A master teacher uses lessons learned to keep moving forward.
The first thing you notice about James Thamm, owner of US Taekwondo Colony Place, is his infectious optimism. It’s a big reason why he’s been able to grow his dojang (school) into a thriving company since 2018. It’s also clear that this optimism flows out of his love of Taekwondo. “Most people think of Taekwondo as a physical sport that teaches you to defend yourself and help prevent altercations. Which is true. But it’s more than that. Its lessons are about how to approach life,” he says.
“Balance. Harmony. Peace. These are the core principles of Taekwondo.”
Lessons that have helped Thamm through the COVID-19 crisis. “When the pandemic hit, I was in shock like everyone else. But at no point did I think I’d lose the school. I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep it going,” says James, who, after more than two decades practicing Taekwondo, has reached the level of fifth dan (degree) and who has earned the title Master.
In the weeks following Governor Cooper’s Stay at Home order, the school took a major hit. “We’re physical. We train in close proximity. We had to rethink everything to open back up.” Master James knew that with the proper protocols in place, he could make it work. “I’m a high-risk person for the virus,” he says. “So when we went into lockdown, I had families contacting me to see what they could do to help. It was really something. The love I share with my families goes way beyond Taekwondo.”
During the lockdown, Master James pivoted his approach to teaching via video conferencing. Which worked out well but was nothing compared with the real thing. “The younger kids had a harder time staying focused,” he says with a smile. “They couldn’t wait to get back on the mat.”
When the stay-at-home order was lifted, Thamm got to work contacting the offices of Senator Jeff Jackson and Governor Cooper to figure out whether he could safely and legally open his school. “The thing is, my families trust me. And they knew that because of my being high risk, I was going to do this right.”
And he did. From closing down water fountains and marking off safe social distancing placeholders on the mat, to buying gallons of hand sanitizer and making masks mandatory for everyone who entered the school, Thamm reopened during the summer by offering free mini-camps to kids whose parents were grateful to get them out of the house and exercising.
But even though he was back to teaching, things were still far from normal. That was about the time he learned of the Access to Capital Small Business Recovery Grant Program from the City of Charlotte and applied.
“The grant was huge for me. And while the money was definitely useful, the simple fact that my city was helping me get back on my feet meant everything. I truly felt like someone cared.”
In terms of advice for other entrepreneurs trying to make ends meet during this difficult time, he says, “Commit to becoming empowered. Learn as much as you can about this virus. Become an information junkie so that you are armed with accurate information that can help you keep moving forward. Don’t let the bad news overwhelm you. Stay positive.”
Still far from peak capacity pre-COVID-19, Master James continues to embrace optimism about the future. “I love what I do,” he says. “I love these families. These kids. This is my village. I would do anything for them.”
As such, he is fully committed to doing everything in his power to ensure that his school stays open.
Balance. Harmony. Peace. Powerful foundations from which to keep moving forward during difficult times.
James Thamm, owner of US Taekwondo Colony Place, is an Access to Capital Grant recipient. Through the grant program, the City of Charlotte is Distributing $30 million in federal CARES Act funding to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. If you are a small business owner with a business headquartered in Charlotte, learn more about the Access to Capital Grant and stay tuned for future opportunities.