42 – Amy Gardam: Living a Martial Arts Family Legacy
When Amy's dad Kyoshi Andrew Roberts sadly passed she was left with 2 options: Quit or continue the family legacy. She's doing the latter.
- What made Amy Gardam continue the legacy of her dad, Kyoshi Andrew Roberts
- The dad and daughter bond that was cemented by martial arts
- How Edge Martial Arts got back on track after losing 80 students
- Spotting young talented instructors early and making it known
- How you can help the Kyoshi Andrew Roberts Foundation and its mission to help families who have a loved one in palliative care
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
AMY: I felt like he was there, I felt close to him and I felt happy to be here, I prefer to be here than at home – this was my home.
GEORGE: Amazing, so you truly are living a legacy.
AMY: I think so, it's a good feeling.
GEORGE: Good day, this is George Fourie and welcome to another martial arts media business podcast, episode number 42. I have today with me Amy Gardam from Edge Martial arts in Mt. Evelyn, Victoria, how are you doing today Amy?
AMY: I’m good thank you, George, how are you?
GEORGE: Excellent, thank you. So we're going to have a bit of a chat about you and running your school and a whole bunch of other things that have happened and the journey that you've taken to… if it's right me saying that way, that you really continuing a legacy within your family, would that be the right way to say it?
GEORGE: All right, so we've got lots to talk about, so I'm going to jump into the interview. Just a few things: the show notes for this interview is at martialartsmedia.com/42, so that's 4, 2 as in the numbers. And that's it, let's get started. So, Amy, first and foremost, tell us about you: who is Amy Gardam?
AMY: Ok. So, I'm a mother of two, I'm married, I've got my husband. I started martial arts when I was 4 years old with my dad. We started in just a local school hall at the time and eventually, the martial arts took off and he opened up a little part time center. And then when I was 15, just shy of being 15, I actually started teaching with him, just teaching the little kids. And from that moment on, and loved it, made it a career and now I run the business. I've got my two kids, and I'm a full-time working mum.
GEORGE: Ok, awesome. So you are running the business full time and you're a mum and so you're really just born into the martial arts, this is everything you know, right?
AMY: My whole life I've done martial arts, it's all I've known.
GEORGE: All right, cool. So now, you're also running the business and that's just you at this point in time?
AMY: Yeah, running the business with my staff, but my husband has recently, in the last three weeks quit his job as a welder to come onboard and we've brought it together, so we are running the business together and he's slowly learning martial arts basically.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. So he's coming from a completely different angle then. He hasn't trained martial arts yet, but he’s also stepped in to help?
AMY: Yeah. He did kick boxing, but that was about six years ago. He did it for six years back then, but he's never done karate or mixed martial arts, no.
GEORGE: Ok, so what's the main reason that your husband has jumped on board into the business?
AMY: He didn't love his job, welding was hard work. He always came home dirty and he didn’t like being dirty from work. But also, being a mum and running the school, it was really quite tricky to do it on my own because we have two schools that are full time. This particular school I'm in at the moment, we actually own the building and it was very hard to maintain, just things like painting, light fittings, you know, things breaking down as they do in a normal house, let alone a business. I just couldn't do that and teach and run the book work by myself, so I said to him, you know: best do it together. He was really excited to leave his dirty welding job and come on board and do it together.
GEORGE: All right, cool. So he's running a lot of, helping with the business maintenance and things like that for you?
AMY: Yes, yeah, that's mostly it. He's just started answering phone calls and doing Facebook enquiries as well.
GEORGE: So your dad was Kyoshi Andrew Roberts, right?
GEORGE: All right, so do you mind just sharing the whole story of what happened with your dad and what led you running the whole business and everything full time?
AMY: Ok. Well, I started martial arts when I was four and at that time, when I turned 14 years old, I actually started teaching. And I've been doing it as a career ever since then, but I had my son four years ago and took some maternity leave, it was all good. And my dad actually got diagnosed with a brain tumor in June 2015. We noticed that he'd been forgetting a lot of things, his memory was tracy and his mood it seemed like he had depression actually, but he was really grumpy, he didn't want to have family dinners, he didn't want to see any of us.
