Lendio Fuels Small Business: GKX Martial Arts

4 min read • Mar 07, 2022 • Rachel Mennies

How financing and Lendio helped make the difference for an Austin-area business trying to weather a pandemic

“Why martial arts? Because I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle—so I decided I’d do the best I could and train like them.”

What happens when your martial arts studio comes up against a global pandemic? Watch GKX Martial Arts story to find out.

Don Harris, the would-be Ninja Turtle, and Serenity Harris are the founders and co-owners of GKX Martial Arts, a martial arts studio in Cedar Park, Texas, that centers on the teaching of Goju Kenpo: a uniquely hybrid martial arts style with a self-defense focus. “What sets us apart,” says Serenity, “would probably be our ‘people over profit’ approach. We’re more about training people to be black belts, not just have black belts—to be martial artists and gain the respect and discipline and composure that comes with that.”

GKX Martial Arts, like so many small businesses offering in-person services, needed to summon all the discipline and composure they could find when the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed them down in spring of 2020 and has ongoingly altered the way they deliver their training to students. 

We spoke to Don and Serenity to learn more about the story behind GKX’s founding, how they’ve pivoted during the pandemic, and how Lendio helped them grow at a pivotal moment in their business. (Interview has been edited for length and concision.)

Tell us a little bit about how GKX Martial Arts came to be.

We’re both black belts who started training when we were kids. We moved to Austin 14 years ago, and when our oldest son was at the age that we wanted him to start training, around 6 years ago, we couldn’t find a school that encompassed everything that we were looking for in his own personal training.

So we thought, how about we just pull the trigger [and open GKX]? It fulfills a lifelong dream to have our own school: to build the components that were the most important to us, the community, the family, and the practical skill-building. Goju Kenpo is a really elite style of martial arts for self-defense—we’re not just a belt factory.

These days, Serenity helms the customer interaction and behind-the-scenes business side of things, and Donny works as our amazing instructor.

How did Lendio help you to reach where you are today?

Because we were a brand-new business, no normal bank would touch us. Looking around, Lendio popped up. We’re big sticklers for how somebody is treated in a business transaction, and our experience with Lendio was phenomenal from the very beginning.

We originally borrowed $50,000 at around our 3.5-year mark. We needed to do some remodeling, and we used it for growth. At that time, we were past the first couple years of being a new business, and we knew that we needed to dig deep to make it to that key marker of five years, that milestone of success in having a small business. And had it not been for COVID… (laughs)

What about your COVID experience? An in-person business like GKX must have faced challenges during the pandemic.

Oh yes. We had a 50% student loss through COVID that we’re still working to recover. We got shut down when everyone was in quarantine for that first handful of months, and we weathered it with Zoom, completely remote classes: we implemented some different ranking systems to adjust, so we weren’t compromising the integrity of what someone has to do to earn a rank in our system. We were able to keep our students active and reach their own accomplishments in lockdown. We also became “tech geniuses” overnight in the way that everybody had to: you either adapted or you didn’t make it. So we weathered it through ingenuity and adaptability and humor. (laughs) Lots of humor.

We had a student come in recently that we haven’t seen for a couple years. And he said, I should have stopped by sooner. I missed you guys so much. And we told him you’re our family all the time. Like, you will never stop being family for us, whether you’re showing up for class and adding to our bottom line or not. It’s one of those things that’s more important than the bottom line. 

When we do get to open the doors and have students come in, it lights a fire in us. And we measure success by whether we get to keep doing what we want to do, regardless of global pandemic or injury or anything else: our doors staying open is success for us.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.

Rachel Mennies

Rachel Mennies is the owner of The Little Book, LLC, a small business that provides writing and editing services to individuals, nonprofits, and businesses of all sizes. At last count, Rachel's writing and editing skills have helped shape nearly 500 articles and blog posts for Lendio.com.