A fast-growing martial arts and physiotherapy business in Darlington is pushing forward with expansion plans as the business recovers from the tumultuous impact of two years of Covid-restrictions.

Sensei, owned by physiotherapist Rick Boyle (40), was set up in 2018 following help from TEDCO Business support and Virgin Startup to create a new style of integrated martial arts and physio service on Chesnut Street in Darlington.

As a top Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete as well as instructor, Rick set up the business initially as a platform to bring together his passion for jiu jitsu and his professional career, with business really taking off in the first two years of trading.  The Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, however, brought about a series of changes the business has had to bounce back from.

Rick Boyle said: “Our main takeaway from the last two years has been just how dedicated and loyal our members are.  Martial arts was never going to be easy to teach online given the very hands-on aspect of the training.  The majority of our members supported Sensei through the first lockdown by accessing our library of online training videos and subsequently, our live online training sessions.

“Having to quickly learn to become a presenter as well as videographer and editor was a baptism of fire but we managed and our members really supported us through that.  We’ve had lots of setbacks of course, we moved to outdoor and then indoor training with dummies to maintain social distancing.  We have a little more foresight I hope into what is could be on the horizon now and as a business we’re more prepared to deal with it but with that in mind, we do need to scale up our business.

Sensei was originally launched with a low-cost business loan of £25,000 from Virgin StartUp and offers a mix of treatments from highly qualified health professionals in the physiotherapy field as well as high quality mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiujitsu training for both children and adults.

Rick Boyle said: “Pre-lockdown we were really building foundations for a new generation of martial arts specialists in Darlington.  Professional athletes were permitted to continue with their training throughout lockdowns so we were able to keep some continuity in our coaching in this aspect but our growth and expansion plans have been scaled back from our original plans to just help us manage any uncertainty.  Despite how far we’ve come, we need to stay focused on retaining our core business so we are planning to move to larger premises that support our medium-term plans for expansion.  Fingers crossed that by 2023 we will be able to put the final part of our plans in motion and move to the much larger premises we originally planned pre-covid.”

Rick is a gold-medal winning athlete.  Both Rick and his wife, Jennifer, took gold in the Masters British Championships in 2019 in their respective open weight categories.  Rick has been involved with martial arts for nearly 18 years before taking up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu just over 4 years ago and formerly worked as an NHS physiotherapist before launching Sensei in 2018.

Rick continues: “For any business owner, the last two years has presented challenges on an almost daily basis but we have flexed to provide a service which benefitted our members and now we want to create a new space which rewards their support and loyalty.  In the future, I’m happy to say that the future looks more settled for our staff and members looking to put their training first and really progress on their martial arts journey.

You can find out more about Rick’s business at senseionline.co.uk

For more information on how we could support you with your business idea, contact us on (0191) 5266102.

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