THE Chokdee Martial Arts Academy is planning a return later this month after coming close to closing amid a “horrendous” time during lockdown.

The Poppleton-based gym has, like many combat sports organisations, had to close its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic and has been feeling the financial consequences.

After running several classes online and consulting with business friends, gym owner Richard Cadden is hopeful of returning to indoor training on Wednesday, July 15.

On the toughness of the situation, Cadden said: “To be honest, it’s been horrendous. It has been really tough.

“At the beginning, we had five school contracts cancelled in the space of 48 hours; we had to radically reduce the classes as we started to realise the severity of the situation.

“Then we were imposed with closing by the Government rules.

“We then went through a rough time as we were struggling to sort out our rent and the grant that we were due.

“Our landlords didn’t give us any respite or any rent holidays or anything like that.

“We also have a three-year lease and liability over a rental agreement that we’ve signed up

for. It’s been very risky and

very dramatic.”

Cadden has remained positive throughout and quickly turned to conducting online classes.

“It changes the coaching dynamic and it’s been up to us to bring the motivation and energy back to people,” he said.

“Not only is it the physical side of things that we cover, as a gym we’re more than that, we work on mental health. Keeping people motivated during this period was a test at times.

“Now with the loosening of the (lockdown) rules, we’ve been able to do face-to-face classes outside in groups of six and that’s kept people ticking over with what we’ve been able to do outdoors.

“It’s been the ‘corona-coaster’, there’s been a lot of ups and downs and some tough times and (thinking about) whether we would survive this.

“But, with the connections that we’ve got, everyone has pulled together and we’re ready to go as soon as we get the green light.”

Cadden is a former two-time Muay Thai world champion, winning both of his titles in Thailand where he moved to during his fighting career.

After turning to a business consultant friend to help navigate his way through this crisis, Cadden took spirit by putting his problems into a combat sports scenario.

Cadden said: “I’ve been able to construct a strategy with one of my friends, Henry Berry from Theory B, who works in Canary Wharf iin business consultancy.

“He basically put this business scenario into a martial arts context. He said ‘You’ve been put down in the right round, what are your choices? You pick yourself up and you get back on your feet.’

“This has been a test of your mental mettle and there’s a certain bravery and fighter attitude and mentality about all this.

“Ever since then, it’s been all about the comeback and I think that this will be a fantastic Rocky story to come from near closure to hopefully coming back with a bang on July 15.

“We’ve got a load of new coaches and equipment in the gym and it’s a great opportunity for people to learn martial arts from a grassroots level, whether you’re a child or an adult.

“We’ve got new measures in place down at the gym, we’ve made changes to give it not only a new feel but a management around the guidelines that we’ve been given from the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA).”

Today, pubs and restaurants will reopen as part of the government’s phased measures of coming out of lockdown.

Cadden is keen for gyms to soon be able to follow suit and provide people with the outlets to boost both their physical and mental health.

“One of the things that we’re pushing is the health benefits of the gym,” Cadden added.

“With the loosening of the rules as this situation progresses, restaurants and bars are reopenings.

“They’re great for a feed and to be able to have a drink but its not conducive to boosting people’s health. The thing that is conducive to boosting people’s health is getting them back in the gym, it’s so important.

“Not only from a physical perspective, but from a mental one as well.”

At present, Cadden’s focus is on getting back in the gym, with the date of July 15 provisionally set for a safe return.

“The big change on that date is going from outdoors to indoors, but we’ll still be abiding by government guidelines for social distancing” he insisted.

“We’re putting things in place where people are paired with the same partner for the next four to six weeks, so that people can still train with each other and do pad work.

“We just need to be ready even though there’s obviously a state of flux around this.

“We’ve got new markings down at the gym to keep people apart and strategies in place to minimise the risk.

“We’ve also stopped any spectating for now too.

“There are lots of measures in place to look after people’s health and make sure that if is any risk, it’s minimised to the nth degree.”