'Classes are even more accessible now'
RESIDENTS strolling near Kingswood High Street might not realise that behind the facade of a normal-looking house lies a martial arts dojo.
Gina and Chris Hopkins have converted their dining room into a martial arts studio so they can carry on teaching pupils with disabilities despite lockdown restrictions.
Around 50 children and adults, ranging in age from seven to 45, rely on the Zoom classes broadcast from Honey Hill Road to Bristol and beyond.
Classes cater for students with a wide range of physical, mental and neurological disabilities, including cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD and Down’s syndrome.
CEO Gina, 35, who is disabled herself, runs the coaching side of things full time while Chris, 36, juggles his work as a financial adviser with looking after the admin side of the business.
They founded Adaptive Martial Arts in 2016 because existing martial arts training was very segregated.
Gina said: “If you do judo, you just learn judo. You don’t learn self defence or boxing. But if you mix all the martial arts styles together you can tailor it to each person, depending on their abilities.”
After completing a Masters in Sports Science and competing in martial arts and strength events around the world, she was also dismayed at how little regulation there is of martial arts teaching.
She said: “Often as soon as someone gets a black belt they start teaching. There’s no proper training.”
Before Covid, she and a team of qualified coaches offered regular classes and one to one sessions in Bristol and Bath, as well as outreach lessons in specialist schools and social clubs.
When the first lockdown hit, they quickly adapted by streaming their classes. They feared it would be the end of the business they'd spent four years building up. Instead, they saw a rapid increase in customers.
Gina said “Lots of our clients might not be comfortable to attend face to face classes, or their disabilities might make it difficult for them to leave the house.
“We’re able to reach more people now via Zoom than we ever were doing classes in a hall. Even when restrictions are lifted, we’ll continue to offer some classes online because it’s accessible to everyone.”
Many of the online classes are offered free of charge, thanks to funding from Children in Need and other charities.
The main downside to online classes was not everyone had a partner at home to carry out moves with, or they lacked essential equipment. AMA have got around that by adding an equipment rental service to their offering. For £20 a month, students can hire “all the fun stuff”: £850 of equipment including a life-size grappling dummy for those who don’t have a willing partner to practise their moves on at home, boxing gloves and bag, kick shields, slam balls and more.