Covid summary: Martial arts post pandemic

So we survived.

Remember the end of 2020? When we collectively said good bye to year full of challenges and hoped for a better start in 2021? Things are never quite that easy, it seems. Whatever your opinion about the years of the pandemic or the way it has been managed, we now think about the future. What have we learned from the pandemic? What did it change, and which of these changes should we hold on to rather than simply returning to our old life?

When I look at my Karate training, I know what I missed in seemingly endless lockdowns. It really got to me over the last months. Physical distancing reduces Kumite, Bunkai, Nage Waza and Ne Waza to close to zero. In my support bubble I had some proper Karateka I can practice with, but it is not the same. Physically distanced martial arts simply don’t work on the long term.

Nevertheless, I am able to react maturely to this global threat. Other people lived through war, famine or actually die on a ventilator in hospital. I can handle temporary physical distancing. Though fun it’s not. What I don’t really understand is the sheer wave of discontent, the spread of conspiracy theories and anti-scientific sentiment that came with the pandemic. Where did that come from?

Honestly, I can’t believe people would get so agitated about containing a pandemic, while they accept poverty, inequality, war, all kinds of extremism and climate change without batting an eye.

The things we learned

The bigger picture of this pandemic is actually quite fascinating. Looking at our modern world, two things are obvious:

  • Much of our life can go on even in a lockdown. Technology really has created a lot of brilliant tools that we totally underestimated before. Yet certain things really can’t, and these are often the most valuable ones: Personal interaction, direct communication, physical experiences.
  • On the other hand, our economies and lifestyles are clearly not able to handle a crisis of these proportions very well. Maybe, just maybe, we should question our “normalcy”.

I am personally disappointed that the sudden stop to everyday life hasn’t led to much more change. I somehow hoped people would start asking: “What can we do different? Where could we do better in future?” Just going back to normal seems a lost chance for mankind, especially since the way we lived before the pandemic might not work anymore in the face of a global economic recession and climate change.

But these questions go far beyond martial arts.

In our Karate, we discovered an amazing resource: Online training. For years, I had students (and especially one of our senior instructors in Manchester) pushing me to go digital. I was reluctant. How to teach holistic martial arts via a screen, without physical touch? It seemed a step backwards to the times when Karate was often taught by walking up and down the gym in lines, and throwing or joint locks were frowned upon.

Our usual training relies strongly on partner work, on feeling the flow of movements and reacting to triggers. Our exercises are often anticipative, much more than just technique.

It turns out, while all this is true, online training has its very own qualities. It is not just a second best option, it is a great tool in its own right. It is very intense, quite individual and gives great chances to focus on details and complex topics that in dojo training might be neglected. We are so impressed with its opportunities that our Online Dojo will remain open after the pandemic.

  1. We can connect our community all over Europe. We even had guests from the US and South America. We train together and with interesting teachers that in the past always were too far away to see regularly.
  2. Online classes are available wherever you are, they don’t need effort and time for travel, which means less interruption in training for people who are very busy or often on the road. And recorded trainings can be followed at any time, whenever it is convenient.

But there are additional benefits that apply not only for martial arts: Reducing commute and travel saves energy, reduces CO2, adds flexibility and cuts waste of time.

Why face to face training is so important.

Obviously Karate as a martial art needs physical conflict, and that’s impossible without touch. We need partners, we need partner work, we need sparring to practice, otherwise we end up with a fancy form of Aerobic, a dance, empty posturing.

The issue goes beyond martial arts, though: Losing touch with our body, breaking the connection between body and mind is a dangerous trait of modern times, of TV, Internet, video games, office work and a sedentary lifestyle. Physical experiences are important to remain healthy, as a person, but also as a society.

A lack of real life experiences is crippling, and the pandemic has empowered a trend that we have been seeing for a long while. Especially when it comes to stress and conflict management, the body is the most important gate for communication, interaction and social learning. We cannot afford to neglect it. We have covered this in an own blogpost.

No matter how brilliant a tool the new online world proves to be, it can never replace the face to face experience of real physical training.

