The Coast News Group
Key Martial Arts
Matthew and Ave Polack, husband and wife owners of Key Martial Arts in Oceanside, are offering a combination of in-person and virtual instructional classes in response to COVID-19. Despite a dramatic decline in business, they refuse to close. Courtesy photo
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Husband and wife martial arts team fight to keep studio open

OCEANSIDE — There is one unshakeable rule for Matthew and Ave Polack, owners of Key Martial Arts studio in Oceanside: Never say quit.

The husband and wife sensei team maintain a positive, “black belt” attitude, which has been critical to successfully navigating the pitfalls facing small business owners across North County in the wake of COVID-19.

And for the Polack couple’s dojo, which first opened its doors in 2007 at the outset of the last financial crisis, throwing in the towel is simply not an option.

“Sometimes you get punched in the face and you just gotta keep going,” Matthew told The Coast News. “We’re going to keep pushing through. We have to set an example, for our family and students.”

After shutting the studio’s doors this past March, the Polacks said they applied for every grant available to a small business facing financial hardship amidst mandatory statewide closures.

But the duo never received any financial assistance. 

“We put in so many applications, our fingers got tired of typing,” Matthew said. “We tried everything possible. I guess we aren’t big enough or fell through the cracks.”

The situation worsened when the studio lost 39 students in a month — nearly one-third of its customers — due to unemployment and other factors related to COVID-19.  Members just couldn’t afford to take classes.

Located near Camp Pendleton, Matthew said the family-friendly studio experiences a high turnover rate when students join the military, which is almost expected under “normal” circumstances. Typically, walk-ins and referrals help replenish their class sizes. 

“We get a lot of business through referrals by past students and our military people are very loyal,” Ave said. “We are grateful for that.”

But getting new customers since COVID-19 has been tough. Ave (pronounced Ah-vay) still works a full-time job to help the couple make ends meet.

“We are just buckling down, budgeting tighter and making it all work,” Ave said.

A group of parents started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the studio, which has brought in approximately $2,980 to pay the rent, Matthew said. The fundraiser is still active and accepting donations. 

To keep things afloat, the Polacks started offering members virtual instruction every day during stay-at-home orders.

Recently, Key Martial Arts has resumed in-person classes again with a limited capacity and following county health requirements, such as maintaining social distance guidelines and temperature screening.

The studio still offers an online course for members every Saturday.

“We’re doing our best, social distancing and taking temperatures when students walk in,” Matthew said.

Amanda Yunker, whose daughter Addison, 8, and her son Braedon, 5, both attend Key Martial Arts, said her children have benefited from both in-person instruction and virtual classes for the past year-and-a-half. 

“Virtual classes are going great,” Yunker said. “For my kids, it was a sense of normalcy, when they weren’t getting that anywhere else, at least they could see their instructor on the television screen. It was like seeing their friend.”

After researching several martial arts studios in the area, Yunker said the difference was Matthew’s approach to teaching younger students.

“(Matthew) has a sense of command,” Yunker said. “(Students) respect him, listen to him and I saw my kids getting a really great result from him.”

In particular, Yunker said her son Braedon’s self-confidence has grown since joining Key Martial Arts. 

Jesse Froelich, 39, of Vista, was hooked after attending a complimentary class and has taken classes at the studio for nearly three years. For Froelich, he was looking for something different than a typical gym experience.

“I was looking for an exercise program to keep me motivated and I wasn’t interested in the gym,” Froelich said. “It’s such a good break between work and home life. I get in there and one of the first things we do is we bow, kneel and close our eyes. It’s a good Zen moment.”

Froelich appreciates Matthew’s instructional style, particularly the ability to ask questions. Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Froelich has continued to take virtual classes several times per week, often practicing in his backyard.

“It wasn’t the same as real class, but I was still motivated,” Froelich said.  “I certainly wasn’t going to quit. I really needed the outlet.”

Student Creed (PDF)

The Key Martial Arts Student Creed. Courtesy photo


Steve marlin September 6, 2020 at 10:54 pm

The planet much beautiful because of these types of peoples ! Both of them have heart of gold. they love to contribute for their community along with martial arts.

Tom & Brenda July 26, 2020 at 12:02 am

We love the Polack family! Our 2 children have been a part of Key Martial Arts for 6 years. They have been consistently taught focus, discipline, respect and a good work ethic to name a few. Both Sensei Matt and Ave are tirelessly committed to their students and families. They are some of the most giving people we have the privilege of knowing.
Thank you Matt and Ave!

Boris July 24, 2020 at 1:44 pm

I loved studying there so much! I still wear the t-shirt and wish I can come back someday even though now I am on the other side of the globe…

Matthew Ball July 24, 2020 at 3:02 am

Matt is an amazing professional. I met Matthew through a martial arts instructor program. I have a martial arts club in Australia and have kept an eye on Matt’s club over the past few years. His values and skills continue to impress me. He is also very down to earth and easy to talk to. Best of luck guys.

Michelle July 23, 2020 at 8:43 am

This family is a part of our school community and has always been a blessing to our school. They selflessly contribute their time and talent to our school and always with a positive attitude. We ♥️ The Pollack family!!

Robert Casas July 22, 2020 at 9:06 pm

Love these two! They work so hard for their community that I’m glad their story is being shared! Lots of love to this beautiful family!

Kate Moser July 22, 2020 at 8:24 pm

My 3 boys attended Key Martial Arts for three years. What a difference it made in my children. My oldest gained so much self esteem and confidence. He switched from being an extreme introvert to an outgoing extrovert. My middle child learned to deal more with his self control. And my youngest, he learned to focus better. It really helped him in school. He was also extremely shy but now is extremely outgoing like his oldest brother. We moved away about a year ago because of the military and the whole family has been really upset that we had to leave Key Marital Arts. We were never able to find a martial arts program that gave us the whole experience that Key Martial Arts did. I highly recommend anyone looking for a program for themselves or especially their children to give them a try. You won’t regret it.

Maria Provoznik July 22, 2020 at 4:24 pm

Love this martial arts school! I’ve been going here for over 10 years. The students and the teachers are amazing. Very family-oriented and the martial arts classes are fun and knowledgeable.

Frank July 22, 2020 at 3:42 pm

The military relocated us about a year ago and we have not found another school that even comes close to comparing to Key Martial Arts. We are praying to get stationed at Pendleton again to resume training there. These two individuals are amazing people and have always been great for the military community. Highly recommend giving back to them! Semper Fi!

Diane Incrivaglia July 22, 2020 at 2:41 pm

We are Ave’s parents and Matt’s in-laws so our interest is personal. But there is absolutely no doubt that Ave and Matt’s interest, energy and passion are boundless when talking about their Dojo. We have seen first-hand their professional characteristics when teaching their students and their students love them. Anyone who knows anything about karate knows that respect is an expected attitude in class which is a quality that All children need to be taught and Ave and Matt both excel in teaching that to their students. Just that attribute alone is worth it for your children’s character. It’s something they go home with as well as the lessons learned to be able to protect yourself if needed. As the children mature they will appreciate the calming feeling karate can give you. They will become sure of themselves creating self-confident individuals

God Bless Ave and Matt for persevering through these trying times we are all experiencing. Life will get better. And all the children taking classes at Key Martial Arts will prove to their parents that time was not wasted.

Scott July 22, 2020 at 2:27 pm

These are genuine people. Matt and Ave both are exceptional instructor with BIG hearts. You will not find a better place for your instruction in North County. They deserve the world for what they do with the community.

Melissa July 22, 2020 at 2:24 pm

We love Key Martial Arts!

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