For many small business owners, 2020 has been their toughest year yet.
Throughout this down year, Kingdom MMA co-owner and Canadian lightweight fighter Craig Shintani (9-3) has been working hard to keep things running on the south side of Edmonton, where his gym has called home since it opened in 2016.
During times like these, Shintani, 29, is trying to stay positive and continue to motivate members of the gym however he can.
“It’s never easy, but we can’t sit here and be downers. Everybody is going through it, and a lot of companies don’t have membership-based support like a gym, so they’re just hoping somebody comes through their door. A lot of people are a lot worse off than we are, so it’s tough all-around, unfortunately,” Shintani said in an interview with MMA Empire.
“We never want to lose contact with our members and friends. We feel like we’ve developed a lot of great relationships through the gym and we appreciate everyone that wants to train. Whenever we have to close and hear that members are wanting to stay in shape, it motivates us to post online. We’ll stay busy online and try and help get through these tough times.”
Shintani said he knows that things would be a lot different right now without the support of all his gym’s members.
“We basically ran through the lockdown off the generosity of our members and, thankfully, we have a lot of great people that support us,” Shintani said.
“They really keep us afloat and make life a lot easier, but it’s tight right now.”
Although the government did put a few programs in place to help out small businesses, with thousands of small businesses around the province, the process of actually securing help isn’t always as simple as it seems.
“There’s not a whole lot, to be honest. There were a couple things that came out during the first lockdown, but they were actually pretty tricky to get,” Shintani said.
“Last time, we were able to apply for help through the landlord, but the landlord has to approve it. Not a lot of landlords were approving it and we had a landlord that, unfortunately, didn’t want to do much for us, so we didn’t really get any help during the initial lockdowns. This time, we have to look into a couple of things. Our current landlord is a lot better, so we’ll see how that goes.”
New home for Kingdom MMA
During the first lockdown, with the gym closed and not much going on, Shintani and Kingdom MMA co-owner Aaron Kapiczowski felt it was a perfect opportunity to find a long-term home.
“We finally found a building that we can stay at long-term, so we thought it was a good time to move since we can’t do much anyway. With all the restrictions, it took a little longer than usual, but we got it done,” Shintani said.
“We just had a couple sub-leases before, but we always stayed in the same area. We’ve always wanted to appeal to the south side of the city.”
In a few short years, Kingdom MMA has established themselves as one of the top gyms in Alberta.
Shintani said it’s important for them to continue building their reputation throughout Edmonton and Alberta, as well as build up newer fighters.
“We’re trying to maintain a good image, represent Edmonton well, and produce up-and-coming talent. Hopefully, we can keep that going,” Shintani said.
“The main thing for us, money aside, is we don’t want anyone quitting. Whether they’re a fighter or train recreationally, it would suck for us to open back up and not see those people anymore. Anybody that’s been supporting the gym, even just reaching out with positive messages and showing support through a tough time, it goes a long way. It means a lot to us, so thank you to everybody that’s been there for us.”
If things weren’t hard enough for Shintani having to deal with operating a small business, it’s even harder to find a fight right now in Canada.
Unfortunately, Shintani said there isn’t any assistance for someone in his situation.
“Personally, I don’t qualify for anything because when you’re self-employed you end up worse off than most people,” Shintani said.
“I’m hoping my savings will help me through. If I have to, I’ll apply for a job short-term, but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, martial arts gyms don’t pay well compared to most industries, and being a fighter on top of that also doesn’t pay well. I’ve worked on living a frugal life and that’s definitely paying off right now.”