Martial Arts Gym in Sag Harbor Unable to Reopen Offers Classes Outdoors and on Zoom

Emiley Nill, black belt at Epic Martial Arts, teaches an outdoor Martial Arts Class

By Gabriela Carroll

Thinking of martial arts likely invokes images of a high-contact sport very difficult to do while social distancing. Governor Cuomo’s restrictions against the reopening of gyms in phase four makes the challenge even harder. But at Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor, owner Michelle Del Giorno is using a combination of Zoom and outdoor classes to keep students safe.

The style of martial arts Del Giorno teaches is not as heavy contact as one might expect, she said. Most of her classes before the pandemic involved individual skill training, followed by partner work. For her current classes, she’s eliminated the partner portion and just focused on skill training.

“A lot of the styles require a lot of conditioning, so we do a lot of conditioning,” Del Giorno said. “We’re re-creating movements, and just working the patterns over and over, you know, in the air. Most of the class is really non contact, especially with the children. We sometimes have moms and siblings that step in and they help the students, so people are being creative, too, at home.”

Most of Del Giorno’s customers come to her classes through Zoom, she said, but the number of students at her outdoor classes has slowly increased.

The classes run concurrently on Zoom and outdoors in Del Giorno’s yard in Sagaponack. Epic Martial Arts is based in Sag Harbor, and many of their students live in Sag Harbor, making travel a deterrent for some that might want to take the outdoor classes, so Del Giorno also offers private lessons and has traveled to homes all over the East End.
One of Epic Martial Arts’ most important programs is Rock Steady Boxing, a program designed for people with Parkinson’s disease, with a partnership with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

Michelle Del Giorno teaching a private martial arts lesson to student Wilson Lones at his home on Shelter Island

Rock Steady Boxing classes meet five times per week, with additional meetings for social purposes. Del Giorno said these classes have maintained some of their highest participation rates during the pandemic.

Transitioning to online teaching is a challenge Del Giorno embraced. During each Zoom class, she and one of her other instructors will both be on the call, with one as the primary instructor and the other helping students make smaller corrections and keeping a closer eye on technique and form.

“With Zoom, it’s kind of like you have a big group of people, but you’re still one-on-one with them because you can see everyone right in front of you,” Del Giorno said. “I’m able to really focus on technique.”

Epic Martial Arts hopes to reopen in a limited capacity whenever gyms are allowed to reopen, but Del Giorno believes that whether or not schools are able to reopen will play a big role in the immediate future of the classes.

“If the kids stay with remote learning, I’ve gotten some new students on Zoom,” Del Giorno said. “We’ve been able to pick up some new students, so I’m hoping that we would just continue with that, and I’ll be able to pick up more students. But it’s just really hard to predict when we don’t know when, what and where we can do anything.”

The future of sports and recreation is under more doubt than ever, because of the recent decision to cancel fall sports at New York schools. Del Giorno said she has no plans to change her current set-up unless Epic Martial Arts is allowed to open its indoor facility.

“I hope to be able to reopen, and then just hold smaller classes,” Del Giorno said. “I could always offer more class times and spread everybody out and follow all the guidelines. But are people going to feel safe enough to come? Hopefully, if I’m allowed to reopen by the state, then that should help people’s fears. But I’m not going to open if I’m not allowed.”