, 36, a national champion in judo technique and collegiate wrestling All-American, opened the El-Idrissi Judo and Martial Arts Studio at 7153 Sprague St., across the street from the Sedgwick Train Station. The building was previously home to Philly Electric Wheels, which sold electric bikes for 10 years.
Alaa's accolades include 2008 Olympic qualifier, USA “Sambo” (a Russian martial art) and Judo World Team member, Moroccan wrestling and Sambo national champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt. He is a nationally certified strength and conditioning coach, wrestling coach at Friends Central High School and has attained the highest level certification possible in judo coaching. Alaa was also an African Champion and Arab Champion and in his prime was ranked 9th in the world.
Kristin, who grew up in Overbrook, began at a young age, learning from her father, Joe Condello, a 6th-degree black belt and East Coast judo legend. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she quit work in 2016 to pursue training and competing overseas, where she had the opportunity to work with World and Olympic medalists. Alaa, who came to the U.S. in 2011, met Kristin in Rhode Island at a world judo championship.
“Our studio is not just about making money,” said Alaa, who is ranked number one in his weight class in the U.S. “We want to grow the sport. Many people don't even know that judo is an Olympic sport. We want to teach and share. In so many other countries judo is a major sport, like football and baseball are here, but not in the U.S. What does a high school wrestler do after leaving school in this country, for example? They can transfer their passion to judo. It is a great follow-up sport.”
In 2016 the athletic couple, who have now been married for nine years, moved to Philadelphia. In 2016 they traveled to 13 countries, training and competing, visiting gyms and studios to see what they are doing in other countries with judo. They checked out an international school in Estonia where they start teaching judo to kids at age 5 and spent three weeks in France to see how they train children. They then opened a studio at 1231 Bainbridge St. in South Philadelphia, which they still own.
“I started with karate at age 3,” said Alaa. “I was a troublemaker. I'd pretend to be Jackie Chan. I started fighting with karate, but my goal was to be in the Olympics, and karate was not an Olympic sport, so I switched to judo, which was, at age 10. Coaches could not believe how fast I picked it up. I won regionals after one week of training, but then I went to nationals and got my butt kicked. I won youth nationals at age 12 and adult nationals at age 18. My brother won nationals at age 16. He is now a professional. I was one of the highest-paid athletes in Morocco.
“In Japan, Germany, France and Russia you can get a college degree in judo. It's the number 3 sport in Japan after baseball and Sumo wrestling. I compete every year in 12 or 13 events, but this year's world championships will be my last. I've been to Argentina, Peru, Russia, Japan, Korea and other countries because of judo. My favorite country was Japan. I like the culture. The people are very humble.”
The new studio offers Zoom and in-person classes. They have classes, which they promote on social media, as early as 6:45 a.m., which seem to attract many law enforcement personnel. The classes are not necessarily for competitive athletes but for overall health (they also have a weight room), stress reduction and self-protection.
“I know women who start out for self-protection and wind up loving it for the art of it,” said Kristin.
“We will also add classes here like wrestling, strength conditioning and jiu-jitsu for age 4 to 70 but mostly for kids. It's great training for soccer, football, hockey, fencing and even ballerinas.”
For more information, visit elidrissijudo.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com