We created our Easton Monthly All-Staff Podcast with the goal of bringing you information about the team you work with while also providing insights about our martial arts program operations. It’s a place for you to learn what’s going on within the organization and hear from all the individuals on the team that help make Easton the great community that it is!
Last month we dove into the martial arts side of the business with martial arts program directors Professor Alex Huddleston and Coach Sean Madden. In the two subsequent articles, we explored what it means to forge an elevated team and battle-tested martial arts, and how we can lean into our support systems to reach new heights.
Our newest episode features three people that have been fundamental to our team as we’ve grown from a couple small, localized schools to one unified academy. Sarah Rochniak, the director of Admin, Van Tran, Creative Director as well as Academy Operations Director in Denver, and Mike Phipps, Marketing Director and Muay Thai Department Head in Longmont come together to talk about the unique journey a career can look like in the martial arts field.
Facilitating the space to grow
No career has a one size fits all rule — especially in a field like martial arts which combines athletics and self-defense with creative decision-making and constant evolution.
This is why Easton, along with heading up the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai development in the region, has also managed to grow its business as a holistic academy from every angle. We build our internal structure with space for future possibilities in mind.
From a student-facing perspective, we have a straight-forward system for how to progress and reach the highest levels available to you. From a staff-facing angle, our entry-level positions place employees in opportunities where they can learn how our systems work while also having the space to bring their own unique skills to the table.
In many ways, this goes back to what it means to build an elevated team. Every mind on the team should add something new and pose necessary questions, rather than simply performing the motions of a job’s description. If your aim lays foremost in growth, it becomes critical to learn to trust your teammates and stay open to new things.
Creating and finding opportunities
Sarah’s journey started nearly ten years ago with a part-time job, while in college, at Easton Boulder’s front desk; she liked that she could deal with stress through movement and the types of people the environment attracted. Sarah eventually began managing the front desk, then became Boulder’s Academy Operations Director, and as of last year manages regionally as the company’s Director of Operations.
That sort of scaling and growth doesn’t happen quickly, though, and requires patience and dedication. When you’re not a big corporation (which we aren’t), you have to wear multiple hats.
When you have a dual role in the company, you need especially good attention to detail in your schedule to stay on top of your location’s needs and the HQ team’s needs, and stay meticulous with deadline.
“You say yes to everything until you don’t have to say yes anymore,” says Mike Tousignant, “and you can kind of fit into a spot that works for you.”
Designing your future
Similarly, Creative Director Van has worked with Easton since 2010, starting at the front desk in Denver when the school first expanded from its original, smaller location. She had just graduated college and wanted to be an artist, but was struggling with where to go next. She felt she wasn’t very good compared to her peers – especially for the competitive market which also mostly existed outside of Colorado, and didn’t necessarily want to leave Colorado.
One day, Van saw an ad to work at an MMA gym (this tells you how long we’ve had Van for!) She interviewed with Eliot Marshall, and the rest is history as she joined the front desk team and eventually began running it. She’d been working the front desk for about seven years when one day, Mike, who had been handling the merchandise and design work since 2011, came in frustrated about something design-related.
Van, with her art and design background, had wanted to get her hands on merchandise for a while and jumped on the opportunity to help. This landed Van her first opportunity to do something for the HQ team, and from that point on she has grown into her role as Creative Director, overseeing all visual creative work.
With both Sarah and Van, their current positions didn’t exist; they put work into it, and it evolved into something more. Some of our best positions have started out like this.
“Somebody saw a hole,” says Mike, “they started trying to fill that hole, and that evolved into something that slowly became a real position.”
Micheal Phipps, who has a background in English literature and filmmaking, moved from Iowa to Colorado in 2018 with his wife Celeste, having already reached blue belt level in Jiu Jitsu. He found Easton quickly, expanded his practice to include Muay Thai and began training as a Kickboxing coach in Boulder in 2019. Once Longmont opened in 2020, he came on board as its Muay Thai Department Head.
When the Pandemic hit and everything was closed down, Easton started making videos to help get something out to our members who were still willing to pay. Longmont’s then-GM, Jordan Shipman, knew Phipps wanted to do video work, so as Easton pivoted, he brought him in. Phipps began coming in to film curriculum, classes, and even training courses for instructors, and it grew from there.
In 2021, he became the Director of Digital Media, responsible for directing Easton’s video and digital strategy, and this year he took over as Director of Marketing, adding on to his existing digital media responsibilities. Phipps uses his experience in both martial and creative arts to tell Easton’s story, guide our mission-focused digital marketing plan, and lead our team towards cohesive brand messaging across all platforms.
Building a sustainable career
We share these three success stories with Sarah, Van and Phipps to give you insight into the operations side of Easton but also to highlight the various paths a unique career can take. Over the course of the podcast, they give their perspectives on working for a company like Easton, how it felt to shift roles, and why they’ve stuck with it.
Everyone wants to do something with their lives beyond what we call a “job.” We want your relationship with Easton to have an organic exchange — we want you to take your role, make it your own, and bring us to the next level. As long as it’s within our core values and our mission, you can’t fail. We want you to find success with Easton; your success means all of our success.
“The world is constantly changing,” says Mike T., “and if we stay stuck in our ways we’re not going to keep up with it.”
You can’t do wrong if you’re working towards our vision: conquering Colorado and being the best in every way we can.
Don’t settle for mediocre and don’t stop learning and expanding your skill set. Everybody that has elevated their roles at Easton has done so because they came in with something more to offer. Get good at different things, look for opportunities to share your skills, and start looking at the high-level ways that all the pieces connect.
If you keep working hard and have a positive team to support you, the opportunities will come. This doesn’t just go for careers at Easton — but in general, as you grow in your confidence, skill sets and sense of self.
Be yourself, follow our values and vision, and let’s see what we can do together.