The Pocatello area has two dozen or more martial arts clubs and gyms. Idaho's stay-home order put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus impacted all of them. Nine were interviewed for this story.
Most are open again; some are still not. Many were able to weather the financial storm easily; for others, this is a very challenging time. Most offered some form of online training during the statewide stay-home order implemented by Gov. Brad Little.
Now, for many, it is essentially business as usual — with more disinfecting. Other clubs have made bigger changes since the stay-home order. At least one is practicing martial arts while wearing masks. A lot of people gained weight.
These are their stories:
This is a difficult time financially for several of the martial arts clubs.
Rodriguez Boxing Club at 4950 Yellowstone Ave. in Pocatello closed at the end of March. It is still closed because of USA Boxing’s regulations, according to co-owner Lisa Rodriguez.
Rodriguez manages the club and her husband, Jimbo, is co-owner and head coach. She says the large amount of regulations made it too hard to reopen.
“We have to keep our bags 10 feet apart. … We are only allowed eight to 10 people in the building. … There is always either two coaches or a coach and myself, so it is kind of hard to have only eight kids,” she said. “(With) the square footage for our building, it just didn’t work out. We couldn’t use our lockers, we had to close our restrooms down. It was just too strict. There is no way we could do it with the amount of boxers we have. We just decided to wait until we got to Phase 4 of guidelines with USA Boxing. … So we’re hoping to be open the first of July.”
Not only did Rodriguez Boxing Club lose all of its monthly fees, but the club also had to cancel its big fundraiser, which was supposed to happen in May until the stay-home order was issued.
They had a raffle, car washes and other events planned, but all of that was canceled.
“These are the months when we usually do our fundraisers. We had one huge fundraiser we were supposed to do in May for our five-year anniversary,” Rodriguez said. “We’re hoping to reschedule it for August or September depending on how this plays out.”
Rodriguez said that luckily their landlord has been flexible on rent.
“My husband does concrete for a living, so (the landlord) is going to exchange some work for rent and just give us some time to catch up on it,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez Boxing Club has been saving up money for a couple of years to buy a boxing ring so that they can start hosting competitions in Pocatello.
Rodriguez says the club, which is a nonprofit, may have to ask its board to use some of those funds to buy all of the sanitation supplies they need to open.
“It’s hard,” she said. “It has taken us two years to get halfway there to purchase the ring, and so to tap into (the funds), it will set us back some. We’re definitely weighing our options.”
Rodriguez said not being able to practice is hard on a lot of kids, too.
“We do this for the kids, you know? We get a lot of kids from single homes, broken up homes, things like that. This is their outlet. That’s what we’re here for,” Rodriguez said. “Boxing is really good, not just health wise. … It teaches (kids) a lot of endurance, eye-hand coordination, and mentally it helps them a lot, too. We get a lot of kids with anger issues, low self esteem. … We get them in there and teach them how to control their anger.”
Rodriguez says they work with kids of all abilities and teaches the kids to train as a team.
“My husband was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, so he was always out in the streets,” she said. “He found boxing when he was younger (and he says), ‘It just kept me out of trouble.’ And that’s what we wanted to do here.”
Rodriguez says the club will have to make a lot of changes so that they can sanitize the equipment well enough after every use once they open.
“We are a nonprofit boxing club and so our funds are really, really limited,” she said. “We usually use the boxers’ monthly fee to pay for the rent, utilities and all of that. And anything left over we use for maintaining the building and buying things we need in there. And so being shut down right now for almost two months has been pretty hard. We don’t have the funds to buy all of the sanitation stuff that we need.”
She added, “We don’t really need cash right now. What we really, really need is just disinfectant, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes. Just stuff to be able to keep the gym clean for the kids.”
Other martial arts clubs have struggled as well.
Gate City ATA Martial Arts at 4902 Burley Drive in Chubbuck has reopened, but it’s seen a drop in membership.
“We’ve definitely had quite a few families opt to suspend their contract for the time being just so that way they could have a little bit more time to see what it is like with the virus,” said Madison Bress, who is the general manager of the club, which specializes in Tae Kwon Do and Krav Maga instruction. “... Of course that is on us, because it is not their fault that they are not comfortable with the coronavirus. I believe the number is actually 50 percent of our usual income that is coming in right now. So it’s definitely tight. We’re doing everything we can.”
David Gorham is the co-owner and head instructor of Colossal Fight Co. at 546 S Main St. in Pocatello, which specializes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The club has reopened since the stay-home order was rolled back.
“We had enough students support us that we could keep the lights on, keep operating. We’re extremely grateful for that,” Gorham said. “As a business owner, even though this is kind of a black swan event, you have to be prepared for it. I am a financial planner, and so I had reserves. We were going to be able to weather it, to some extent. But thanks to everyone coming together, we’re able to reopen.”
He added, “I’m doing what I can to make it up to my students, because I really appreciate and I am grateful for the school.”
Other martial arts clubs have had an easier time financially.
Elite Jiu Jitsu Academy has been open since 1999 and is the oldest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy in Pocatello, according to head instructor Mark Massey. The club is located inside Westwood Mall in Pocatello.