Use your devices!

Yes, that sounds like a contradiction to what I just wrote. It is so easy to get lost in modern technology – scrolling endlessly through the internet, playing games, chatting with friends. The instant gratification and the total ease of access create a certain kind of gadget addiction that is indeed dangerous. It kills time we never get back.

Yet if we use these gadgets right, they are be a blessing. Lockdown has taught us how to use our devices mindfully: To read, to learn, to communicate, to connect. The sheer amount of innovation that went into online learning in the last year is breathtaking. Mankind created huge databases, made knowledge accessible like never before, and embarked on technologies that were far from any mainstream before.

Most exciting about that is the way this time empowered people to shape their training to their own needs.

Take ownership of your training

In lockdown, Karate students were responsible for their own training. Even with private training or online classes, motivation as well as the own training plan was an individual venture. What is totally normal for athletes or martial arts teachers – training on their own, self-motivated, always searching for more input and new ideas – is an all new challenge for beginners and even for advanced students.

This was a chance to take ownership, set own goals, dive deeper into difficult topics and ask questions. The pandemic turned homes into dojos and and made martial arts a part of daily life. It directly translates into real life: Many claim that they prefer work and rest of life separated – which is understandable, but also creates work that remains unconnected to your everyday life. Something you do for others, to earn a living, not for yourself. Taking ownership of it, creating work- and life spaces that interact and have a healthy relationship with each other might be one of the big topics of 2020/21.

Whether that worked out well is another question. Work life balance is a critical issue in our modern world, and while some might have benefitted from shaking up their routines, for others it might have gotten worse. The key is awareness.

Look after your health

Watching people washing their hands and using hand sanitizer now as if it is second nature is probably another one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic. We all can hope that health, safety, cleanliness and general physical awareness improved in the last years. Sadly in some places it appears that these minimal measures are already seen as “pesky rules” and are being ditched just to “celebrate” what some perceive as freedom. That would be a sad outcome.

What we can hope for is that the pandemic helped to focus a bit more on the body and its importance. Neglecting physical experiences and using the body merely as a vehicle that drags us through life is a bad side effect of digitalisation. Lockdowns have emphasized the need to feel and make real life experiences. In training, in work, in everyday life personal contact face to face is highly important. While lockdowns have created more tools to stay in touch virtually, they also made clear that the direct connection von human to human is a valuable good.

On the other hand, being stuck at home also had the opposite effect: People getting used to sedentary lifestyle and online learning, working and entertainment. We now need to make positive offers to escape this trap, and martial arts with its individual learning style and its holistic approach is the perfect method for this.

Create knowledge databases.

There’s one more thing, and it might be more valuable than we acknowledge yet. Online training and online tutorials have created what is essentially a massive knowledge database. While Youtube tutorials and online offers always existed (and I remember well that there were video martial arts courses long before the internet), the lockdown times have brought more professionals into the game.

Our online databases grew. In general, worldwide, but also our own approach at Missing Link. There is so much to learn, discover, collect and connect. It is, indeed, so much to do that I sometimes feel overwhelmed. But it’s a good mountain to climb.

So what is the “new normalcy”?

It is impossible to say what “back to normal” actually means in the context of everyday life. Many things are still moving, and I am not even convinced we will get away without more lockdowns further down the road. We can hope for more awareness and more attention to what is really important in life. We can also hope for a greater flexibility in our work-life-balance. Personal connections and a more sustainable lifestyle is a chance brought to us by the pandemic – and we should really embrace it, given the much bigger threat of climate change looming in the next decades.

In our training, we have opened the door to a much wider range of offers, more flexibility and deeper learning. We will not let go of these chances in the Missing Link Community. Already we have organised seminars that span over multiple countries, with virtual classrooms connected by Zoom. Teachers and students in England, Scotland, Germany, Malta and Romania trained together in our first European seminar after the pandemic. An exciting experiment that was just the beginning.

Let’s go on from here.

See you in training. In real life. On the screen. Or wherever.

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