Newmarket resident and business owner Tony Dolmaya never thought he would open a martial arts studio but then COVID-19 hit.
“The space was here, it was doing nothing because everything halted. Business halted, everything just kind of stopped,” he said of his Gorham Street business, Impact Martial Arts Dojo.
Dolmaya's background is electronics engineering. He had been running a small company, working with businesses in Toronto and the U.S. When those projects wrapped up and COVID-19 hit, he became the primary stay-at-home parent for his two kids.
Then looking for something to do as a job, while still being able to be with his family, he decided to open his own business. When he met instructor Ashlyn Trottier through a mutual friend, the martial arts idea was born.
Trottier began doing karate when she was six or seven years old. She said her parents had tried putting her in other sports but she was a shy kid and nothing was really clicking. Karate changed that.
“They put me in karate and it brought me out of my shell,” she said.
By the age of 13 or 14, she had earned her black belt. She began doing jiu jitsu after that but took a break to join the military reserves. Now she teaches karate and kickboxing at Impact.
“We are serious about martial arts but we don’t take ourselves too seriously about martial arts. It has to have a fun component and a disciplined component,” Dolmaya said.
There was no clear opening date as every time they would get ready to open, another lockdown would hold them back. But he said they really ramped up after the last lockdown ended in the winter.
The dojo is designed to be all encompassing of family. Currently there are small tables for parents to work at while their kids are in class. Dolmaya and his team are also working on converting the second floor into another studio so they can have adult classes and kids classes running at the same time to cater to families.
The dojo aims to be a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community, children with special needs, parents, caregivers and more.
“We are definitely inclusive. We would love to give everyone an opportunity to participate and we make concessions. There is enough of us that when there is a kid that needs more one-on-one attention, we’re able to facilitate that as well,” Dolmaya said.
He said they want to ensure anyone can come there and feel safe.
“We’re striving to be a safe space and just welcoming for all the different communities out there,” Trottier added. “We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable.”
As part of that, Trottier teaches a women's self-defence kickboxing class. The studio also offers a mini ninjas class, muay thai, and Brazilian jiu jitsu classes taught by Ricardo Mikaelian Filho.
He grew up in Brazil and came to Canada just six years ago.
“I was the type of kid (that caused) trouble,” he said.
However, he said he always loved martial arts and would watch movies about them. Then when UFC started, it became huge in Brazil and he wanted to get into it.
Mikaelian Filho began doing jiu jitsu at the age of seven and said it really helped him stay out of trouble.
“It helps you handle yourself. You become confident and you don’t want to hurt people anymore," he said.
One of the kids training at Impact is Dolmaya's 13-year-old daughter, Evelyn. Her favourite part is the physical element of martial arts.
“I don’t like team sports so I did this to do something physical but then I don’t have to deal with anybody else," she said.
Evelyn has earned her blue belt in karate and is a four or five levels away from her black belt. She has also started doing some jiu jitsu and kickboxing classes.
They are offering a summer camp, with week-long day programs running for a total of seven weeks.
“We’ll do karate with the kids, we’ll do Brazilian jiu jitsu with the kids, get them active but we have a nerdy side to us," Dolmaya said. "We play chess. Our arts and crafts are around a lot of my hobbies, which is woodworking. Why not teach kids how to build mini-catapults?”
Registration for the camp is open on Impact's website. You can also register for membership online. The memberships are all inclusive so you can take as many classes as you want and try a variety of styles.
“Different people will gravitate to a different art for different reasons. We want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to flow from one to the other," Dolmaya said.
There is also a free one-week trial, during which you can try as many classes as you can and get a feel for whether it's something you want to try long term.