While youth sports and dance academies drain families’ bank accounts and commandeer their weekends, Northern Virginia’s taekwondo studios are taking a different approach, finding ways to be of service to busy working parents. They have become, in their own way, the supportive village that modern families crave, found right in your local strip mall.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that combines physical athleticism with a commitment to discipline, respect and personal growth. Classes mix choreographed movement forms with no-holds-barred sparring—and sometimes lessons with ninja-cool weapons, like nunchucks and bo staffs.
Parents relish the numerous services beyond martial arts lessons that taekwondo studios provide for busy families:
- After-school care. It can take months or years to get into local school-run aftercare programs, so taekwondo studios provide an affordable alternative. Vans pick up kids from nearby elementary schools and shuttle them to the studio for homework time, games, and martial-arts lessons until parents get home from work.
- Long hours, low rates. Unlike Virginia’s summer camps, which run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and charge extra for before- and after-care, taekwondo camps have longer hours, lower rates, and are open during the “dead” weeks at the beginning and end of the summer. They compensate for their small indoor spaces with daily field trips to local pools, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.
- Snow days. Taekwondo studios organize impromptu camps on snow days (especially useful when school is canceled but offices are open because the weather isn’t actually bad). They offer spring break and teacher work-day camps, as well.
- Birthday parties. An affordable birthday party someone else plans is ideal—it’s better when it comes with kicking, punching and samurai-style cake cutting. (Pre-pandemic, World Karate in Fairfax hosted one birthday party each Saturday, free of charge, as a community service.)
- Parents’ night out. Need a date night, but the neighborhood teens are unavailable? Taekwondo studios offer the occasional evening play party, so kids can hang with friends while parents escape to that rare romantic dinner out.
Even in the pandemic, when stuck-at-home parents fretted about childcare, these small businesses pivoted. The owners invested in A/V equipment and ran classes on Zoom, complete with creative virtual sparring games and video belt testing. They opened masked, in-person care facilities where kids could attend their virtual school classes, then play and practice their kicks until their parents’ workday ended.
As with any village, it’s the people who turn a service into a community. The fidgety kids who need an aggressive-play outlet with a side of self-discipline or the shy children searching for extra confidence and inner strength are equally welcomed by the local business owners and their cadre of black-belted teenage assistants. It’s tough love for the kids, with plenty of punitive push-ups, but the adults share an understanding that you need a community to raise a child—even if that village comes from an unlikely place.
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