Richardson martial arts business Legendary Black Belt Academy brings the studio to students

A usually crowded martial arts studio in Richardson now sits empty. But the brothers behind Legendary Black Belt Academy have found a way to bring the studio to students.

“For the first time really in history martial artists who are doing online classes have all been invited into these people's homes, and that's much more personal,” academy co-owner Whitt Melton said.

Whitt and his brother Wes, who also own Legendary Youth Sports, felt it was their duty to maintain the same level of service despite challenges caused by the coronavirus. They made the swift decision to pivot to online lessons shortly after closing their studio in mid-March.

Martial arts is uniquely equipped for this type of transition, he said.

“One of the things that's different about martial arts is it's a personal sport in a group setting,” Whitt said. “It's not like baseball or soccer where you are limited in the scope of what you can perform.”

The studio, which also offers an after-school program, normally teaches between 100 and 150 students. The brothers started training in martial arts when they were six years old. Upon earning their black belts, their father helped them open the first Legendary Black Belt Academy in Garland. The studio moved to Richardson about a year later.

The academy has prioritized the emotional wellbeing of students during this crisis. Instructors regularly check in with parents and their children. If they notice a child is struggling, they'll go the extra mile to connect with them, such as through dropping off care packages.

“We teach way more than punching and kicking,” Whitt said. “We focus on teaching kids the skills that they need to be successful in life. Martial arts is really our vehicle to teach that.”

The online classes have been popular with existing students and have incentivized new students to join the academy, Whitt said. One former student who moved to American Samoa has now resumed lessons online, he said.

“Older brothers are doing classes; moms and dads are doing classes with the kids just to get some energy out,” Whitt said. “It's a huge success.”

The studio has also begun holding free fitness lessons twice a week. On Friday nights, scavenger hunts, bingo and other family activities are offered.

Online curriculum will continue once in-person classes resume, though Whitt said he is unsure what the program will look like.

“[We] will probably, in my opinion, never go back to what we knew as normal before,” Whitt said. “To be successful in our business, we have to be willing to do what it takes to not only give value to our members but to keep our community safe.”


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