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5 Experts Are Here to Help A Virtual Roundtable on Coping With COVID

MASuccess brainstormed with five prominent martial arts instructors to obtain their best advice for their peers during this global pandemic. Here is what they offered.


Immediately Start Teaching Your Art Online

Sometimes it’s best to begin with the end in mind. Do you want to help your students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you want to support your local schools, businesses and communities? Do you want to provide leadership during this a time of uncertainty? I’m guessing that you will answer yes to all these questions.

Now more than ever, people need to feel connected, and many of them need you to continue to serve as their instructor and their leader. Likewise, communities need leaders to provide certainty and security. Again, they need you to continue to be a martial arts leader to provide stability and structure. To do that, you’ll need to rely on technology, perhaps to a degree you never have. The good news is, it’s not that difficult.

First, however, we must address the elephant in the room: If you’re focused on money right now, your head is in the wrong place. It’s not about money — at least, not in the short term. Any action you take needs to come from the heart. You may be struggling to make ends meet, but people can smell a rat who’s looking to make a buck during a time of crisis.

Forge ahead in the martial arts industry because you care, because you want to help. At the same time, remember that what you do will serve as marketing in that it will connect with new students and generate referrals that might turn into new students. Much more important, however, is the goodwill you’ll generate. As it spreads, people will remember that you were there for them and for their community, and that will build your reputation more than any marketing promotion ever could.


Now for the nuts and bolts: You’ll want to use Zoom to run your online classes and special events. It will enable you to interact with your students whether you’re charging for lessons or not. What’s more, it will allow you to see them while they watch you.

The free version of Zoom offers 40-minute sessions for up to 100 participants. Leveling up, $14.99 a month will net you sessions that last as long as 24 hours for up to 100 participants. These virtual meetings will cover most of your day-to-day needs — except if you need to hold a graduation ceremony, a seminar or a community event that’s likely to attract more than 100 participants.

As a martial arts instructor, you’ll find Zoom to be full-featured. You can highlight a particular student and allow his or her camera to temporarily take over the screen, then easily switch back to your feed. You can bring in guest instructors from remote locations. You can let parents who are, for example, doctors, nutritionists or yoga experts provide tidbits of instruction or words of wisdom in the middle of a class.

And yes, you can organize Zoom birthday parties. I just had one, and it was amazing! Friends from around the world joined in, making it a party the likes of which I’d never experienced.

Other Zoom features include the ability to auto-record your classes and store them in the cloud or on your computer so they’re available to students who miss live class. If you don’t think you’re tech savvy enough to manage such things, ask a teenage student for help. Be sure to give the person a cool school-logo’d piece of apparel or gear and acknowledge the assistance publicly.


Another essential is to use social media to convey to the public free information, complimentary training and other kinds of support via prerecorded videos and live events. Unlike Zoom, using social media in this manner is a one-way street. Your audience can see you, but you cannot see them.

On the plus side, however, such outreaches on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are live. That increases the fun factor. You can use live events to deliver your message and the associated training, and you can save the videos and repost them later for the benefit of your school and community.

Caution: As a school owner, you shouldn’t teach your classes only on social media because it goes out to everybody for free. An instructor should maintain separation between what he or she delivers to paying students (even if their membership fees are temporarily frozen) versus non-students. I recommend using social media as a tool for sharing a positive message, a training tip, a combination, a stretching technique, an observation on mindset or even a free workshop that supports the community. This can be done daily, weekly or monthly — in addition to your regular Zoom classes.


When you host a virtual live event, know that people are much more forgiving. It doesn’t matter if you stumble over your words, forget what to say or even make a mistake. In fact, it’s almost expected. All this means there’s much less pressure to perform, which matters to people who are uncomfortable on camera.

If you’re new to being on camera and doing virtual classes, here are some tips based on my experiences:

  • Demonstrate: We all lose the attention of some students when we’re teaching in person. It’s even easier for them to get distracted while watching you on screen. So start with a demonstration that gives them a clear visual of what to they will be doing for each segment of your class. A strong voice is a confident voice. Project that voice with energy.
  • Explain: Use words to describe the technique clearly, then show them as you explain it again.
  • Practice: Do the technique along with your students. Keep in mind that if they see you stop moving, they will stop. So challenge them by continuing to move throughout the time you want them to practice. This matters because they won’t have other students to watch. All they’ll have is you on their screen, so don’t get caught just standing there.
  • Confirm the result: To do this, “spotlight” certain students by selecting them to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Don’t choose only the best technician; also highlight the ones who show the best attitude, energy, effort and improvement. This allows them to motivate each other without excluding those who are struggling and not as advanced.
  • Hide your weakness, show your strength: The media bombard us with uncertainty and negativity throughout the day. Don’t add to that. Instead, deliver powerful messages of strength, support, encouragement and positivity during all your online sessions.


