Classes at Tiger Rock Martial Arts gym in Destrehan may not be able to assemble as usual, but school is in session nonetheless.
Social distancing measures have all but halted most athletic pursuits, as well as numerous hobbies outside of the sports world. But with a boost from modern technology — and a well-timed suggestion from a University of New Orleans professor with insight into the matter — the martial arts students at the Destrehan gym are still refining their discipline.
Virtual classes have been held for much of the past month online, via the videoconferencing app Zoom, which utilizes video conferencing allowing students to see their instructors, and just as importantly, instructors to see their students and hear their feedback.
William Cothren began his martial arts training in 1987. Today, he’s an Tiger Rock instructor and has opened several schools.
“It’s really nice to have something to focus on outside of all the craziness happening right now,” Cothren said. “That’s the biggest reason I wanted to do this. It adds some normalcy into these kids lives.”
Cothren said the thought of closing down operations left him “kind of depressed.” His wife, a longtime professor at UNO, offered a potential solution.
“She said ‘why not use Zoom?’” Cothren said. “She teaches all her classes using Zoom. I brought it to corporate and said, ‘hey, this is what we need to do.’ We kind of got into it immediately, not long after they started saying you can’t gather in big groups, 25 people, then 10, then instructions to stay six feet apart.
“This way, we can reach out to our students and give them a good class, but also get their feedback and work with them. We have a signal for them to be able to ask questions, and I can turn on their microphone right there. I’ve been doing 30 minute individual meetings as well, maybe when someone’s having an issue (with a certain lesson point). I’ll work with our 4-5 year old students, then juniors, teens and adults.”
He said students and their parents have indicated the classes have represented a welcome activity to enjoy on a regular basis.
“It’s given them a chance to take part in something, after being inside all day, to look forward to,” Cothren said. “These kids really look forward to it. I think their parents do too. One thing I’ve noticed is the parents are actively participating with them, helping them out when they run into a trouble spot and helping them hone their skills. So they’ve been part of the discipline too, and that’s a really positive thing.”
For Cothren himself, it’s just as welcome. He recalls a conversation he had with his wife more than 20 years ago, when he saw the passion she had for her work. Cothren worked for Entergy at the time, but his passion was martial arts – it was all he talked about, he said. She suggested he go all in and leave his position at the time to open up a school. After some convincing, he did just that.
The chance to continue teaching during the coronavirus pandemic is something he’s cherished. Like his students, it allows him to feel like things are normal.
“I come into my school every day, clean it, do my paperwork and then wait to conduct my classes,” he said. “My schedule hasn’t really changed.”
Wendy Rodrigue of Luling said for her two sons, the classes continuing on has helped her sons maintain some normalcy during the pandemic.
“It has been awesome. They like being able to see the other kids in the class,” Rodrigue said. “I knew Mr. Cothren would do anything he needed to do to keep going for the kids. He 100 percent makes sure the kids have everything they need. He’s been fabulous about the whole situation.”
Her son Collin, 15, said he and his brother have been able to keep their skills sharp.
“It has been a relief to stay in. Being able to practice still, despite not being there, it’s worked out well,” he said. “It’s different, but I’m really glad that we’ve been able to keep doing it.”
The biggest adjustment, he says, has been not having the true “hands on” experience of having students right there with him – in terms of maintaining structure and discipline, a home environment can be a bit more relaxed – students prone to cutting up at the gym site are more prone to doing so at home in many cases.
“I try to not let that interfere with the way I want my class to go, but it’s probably the biggest adjustment,” he said.
But he’s thrilled to have the chance to make those adjustments at all.
“Whether it’s one student or 30, I’m conducting my class, and they’re getting the attention each of them deserve,” he said.