Mercer Island Martial Arts instructor Graham Smyth is a second-degree black belt. Photo courtesy of Krista Wells

Mercer Island Martial Arts instructor Graham Smyth is a second-degree black belt. Photo courtesy of Krista Wells

Mercer Island Martial Arts kicks into online classes

Business has been thriving on the Island for 23-plus years.

Mercer Island Martial Arts students are kicking up a storm.

With co-owners and master instructors Krista Wells and MeLisa Strongheart at the helm, they pivoted their classes to Zoom a day or two after the governor’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order went into effect on March 23.

The experience was a bit bumpy at first, said Wells, but they got things rolling and kept their students’ training on schedule. Positivity has been a vital component of their scenario, and in May, the business marked its 23rd year on the Island.

“Our students keep telling us that this has provided a space for them, not only to exercise, but also to have that much-needed connection. We’re a very community oriented business, so we have a lot of families that are in our program, parents and kids that do it together,” Wells said.

They’re set on making the classes — for students ages 3 to adult — structured and dynamic, said Wells, adding that they tapped into their creativity by having a DJ, spotlighting students and giving them rewards during the classes.

“At the beginning of the class, we’ll sit down with the students, and talk to the kids especially, ‘cause they’re just craving that interaction,” Wells said. “We’ll sit down and talk to them about their day, they’ll show us their art project, and kind of get that connection. We’ll give them a little chance to talk to one another.”

During the training process, martial arts often intersects with life. Strongheart said that students learn skills that can also help them overcome self doubt, fears and setbacks — unleashing within themselves a powerful and unstoppable force.

“This experienced sense of authentic empowerment transcends personal development, and impacts directly relationships with family and the community. In other words, when students use the discipline and skills to kick down the doors of self-limiting beliefs, building self respect, and respect for others, it impacts all areas of life, and the community no less so,” said Strongheart, adding that it’s a joy and privilege for her to be part of the vital process.

Co-owners and master instructors Krista Wells, left, and MeLisa Strongheart. Courtesy photos

Co-owners and master instructors Krista Wells, left, and MeLisa Strongheart. Courtesy photos

The classes are especially convenient for adults, who can train from the comfort of their homes after battling traffic on the ride home from work. Or maybe they pop from their home office to the living room for a workout.

Along with mainly online classes, there is some limited in-person teaching and some students work out in pods, Wells said. Wherever the classes take place, Wells — a fifth-degree black belt — and Strongheart — a seventh-degree black belt — aim to keep students engaged and reaching toward securing a higher belt or whatever their goals may be.

Wells feels she’s grown as a person since everything’s changed in the world.

“I think of things, for myself, as everything is a learning experience, whether that’s a positive experience or negative experience,” she said. “This has been a huge sort of growth and learning potential for us.”

Also a health and nutrition coach and recreation therapist, Wells got into martial arts in her 20s when her ex-husband encouraged her to give it a go. She loved it, quit her job and set her sights on teaching, adding that she’s 150 percent dedicated to her business.

Wells — who runs seven miles a day — said that participating in martial arts makes a person whole in both mind and body.

“It helps me. I was a pretty shy adult prior to doing martial arts, and it helped me with my confidence and I see how it helps others. It’s like the best of both worlds,” she said.

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