And my mother took him to the doctors after he was sick one night and they found the tumor. And a week later they found that it was actually brain cancer and the worst form. It's called a GBM stage four, which is the worst kind of brain cancer that you could get. They gave him 14 months to live and of course in that time, you think that your dad is a superhero and he will be the one that survives, especially one as fit as him. You know, he had such a will and power to live that you just think they're supernatural. I never really, at the time, I was sad, I was upset, but I didn't really think much about it.
My husband and I wanted to have another child, so I fell pregnant with my daughter April and I had her last year in May and I went on maternity leave. In that time, my father came to the hospital, but he started, his memory started getting worse, he went back for a scan and they found the tumor had grown back, bigger. And the doctor said that the chemotherapy wasn't working, he was getting the most powerful type, and they couldn't do anything else.
So basically, from that moment, he was in palliative care. There was nothing more they could do for him, we just had to I guess just keep enjoying the time that we had left with him. So slowly, he went downhill. He lost the ability to move, he was in a wheelchair, he stopped remembering who we were and he just started sleeping. He just wouldn't get out of his chair, started sleeping a lot, then one day… we used to laugh because we'd take turns checking on him.
And at this stage, he was still talking any stuff and we called it daddy day care. So we'd actually go and sit by his bedside and if he wanted up, great! But one morning I went in there and he just wouldn't wake up, he was just not responsive. I called my mum in, I had to pop into the shops to get some things, and when I came back that afternoon, and he was still in bed and I thought, ‘normally he is up by now?’. And he made a really strange noise and I called my mum in, she came to check and from that moment on, we knew that was the end.
We didn't know how many days he had left, he lived another week and a half, but he was unresponsive. He didn’t, didn’t drink juice or water. And the palliative care nurses came to visit, and they said, yes, it could go on for days, we had no idea how long it would be. So on November 22nd, he actually passed away from cancer. He was asleep, it was… as far as they tell us, it's peaceful and we were by his bedside, all of his daughters, we sat by him every second of the day and spoke to him and told him funny stories that we remember from being little and making sure that the last things that he heard from our voices were the happy things, the thing that we remember and the amazing stories and times we had with him.
So that was very nice that we had the opportunity to do that, but an absolutely devastating situation, horrible. So that's how I came to take over the business. I wasn't sure if could continue on, but you know, I did. I decided that, yep, my dad worked very hard in his business and his whole life, he and I worked together, we used to be training buddies.
We'd go to seminars together, we'd be home watching DVDs of new material, new teaching techniques and we'd be practising in the laundry room. Mum would yell at us because we'd be in her way, or we'd kick something over, we were like two kids. But there was just too many memories to just walk away. So I decide to continue Edge on, as hard as it was. I walked back in and held my head up high and just did the best I could, still am.
GEORGE: You decided to Edge on – is that a slogan, is that something that you've got a stamp?
AMY: Actually, I haven't used that one before, but I'm going to use it now!
GEORGE: Ok, cool.
AMY: But yeah, you did, you do. I mean, I worked 15 years in this, because I'm nearly 30, 15 years of my life in this business – I don't want to just give that up because the only other thing I've done is a qualified swimming teacher. I’m not anymore, but that was the only other thing I've actually done, as far as a career, so this is the only career I've ever known, but then I sort of sat back and thought, well my dad did this his whole life and it actually brought me closer to him. The moment I walked back into the dojo doors, I felt like he was there. I felt close to him and I felt happy to be here. I prefer to be here than at home, this was my home.
GEORGE: Amazing, so you truly are living a legacy.
AMY: I think so, it's a good feeling. The moment I came back and I saw all my students, I actually felt closer to him, like he was still here with me. So from that moment on, I thought, yeah, I can do it. And you know, I will do it, because like I said, I've been training since I was 4 years old, I've been teaching since I was 15, so that's been nearly half my life, I'm nearly thirty, of teaching in this business. And just to walk away, would just have been silly.
