What it’s like to own a Martial Arts academy during Covid-19

2020 was set to be one of the biggest years for Australian Combat Sports Academy. I felt like we had finally settled into our bigger facility after moving over a year ago. The gym was flourishing with all classes near capacity. Our inhouse Novice MMA event “Bushido” was gaining momentum and the fight team was coming off its most successful year of ACSA competition history in 2019. We started off 2020 with some impressive wins on Muay Thai shows and had some big fights lined up for the rest of the year. Then COVID-19 happened….

In the beginning when the new of Covid-19 first broke, most people treated it like a joke and didn’t think it would affect us here in Australia. As the situation started to worsen we were forced to close our doors on the 23rd of March.

Dealing with the uncertainty.
The hardest part about owning a small business during COVID-19 was the uncertainty. The uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on and most importantly what to do. It’s something no one has ever faced before and there was no blue-print to navigate through it. When we first closed our doors I thought it would have only lasted for a month. It dragged on for 3 months. The main problem with uncertainty was that we weren’t able to plan for anything. We had no timeline or way out to even plan a strategy to get out of this. One of our basic human needs is certainty in our lives. It is no wonder anxiety levels hit an all-time high for many during these times.

Adapting and evolving.
Just like with any other business we had to adapt and evolve. It meant stepping up to the plate rather than burying your head and waiting for the storm to pass. I know that if we had just closed for the entirety of the pandemic then we wouldn’t be able to reopen when it was all over. We had to counter every change or restriction put in place. Physical classes were not permitted, so we went online. Small group sessions were permitted, so we went outdoors. Upon reopening we had capacity restrictions, so we had to cap classes. The second wave hit and now we’re back online. It hasn’t been easy constantly adapting but it’s something I knew we had to do to keep the members engaged over these difficult times. It takes 28 days to build or break a habit. If people broke the habit of not training for more than 28 days it’s highly likely they wouldn’t return.

The digital revolution.
When we first started the online classes I honestly had no idea how they would go or if people would even want to do them. It’s something I’d never run before and neither had anyone else! It took a few sessions to get a good format in place. The challenges faced with running online sessions were space and equipment limitations of participants, as well as being able to keep them engaged for the entire session.

Not everyone took to the online classes for various reasons but the reality was that there was no other alternative. If you really want to train then you will find a way and not make excuses. The online classes attracted the people I wanted to work with, serious martial artists who didn’t make excuses to skip training. I channelled all my energy into these sessions and received a lot of positive feedback. The best part about the online classes is that members were able to slow down the techniques to a pace where they could perfect and practise them flawlessly. In a  physical class format, sometimes I find that members would rush techniques without performing them correctly in order to get more of a sweat on, or to not a slow partner or class down. The online classes completely eliminated this. When we were permitted to reopen I noticed that the members who had participated in online classes had better technique than before they went into lockdown.

Lockdown 2.0
We were not even 2 weeks into the physical reopening when we were forced to close again because of the second wave. This was one of the biggest kicks in the teeth I’ve ever felt. Just as we thought we were out of the woods we were back to being closed. After all the hard work that went into reopening and the emotional rollercoaster over the past 3 months it was another new low. The second lockdown has definitely been worse than the first one. The novelty of lockdown one had worn off and people were frustrated and angry. People were living in fear and looking for someone to blame. We had tasted “freedom” for less than two weeks and didn’t want to go back into lockdown. It felt like everyone in Melbourne was forced to pay the price for a few who didn’t play by the rules.

This time around it wasn’t just about running online classes. It was about keeping the morale of members up and things positive. It was about creating some certainty in people’s lives in these uncertain times by running the classes every day. It’s giving people some sense of confidence and control back in their lives, to know that they can still log on at 6pm every evening and participate in an activity they enjoy; martial arts.

The positives from already being in lockdown previously are that I already had the systems in place to take the classes online. I already knew how to run the classes and what did and didn’t work. This time around I feel like the classes are even better and students are getting more effective training out of them.

Biggest lessons learnt.
One of the biggest lessons learnt from this pandemic is to never take anything for granted in life. Be grateful and thankful for what you have. It’s easy to take things for granted when life is going well (I certainly did!). Now I realise how lucky I am to be teaching what I am passionate about (martial arts).

I am lucky to be surrounded by good positive people, a loving family and a supportive girlfriend who has helped me get through this period. During tough times it’s VERY important to surround yourself with the right people. The pandemic has brought the best and worst out of humanity. The right people will be positive and uplift you. They will offer support and be there when you need them. Everyone will have an opinion in these times as to what to do and what not to do. You have to be very selective with who or what you choose to listen to and read.

Final note.
The pandemic doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. Rather than spending the next few months complaining and being negative have a look at what positives have come out of it. For me:

– It has been a journey of self-discovery
– I have discovered what and who is most important to me in my life
– It has brought the ACSA community even closer because we are all going through it together
– It has made me a better coach

It’s important to stay positive in these times. Everyday you can choose to get bombarded with fear mongering being spread on television and social media. Everything you see or read in the media is designed to be anxiety provoking. Rather than falling into the trap of the downward spiral of negative thoughts, start spending time on yourself and the things you like to do. Spend time with the people you love in life and make the most of it.

Local small businesses in Victoria have been hardest hit recently in the second lockdown. Most academy owners do it out of a passion for sharing martial arts. They don’t have the big budgets like big businesses and many won’t survive the second lockdown. Your coaches don’t have the same business they did 6 months ago so make sure you support your academy in these times to keep martial arts alive.

Published by


When one door closes, another opens. The journey never ends. This is the life I choose to live. This is my story.

Leave a Reply