The coronavirus impact on martial arts: live updates

Agam Shah
Agam Shah
Mar 14 · 5 min read

In the new world of social distancing, a combat sport is collateral damage.

The coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the martial arts impact is severe. The 2020 Olympics is in question, UFC events have been moved, and schools have shut down. Competitors with Olympic dreams face the prospect of starting qualifications from scratch.

Stay tuned as I regularly update this page on coronavirus’ impact on different martial arts, including mixed martial arts and Taekwondo.

March 25: The 2020 Olympics have been delayed until no later than mid-2021, and that’s dashes the hope of Olympic hopefuls in multiple martial arts. Whether that results in athletes re-qualifying is a question mark.

USA Taekwondo is still hopeful the U.S. National Championships in San Antonio will proceed on July 1. They should cancel it. This is too serious an epidemic and putting the safety of competitors in jeopardy is something USA Taekwondo should really consider. But given their patterns — ignoring sexual misconduct and the likes — it doesn’t seem like they bother about competitors.

March 18: Many martial arts school in many states have shut down pursuant to school shutdown regulations put in place by states. The idea is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and a majority of schools are taking to streaming.

March 16: I don’t own a martial arts school, but many Taekwondo schools are tweaking operations to avoid shutdowns. It mostly involves schools going to virtual training until the COVID-19 cases subsides.

From my viewpoint, the impact of the outbreak on the martial arts industry could be a watershed. It is already forcing businesses to rethink operating models to ensure continuity.

I am also seeing instructors think outside the traditional norms of TKD being an in-class operation. Yes, TKD is best learned in-class, but the virtual training won’t go anywhere anytime soon — it could be replacement training or a premium perk.

We’re not talking putting Youtube videos up — but getting the entire tech setup, using Zoom and utilizing calendars and collaboration tools to communicate.

Here’s some things I am learning on remote tools being applied to TKD:

  • As you conduct the first few classes, spend some time with students getting feedback on what’s working, what isn’t. Adjust the training system accordingly.
  • Virtual training is all about communication — document all processes, procedures, legal documents in one document, one central location.
  • Remember that virtual training could extend training opportunities for students who leave the city, and thus remain a recurring source of revenue. A remote chance, but it’s a point to note.

It seems many schoolshave virtual training or systems in place — but for those who don’t, it’s possible COVID-19 won’t last for a long time, so better to be ahead of the game.

March 16: Another major martial art tournament bites the dust as coronavirus spreads. The World Taekwondo Poomsae to be held from May 21 to 24 in Herning, Denmark, has been cancelled. An alternate date won’t be announced. Most qualifiers for the tournament were already completed, but those competitors will stay home. The ripple effect will be felt on other Taekwondo events through end of May, most of which may get cancelled.

March 15: Martial arts schools shutting down operations during the crisis also means idle part-time staff who aren’t getting paid. As a result, quality instructors could hit the market once the crisis abates, and it’ll be a good time to hire competitive instructors. But it’s also possible school owners will lose high-quality instruction talent in the rush to hire.

Overall, it’ll be a buyers market, like it always has been. Whether the average per-hour wage of a martial arts instructor declines remains to be seen. That depends on the length of the crisis.

March 15: UFC’s scheduled events moved to Las Vegas are now in question after Nevada State Athletic Commission banned all combat sports until around the end of March. That includes an amateur MMA event scheduled for Sunday. Dana White seems hellbent to not cancel events, so he may find another location (North Dakota anyone?) — there’s no official response from UFC yet.

March 15: Most martial arts clubs are continuing operations as long as students come in, but also offering the alternative of online training. Many schools are cleaning and disinfecting after every class to ensure student safety. Disinfecting via devices like mist machines can speed up the process. Don’t give up dusting and mopping though!

March 14: The coronavirus outbreak could change the way independent martial arts trainers (and even schools) conduct business and ensure continuing operations, only if the opportunity is visible. With schools shutting down, it could be time for some trainers and schools to explore this opportunity.

Drawing from the idea of universities offering online classes, there could be an opportunities around offering remote training. That would include students logging into class from home, or offering video-based training for students to continue training.

It’s easier for independent trainers to implement remote training/virtual training on a smaller scale, and larger schools can offer it as a perk on top of in-class training.

A comprehensive remote training program revolves around implementation of the right technology (no, not Youtube uploads) and effective online communication with students. It also requires a big cultural change among trainers who have the classical mentality that martial arts can be done only be learned in class.

There are obvious downsides: this isn’t geared for MMA (which is sparring heavy and needs partners), specific types of training (like self-defense training, or randori in Judo). There are risks around injury with the inability track form and posture. I’ll test out and take a closer look at this opportunity in the future.

March 13: World Taekwondo’s calendar has listed most international events through end of April delayed. U.S. state championships have also been cancelled.

March 12: UFC’s event for the March 14 remains on, and future events have been relocated to places where states haven’t banned gatherings of more than 250 people.

It’s a brave (or stupid) move by Dana White, who’s always been a fighter and swam against the tide. But if there’s one coronavirus infection, Mr. White will be remembered as an idiot for taking the pandemic lightly. Conor McGregor suggested his aunt died from COVID-19, and that the immune systems of UFC fighters is typically low ahead of fights.

March 12: AAU Sports suspended its tournaments, so all college-level martial arts tournaments, Taekwondo included, have been suspended for three weeks. “The AAU’s first priority is the safety and welfare of all of our athletes, coaches and families,” AAU said.

March 10: In the new world of social distancing, a combat sport is collateral damage. Martial arts schools should be prepared to take on financial damage tied to operational costs, fewer students and forced shutdowns. An old Taekwondo school I attended shut down for a week, though it may extend longer. A growing number of schools are heading in that direction.

Feb: Olympic Para Taekwondo athletes have received notices about possible delays. As of March 14, more than 700 in Japan were victims of the outbreak.

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Agam Shah

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Agam Shah

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