During COVID-19, I wrote a series of blog posts focusing in on what life's like when you're trying to keep martial arts training going in a pandemic. You can read them under the blog category "COVID-19", if you're so inclined.
I admit, I haven't re-read them since I wrote them. They're too depressing.
After a while, I stopped writing about it, because at the time there was no end in sight, and I didn't have anything else to say about the topic.
There's only so many ways to say "this sucks".
Now, now we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the post-COVID-19 world approaches faster than we might think.
The pandemic was devastating to much of the martial arts world, especially the commercial side of things.
I don't know if we'll ever get an accurate count of how many schools went out of business, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's between 30% to 50%.
Some commercial instructors left teaching altogether, and maybe they'll never come back.
Those who survived did so by the skin of their teeth. They cut costs to the bone, they found lots of other ways to engage their students, they even ran go-fund-me's to pay the rent. I personally know several martial arts instructors that took temporary jobs to help cover their school's bills during the worst of it.
I am so grateful that both locations that host our classes survived.
Many of us retreated from commercial spaces to basements and backyards and garages and parks, doing whatever we could to keep the core of our student base, being really, really creative in how we were able to engage students.
Some of us dropped the idea of monthly fees altogether just to keep it going at all.
Back to our roots, right?
Now we're looking at the pandemic finally ending in the foreseeable future, and the question for a lot of us is... now what?
Now, we build anew. Not rebuild, necessarily, because the pandemic should have changed how we think about martial arts instruction.
The martial arts world looks different now.
Technology is, and can be, a much bigger part of what we do. Now that we understand how to do remote lessons, and we have the infrastructure and tools to do it, it's easier than ever to reach out to a teacher of an art that maybe you want to study but isn't offered locally, and find a way to train in it.
The stigma of virtual training - and I'll admit I have been super-critical of it until the pandemic hit - is less of a problem now.
While I think most of us agree that in-person training is best still, virtual training (not passively watching a video, but active training interacting with a teacher) is a viable option for at least for some of what we teach.
That changes the game significantly, doesn't it?
Maybe we'll be able to get students at odd times of day vs. traditional evening classes. Maybe we'll be able to attract people who are too far away to attend regular classes several times a week, but they can come, say, once or twice a month, and the rest can be supplemented virtually.
Maybe we'll be able to train with teachers and students in completely different countries!
My challenge to you, dear reader, is to think this stuff out, and innovate, and come up with some new ways to deliver our information to people who want and need it.
There's little to no reason people who want to train can't find a way to do it now.
Speaking of training in parks and back yards, I think the stigma of that (at least in some quarters, especially for commercial schools teaching kids) is gone now. So you can have a viable school teaching martial arts in a public setting without looking less legit.
Of course, you have weather to contend with, and if you live in a place that gets really cold or gets snow and ice, that'll be something to deal with, too.
As we pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the pandemic, we have got to be more creative and flexible going forward.
Not only was that needed to survive the worst of it, but I suspect the martial arts world going forward will require it.
We're probably not going to be able to go back to how things were, but perhaps that's a good thing.
Let's make our post-COVID-19 world bigger, better, and more accessible for students than EVER.