I admire those willing to ask for professional advice who are then proactive at taking it.

I call this a stellar attitude to growth and I found it staring me in the visor at the next academy I landed on for a Roadshow visit, the final nominee for the NEST Academy of the Year 2019 award, Unite Martial Arts Academy, Southport.

In 2016, Unite Southport achieved a lift-off win for best NEST academy. Then repeated the stratospheric achievement in 2017.  Booster enough for the facility?  I found no such complacency at this Taekwondo club. Fresh success tends to rest on a new horizon. Fortunately, Dan Thomas, 5th Dan founder and chief instructor appears to have the stamina and captaincy skills to keep steering his academy toward it.

Last year I recall Master Thomas asking for advice on the aesthetics of his school.  This year I understood, he really listened and dotted i’s and crossed t’s to implement what was said. There is new signage replacing old at the dojo; bold, motivational quotes emblazoning walls; a feng shui styled office; on-trend paint colour, blackboard wall and industrial-style décor framing an airy café space; wall lanterns with lavender-scented candles spaced about, and ethereal music billowing out below the huff of training.

The enhancements, harmony and energy created give the school unique atmosphere and a gravitational pull which appears to have attracted students.  Numbers look up. Yet there is system and order – I see large classes separated into satellite groups, each orbiting a different instructor and lesson.  A coach development programme that appears to keep everyone on course.

Around the academy walls and on TV screens, I gaze on images of Master Thomas visiting Sierra Leone taken during a club-funded aid mission last year.  Evidence that Unite’s attitude to boldly-go shines as brightly outside its own hemisphere as it does within it.

Houston, we have a hot one.

Thank you to Dan, Michelle, Mike, Adam, Jack and Tracy for the out-of-this-world attention. My touch-down at Unite Martial Arts Academy was eye-opening.

Before blast-off to home skies, I dock with Master Dan Thomas to let fly a module of questions.

I see changes to the academy interior since my last visit.  Tell me about these and the difference made to student experience.

Dan Thomas: Our changes have been ongoing over the past year and at each incremental stage students have expressed positive feed-back.  Following feed-back from last year we have introduced relaxing music and aromatherapy smells throughout the club, followed by high-impact positive messages on the wall. These have had a huge effect on students with learning disabilities. We have seen improved concentration, focus and mood which has helped in their training.

I notice more instructors and assistants on the mats who have divided large classes into smaller groups to teach.  A result of Unite’s new Coach Development Programme?

Dan Thomas: The success of our coach development programme is the reason we have more coaches on the mats. Our new programme takes young individuals through a thorough training plan and develops, nurtures and educates each coach on an individual basis.  With more great coaches on the mats, the student to coach ratio vastly improves and the quality and standard of teaching increases tremendously.

You visited Sierra Leone in 2018 to improve school facilities there using funds raised by Unite.  Why and how did the club ‘get behind’ this cause?

Dan Thomas: An orphan asked me the same question: “Why us? No-one cares about us”. My answer is simple – because we care and we can! These children may not have a role model or someone to encourage and believe in them, so if I can inspire just one child to work hard whether through sport or school to achieve their goals then my trip was worth-while. As a club we raised money by doing fun days, fight nights, special parties, sponsored kicks, a parachute jump, and we sold t-shirts which almost every student bought. Our students really got behind the children of Sierra Leone and some even took advantage of a pen-pals programme we set up. It gives a great insight into the lives of children in Africa.

What aspects of the academy make you most proud?

Dan Thomas: I’m most proud of my team of coaches and staff. Anyone can have a lovely academy but it’s the people within it that make all the difference. We work well together as a team and I’m proud to call them family.

Boil down Unite Martial Arts Academy’s philosophy into one sentence.

Dan Thomas: To encourage, nurture and support each and every student to become a better person.

www.unitemartialarts.com

By Moira Spencer
 

About the author: Moira Spencer previously enjoyed a long, successful career in publishing sports titles, including Martial Arts Illustrated and MMA Uncaged magazines. Now qualified in Professional Interior Design, she has combined this creativity with her knowledge and understanding of the sports industry to launch Glove & Lotus, an interior design consultancy specifically for sports academies, clubs, studios and home gyms. For more details on this unique service, visit www.gloveandlotus.com phone 0787 8750045 or email moira@gloveandlotus.com