Editor’s Note: Our new series, Small Business Stepping Up, highlights businesses around town who are hard at work in spite of the coronavirus. Whether it’s serving food, helping the town stay healthy, or somehow giving residents some relief during the pandemic, these businesses are rising to the challenge of the virus, and even kicking its butt.

Do you know a business that should be included in this series? Email us the details at newsroom@thejeffersonchronicle.com and they can be highlighted.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Matt VanWolput is just trying to keep kids moving. “That’s essential to their mindset and their productivity,” he said.

Matt and his wife Kat own Oak Ridge Martial Arts Academy in Oak Ridge. While they have not had their doors open since mid-March, they are doing every scheduled class online.

Students receive additional training drills and tools via email however the live streaming classes are what they are most excited about.  The ability to interact daily with their students has been wonderful and continues to provide some normalcy in an otherwise abnormal situation.

“It’s all virtual training for every class. We started doing online before the Governor closed fitness centers. We had made the difficult decision to close the dojo. It became obvious that that was the right thing to do. It was not an easy choice to make. We knew what the implications could be, but the community’s health is more important,” Kat said.

Kat set up the laptop to do Zoom and then set up her phone to connect her cardio class members to the dojo’s Facebook page.

“I live stream all my classes that way. We’ve been doing that for our members and it’s been working out great,” she said.

Kat, who also works at White Rock School, immediately recognized the need for keeping classes going online.

“We know how much parents and teachers need a break. This isn’t what the teachers wanted,” she said.

Going to Zoom wasn’t all that difficult for Matt and his teaching partner Mr. Nick (Quince-Gorman).

“I had set up a Zoom snow day class a couple of years ago,” Matt said. “It was awesome. It was a natural, easy thing to do.”

It quickly became apparent that the community needed help during the pandemic and that is how Cooped Up Kidz was born. It’s a kids’ class on Wednesdays at 3:45 p.m. The class is free and open community-wide, not just to Dojo students.

“These kids are going stir crazy, and their parents are doing all the work,” Matt said. We figured we could put them in front of the screen and get them moving.

“We also have a message of the week. It’s frequently about getting through the day and doing what we have to do to make the best of the situation.  We have had over 40 registrations in three weeks.”

Matt and Kat then decided that since the town’s Easter egg hunt had to be cancelled, they would do an interactive virtual Easter egg hunt.

“We normally do an egg hunt at the dojo,” Matt said. “So we did something similar. We hid the eggs in the dojo, and then let the kids find them as we walked around the dojo.”  After the “Live” hunt was over, Renshi Matt led the kids through a slide show with hidden eggs similar to an Eye Spy activity encouraging the kids to take their time and search out and count each hidden egg.

They offered the original Virtual Egg Hunt to members a few weeks ago and it went so well they organized another and offered it to the public last weekend.

In addition, Renshi held two virtual birthday parties recently. These were scheduled as in-person parties for two non-students, and the Dojo did the parties free of charge.

“We got everyone together to sing and do some Martial Arts drills. It was a special day for the kids even though they couldn’t all be together and even grandparents were logging on to share the special day,” Matt said.

Virtual class at Oak Ridge Martial Arts Academy. (Photo courtesy of Matt VanWolput)
Virtual class at Oak Ridge Martial Arts Academy. (Photo courtesy of Matt VanWolput)

It’s not just the kids who are benefitting from the VanWolputs’ community spirit. Kat is currently posting a Free Fitness Friday, every Friday at 9 a.m.

“I offer a free class that I promote through the Facebook page. I also use the Zoom app. The class is for any age and any fitness level and each Friday offers a different style class.  It has been a lot of fun and my daughter’s join me as well so that is an added bonus.” Kat said.

There is no need to register for the Fitness classes and the ability to view either on ZOOM or Facebook Live has drawn more viewers than they could have imagined. 

“I don’t want anyone to feel pressured or under a spotlight. I just want people to log on and sweat a little bit. For some people, this is a great opportunity to move their body in the comfort of their home. It has been a lot of fun.”

Right now, Kat added, “We need endorphins, and we need them badly. Hopefully we are helping give some people some good juju to get through the day.”

The Dojo also offers Parent sanity Tips on its YouTube channel, daily and weekly challenges designed to help keep kids and parents active, responsible, and grateful.

While Renshi Matt and Kat miss their students terribly, they are thankful that technology allows them to stay connected.  They can not wait to see everyone in person again, however, they are prepared and excited to continue their Virtual Dojo as long as needed in order to ensure that our community stays healthy and responsible.

Never miss a headline!

Sign up to have The Jefferson Chronicle emails/breaking alerts and TheJeffersonChronicle.com Print Edition sent free to your inbox. Subscribe >>