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Small Business of the Month: Combat Arts Academy

Listen: Origin Story – Combat Arts Academy

Walking into Combat Arts Academy in the Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle, you wouldn’t know that owner Sonia Sillan never intended to run her own small business. A culmination of timing and her mother’s push for her to learn self-defense as a child would allow her to become a Tae Kwon Do teacher by age 14, and later the founder of Combat Arts Academy. Currently, Combat Arts Academy offers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai, to both adults and kids (as young as 3), as well as a Strength & Conditioning program.

While attending the University of Washington, Sonia was introduced to Jiu Jitsu as she was recovering from reconstructive hip surgery. In 2012, after graduating, she and her former business partner opened CAA’s first location in Delridge. She recalls their first endeavor as a struggle to get started, admitting that she was focused on simply keeping the doors open. With experience and insights from many failures, she learned the importance of understanding finances, cash flow and marketing. Soon, her focus was not on keeping the doors open, but managing growth and investing in the students.

Recently, Sonia opened a second location in Burien. When they came across a struggling Jiu Jitsu gym that was at risk of closure, she and her team decided to take over and open up a second location.  When asked what inspired this expansion, she explained that it was a choice to turn a negative situation into a positive.

Sonia says that one of the gym’s secrets to success is providing a safe space for families to learn and grow together. While most gyms are focused on training for individuals, CAA intentionally cultivates a communal environment for adults and children. Further, even though both Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai are very male-dominated, CAA has an unusually large number of women training in all of the classes. Although they provide a women’s only class, it’s supplemental to the co-ed classes because the environment is designed to be a safe space for everyone. It’s a place where women can feel safe because there is mutual respect.

Right now, the Academy’s biggest goal is to continue to focus on student growth and retention. 90% of CAAs members are active and the team wants to make sure their members are more than satisfied.

Sonia and CAA’s team find satisfaction in seeing the change in people’s lives and watching children turn into leaders. Sonia advises anyone with ambitions to open a business to take their time and do the required research about their industry. “Know your market,” she says, “and market appropriately.”

Drop by Combat Arts Academy at 5050 Delridge Way SW, Seattle, WA 98106 or visit their website to learn about upcoming classes for adults and children. For more information, check them out on Instagram or Facebook, or shoot them an email

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