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East Texas martial arts gyms face unique challenges in future reopening

It is easy to picture social distancing in a room full of treadmills and barbells, but what if your gym equipment is a big padded mat and another person?

TYLER, Texas — Gyms will soon be allowed to open starting May 18th, as long as they follow social distancing and occupancy guidelines. 

This is easy to picture for a room full of treadmills and barbells, but what if your gym equipment is a big padded mat and another person? Martial arts gyms face this unique problem.

Toxa Santos runs Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Tyler, he says students will sign up online for smaller classes in which strict 6-foot regulations and cleanliness policies will be enforced, alongside a 25% occupancy restriction.

“Eight students need to be six feet apart. Don't shake your hands, don't touch each other,” Santos said. “We're going to check the temperature, and then we're going to two stations for hand sanitizers.”

Santos says while a large part of training takes place through sparring and physical contact between students, there are ways to drill Jiu Jitsu techniques alone.

“The fun that part of the game is when you go to the fight, you know, when you go to spar. Jiu Jitsu is a grappling game,” Santos said. "But now we just do Jiu Jitsu drills until we can come back to our regular training."

Ethos Jiu Jitsu and MMA owner Chad Decker says his gym, also located in Tyler, is taking a similar approach.

“We’ll probably be doing a lot of individual drilling. We’ll try to maintain our capacity limitations,” Decker explained. “We’ve got some heavy bags and some dummies, we can make things work. It's going to be more of a circuit type class instead of the typical warm up, drill, get a couple rounds."

For the time being, Ethos has been sending their students instructional videos, and Gracie Barra offers live zoom classes throughout the day.

Santos says his gym has lost about 20% of its members since the beginning of the lockdown, but he believes the Jiu Jitsu community will benefit from the way they have had to adapt.

“We're going to become more united together than before, and we get other skills for now. We're more connected than ever,” Santos said.