Connecting During COVID: How-To Foster Interaction During Isolation, Part I

Palm Strike

Aleksandra Knepper is a 3rd degree black belt and sensei with over twenty years of martial arts experience.

The start of the new decade provided promising hope for what the '20s would and could be—excitement, growth, and accepting the challenge of making this year better than the last.

Then COVID-19 rocked the world as we know it.

As martial artists, instructors, and studio owners, our entire professional landscape has changed. How we attend or instruct classes, if at all, look vastly different than anything we've known before. If you can't teach classes as usual, what are your options? How do you not only retain your student base but keep your students engaged? What about advancing in rank, and how would exams be structured?

There are hundreds of questions to be asked. Quite frankly, it's overwhelming (like the world in which we live)—but with so many unknowns, I believe there's one constant: it's our job, as instructors and studio owners, to continue to provide a safe, positive and encouraging space for our students.

So, the real question is, how do we continue to provide that space for our students while not being present in the dojo?

My name is Aleksandra Knepper (call me 'Aleks'), and I'm a 3rd Degree Black Belt, Sensei, and student of 20 years at Kick Masters Karate, LLC (KMK) in Western Maryland, USA. I am grateful to have learned under the phenomenal instruction of Master Rick Rando: 7th Degree Black Belt, keynote empowerment speaker (Rando Speaks), and the studio president and owner of one of the largest martial arts schools in the world at a bolstering 8,000+ square feet.

When COVID-19 related closures began crippling businesses across the U.S., the state of Maryland was swift in acting on their decision to close all non-essential businesses— KMK being one of them. We rapidly needed to design a band-aid solution, not knowing how long this would last, that deeply invested in three key areas:

  • 1.Weekly virtual interaction
  • 2.Personalized student attention
  • 3.Dedicated family outreach

By closing in-person classes, we needed to find a way to deliver that safe space for our students and deliver on our mission of 'Kickstarting Confident Leaders.' While I'm sure there are many ways of combatting the stifling isolation of COVID-related closures, we found the best way for us was to continue to foster weekly virtual interaction. The interaction was two-fold: weekly online class videos and weekly check-ins with a designated black belt instructor.

Group Palm Strike

For our online class videos, we opted to utilize Patreon, a membership-based platform designed to release content to those who subscribe. We offered our 'Patrons' (read: students/families) 16 tiers of memberships they could choose from—all of which covering our usual class offerings.

Each tier, which you can view here, offered a variety of extras and bonus videos to incentivize signing up for higher levels, but a constant amongst all tiers remained weekly video classes. For our Little Dragons program (ages 3.5-6), we released one video class each week, standard to our in-person practices. Mainstream students (ages 7- adult) received their usual two classes per week, broken down by ranks: beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

Classes were pre-recorded and released every Monday, each including a warm-up, stretch, and material led by a variety of our seasoned instructors.

During our time being physically closed, we released over 400 videos to our Patrons. Even though we're now open, the feedback we received on the quality of our videos was resoundingly positive and we wanted to find a way to leverage these videos to continue to serve and better our student development and engagement. We have since created a new Patreon package of past videos (for purchase) to supplement our in-person classes.

While providing content to our students was critical to maintaining their knowledge base, content alone doesn't foster student engagement.

Check out Part II of this blog series to learn how to engage not only your students, but their families, too.
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