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Southwest Arkansas Taekwondo carries on its missions at its new, more visible location on South Main

Southwest Arkansas Taekwondo instructor Zach Gentry leads a class at the studio’s new location on 205 South Main in Hope.

Now that Southwest Arkansas Taekwondo has moved to 205 South Main Street, its Chief Executive Officer Katie Gentry is seeing a lot of interested customers come through to inquire about lessons for themselves or their children. In fact, during my interview with Gentry, one lady happening by came into the studio to do that very thing. She learned from Gentry that the studio holds classes for those from three-years-old up to adulthood starting at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

Gentry said last September things did not look good for the business where she works with her mother and Director of Operations Kathy Luce, and her brother-in-law and Director of Curriculum Zach Gentry, when she was told the building they then occupied on South Hervey was no longer available. “In a town like Hope you’re kind of limited on things, especially when it comes to us as a martial art school. We have certain boxes we need to tick to be a functional space. And then I’m the type of person I value how things look when you walk through the door. So just laying our mats down in a warehouse somewhere wasn’t in the cards.”

But fortunately, some parents of students taking classes at the studio responded to the need. “It really shows the power of the community we’ve built and the families that we have had the incredible opportunity to impact, because we were introduced to the Wilsons who owned this property through one of our families here at SWAT. They knew the Wilsons, they knew that this space was here, that they may not be actively looking for a tenant, but just wanted to throw our name into the pile. And from the first phone call that I had with Adam and Paul Wilson, we all kind of knew that it was going to be a good match.”

The Wilsons had adjustments made to the space at 205 South Main Street that helped convert it into a Taekwondo studio. “They came in and in record time, in time for us to move in, [they] painted, put in a new ceiling, did new lights, they built this platform for us, put in two new bathrooms. And they have been just absolutely incredible. We could not have asked for better landlords for sure,” Gentry said.

The move from South Hervey was also a demonstration of what happens when a community gets together. “We had to be out by the end of September,” Gentry explained. “We closed classes for about five days, and opened up the first Monday in October in our new location. And our families and our team really showed up and showed out, because we had everything packed up and moved in record time when we were ready to go.”

The extra room and the more visible location have offered new opportunities for SWAT, Gentry said. These can be seen in the studio now, with a larger section devoted to second-hand uniform and fitness wear sales as well as to sales of equipment for the Taekwondo student. A Kids Zone area has games and Legos for children to occupy themselves while waiting for a sibling or parent to finish a class. Along the south wall is a larger coffee and snack shop, and now there are rows of seats for parents. 

Gentry recounted at least one occasion of having to adjust to the roomier studio recently. “When we started classes, there was a moment where I was talking to a parent kind of right over in this space. And I felt like someone was kind of walking up behind us like they were exiting. And instinctively from our previous space, I moved us out of the way. But then it dawned on, there’s plenty of space, there’s plenty of space to walk around and to breathe.”

The location has also afforded greater visibility, which Gentry sees as a great advantage: “It’s definitely driven some more walk-by traffic to us than where we were … Especially because we’re one of the few businesses open late. Anyone walking by can see in and see all of the great things that we’re doing. That’s actually one of the reasons we’ve chosen to not wrap our windows or tint them or anything like that, because that’s been a huge draw. For people to just walk by and see the incredible things, we’ve actually added a few students just from walk-by, which didn’t really happen at our previous location.”

Given the country’s continuing trouble with shooting sprees and a recent uptick in violent crime the past eight years, a practice that instills a sense of restraint but also self-confidence. “We pride ourselves on teaching some self-control, teaching that self-discipline,” Gentry said.  “But we also through our program, we pride ourselves on building a lot of confidence, building a lot of goal- setting and goal-achieving, which I think is missing in some of our kids and some of our schools, that constant striving to do better, everything from stripes that they earn on their belts, to earning new belts to an awards program where they can win prizes, and win trophies and things for going above and beyond, both on our mats and in their lives.”

Involvement in SWAT can also connect students more closely to their communities, lessening the sense of isolation linked with violent behavior. “We do service projects just about every month, sometimes twice a month–everything from fundraisers to drives, to actively going places. For instance, we just did one where we collected toiletries, for Horizons of Hope. We went to the assisted living and showed them some love. We had some goodies around Christmas for them. So really getting kids out in the community to see not only their community and see ways they can help but see the impact they can make on the world, I think, is a big, big factor in building that confidence.”

But of course, one of the main activities of SWAT is the teaching of what Gentry calls “practical self-defense:” “We’ve found a way to really integrate very basic things that you might run into as a kid, as an adult, someone coming up behind you and trying to pick you up, someone grabbing your arm. As an adult, someone trying to swing a punch, things like that. And so we teach that in addition to our curriculum and everything else we try to build.”

In the near future, belt-rank testing will take place for SWAT students vying for higher-ranked belts. Next, a SWAT competition team, taught by Gentry’s brother-in-law Zach Gentry, will be participating March 25 in the Spring Heat Tournament in McKinney, Texas.

Asked whether any of SWAT’s students have stood out recently for their achievements, Katie Gentry refers to two locals who are now making a difference for their fellow students who, as Gentry says, “not only excel in their personal training but also give back.” Trent Hammond of Hope is employed at SWAT teaching beginning black belt classes. Gentry said Hammond often sees the little things that can be corrected to make a student better.  The other is Instructor Marnie Buck, a Prescott High junior about whom Gentry says “Her kindness and her love for students and seeing them succeed really shines on the mat.”

Southwest Arkansas Taekwondo begins its classes Monday through Thursday at 4:30 p.m. On Saturdays it holds Storm Team (instructors) and Special Forces (Competition and Demonstration teams) sessions from 11:20 to 2:00 p.m. A pass for a one-on-one class can be acquired by registering on SWAT’s website.

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