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Martial Arts Post-COVID-19

Anyway you shape it, martial arts includes a lot of close quarters contact. In the shadow of a world shattering virus, the entire martial arts world has been put on pause. Many fear it may never be the same. The fear resonates even further for those who make practicing martial arts possible – gym owners. COVID-19 has forced gyms to close and some fear they will never open again. It’s a punishing reality, but our hope is with some data, gym owners could prepare for the weeks and months to come. We reached out to the martial arts community to take a short survey about how they feel about training in a Post-COVID world, here is what we found.

Key Takeaways for Gym Owners

  • 75% of martial artists are eager to return to training
  • 40% still want to wait at least 1 to 2 months to return
  • Grapplers are more reluctant to return than strikers
  • 67% are worried about training with COVID-19 still around
  • 70% are still paying membership dues
  • 15% say they will cancel their membership in the next 1 to 2 months
  • Gym owners will need to increase safety precautions to make their students feel safe

The main takeaway from this survey is that in general, people are highly eager and enthusiastic about returning to train, but with a decent amount of apprehension. It speaks to tenacity of those who do train in a martial art to continue their dedication in the face of potentially dangerous outcomes (that is what martial arts is when you boil it down). However, based on these findings, gym owners will be letting down a large part of their students if they do not find ways to step up safety parameters in their gym and treat the COVID-19 with a high level of seriousness. Here is some analysis of our findings:

Over 3/4 of People are Eager to Return to Training

At a high level, about 71% of those surveyed are ‘very eager’ and 13% are ‘eager’ to return to training. For gym owners, this should be very welcoming news. There is definitely a worry that weeks and months without training may blunt people’s eagerness to train or that the virus may cause them to lose interest in the sport out of safety reasons. The fears, at least as of early-May seem unfounded. Across different ages, locations and sports – people want to come back to train. Only about 7.7% of those surveyed are ‘not eager at all’ to come back and train.

Grapplers are More Reluctant

69% of those who say they take BJJ and 58% of those who say they wrestle are ‘very eager to go back. While this represents a vast majority, it is actually considerably less than martial artists who do striking martial arts like Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do. This may possibly stem from the idea that grappling puts people in closer proximity and makes it easier to spread disease compared to striking martial arts. Evidence would say this is not actually the case and in general any contact martial art will increase risk of spread.

Martial ArtPercent 'Very Eager to Go Back'
Muay Thai81%

Enthusiasm by Location

We found there was a very slight correlation between level of enthusiasm to return and how hard a particular state has been hit with COVID-19. States like California, New York and Virginia tended to be less enthusiastic about returning right away to train. We honestly would not read too much into this however. The sample size we had for each individual state was very small. The relationship we found only had a R^2 value of 0.1 which indicates a slight correlation. That being said, for gym owners common sense would say to keep the extent of the outbreak in your state under consideration for how your students may react to being allowed back to train.

40% Will Still Wait to Return Even If Allowed Back Today

Despite a high level of eagerness, whether people come back right away is much more evenly split. About 40% of those surveyed said if restrictions in their state were lifted today (late-April), they still do not want to return until at least a month or two passes. Of those who said they are ‘very eager to return’, 1/3 said would wait at least one or two months to actually start training again. 4.2% of those surveyed said they would wait more than 6 months to return to the gym. Notably, only 1 person (0.4%) said they would not return at all.

Enthusiasm by Experience

There is a slight correlation between level of experience and eagerness to return. We found 67.5% of those who have been training in their sport for less than a year would return right away while about 57% of anyone over with over a year of experience will return right away.

2/3 Will Feel a Level of Apprehension When Training

A resounding majority of those surveyed said they will feel at least some level of apprehension training if there are still COVID-19 deaths in their city. 15% said it would be flat out dangerous, 23% said it would be somewhat dangerous, and 28% said it would be moderately unsafe. Gym owners should take this advice to heart and understand that even if people are eager to train, they will likely be doing so with a fear of getting sick. Gym owners will need to make efforts to make their gym healthy and safe when students return.

Over 70% are Still Paying Their Dues But 17% Want to Cancel Within 2 Months

A vast majority of those surveyed claimed to still be paying their membership dues. 9.3% said they cancelled their membership and 18.9% said they ordinarily do not pay consistent dues (either due to dropping in or other loose arrangements). While these numbers are encouraging, it is still significant to highlight gym owners may be experience a minimum of 9.3% drop in revenue (from cancelled payments). For gyms that allow drop in, the total loss in revenue could be nearly 30% due to cancelled payments and loss in drop in revenue.

51% of those surveyed said they would continue to pay their membership dues indefinitely as the lock down continues. 15% said they would likely cancel payment within the next 1 to 2 months and another 2.3% would cancel in the next month. Something for gym owners to keep an eye out for in the next few months is about 15 to 20% of their current recurring revenue to potentially go away as people can no longer afford to continue paying for a service they are not getting direct benefit from.

What Can Gym Owners Do to Increase Safety?

We also asked respondents what they would say to their gym owners to feel safe when they did return to their school. We would summarize the general consensus as:

  • Dramatic increase in mat and gym sanitization
  • Assigning training partners for classes or weeks at a time to minimize the number of interactions
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Monitoring students health and sending those with high temperatures home
  • More emphasis on solo drilling
  • More availability of hand sanitizers in the gym

This section of the survey was optional, but about 60% of respondents left an answer underscoring the general theme we found in this survey – a high level of eagerness to return with an equally high degree of apprehension.

Data, Methodology and Caveats

To get our data we distributed a Google Survey consisting of 12 questions. We let the survey run for 3 days and amassed 255 responses. Responses were primarily harvested from private Facebook groups and subreddits dedicated to various martial arts. Interested readers may see the full survey here. You can see the results of the survey in a Excel sheet titled “Martial Arts Post-COVID World (Responses).xlsx” in our Github account.

Some Potential Caveats

As we said, our data come from private Facebook groups and Subreddits dedicated to various martial arts meaning this may make our survey a bit skewed toward people who already have a high level of enthusiasm for training. A survey like this is difficult to weigh based on subjective metrics such as “how many people are considered avid martial artists”. Nonetheless, we trust the results of this survey will be beneficial for gym owners to understand directionally how martial artists are thinking about training during and after the pandemic subsides.

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