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Monday, May 23, 2022

East Meeting West in Santa Clarita Valley Gym

Imagine a gym where you can spar in a boxing ring for an hour and then relax in a meditation session. Work out with a private trainer, followed by acupuncture therapy. Take a French kickboxing class and get a massage – while your children are learning martial arts or completing their homework with a tutor. At Ekata Training Center’s new facility in Santa Clarita, it’s all part of the package. Co-founders Ed Monaghan, 52, and his wife JoAnn Wabisca, 55, have worked in martial arts studios throughout Los Angeles County for more than 20 years, but this is the first time they have combined Eastern philosophy and Western sports training under one roof. The result is half martial arts studio, half sports club with a few other services on the side. “Our primary competitors are straight martial arts schools and gyms,” said Monaghan, who called himself an admirer of the late actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee, who practiced what the gym is trying to teach. The Ekata training center has been in Santa Clarita for seven years as a traditional martial arts studio. It assumed its current configuration in March when the business moved from a 1,500-square-foot space to a 12,500-square-foot space at 27831 Smyth Drive amid growing competition. Like many communities, Santa Clarita has plenty of gyms and self-defense studio businesses, including Valencia Martial Arts, Iron Fist Martial Arts Academy and Shin’s Family Tae Kwon Do Martial Arts Fitness Center, which is also making strides to offer additional services to members like Shin’s After School Homework Club. Bobby Verdun, a health club consultant and senior partner of Atwood Group in Natick, Mass., said there has been a recent push in the industry to diversify offerings and elongate the stay for members and their families. “Any time you can have one-stop shopping, it’s a good formula for business. The drawback is you have to make sure your expertise flows with the expansion of your business,” he said. “Often, clubs become many clubs within a club. The key is being versatile. Pilates was huge at one point, but now it’s not. If you can build a facility that’s versatile in nature and be ahead of the curve, I think you win.” Comparable costs? Relative to the competition, Monaghan and Wabisca have positioned Ekata as a low-cost alternative to other martial arts facilities. All members start by paying a $199 enrollment fee, which includes the first month’s dues and uniform. Then they choose among three membership types: a basic Fitness membership that costs $99 per month and includes classes like yoga and kickboxing, a $169 monthly Lifestyle package that includes martial arts training and a $199 monthly Longevity plan that offers a once a month massage on top of the regular classes and private training. While it might appear costlier than an everyday gym with free weights and cardio equipment, Monaghan said that the cost for Ekata’s all-inclusive structure is comparable to that of a standard martial arts school. For instance, the gym’s Brazilian Jiujitsu instructor charges $190 per month for two classes per week he separately holds at a small Hapkido school in Burbank. Typical martial arts school rates range from $120 per month to up to $250 per month, and Monaghan said they don’t provide access to a masseuse, acupuncturist or physical therapist. The gym also boasts a family approach. Not only can parents try out a group fitness class or private training as their kids go off to learn about Savate or Jeet Kune Do, their toddlers can go play in the children’s center. Ekata also has a juice bar with a variety of raw, vegan after-school snacks and a study center manned by volunteer tutors for kids to fit in their homework between school and their class. It also offers yoga and hip hop dance classes. Chris and Debra Leos of Santa Clarita tried out just about every gym in the Valley for their daughter Natalie, now 13, but Ekata was her first choice. “The main draw to Ekata for us was the Jeet Kune Do martial art, which we felt would give our daughter lifelong self-defense skills,” Debra Leos said. “I asked her ‘What is it about Ekata you love?’ And she said, ‘They’re teaching me to take care of my whole body, emotions, mind, and how to be a nice person.’” Ekata’s expanded offerings have changed the family’s after-school schedule dramatically. Debra Leos participates in kickboxing, yoga and meditation classes a few times a week while her husband focuses on kickboxing. “When my daughter’s in class, at the same time, we’re working out in the gym,” Debra Leos said. “Before, most parents were sitting on their phones.” Money mindfulness The Leos family makes up three of more than 200 members who followed Ekata to its new operation. An additional 40 members joined in the first two months. Monaghan predicts that Ekata will attract a significant number of members during its May 17 and 18 grand opening, and that it will be profitable again by the end of the year. He said it will take about 640 memberships for the training center to break even. The new facility has higher operating costs than the old Ekata studio, but Monaghan and Wabisca believe the attraction for both children and parents separates them from the competition. “We don’t want the adults to feel like they have to sit on the sidelines,” said Monaghan. The couple funded Ekata’s makeover through company profits and outside investors. Dr. Michael Lill of Cedars Sinai and Stephen Browning II, a local real estate developer, are both students at Ekata who invested in the upgrade. At the new facility, Monaghan and Wabisca are responsible for paying more employees, including their two sons who are instructors and their daughter-in-law who will run the children’s center. There are about eight full-time staffers on the payroll, eight to 10 part-timers and an additional six outside consultants that will come in for services like massages or therapy. The mindfulness of their bodies that Monaghan and Wabisca want to pass on to their students is more than just a hobby or a profession. Monaghan works as an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television as a stage combat instructor and as a researcher affiliated with the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. The couple also has separately led careers in the film industry, personally working with many celebrities such as Val Kilmer, John Malkovich, Alicia Silverstone and Julianne Moore to instruct them with movement and stage combat skills. “Our scope is broader than just martial arts,” Monaghan said. “Quality of movement often determines quality of life. That’s why it’s so important to train the mind and body.”

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