It is no doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic has made a lasting impact on the world. Its haunting and notorious nature has not only destroyed blood vessels, lungs and families, but also small businesses like martial arts gyms.
Unlike a Supercuts or a McDonalds, there really isn’t a chain when it comes to martial arts gyms. While there are a small amount of big players, the majority of the industry is long-tail and highly fragmented meaning there are a lot of little businesses (e.g. nail salons) as opposed to being dominated by only a handful of big businesses (e.g. oil and airlines). With that, the martial arts community has been severely hit by COVID-19 and is arguably the hardest hit.
During lockdown, other businesses are still able to bring in some revenue through delivery, curb-side pickup or online services. However, social distancing does not really work for martial arts. For arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it is required for two people to be closely intertwined in body, tempo and psyche. Breathing is close, hands are gripping and sweat is dripping- a very anti-social distancing environment. So how will these martial arts gyms reopen once COVID-19 has died down? To open full blast would be reckless and could lead to another spike in cases and death. Instead, I predict gyms will operate like this as they slowly reopen.
#1: Temperature checks will be required to enter
Before entering, gym owners or staff will most likely use a temperature gun to make sure people coming in do not have high temperatures that show signs of potential illnesses. For those that do, unfortunately they will be turned away. Prior to COVID-19, I would sometimes see members enter my gym who had colds and were sneezing or coughing, I always told them to just go home. Why do they come though? Sometimes people just do not realize they may be sick and want to get back to training- human nature.
#2: Checking into class will be mandatory and enforced
Just like in “Contagion”, if an individual does have a virus, it is extremely important to know who came into contact with that individual so medical experts can monitor and quarantine the right people instead of having everyone go on lockdown. They need to identify the source and cut off appropriate contact right away. With this, we expect to see high enforcement for check-ins so that there is a record of which individuals were at the gym and which times. While some gyms are currently too relaxed when it comes to having members check-in, the liability of not having a list would be too high of a risk and could permanently shut down businesses that don’t learn from this pandemic and take responsibility.
#3: Classes will be more frequent, but smaller
In order to keep group sizes low to reduce the threat of COVID-19, gyms will have to cap their classes to less than 10. So how do you service a bunch of members when you have a cap on class sizes? You only have two options: get more space or reduce class durations. Obviously buying more space is not very feasible. So that leaves us with the second option. Instead of having classes that are 60 to 90 minutes long, gyms may choose to do several 30 minute classes stacked throughout the day. This means members will have to be very efficient. Some may come already dressed and ready to go and others may forego taping their fingers or find a different solution. Perhaps we will see an uptick in “open mats” as opposed to traditional classes. Some gyms may do a flipped classroom model where instruction is given for people to see at home, but gym time is spent more on practice instead of demonstration.
#4: With smaller and more frequent classes, reservations may be required
If classes become smaller and if they are shorter, who gets to attend which class? Online reservations will most likely be the key. In fact there may even be some penalty if there is a last minute cancellation or no show because that affects the other students that would have been able to take the spot. This means drop ins would be less likely and gyms would need an online system to make it easier for members to reserve their spot.
#5: Sanitation will cause Insanity, but it will be key
Not only will gyms do much more frequent disinfecting, but they will most likely invest in air purifiers and ventilation as COVID-19 is an airborne disease. Additionally, frequent hand washing or using hand sanitizer will also most likely be required right after entering and in between sparring sessions. Not sure if it will be feasible, but whoever comes up with a face mask that allows for breathability and doesn’t come off during sparring is sitting on a gold mine.
In summary, classes will have to become much more efficient and streamlined to ensure safety of the members. However, this won’t be permanent. If we can keep the number of cases low and isolated, then there is a clear path to return to normal, but it requires everyone taking responsibility to do their part.