Perseverance, determination, overcoming adversity… These are familiar grounds for many jiu-jitsu practitioners. As the unprecedented events surrounding COVID-19 continue to unfold, these qualities have become more important than ever before. In the jiu-jitsu community, academy owners are among the businesses who are hit hard by this pandemic.
Professor Kawika Yoneda and his wife, Jamie, are the owners of Roma Jiu Jitsu Academy, Atos Hilo in Hilo, Hawaii. When COVID-19 made its way to the islands, changes happened quickly. For Kawika and Jamie, there was a great sense of urgency to be able to provide for and support their students while trying to keep the business going as strong as possible during this time. Like many academies across the globe, Roma JJA has been faced with challenges they never could have imagined. The academy is the sole income for the couple, as well as their one full-time instructor, Coach Cami. They shared that although this time we are currently living in can feel overwhelming, the outpouring of love and support from their students, mentors, and sponsors have kept them motivated. This continued support is also what ensures that Roma JJA will be able to open their doors once again.
The journey to opening the academy started with a dream to build new bridges of opportunity for athletes in Hawaii. One of the biggest steps towards this dream was moving from the Big Island of Hawaii to Costa Mesa, CA for Kawika to train under the Mendes Bros at the Art of Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Roma JJA opened in 2016 as the first Atos affiliate in the State of Hawaii. Kawika received his black belt from Rafael Mendes the following year. Over the last four years, Kawika’s passion for the sport and love of teaching has only grown.
Out of concern for everyone’s safety, Kawika and Jamie chose to postpone classes in the academy as of March 18th, 2020 during one of their busiest months. They have always wanted to branch out online and this unexpected change meant NOW was the time to make it happen. Hawaii’s Stay-at-Home Order went into effect one week later on March 25th. Kawika and Jamie remained committed to providing quality jiu-jitsu instruction. They had to learn to do this in a way that was completely new, not only for them, but for their students as well. They took actions quickly and moved their entire curriculum to an online platform, which includes a video library as well as live online classes every week. “Kawika and I, along with our two main instructors, spent about 12 hours a day that first week just filming, editing, uploading, planning, learning, and essentially rebuilding what the entire academy would look like during the length of the Stay-at-Home Order, which was still unknown,” says Jamie.
As the State of Hawaii moves forward with a plan to gradually re-open businesses and recreational activities in phases, Kawika, Jamie, and their staff are looking forward to the day they can again open their doors. Roma JJA will be implementing their own phase-in transition upon resuming classes at the academy. On top of maintaining strict cleanliness and hygiene practices, they will be starting with a modified schedule that will allow time to clean and sanitize the facility in between classes. Other precautions will include: a limit on the number of people in the academy at a time, designated areas for bags/belongings, and offering classes where students can drill individually while following social distancing guidelines. They also plan to continue offering classes online for students who may not yet feel comfortable to return to the mats.
One challenge they have been facing since the announcement of Hawaii’s quarantine was (and still is) not knowing for sure when it will end. “We are such a close-knit culture and community, so it’s been really difficult not being able to see our students and their families. Although we continue to do our best to connect with each of our students via phone, email, or video chat, nothing beats seeing them in person,” says Coach Cami.
No one really knows when we will return to normal or what the new definition of “normal” will be. What we do know is that this will end and that we will all get through it together. “At the end of the day,” shared Kawika and Jamie, “our main priorities are the safety and well-being of our Roma ohana (family) and our community as we transition back to the training, teaching, learning, and camaraderie that we all enjoy and miss so much.”