Quick review: Use Zoom to put your school online and use social media to show support for your community. Run special Zoom classes and live events, parties and movie nights. Be the leader your students need right now. Show your support and spread positivity. If you focus on what’s really important now, it will come back to you tenfold in the future. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it.

— Mike Chat

Seven-time world forms and weapons champion

Founder of the XMA


(PD, can you place a box around this paragraph?)

“I would like to invite all martial arts schools to partner with me for my daily Superhero Training Series, which goes out live every weekday at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time. Just email me at ____, and I’ll create a special invite video that tells your students that you’ve partnered with the Blue Power Ranger to provide daily Superhero Training as part of your Black Belt Club/Leadership Program for free.”

— Mike Chat


Ensure Your Online Success With the Three A’s

In my 42 years of owning and operating a martial arts school, I’ve seen lots of things. I’ve seen crazes come and go, overcome hard times and relished good times. I thought I’d seen everything, but I never saw this coming. COVID-19 has changed the world for everyone. It’s affected our industry in a profound way.

Over the past two months, I’ve spent several hours every day talking to school owners around the world. It’s been amazing to see the ways they’re adjusting to the situation. From my interactions, it’s become clear that some school owners will come through this crisis with flying colors, while others might not make it to the end of the year — unless they start doing things differently now.

Here, I’ll share what I believe are the keys to making it through this crisis with your school still functioning and perhaps even thriving. Doing that centers on the three A’s.


Attitude: It’s essential to remember that we can’t always control what’s going on around us. COVID-19 has proved that. What we can control is what we choose to focus on and what actions we take — which, in turn, will influence the outcome.

As martial arts instructors, we can talk for days to our students about the importance of having the right attitude. The real question is, Do we have the right attitude for the situation we’re facing? This is our chance to practice what we preach. Below, I’ll share some things that I’ve found helpful in trying to stay positive and focused. It begins with a strong morning routine that involves reading or listening to an inspirational show. I follow that with some exercise and some quiet contemplation. I heed the recommendations to avoid using electronics until I’ve had a chance to start my day with these positive rituals.

Next, I try to state any current challenge I’m facing in the form of a question that assumes there’s an answer. The question I ask myself every day is, “How can I manage this crisis in a way that brings maximum benefit to my community, my business and my family?” By thinking of the situation this way, it naturally directs my mind to become more solution-oriented.

Finally, I’m careful of where I get information. If I watch hours of news every day and read negative threads on Facebook, I won’t be at my best, and chances are I won’t make the wisest decisions. Remember that fear is contagious. If you surround yourself with fearful people, there’s a good chance some of it will rub off on you.

Do you know what else is contagious? Being calm and courageous. That’s what the world needs from us right now.


Adaptability and Action: Three months ago, who would’ve thought we would be teaching martial arts classes on Zoom? Certainly not me. It’s ironic that we’ve been trying to get our TV platform up and running for years, but once the crisis hit, we had it running in three days. We’ve been trying to schedule one-on-one progress checks with all our students for the past several months, but after the onset of COVID, we were able to get to virtually all 3,000 of them in two weeks.

My team has worked harder than ever, and I’m proud of them. But it’s not just us. I’m amazed by the commitment so many of our leaders have to keep our industry intact. It’s been remarkable. Here are some of the best practices we’re seeing as we transition to teaching online.

  • We do biweekly private lessons with every student on Facebook or Zoom. The lessons are very short, in some cases just 10 minutes, but that allows us to have a lot of them. I’ve always believed that time doesn’t equate to value and that it’s better to have shorter lessons with more people than longer lessons with fewer people. One of the most important things we can do right now is maintain our emotional connection with our students.
  • We have a full schedule of group Zoom classes for various ages and belt ranks. We teach almost as many classes online as we used to teach in person; the difference is that each is only a half hour long. We use at least two instructors in each class so we can make sure to give feedback to everyone. We try to “spotlight” everyone, as well.
  • We make our online curriculum available 24/7. Our students have access to everything they need through our password-protected site. There’s also a place on the site where they can log their attendance, which allows us to keep track of the number of classes they attend.
  • Belt and stripe testing is business as usual. We use private lessons and small group classes to do our tests and have found that it works surprisingly well. In some respects, it works better than it used to. That’s not just in our schools; I’ve heard the same from people all over the country. Example: We hand-deliver belts to each student, dropping them at the front door. It’s time-consuming but worth it.
  • We actively communicate with inactive students. We never assume that they’re reading the mass emails we send out, so we text and call them every week. It’s amazing how many we’ve been able to save.