It's a long time just to walk away from something, so I decided to continue it on, I love my students, I love teaching. I have so much passion for teaching, that made me feel better, just seeing my kids, seeing my students. And that's when I said to my husband, you need to jump on board and my mum, of course, inherited the business from the will and I spoke to her in February this year 2017 and she said to me that she can't do it anymore, because she doesn't want a part of it, it was just too emotional for her, so she said, do you want to buy it? And we said, yeah.
Obviously, it took a few months and we did the switchover and end of the financial year, because it just made sense and that's really sort of the story that, like you said, it's continuing his legacy. He's such a big part of the community here at Mt. Evelyn and the local areas that everyone knows him. His funeral was so booked with people down the street, I couldn't tell you, but a couple of thousand people were actually there, just to say their final goodbye, so it was very important.
GEORGE: Well, that's quite a story and my hat off to you, just going through all that, but really, really turning things around, because, like you're saying, there are so many parts of this, right? Because you actually have to deal with the fact that you just lost your dad, who's also been your teacher all of your whole life and now you've got two choices to make, right? Do you abandon it and let it not be anything and leave it to someone that might buy it over, but there's not that emotional drive behind it, because it's not that real passion about what was the business, which was the family as well, or face it and really just take it on, which is what you've done. That's quite amazing.
AMY: Exactly, thank you.
GEORGE: You're welcome. So how are you finding this?
AMY: Well some days, like yesterday, if you asked me the same question, I don't think it was. But most of the time, you know, I've got staff here, so they're really fantastic, they do a really good job. They're fantastic instructors and they're very motivated people, but with the kids, sometimes the kids come to work with me and that's not so much teaching, but they'll come and I'll be doing office duties and I’ve set up a little play area for them, but at home, the house is not as clean as it used to be. There's a lot more washing, but that's alright because husbands telling me that he's going to do the washing part!
Whose house doesn’t have a washing lying around?. But other than that, it's going good. I think it mostly helps just knowing that where I've come from and what we've been through, I was by my dad’s bedside when he passed away, I was with him 24/7 and I believe if I can get through that, I can get through anything. And at least I love doing what I'm doing, so I'm not doing a job that I hate, I get to come to work every day doing something that I love and that's what keeps you going as well. It keeps pushing.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. What was it like for the first time for you, stepping back into the school?
AMY: That was hard, it was hard because he's got photos and training certificates everywhere. So the whole school has lots of photos of him, but I mean, it was nice to see, nice to look at and I've got all these memories that I can actually look back on, it was just mostly hard because all of a sudden, even though he gave me the title of sensei, and I'm still sensei, I really realized, wow, there's no one else now, I’m the top. I’m the head instructor.
So everyone's going to come to me, even though I was used to people coming to me for questions and that was a big part of my job as being sensei, now there was no one to go to and go, hey, what do you think of this, or what would you do if this happened, or, I need your help, I need your advice. And that was probably the hardest part, because that all of a sudden hit me, and I'm like, wow! This is a really big responsibility, not just teaching martial arts, because to me, that's just like a walk in the park now, but having to deal with business calls and people wanting to do this and changing this detail and I didn't understand any of that, I'm still learning how to do bookkeeping. That's hard!
GEORGE: Right. Ok, so but you've got your husband that's helping with that role and so how are you guys finding a balance in who's going to handle which task of the business? Obviously, you're the teaching and so forth – how are you finding the balance?
AMY: Well, still at the moment, I'm doing a lot of teaching, because my head instructor is still away. Once he comes back, I can step you a little bit, because he's awesome, but we gave him 5 weeks just to go and travel the world, so I don't have to be on the floor teaching as much, which will give me a little bit more of a break. I can be at home with my kids a little bit more, but still, of course, I want to be involved, because I like being here.
But he's fixed a lot of stuff, a lot of things that were broken down, like simple things like just the lights not working – just call in an electrician to come in and fix it. Now, all that stress I don't have anymore. He's doing that, like yesterday, I said to you our EFTpos machine decided to stop working. Don't know why the line just wasn't there. So he's ringing, the electrician couldn't fix it. The next minute, he was on the phone to our bank and got a new machine in one day!