“The students just said, ‘Hey, don’t freeze my account.’ I was going to freeze all of their accounts, their tuition. And they said, ‘No, we want to make sure there’s a gym when this gets lifted.’ So that was amazing,” Massey said.
Massey has a full-time job outside of his academy and said that he teaches martial arts as a passion, not to make money, and that he feels like he has done a lot for his students over the years.
“It was really nice to see the reciprocity … of the students to say, ‘Hey, keep our tuition active. We want this school to be there, don’t lose money through this whole thing,’” Massey said. “It’s a club and (the students) all belong to it. We’re like a credit union, so to speak. Everybody has a piece of the gym. … That’s how they see it, we’re all in this together. And I don’t charge a lot of tuition to begin with.”
Kim’s Tae Kwon Do of Pocatello is holding classes again now and did not have to pay rent during the stay-home order, according to head instructor Steve Johnson. He holds classes at Pocatello Community Charter School at 995 S. Arthur Ave.
“When the school shut down, that’s obviously when we had to shut down as well … and so they just called the rent off. So I didn’t have to pay that for a couple months there,” Johnson said. “I just charge the students enough to cover the rent and stuff like that there. So when the students quit coming through the door, the school called off rent. No harm, no foul. We just went a couple of months without any classes. It’s nice to be back up and going again.”
The Pocatello Kendo Club paused classes until June, but was also able to not pay rent while it was unable to hold classes, according to head coach Nick Shiosaki. The club meets at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 309 N. Garfield Ave. in Pocatello.
“It’s not just the martial arts institutions that have been affected by this. The church, they didn’t charge us for rent,” Shiosaki said. “I’m sure they weren’t having congregations and stuff for a while. And that hurts them. And they were very gracious not to charge us, but I’m sure they could have used a lot of that. … Everybody’s affected, that’s hardly a surprise.”
Martial arts in lockdown
Most of the martial arts clubs that were interviewed went to some form of online engagement and instruction.
Southwick Black Belt Academy of Pocatello, which teaches multiple forms, was just about to test some of its students for rank promotions when the stay-home order was issued, according to head instructor Jessica Carson. The academy has since reopened.
“We closed down classes in the academy for a couple of weeks,” she said. “But as a way to support those students who were ready for testing, we’ve been having them submit video testings of their material. So we were able to have them do that and be able to advance some of them to their next belt ranks … and then once we did get back into the academy we were able to give them their ranks.”
Southwick Academy, located at 1400 N. Arthur Ave., also used the internet to instruct their students, as did other clubs.
It was really important for Colossal Fight Co. to continue instruction during the stay-home order, according to Gorham.
“We moved to online practices. … I was doing seminars and techniques where I do voice-overs, trying to answer questions for people,” he said. “One of the major things is I train six days a week, so we have a lot of people who push a lot and this is kind of like their therapy. So we were really active in our online community, just trying to stay close there. … A lot of people do this because it helps to clear their head. … It was important for us to stay together as a community (during the stay-home order).”
Martial arts post-stay-home order
All of the martial arts clubs that were interviewed said that they are taking special efforts to sanitize equipment well and often. Many are now practicing martial arts 6 feet apart and a few are wearing masks.
“We’ve been following the guidelines which come along with the governor’s stages. … We’re still doing masks,” said Carson of Southwick Pocatello. “We used to have 60-minute classes. We shortened those to 45-minute classes so we have cleaning windows and (can) transition the different people in and out.”
The International Karate League Gate City Dojo, which usually operates inside Mind Your Body at 234 S. Main St. in Pocatello, has been practicing outside and is no longer full contact, according to senior student and assistant instructor Buck Hedges.
“We're a contact style, and all of a sudden we're doing no contact,” Hedges said. “We're practicing our forms, our basic techniques, but there's no sparring or kumite drills or anything like that.”
He added, “Our founder Nishioka Shihan is a big believer in family — he prefers the Hawaiian term ‘ohana’ — and so we're all ohana. And normally there's a lot of hugging, you know, and hand shaking and back slapping, and we can't do that anymore. And it's kind of hard to get used to because you see people you don't see for a while and we can't shake their hands or give them a hug. You can elbow bump or fist bump, but that's about it.”
The Southpaw Boxing Club at 128 N. Second Ave. in Pocatello has resumed training, but they are not able to spar or box much because of USA Boxing regulations, according to owner and head instructor Teo Medina.
Attendance has taken a dip since the stay-home order and Medina hopes it will recover soon.
“We're not in it for ourselves. … Southpaw’s in it for the kids, the teenagers that are running the streets and don't really have anything to do,” Medina said. “So we try to get them up in here and get the word out. You know, let them know they can come in, whether it's just to hit the bag or if they want to compete.”
Like a lot of martial arts clubs, Medina just wants people to know that Southpaw is open and that they hope to resume full training soon.
“Southpaw’s definitely open to anybody 8 to 80, deaf … or blind. If you can't walk, we’ll drag you,” said Medina. “We're here. Come on in, check it out, and you never know — you might find something you're good at. Might enjoy doing it.”