Ronnie Wuest has one business goal:
To provide the best possible self-defense education to his students in order to build their confidence for life.
It’s that type of singular commitment that not only helped grow his business, Delaware Self Defense Academy, from 10 to almost 700 students, but also compelled one of his students, Wendy Rios, to nominate Wuest as a distinguished alumnus.
“Ronnie has made a huge impact in the community,” says Rios. “He devotes his life to making sure that everyone — young and old — are able to defend themselves. He teaches kids how to cope with bullying, holds women’s self-defense seminars and law enforcement seminars.”
Rios joined Wuest’s class after watching her elementary-age daughter blossom under his direction.
Wuest grew up in Smyrna, Delaware, where he wrestled for Smyrna High School. After graduation, he worked at a number of jobs that provided little direction for his future.
Then, in 1991, at 21 years old, Wuest’s life changed forever when he was mistaken for someone else and was brutally attacked and kidnapped. He and a friend were held hostage for eight hours, and Wuest was left with a bullet wound to the head and several stab wounds. He spent eight days in the hospital, but it took years for him to begin to heal mentally and emotionally.
“I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging with the wrong crowd,” says Wuest. “The attack showed me early on that making bad decisions make things worse and not all people are good. The positive is that it made me more aware of potential danger going forward. It took a few years, but undoubtedly that experience made me want to learn and teach self-defense.”
“One thing that sticks with me,” he adds, “is if I knew then what I know now, that situation would have gone quite differently. I may have still been attacked but I would have known the self-defense practices that would have lessened the severity.”
About three years after the horrific event, Wuest refocused and settled into a position with Caterpillar, Inc. as a shop manager at a dealership in Bear, Delaware.
“This was the first job I really wanted to stick with and I knew to move up the ladder I would need to earn a degree,” says Wuest.
Enter Wilmington University. In four years at WilmU, he earned an associate in behavioral science and bachelor’s degree in finance.
“I entered Wilmington on a BS finance track with no previous credits,” Wuest says. “I made sure all the electives I had to take matched those of an associate degree. I figured why not get two degrees for the price of one? I received both at the same time during graduation.
“I was determined to get done even though I was a little bit of a late-bloomer. I was able to go to class, work and still spend time with my young sons, Ronnie and Tony.”
He also began studying Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, which focuses beyond combat techniques to teach participants to live balanced, healthy lives based on the principles of efficiency, patience and control in all aspects of life.
Add these skills to his experience as a wrestler and a boxer, and it’s no surprise that Wuest went pro. Wuest was a successful international professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, earning an IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) World Champion title and two Pans Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion titles.
In 2009, at 39, he retired from Caterpillar and professional fighting to teach jiu-jitsu full time. “I knew I wanted to own a business where I could share the skills that changed my life,” says Wuest.
He opened Delaware Self Defense Academy, where he teaches jiu-jitsu, law enforcement training and youth combat sports. Today, there are locations in Middletown, Dover and Milford, Delaware, with 27 instructors.
“It’s been a pleasure to watch the business expand, but it’s more rewarding to see the students go from quiet and uncomfortable in the beginning to being self-assured and poised,” says Wuest. “Our goal is to teach skills that can be applied for a lifetime for every situation.”