So if that was me, I wouldn't have had the time to have made all those phone calls and I wouldn't have been able because my kids get looked after when we're both here by family, so I wouldn't have had the time to be here all the time. And those things, repairs and maintenance, he does really well. Then, he's just started learning to take enquiries over the phone, so when the phone rings, he's been answering a few calls today, which is nice, I'm doing my book work on my computer, he's answering calls and he's taking over our Facebook page, along with me, because we're both admins on it, but he's been answering a lot of enquiries so he's slowly starting to learn how to sell martial arts, explain the benefits of martial arts to our prospective clients and the more he does it, the more he's going to get better, which will give me more of a balance to do the things that I'm good at, like teaching.
GEORGE: For sure. And also just to put things into perspective, because we didn't cover this at the beginning, just the way our conversation started. But if you put some numbers on the business, how many students do you have at your location?
AMY: So, we have three schools, the Mt. Evelyn here we have I think… in total, we have 578, this week, and that's all our total. Mt. Evelyn here runs 6 days a week, which has the bulk of it. Our school down in Chirnside park is about 10-15-minute drive down the road and it has just reached to a 110. And we have a school, a satellite school we call it, up at Woori Yallock, which is about 20 minutes up the road and that school there have 50 students, just fighting two classes, one night a week. So in total, were on at about 578, with a lot of new people coming in this week, so nice and big.
GEORGE: That's awesome. So how are you, how much time are you spending with your involvement within the satellite school and other location as well?
AMY: For the satellite school in Woori Yallock, I go there every fortnight and on a Wednesday night, I pop up there for the two classes to teach with my head instructor there and then, of course, come back to our main school here. And then at Chirnside park, I'm there in the mornings on a Tuesday morning and the Thursday afternoons, I got here and I teach as well. And then of course, in the daytime, I might pop in, do a little bit of bookwork, just check on paperwork, all that sort of stuff, but most of my time is spent at Mt. Evelyn.
GEORGE: Ok. Now, tell me, and just going back in the story again, right? When the big change happened and your dad sadly passed away, what was the response – and you mentioned there was such a big following and so much support for your dad: what was the response within the school? Did anything change with the students at that time?
AMY: Yes. Yes, we did. We dropped in that year, because the same year he was sick, the last year in May, I actually had my daughter, so I went on maternity leave for six months. So I didn't come back until sort of end of August, September time. And that's when he really started going downhill, so I think I only came back for three weeks to work again after maternity leave when he got ill. And because he was ill, I wanted to be by his bedside.
We knew he was dying, I wanted to be there every second that I could and we lost last year – so, my instructors did a great job with what they had but we did lose around about 76-80 students in total on that total count. That's a huge drop for a school to lose in 8 months’ time, because I wasn't here much, of course he wasn’t here from mid year last year and it's going to affect your business, you know, students have grown up with him as well as the head instructor, it could be the black belts, it could be middle kids. But the other thing we found, and it's OK, is the emotions we were dealing with, some people didn't want to be apart of that.
Everyone has their agenda and everyone has problems in their own life, so we understood that we would lose people because they couldn't be around us, maybe because it was sad. We tried not to make it a sad atmosphere, but it's going to affect us, you can't change that. And we were OK with some people that came up and said, look, we thank you for your time, but we won't continue on, and some people sort of left after he actually did pass away, because of course, it made them sad to be here.
And that was OK, we knew this would happen, but we had a lot of people stand by us and just support us and I had people, my black belts jump in. You know, I'll do the class, don't worry, we've got your back, we're here for you. And you know, we will be forever grateful to them for sticking by us and all the students that have. But it's going to affect you, there's nothing you can do about it.
GEORGE: Right. And have a lot of those students come back after that, now that everything’s sort of settled down, that people have changed their perspectives, or ?
AMY: Yeah, look, we have seen a few, but when I say a few, it's only about 8 or 9 students that I can think of off the top of my head that have actually come back and had that little bit of a break. We still have students that come back from a few years ago that left us, but for that time, yeah, it's not I think because it was such a big part of peoples lives and a lot of my black belts, most of my black belts stayed, a couple of them just because they were just so upset, especially the teenagers!
