Owning a Martial Arts Gym Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic: Dealing With Uncertainty

By Kaitlin Young

When I first sat down to write this, it was about the joys and struggles of opening our new gym. I had to start over. Maybe I’ll return to that piece later. 

We opened the Striking Institute on March 2nd, 2020. Our first week went great! We hadn’t even started advertising yet and were signing up a couple people each day just from word of mouth and being active on Instagram and Facebook. Our bag racks would be held up thanks to a virus that had ravaged China. Everyone in the factory had been home on quarantine. No problem. We could make do. We had one bag and rack lying around, and I’d trained for big fights with much less. Class sizes would be small at first so we could just hold pads for everyone. 

Then COVID-19 Came

The following week rolled around and the spread of this novel corona virus, COVID-19 had moved on to other countries, where not just cases but deaths were in the news. Italy in particular was having a very hard time. As the weekend neared, our small classes seemed even smaller. Other gyms in the area began announcing that they’d be closed for a couple weeks. We considered it as well.  

At that point, the CDC recommended groups greater than 50 should be avoided. Having only about 20 members, we decided to stay open. A few hours later, the CDC requested no groups greater than 10. We decided to close our doors but contemplated remaining open for private lessons or allowing two individuals a time slot to train. Then, later that evening, all gyms were asked to close. We’re now completely shut down exactly two weeks after we opened. 

Adapting to Uncharted Territory

We offered our members the ability to check out equipment. We’ll be staying connected through online options. Still, this is uncharted territory, for us and all the other gym owners we know. Most of us have stated that we’re closing our doors for two weeks, but realistically, it may be mandated that we remain closed longer than expected. We don’t know.  

It’s open endedand ambiguity is so difficult for we human beings. Sometimes we’d rather have a negative answer than no answer. With an answer we can mentally prepare for the coming hours, days, weeks and months. Right now, we just don’t have any answers.  

One thing I always advise for fighters who have just turned pro, or are getting close, is to gain international experience. This is only partly due to the level of competition. It is mostly due to the chaotic nature of the fight scene in other parts of the world. They’re forced to learn to deal with ambiguity. 

Putting them in a position where they’ll be able to control absolutely nothing outside of themselves will make them better, more prepared fighters. They may find out they are fighting three days before the event. They may never know the name of their opponent. The weight class could change at last minute. They may not have access to the food item they “just have to have” after weigh ins. Their cornermen and referees may not speak the same language as they do. They could be crapping their brains out from some bad street food the night before. And they just have to roll with it! 

There is no commission verifying that their opponent only has 15 fights as was claimed. They won’t have time to develop a mental picture of their opponent, that may or may not be consistent with the person they are about to fight. They’ll know very little, and it could change at any time. It forces them to only focus on what they can, in fact, control, and let the chips fall where they may. The gift we receive from unpredictable competition is summed up well by this quote, A bird sitting on a branch is not afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not in the branch but in her own wings.” 

Trust Your Wings

The fallout from this virus has the potential to be devastating to small businesses, particularly those requiring close contact, like a gym. Then what? We’ll figure it out. We have an incredible group of people that loves martial arts and includes some of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. We’re in great company, both in our gym and others throughout the communityMy trust isn’t in the branch.