SUDBURY -- With students out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are searching for ways to keep their kids occupied and engaged while still practicing physical distancing.

To help make this easier, a local Sudbury mixed martial arts studio is offering classes online.

Faced with an unknown timeline of how long his business would be closed, owner John Cole decided to bring his kickboxing studio to his clients.

"I think it’s been a bit of a challenge for most businesses, of course, ours included, as primarily all of our classes were done in person," said Cole.

"So, realizing the importance of our community in this trying time, we wanted to try to figure out a way to keep in contact with our members and connect as a community. So, through one of our brainstorming sessions, we figured okay, so you know what if people can’t come to Sudbury MMA, we’re going to take Sudbury MMA to their living rooms and we decided to go online with our classes."

Currently, Sudbury MMA is offering classes for kids and adults. Its youth options are available at five different time slots throughout the week, Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m.

The Pettis family, featuring siblings Annabelle, Ryan and Brandon have been members of Sudbury MMA for the past three years. Brandon said while he was excited when he heard the gym was moving online, he had his doubts.

“For me I was a bit nervous because this was the first time this has happened before, and it was like it’s a bit confusing. How is this going to work and everything?”

Parents Shawn and Helene were thrilled their kids would be able to continue their classes with Sudbury MMA.

“Like anything these kids are full of energy, they need to be working out, doing something to keep themselves moving and that’s what these classes do,” said Shawn.

“They get them doing jumping jacks, burpees, kicking, punching all the things to get their blood up and their sweating.”

In a time when health experts are increasingly trying to draw a line between physical distancing and social isolation, Shawn is hoping to spread that message locally as well.

“We’re not really socially isolating, we’re physically distancing ourselves from other people.”

 “But socialization is extremely important for us and extremely important for kids. During the classes, John and Sonia will ask questions to the kids, how they’re doing. You’re able to see the other cameras, the other people in the class as well and what they’re doing. So the kids are still interacting with the kids from class.”

While he feels the sessions have been going well, Cole said the switch to online classes has definitely come with a bit of a learning curve.

“We sometimes take for granted that ability, that tactile where we can kind of touch the kids and move their arms in certain positions. So in this particular case we really have to verbalize no make sure you use your left hand, punch with your right hand. But I think overall it’s going to strengthen our instructor team and make us that much better at our craft.”

In addition to their youth offerings, Sudbury MMA is also holding five adult sessions a week as well. Cole said not only has he been overwhelmed by the support, but the classes are reaching new audiences as well.

“We see different family members are participating that have never done martial arts before and our members are sharing it within friends and family in the community and we’re getting people that have never actually come through our doors physically, joining us online for some of these classes.”

With both of the Pettis parents coming from nearly two decades in the military, Shawn’s advice for other parents during this stressful time is to try to maintain as strict a routine as possible.

“We keep them structured and moving because if kids aren’t moving they start finding ways to get in trouble. So structure is the key, especially for these kids.”

Cole says as long as the community continues to isolate due to COVID-19, he will continue to offer online classes, and even consider expanding options if the demand is there. For more information you can visit their website.