They're already going through their teenage problems, teenage dramas and I think that was just one more emotional thing that they couldn't deal with. But we haven't got a lot of people back from that time, but we have joined up a lot of new people which is nice. It brings a freshness to the center.
GEORGE: That's awesome. So yeah, because you're going to just have that change in people moving on and that's mainly, it was just time for them anyway to move on. And sometimes when you look at things in business, you look at it as there’s the downfall in it, people are leaving, the first thing you always look at is, oh, why is this happening, it's so frustrating!
The effects of a situation, but then, there's always – and I try to train myself for this is, always try to look for, where's the lesson in it? Or why is this really happening? Is it a need? Is it that the business now needs to take a new direction, or just make a change. And with your case, that's obviously where the new blood is coming in, new students and although they're not maybe aware of the history and everything, it's not that they're already part of that whole… the event happening and so forth.
AMY: Yes, yeah. So we… exactly, we needed to I came in this year, so after having some time off at Christmas of course as we all do, a couple of weeks, I went away on holiday, I came back and I said to my husband, we need to change some things around, not just with classes and sort of structure, but we also need to change a little bit around the business, so people can see that we still care. I’m still very much, my whole life is invested into it, but we want Edge to grow bigger and better and the best thing I did was actually change our whole reception and office area.
Everything, I just went in and said, that's it, I'm moving everything around. And I changed it, I got some new cabinetry put in and everyone walked in and they were like, wow, that's amazing! And it was really just to show them that a change has happened, a big change has happened, but we want to now make positive changes. We want to show you that this is the new Edge, it's my school now and I want everyone to understand that I love it, I'm passionate about it, this is the way.
Last year, we had our problems, our downfalls, something that devastated us, but this year, it's a brand new year. Let’s go, let's make it bigger and brighter than ever, have more people here, build up the students, build up the school! Make it look better, or even with painting, changing colors too, just so people could see that Edge is still the same, fantastic school that he built, but now it's just going to get better, it's going to grow and get bigger and better than ever. That's my goal.
GEORGE: That's awesome, hats off to you, you're doing an amazing job and I'm sure if I actually interviewed somebody else other than you, they would give me much more insight about your skills and how you are handling all this, between the teaching and everything else. So what's your vision now, going forward? Where do you see taking Edge martial arts?
AMY: Well, short term goal: the short term goal this year is to finish out the year on over 600 students, so we've never officially reached, I think we've reached 599, that's our biggest count we’ve ever had and this year I want to finish at least 601. 601 students, it’s how I want the year to finish, active students. That's short term, but long term, I want to eventually create another full-time school, so it’s a similar area, but another 20 minutes – half an hour away. It’s a different market and that will be next year. Create a new school and just slowly start expanding.
My dad really always wanted to have many different schools everywhere and at the time, having kids, I was like, yeah, you know, I'm really happy doing what I'm doing, but I can't take that on for another school by myself. But now, having my husband on board, having awesome staff and instructors, I want to have another school and one day it would be really nice to turn around and say, yeah, we've got 1000 students in total.
Or, you know, I've got three sensei's at my schools, you know? That's always been a really big goal, just to make it bigger and better and a really big market for myself personally, I've always wanted to go into the field of helping women that have been abused or are in a violent relationship and go down that path of just empowering women and getting them to be stronger and just help them learn martial arts and be more confident in themselves, especially women. So that would be a personal goal that I would look towards in the future. When my kids are a little bit older.
GEORGE: All right, fantastic. So what are you going to do differently? You've gone through all this and you've grown up in martial arts, you've got all this experience. Now, you open that fourth location: what would you do differently based on everything that you've learned?
AMY: For everything that I've learned, if things aren't too different, I would just make sure that the person, obviously you've got to have an instructor that's in charge of that school and I myself have to oversee it, but make sure they really have 110% heart in teaching as well, because my teachers now, they're absolutely phenomenal. Over the years, as every martial arts school has, we've had teachers that might start off passionate and then slowly dwindle down and you can see how that affects your school.
