CEDAR RAPIDS — Keoni Koch has come a long way since training mixed martial artists in his Cedar Rapids basement two decades ago.
For Koch, 38, what started as an outlet for aspiring MMA fighters has become a full-fledged performance training operation encompassing multiple disciplines. After six years on Oakland Road, Koch, his wife Courtney and fellow Hard Drive Performance Center co-owner Brent Stepanek are moving their gym into an 11,000-square foot building at 712 3rd Avenue SE in downtown Cedar Rapids.
“We were just running out of space,” Koch said. “Another issue that we dealt with was visibility. We didn’t have a lot of visibility at the Chadima building. People knew our brand and they knew of us, they heard about us, but seeking us out was a different story altogether. We didn’t have any publicity, any public traffic, any walk-by traffic, anything like that.”
The gym will hold its grand opening Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. with a free two-hour wrestling clinic for kids from kindergarten through 12th grade featuring Cornell College assistant coach Aaron Engle. At 11 a.m., 2018 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation gold medalist Daniel Wanderlay will conduct a $40 seminar, while Cedar Rapids Prairie wrestling coach Kane Thompson will lead a second free wrestling clinic from 1-3.
“The benefit of what martial arts or yoga or some of these physical activities provide isn’t something that should be limited to a very select few of people that call themselves combatants,” Koch said. “The general public at large can benefit massively from some of these things. I’ve had people come from all walks of life, all ages, people that would never have thought they would be able to excel at this come in, try it out and then six months later they are going, ‘I can’t believe I am doing this.’”
The grand opening will include live music outside the facility, food and drink. All proceeds will be added to a youth scholarship fund to cover the costs of performance training for eligible kids at the gym, which has seen a spike in both its postseason youth wrestling — currently boasting 60 participants and seven coaches, three with Division-I experience — and youth Tae Kwon Do programs.
“There is a lot of those kids that can’t afford it in economically-challenged areas,” Koch said. “Oftentimes they are the ones that need this outlet the most. … We’ve had a lot of people that we have affected in a really positive way. I feel like if you can affect a child or a young adult before they are 20, 25 years old, you have a really good chance of swaying them in the right direction.”
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Hard Drive has a long history of sending its MMA fighters — names like Koch, his brother Erik, Stepanek, Steve Carl, Jared Downing, Derrick Mehman, D.J. Sykora and Cliff Wright — to compete on the national stage. These days, the gym has evolved into a versatile, diverse training curriculum with a staff of 15 coaches that serves a client base of nearly 250 members in basic fitness, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing, personal training, Tae Kwon Do, wrestling and yoga.
Hard Drive has hired its first women’s wrestling coach — former All-American Kendra Kehrli — who, along with Courtney Koch, will help launch a host of women’s programs that include wrestling, strength training and a $50 self-defense course that debuts during the weekend of Aug. 25-26 and promises more than just a couple of rudimentary techniques.
“I’ve been involved with martial arts long enough to know that a lot of the self-defense that I’ve seen is just garbage,” Keoni Koch said. “I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. It is callous to teach people techniques that give them a false sense of confidence. One of my big focuses is going to be on awareness, good choices, good decision making, eye contact; psychological aspects of self-defense that most people don’t think about.”
While the grand opening will be a celebration for the Koch family — Erik Koch is returning to Cedar Rapids permanently and will serve as the Hard Drive kickboxing coach — the festivities will be without the family patriarch, Douglas Koch, who passed away unexpectedly on July 21 at age 69.
“He was literally here every single day,” Keoni Koch said. “He would come and check up on us and make sure that we were doing the right thing. … He knew what I had envisioned and we had talked at length about it. He saw it and he saw it very close to its completion. … I like to think that he was proud of his sons and he was reaching a point in his life where he was happy with Erik moving back and me owning a gym. Everything was going very, very well. He helped me with every single gym that I had and a lot of his ideas actually went into this gym.”
The downtown move has already seen a spike in interest and new clients. During the grand opening, one-month trial memberships will be sold for $25. With the increased space and more versatile training options, the gym is fully equipped to take on more clients and facilitate their varied fitness needs.
“What it allows us to do is run a real business,” Koch said. “We’ve got a lot of space. We’ve got visibility. All we have to do is work.”
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