Many martial arts schools are owned and operated by people who love what they do and are committed to the success of their students and business.
For many school owners, the challenge of the restrictions to training stemming from the lockdown and the lingering effects of the pandemic have been to find alternative ways to provide quality instruction in a safe environment. School owners and instructors have had to be more creative, and learn to pivot and diversify as they adapt to the challenges of the constantly shifting sands of Covid-19 protocols.
The Lone Sensei
In Atlanta, the legendary champion Richard Trammell (above) teaches Shidokan Karate, Judo and offers personal training. Like many martial art teachers, the lockdown in 2020 made him realize that he needed to have another plan if he was going to survive. One look at his highlight reel on YouTube, and the championship belts encased on a wall in his school, and it is obvious he is not one to quit. Richard spoke to me about his experience over the past year and what it took for him to still be standing in 2021.
As a business that is based on attending a class and getting personal instruction, what do you do when it isn't possible? You have to learn about the alternatives, and you learn them fast. As an independent business owner, Trammell doesn't have a staff to delegate to or a team of people to research new technology for him. It's just him. Alone.
Trammell describes the change and having to learn new technology, "I had a friend in Florida that trained over Zoom, so I reached out to him to find out how he did it." Although dubious about the results at first, Trammell has since found that it has enabled him to stay connected with his students that previously might have missed classes due to travel or other obligations. "There is nothing better than in-person training, but through technology, you are able to stay connected when you can't." Online instruction is now a regular part of his teaching program and has enabled him to offer hybrid classes as well, where students are physically present and some students are online. Using a phone, computer, and the ability to seamlessly improvise, Trammell has created new opportunities for his students and his business.
The Duo of Attrition and Tuition
The cold hard facts of any business are that you need paying customers to survive. Student retention is critical to any school, but during the lockdown and aftermath of Covid-19, it is essential. In addition to opportunities to retain students through technology, adapting to new payment methods was and still is paramount. "Everyway that you can pay for something, I got that," Trammell said as he flashed his phone and swiped through a couple of screens showing icons for Venmo, Square, Cash App, and Zelle. Some of his students still pay with cash and check as well. "If that is how they do it, I'll get it and learn it." So why does that matter? The willingness to learn and adapt, and put aside what is comfortable for what is necessary, is as true an expression of martial arts as applied to life as throwing a punch or a kick.
Richard Trammell is representative of many of the martial arts school owners in America that were faced with unprecedented challenges due to the circumstances of the pandemic. They fought to keep their schools alive with the same resourcefulness they impart to their students to overcome an unrelenting and formidable opponent. As we move toward a return to a world that more closely resembles the one before Covid-19, hopefully, we will take all the lessons learned with us and not just survive, but thrive in the times to come.