But I want to be surrounded by people that love teaching martial arts and kids, so I would really make sure that all my instructors are passionate about martial arts. The other thing I would do different, just structuring things differently. I think because I was only young when this business started and it’s like, I've grown up in it, but I've never had control of it. So I have ideas, I have inputs and I've always taken on board ideas because my father valued me so much, but at the end of the day, you don't have the final say when it’s not yours.
No one does, any employee doesn’t have the final say, that I would just change some systems and just start fresh. So I think that's really what I’d change, but other than that, I love our school, I love our curriculum, I love our culture, so I don't need to change any of that because that to me is perfect.
GEORGE: Ok, fantastic. So are you already looking, do you have those instructors in mind that you are grooming for that role?
AMY: Yes, I do, and she just started part time with us this year actually. I've got two, but one obviously I want to make sure I keep one at our main school. I've got another instructor that is going to look at buying our Chirnside school down the track though. It's not happening anytime soon, but I’ll make sure they're going to manage it the way that you want it to be run. But I do have a young girl which started part time, she is just full of life, full of energy, very very passionate and I just got another young casual started on board too, so you never know, in a couple of years, after they finish school, they might want to do this as a full-time job too, hopefully.
GEORGE: Yeah, for sure. Do you actually, when you see potential like that, do you actually bring it to their attention that there is a career path that they can take?
AMY: Yes, yeah. I usually start them as casuals with us and they could start at the age of 14 years old. And as time goes on, they're going to get really good at their job, because they're loving it, but I will always come up and say, you know what, you're doing fantastic, I want you to work maybe an extra day, because I really need you and I want you to be here. The kids love you and if they're that good, I think you should tell them. Make them aware that they're very good at what they're doing and then you'll find out just by the energy they give you back, smile or just their face will light up because they feel really good that you've given them compliments and they enjoy what they're doing.
So hopefully, you build them up and you talk to them and you say, this would be a great career, we’d love to have you if you're ever looking for a part time job or a full-time job after school, there's one here for you if you want it. But this young girl that I've just put on this year, that worked well for her and she was really excited, so last year, she was going to go to Uni, she actually tried out at Uni after two months and she just didn't like it. She was like, I want to be a martial arts instructor. So that worked out well!
GEORGE: That's amazing, send people to school and then they find their true purpose and leave school for martial arts – good choice! To all the kids listening, that would be great!
AMY: It is a great job and this is a great career, I'm not going to lie, I love it.
GEORGE: Awesome. Amy, it’s been great chatting to you. If anybody wants to follow your journey and find out more about you, where can they find out more about Edge martial arts and what you do?
AMY: Well, we have our website, edgemartialarts.com.au. We also have our Facebook page, so we always upload things on there. We also have a foundation we run in my father's name, it’s called the Kyoshi Andrew Roberts Foundation and that foundation we actually use to obviously get basically we want to… it’s charity, so we’re getting money to help people if they're ever in a situation, it doesn't have to be brain cancer, it's not about brain cancer, it's about actually helping families who have a loved one that may be in palliative care and instead of taking them to a hospital or a hospice where they need to stay there and that's where they spend their final days, you can actually do it at home like we did.
We were really lucky because of our business; it gave us the income that my parents could afford to keep my dad at home. Mum bought the best bed, the best couches for him to sit in and be comfortable, so the last few weeks of his life, he could be at home surrounded by his family. Now, not everyone gets that opportunity, our foundation is to help people, to just offer them support, even if it’s something as simple as getting the house cleaner in, because you can’t maintain your house, or just being able to buy some of the equipment, like wheelchairs and toilet seat and things like that that can help you to keep your loved one at home if they are in the devastating end of palliative care.
If you follow the actual journey of how he lived the rest of his days, the rest of his life, on the Kyoshi Andrew Roberts foundation site on Facebook, otherwise it’s martial arts Facebook page, you can follow us there. Website, Facebook – we’re everywhere.
GEORGE: Awesome, we’ll put all those links in all the show notes that can be accessed.
AMY: That would be great, thank you.
GEORGE: Cool. Thanks a lot, Amy, I will speak to you soon.
AMY: You're welcome, thanks, George, bye!
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