by Frank Silverman, MAIA Executive Director
In February 2020, the stock market hit an all-time high of 29,348. Unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. And the martial arts school business seemed to be riding an infinite wave of new student signups.
Then BAM! We were knocked on our collective butts by an invisible foe that has gone on to kill thousands of people, shut down the economy around the world, drive up the U.S. unemployment rate to an estimated 20 percent and, literally, terrorize people in ways not seen in modern times.
And that wave of student signups? It disappeared. Nearly every martial arts school in America was shuttered as cities and states implemented the recommended quarantine procedures.
It served as a stark reminder that life can — and sometimes does — change on a dime.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, I received countless email messages and voicemails from school owners:
“I don’t know what to do!”
“How will I pay my bills?”
“How can I possibly pay my employees?”
“Should I lay off people?”
“What can I do if my school is closed down for months”?
The martial artists who contacted me in search of answers were numerous, and to be honest, I didn’t have any good answers to give them. There was no precedent for what was happening, and we were all in what amounted to uncharted territory. We were just feeling our way through the calamity while hoping it would end quickly.
I discovered, however, that acknowledging the uncertainty was just an initial reaction. It wasn’t a plan of action.
As we teach our students, it’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters. That’s the essence of resilience!
In any fight — whether it’s in a ring, on the street or in life — as soon as you get knocked down, you have to get back up. This realization has made me both hopeful for the future and deeply proud that the martial arts industry is working together to get back up off the ground.
Are we bruised and battered? Absolutely! Are we slightly dazed? Like we were just sucker-punched! However, against an enemy that none of us have ever faced, we’re doing what we have to do not only to survive the crisis but to come back stronger than ever — and smarter than ever.
I can’t say enough about the martial arts community. It’s not the largest community out there, as we all know. There are a number of fantastic human beings in this social circle, but there are only so many practicing and working martial artists in the world.
However, whenever a crisis like this hits, you really appreciate and feel the common bond of this group. We are a family. I’m reminded of this when I see videos of instructors going the extra mile for their students — delivering belts or equipment straight to their homes. I’m reminded of it when I see you post your first virtual belt promotions or Black Belt Club nominations and the students are just as excited as they are when they’re in your schools. It inspires me more than I can express.
My team and I have witnessed many schools hosting free virtual classes for their communities and many instructors serving as virtual physical-education teachers for the day in those communities. It’s been amazing to see the creativity and the determination to push on and continue spreading the life-changing benefits of martial arts during this tough time.
One thing we always say in the Martial Arts Industry Association is that no one sits on the bench in martial arts. All students get to participate and earn their belt rank according to the amount of effort and determination they put into their training. Sadly, I predict a less-promising future for team sports like soccer, football and basketball. They will be much slower to return to normal. The takeaway? This is our time to shine. It’s our chance to show our communities how important it is to have an outlet like martial arts for everyone, no matter his or her age.
A lot of people will think it’s easy to give up at a time like this. The odds are stacked against us, which is all the justification some of us need to throw in the towel. Those same odds can discourage us and make us want to quit. However, that’s not what martial artists are about, and that’s why I believe our future is still as bright as ever, even with COVID-19 at the forefront.
I say that because I know that it takes years of practice, dedication, trials and setbacks for any of us to truly find our footing as martial artists. With each belt rank, we learn something about life and about ourselves. We learn how to keep going. We learn how to persist even when adversity strikes.
By the time we earn our black belt, we have overcome so many obstacles. We need to think of the coronavirus as just another obstacle to overcome. We must lean into it with everything we’ve got. The obstacle is the way!
As I write this, states are beginning to reopen fitness centers and gyms. Obviously, that’s not the case for everyone. Certain states have been hit harder than others and will take longer to reopen. However, it gives me hope that the reopening of martial arts schools is right around the corner.
Nobody knows what life will look like a month from now, let alone a year from now. Let’s hope, however, that the virus is on the downturn. If you’ve been hit hard by the pandemic, don’t give up. I know you can overcome this because that’s what we do.
Now is the time to work harder than ever. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. We as instructors and teachers need to set the example, now more than ever, for our students. We constantly encourage them to set goals and then pursue them, to work hard in the dojo and at home to master their art, and to never give up. Let’s show everyone — martial artists and non-martial artists alike across the nation — what we are made of. We don’t back down in adverse situations. We face them head on.
So while you’re out there, being the warriors and heroes to your students, remember that we are here to help you however we can. We are a resilient group, and we will get through this together. If you ever need or want assistance navigating this new world, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to help you just as you are here to help your students!
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