While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily halted in-person classes for the two locations of Family First Martial Arts, it has also led to an expansion of sorts for the 10-year-old business.

Call it cyber karate.

Larry and Dani Kooyman opened a Franklin location of Family First Martial Arts in 2010, and five years later added a studio in Spring Hill. They have built an impressive list of students over the years, mostly kids and youth, through their approach of providing a family-like atmosphere and making life-learners of their clients.

Of course, when the coronavirus came to Williamson County earlier in March, the studios were forced to close. But that’s where the Kooymans’ entrepreneurial spirit and community mindedness mingled and led them to consider offering online classes.

“The coronavirus has halted how we do business as usual,” Larry said. “People come in to our studio, and we interact with them. Everybody that comes to our school is part of our family, and so we’re really feeling for everybody right now.

“Our business has slowed down, but it’s about how we can continue serving our community. My wife and I have been doing this for 10 years, and we asked how can we take this crazy, crazy world event and take some lemons and make some lemonade.

“Martial arts has always been where you learn self-defense, but more importantly you learn how to defend those who can’t defend themselves. When our actions can affect other people, it’s our responsibility to take action.”

The couple quickly developed some online classes, both for their regular students and a few free ones for those who might be looking for constructive ways to stay busy and in shape during this social-distancing era. 

“Kids are stuck at home, there’s no school, and parents are looking for things their kids can do,” Larry explained. “So we decided we’d start this small, basic martial arts class the community can jump on. Kids can get moving and learn a little something and see how martial arts can improve their life.”

Franklin resident Chris Henson can attest to how Family First Martial Arts has influenced his family, particularly his 14-year-old daughter, Callie, who has been a student for around eight years.

“They do an amazing job of keeping it focused on the art of martial arts,” Henson said.

"It’s not just focused on a competing mentality. It is about the journey, about learning and being a lifetime learner. It’s dealing with the ups and downs and plateaus you reach, and trying to work through those.

“It’s given Callie a sense of accomplishment.”

While the Kooymans and other instructors on staff teach students the physical aspects of martial arts, there is a much bigger picture to what and how they learn.

“Actually, the physical stuff is the least important part,” Larry said. “My goal is to not ever have a child have to use a kick or punch. My goal is to have them learn what we call proactive self-defense. 

“I think kindness and compassion towards other people are going to far aweigh any physical self-defense that could ever be learned. So our goal is to have kids believe in themselves, to learn how to use their voice constructively, not destructively, how to set goals for themselves and how to achieve those goals.”

And though the hands-on approach isn't possible right now, the online method has apparently found quite the niche.

“It’s going fantastic,” Larry said. “We really view everybody that walks through our door as family, and they have responded in kind. Our entire student body has just risen up and said they’re here to support us. It has really been moving to see the love and support we have been receiving.”

And the families are appreciative for the steps the Kooymans have taken to keep students active.

“They understand the need to challenge the mind and work off energy,” Henson said. “Again, it’s another example of people using their time, talents and treasures to help everyone make the most of this unique time.”

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