None of us wanted this crisis, but we have it and have to deal with it. I honestly believe that a lot of good will come from it. I’ve already seen this happen. Perhaps you have, as well. Who knows what our business is going to look like in a year? What I do know is that with the right attitude, adaptability and action, it’s going to look a lot better than it would otherwise.

— Dave Kovar


Fine-Tune Your Delivery for Online Classes

I love my martial art — Hawaiian kempo — and even though I have a good-size school with a good number of students, the fact that I live in a small town has made me realize that I can’t reach all the people I would like to reach. Years ago, I spent a lot of time wrestling with the idea of teaching my system online and even promoting people in my belt system. I was told by many of my martial artists that if I tried to spread my system online and do promotions, I would be selling out. But I decided to do it anyway.

I started slowly. I created the Pit Online Dojo but didn’t really push it. To be honest, I had a hard time figuring out all the different marketing techniques that are possible on the internet. I quickly discovered that although my school has always been pretty visible — it’s located on the main street in my town — and has a very good reputation, trying to reach around the world was a lot different than operating within a 5-mile radius.

Fast-forward two and a half years: Along comes the coronavirus lockdown and quarantine. All of a sudden, every single martial arts school in the country is online, and interactive Zoom lessons are now the norm. The people who told me I was selling out by taking my art online are all online. They’re not just teaching interactive classes; they’re also conducting belt tests and organizing promotions online. Instead of saying, “I told you so,” I’d rather tell you how you can move forward.


Teaching martial arts online can be done, and it can be done efficiently, effectively and without selling out. You can do it without compromising any of your traditional belt requirements or martial arts values. It just has to be done right. Now, let’s talk about what that entails.

We always hear about how important systems are in a martial arts school, and I’m the first to admit that they are very important. I also have heard many times that a system-driven school is much better than a personality-driven school. I’ve always questioned that logic, even while admitting that systems are very important. However, I also firmly believe that the personality driving the school is every bit as important as the system driving the school, and that’s especially true when it comes to online training.

Yes, having a good camera and microphone is essential. Likewise, having a great background and sufficient space to maneuver is important. However, the crucial thing to have is an instructor who is not only proficient at the skills being taught but also has the personality to keep students engaged. The personality of the instructor always has been important in the success of a martial arts school, but with the dynamics of teaching online, a strong personality is more important than ever, and that requires you to turn up your dynamic and dramatic skills.


Let me explain what I mean by “dynamic” and “dramatic.” As instructors, we frequently have issues keeping our students’ attention — and that’s when we’re a couple of feet in front of them! Now, we’re miles away, trying to get them to focus on a computer screen or a cellphone. Making matters worse, they might have Facebook and Instagram open at the same time. Hence the need to be dynamic and dramatic.

I’ll start with dynamic. You should be dynamic in the way you explain the techniques, philosophies and strategies of your martial art. By “dynamic,” I mean explosive and strong. Whether you’re explaining how to land a left hook to your opponent’s chin in person or explaining how to land a left hook to your opponent’s chin online, you need to project power. That doesn’t necessarily mean yelling; it means explaining with strong, clear words and body language.

The same applies when you teach a technique by demonstrating it. It should be conveyed as a dynamic strike that your online students can hear and see.

Now, let’s talk about dramatic. While the word “dynamic” always has a positive connotation, sometimes the word “dramatic” doesn’t. I’ll be the first to admit to occasionally overdoing “dramatic.” It’s much easier than overdoing dynamic, yet with that said, you should be more dramatic when you’re teaching in front of a camera than when you’re in person. The reason for this is you need to get and keep your audience’s attention. Throwing in the right amount of drama, along with being dynamic and technically correct, is the right approach to teaching in person and even more important when teaching online.

In a nutshell: Dynamic is about showing and explaining powerful, explosive techniques. Move sharply and speak loudly. Don’t yell. Dramatic is about showing and explaining our lessons with extra flair, even borderline exaggeration. For good measure, throw in a little humor as long as it’s age-appropriate.

So, while being technically correct is paramount, if you want to be effective online, you need to accept that there are differences in the way you present information. You should resist the urge to go overboard, but you must ramp up on the dynamic and the dramatic when you’re on camera. Remember that no matter how good your material is, if you don’t have your students’ attention, it’s not a successful class. Success requires that good techniques are given and that those good techniques are received.

