Tiffany Haag and Northwest Austin ATA
Tiffany Haag is a 5th Degree Black Belt, Certified Instructor and School Owner in Austin, Texas. Her school, Northwest Austin ATA Martial Arts, was founded in 2015 by another Instructor. Mrs. Haag worked as Head Instructor for a year before purchasing the school, the second location of another Instructor/Owner, in 2019.
Northwest Austin ATA is one of the many Southwest US schools hit hard by both the COVID pandemic and the highly unusual and very destructive cold weather that struck the area. In Mrs. Haag’s case, the impact of COVID is still being felt as she works to rebuild from the damage done by the severe weather.
The best way to explain where her school is in recovery is to let her tell the story.
Mr. Myers: Coming out of the Covid-19 shutdowns, how did your student base look?
Mrs. Haag: We aren't out of the COVID-19 shutdown yet in Austin. We are still in level 4. The scale in Austin is Levels 1-5 with 5 being the most restrictive.
Mr. Myers: How had you dealt with the challenges of 2020 to help keep your students engaged and training?
Mrs. Haag: Similar to so many ATA Licensees, I relied heavily on owner/licensee social media groups to help determine the best path forward, including concepts like dedicated training spaces and gear for each student. It is funny how the old set points look super close at this point.
Mr. Myers: Most ATA Licensees around the world have face the challenge of training during the “shut downs”. How did your school handle those times and coming back to your current operations?
Mrs. Haag: Primarily training over Zoom. It took a lot of trial and error to come up with the best schedule for my student base. Ultimately, we ended up with hybrid classes most of the week with a dedicated video studio. We set up professional lighting, a higher quality camera, and a large screen tv for the online portion of class.
Mr. Myers: What stage of recovery from 2020 were you when the freezing weather hit?
Mrs. Haag: We were in the process of adding more in-person classes, including a dedicated sparring class for those who were okay with that level of contact. Several of our existing ones were maxed out for attendance due to social distancing limitations. Really not much had changed yet in our area: COVID cases are still relatively high and the safety recommendations are still very strict regarding occupancy and social distancing.
Mr. Myers: I understand that your school is like many, a part of commercial strip mall. What kind of damage did your school sustain in the freeze and thaw?
Mrs. Haag: As near as we can tell, a meter on one of the water lines in the vacant suite next door burst. It blew a hole in the wall between the two spaces and then proceeded to dump water through that hole and onto my drop ceiling. Eventually the weight was too much and the ceiling tiles collapsed along with a couple of inches worth of water. The water lines on the walls showed us how much water was released.
Mr. Myers: With the restrictions remaining from COVID and the damage done to your school, how are you currently delivering instruction?
Mrs. Haag: We continue to operate our Zoom classes, broadcasting from my home rather than from the school. We were previously offering students classes 4x a week for each training mode (Zoom, or in-studio) - and since hybrid classes will be not possible with outdoor training. We are in the process of adjusting our schedule to two days outdoor, two days on Zoom. We are essentially reducing our capacity 50%, from the viewpoint of my customers.
Mr. Myers: Where are you in this latest effort to recover operations?
Mrs. Haag: We are in a waiting pattern. The Field Adjustor has yet to see the space, although we do know from having an independent adjuster visit that the damage is significant. Once we can start work the main challenge in this area is that there was so much damage state-wide that contractors are very booked. I currently have no idea how long we will be out of the space.
Mr. Myers: What operational/instructional challenges are you currently facing?
Mrs. Haag: Getting approval to run commercial activities in nearby parks has been challenging as I am mostly being denied due to COVID restrictions. I am also very short on Instructor Staff due to COVID. Most of my dedicated and wonderful Legacy Instructors are being very careful about COVID exposure and are training from home 100% when they can even attend classes. Many are also seeing their professional workloads increasing greatly. We have been operating with essentially two instructors for this past year: myself and my daughter. My daughter ended up staying home to do virtual community college rather than starting her freshman year of University in person. That has been stressful as well because if either of us get sick the whole school would need to shut down during the quarantine period.
Mr. Myers: How have your students/families responded to the new challenges/damages?
Mrs. Haag: We went directly from a week of no classes, due to roads, power issues, and water issues, straight to this situation of having no training facility. While everyone so far is understanding and supportive, this process is going to be tough for the students who really struggle with online training. Everyone is right now approaching the current challenge of no training facility with a great Black Belt Attitude. I am working very hard to meet the needs of the students who were training with us specifically because we were holding in-person classes. The offers to help were almost overwhelming, and I know I will need every bit of the help of my community to fully recover from this.
Mr. Myers: Have you received any assistance from other Schools/Owners? From ATA HQ?
Mrs. Haag: Grandmaster Soon Ho Lee called me almost immediately after learning about the situation, and the Licensing department also called to let me know my options. My instructor, SM Joel Bass, has been instrumental in supporting me in so many ways. His guidance included referring me to school owners with experience in areas I needed to learn more about, like outdoor training. Locally I have had support from a couple of schools - Maldonado's ATA offered me the use of their school for my belt testing. They have always been almost a sister school to us. I know they would move mountains to help out. Finally, SM Candidate Palacios has been fantastic supporting me in any way she could through COVID and now in this situation, including inviting my students to join in her classes.
Mrs. Haag and Northwest Austin ATA have a long way to go before they can say they have “recovered” from all that has happened over the past year. The story of her school and its slow but determined recovery highlights the resiliency of both the ATA and the schools located all around the world. Her story is not unusual in our organization, schools large and small in the ATA have suffered losses due to COVID and destructive weather. Their collective story illustrates the power of unity.
Update: While writing this interview the Field Adjuster was able to assess the damage and work has began on gutting the space and repairing the damage. Mrs. Haag has removed all her belongings from the space. The repair crew has removed the entire drop ceiling, all of the flooring and a majority of the drywall in her school.
About the Author
4th Degree Black Belt
ATA member since 1997 Mr. Brian Myers a 4th Degree Black Belt and the co-owner of Pilsung ATA Martial Arts in Greenwood, IN. Mr. Myers has earned the title of Forms State Champion in the past, but in recent years has dedicated his focus to his students as Senior Instructor and ATA Tiger Instructor. His work as a writer and editor has also appeared on Examiner.com as a National Level Writer, Moosin.net, and in both ATA World and TKD Times magazines.