For Burlington resident Shannon Marshall-Hughes, Krav Maga is the key to unleashing her “inner lioness.” She opened Pink & Fierce, a women’s self-defense gym located in Burlington, to help other women do the same through martial arts.

At Pink & Fierce, Marshall-Hughes offers self defense, bootcamp and children’s classes. A typical class has about five participants, and the gym provides punching bags, pull-up bars, weights and other equipment to help women achieve their self-defense goals. According to Marshall-Hughes, she often teaches classes to groups of women from Elon University.

Though Marshall-Hughes has been teaching Krav Maga for 20 years, she didn’t always focus entirely on women’s self defense. When she initially moved to Burlington, Marshall-Hughes and her husband at the time ran a larger gym on Church Street with about 150 members and 14 instructors. After eight years of business, the gym closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the gym closed, Marshall-Hughes said she thought she was done teaching. But when the building owner of the downtown Burlington storefront reached out offering the space to her, she decided to reopen — this time, scaled down and dedicated to women.

“I’ve always wanted to do this but never had the opportunity because I had such a big studio and so many obligations, so then I never had the opportunity to really focus on the women,” Marshall-Hughes said.

Rekha Ravindra is friends with Marshall-Hughes and said she often attends kickboxing classes at Pink & Fierce.

“It’s nice to let out my stress from the day punching the bags,” Ravindra said. “It’s just a fun group activity. So I am getting the fitness in a group environment, and they also incorporate a lot of strength training and muscle building.”

Marshall-Hughes learned the art after her brother suggested it while living in Los Angeles. Once she started, she said, there was no turning back.

“I walked in, and I never left,” Marshall-Hughes said. “It was a long, grueling process, but it is something that I’m so proud of.”

Though she doesn’t know where her martial arts journey will go, Marshall-Hughes said she hopes to continue empowering women.

“I think it’s really important for women to know how to defend ourselves, and just embrace your pink and your fierceness,” Marshall-Hughes said. “We’re never taught how to defend ourselves, we’re never taught how to use our voice, we’re never taught basic safety rules. Some things we just don’t know how to do, and we always think that we can’t defend ourselves, but we can.”