This is a whole new world for us. Teaching our students virtually instead of personally may require different skill sets, but we will rise to the occasion and do whatever it takes to keep our students safe, strong and healthy.

Live clean, train hard, fight dirty … and don’t let anyone take your lunch money.

— John Hackleman




Adapt to the Changes With Virtual Instruction

COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on the world. Economies have been disrupted, lives have been lost and life as we know it has been changed. We can continue to dwell on the negative, but there has been some positive in all this. Families are spending more time together, pollution levels have dropped and businesses have found ways to do business that their leaders never envisioned.

The martial arts industry has discovered a way to provide distance learning more efficiently than any other industry, but is this a replacement for the traditional face-to-face approach? The answer is not cut and dried.

I don’t believe we can train students to be proficient in a martial art without engaging in physical contact and the rest of the overall learning experience in an in-person environment. I do believe that virtual martial arts training can be a fine way to conduct introductory classes designed to recruit new students, preview upgrade programs and provide excitement from time to time.

If you’ve been offering virtual interactive classes, I’m sure you’ve had some positive feedback from parents. Such feedback tells us there’s an acceptance of and possibly a desire for this type of instruction to be given from time to time. Therefore, listed below are five ways that virtual martial arts classes can be used right now to enhance our businesses and impact our communities.

Private Lessons: Virtual instruction can be used for private lessons especially if a student wants to work on forms or specific techniques. The benefit of doing this is there’s no need for additional space and it’s a great way to retain students even if they’ve moved away.

Special Events: You can host virtual “parents night out” events by organizing online activities like scavenger hunts, “instructor says” games and trivia contests. By being creative and offering virtual events, you can accommodate many more students than you could in person.

Virtual Trial Classes: We know that one of the biggest hurdles for people is overcoming the fear of just trying a martial art. When children take their first lesson, they’re sometimes shy or scared. For adults, the feeling is often one of intimidation. Virtual intro classes offer a low-stress way for potential new students to feel relaxed as they try your program without the intimidation or fear.

Upgrade Previews: If you have a school that offers upgrades, virtual previews are a great way to excite them and showcase the value of your upgrade program. If you want to showcase your upgrade program to a large number of students, you can have a demo team or group of instructors showcase the different techniques, weapons and whatever else your program consists of in a motivational manner. If you were to do this live, you’d have to limit the number of people who attend based on your mat space. Offering a virtual preview eliminates that problem.

Demonstrations: Letting people watch a demonstration is a great way to generate interest in tour art. You can offer virtual demos for various businesses, students who are having a birthday party (outside your training hall), public schools that you’ve partnered with, or for any leads who show interest but haven’t enrolled. Virtual demos can be a great way to motivate them to join.

At the end of the day, do I feel like virtual martial arts instruction can replace live in-person instruction? No. I do believe, however, that it can complement what we do and add tremendous value in the way we do business. I’m excited to find out what the future will bring, and I’m confident that we will be ready to adapt.

— Mike Metzger



Use Technology to Convey Hope

COVID-19 is a health tragedy, a social depression and a business catastrophe. How do we find inspiration at a time like this, when desperation has invaded our lives? We must focus on a bright future for ourselves, our families and our students.

Our responsibility as martial arts instructors and business owners is to provide a steady stream of optimism. What I’ve learned over the past several weeks is that our students are looking to us primarily for one thing: hope.

Martial arts school owners worldwide have made the shift to virtual classes and private lessons conducted via Facebook, Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams and other platforms. We’re providing our students and their families with physical fitness at a time when they’re under lockdown and need a method for reducing stress and worry. We’re doing the right thing in a time of crisis.

Most of us are providing this service while waiving or suspending tuition fees because we know we’re making a difference every day. We’re fortunate that our students look to us for guidance because we have the proper mindset to help them.

As a martial arts instructor, you’ve provided a safe place for empowerment and spent years leading your students in the right direction. You have passion, positivity and strength, and you’re generous when people need you most.

Our students and their families may be struggling with sickness, loss of employment, and postponements of family celebrations, education and more. They appreciate your contributions to their daily life more than you can imagine.

Your school — whether it’s at a retail location, in a park or inside a shopping mall — will survive this pandemic. Your students and their families respect you and know that you’re doing everything you can to ease the pain and frustration they’re experiencing.

Let’s face it: Your students know that you’re afraid, but they expect you to be their leader. They look to you for advice and inspiration, and this is a time when they need it most. Be a positive force in their lives and be the person they can turn to in times of desperation. It will make a huge difference in the long run.

You’ve got this! You’ve built your business from the ground up, and you know how to do the right thing. Let’s work hard on fostering community and get through this together.

— Deb Cupples


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