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The worldwide bully, COVID, succeeded in closing Matt Brown’s martial arts studio

  • Matt Brown, the former owner of the recently closed Penacook School Martial Arts, stands in front of sign thanking the patrons of the store on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Matt Brown, the former owner of the recently closed Penacook School Martial Arts, stands in front of sign thanking the patrons of the store on Wednesday, November 18, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Matt Brown opened his martial arts school in 2000 and spent the past eight years in the Thirty Pines plaza in Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 11/21/2021 5:13:11 PM
Modified: 11/21/2021 5:12:57 PM

Matt Brown initially learned martial arts to push back against bullies in Penacook 40 years ago.

They left him alone once they realized he’d strike back.

“Bullies don’t want to stand up to someone who stands up for themselves,” said Brown, a 10th-degree Black Belt and the former owner of the recently closed Penacook School Martial Arts.

Tell that to COVID. The coronavirus won’t back down, thumping two longtime staples in Penacook on Halloween: Donatello’s Pizza and Brown’s studio, which were practically next door neighbors at Thirty Pines Plaza.

No matter how hard you fight, some business owners have learned, this bully sticks around, jabbing and punching and making life miserable.

“We had a very good location and a great landlord,” Brown said. “I could not have asked for a better space. And then COVID.”

And then COVID. Sounds like a sad country song. There’s pre- and post-COVID life stamped onto our minds. Brown had to cut down on classes to keep students socially distanced. Overall, business and attendance were down. Eventually, the COVID bully dealt a fatal blow to his business.

“Through 2019, we were growing and paying the bills,” Brown said. “Not a lot of profit, but as soon as COVID hit, we lost half our clientele. We had virtual classes from June to September. No new members. Just dedicated clients, and they got us through.”

Brown’s name means something in the Martial Arts orbit. A First Degree Black Belt says a lot. A 10th degree Black Belt says more.

He learned the art in grade school and taught it while in high school at Merrimack Valley. He had to be resourceful.

“I had been teaching over my parents’ garage,” Brown said. “No charge.”

He got sidetracked. He studied criminal justice at New Hampshire Technical Institute and worked in loss prevention through the 1990s.

That means he was a store detective. He worked during the early days at the Steeplegate Mall, and later at Ames, where he caught a woman pushing a cart with an air conditioner and vacuum cleaner in it, neither paid for, into the parking lot, cracking the case of three individuals working together to disappear with expensive, big items.

He was in the Coast Guard as well. Then his grandmother died and left him money. He knew what he wanted to do and he did it, opening a martial arts studio in 2000.

He bounced around, searching for his home, his business home, to teach young people the value of discipline and confidence, instruct them how to defuse a situation. And, if needed, counter any aggressive, offensive move that comes your way.

After six stops, he’d been in the strip mall adjacent to the Thirty Pines complex the past eight years.

“We teach them a process,” Brown said. “We teach them to say (bullying) is not okay, then they talk to an authority figure, but they have to understand that they may then have to tackle the situation, may have to stand up for themselves.”

He tried to do that against the current worldwide bully. He countered and he remained disciplined, and when the writing was on the wall, he closed.

Brown said he lost $17,000 in 2020. His daughter, Justis Brown, 22, teaches private classes now, because Matt can’t move like he once did. He was slowed by a troubling case of Lyme disease.

He recently had his right hip replaced, and he’s thinking about having his other hip replaced soon. He accompanies Justis on house calls, guiding her during the private lessons.

He’s 5-11, 280 pounds, 50 pounds heavier than he was while in peak form, when his stomach looked washboard strong.

Brown said that he’s actually enjoying his freedom, the unlocking of the chains that come with owning a business. After 20 years, he felt burned out.

He’s in a new phase of his life. He rented the space and did not sell the business. His wife works two jobs and Brown admits, “It’s hard making ends meet.”

He loved drawing Peanuts characters in school and says he was pretty good. He stopped drawing and picked it up again during the pandemic.

He took classes. He posted his work on Facebook and has sold drawings for $50, $100. He’s good with tattoos and logos.

Now he wants to open his own graphic design business, Panda Services, providing private lessons and artwork for martial arts studios.

Meanwhile, he’s enjoying the view. Running the show for 20 years took its toll.

“It’s just kind of hitting me now,” Brown said. “I was relieved because you don’t see behind the scenes that you are struggling to stay afloat and you’re working 80-hour weeks. It’s very draining and I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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