October 2020 – Reflection on six months of lockdown

The last six months have been tough. It was full of uncertainty for our club. We weren’t ready to just give up, but unknown challenges were ahead. Was it possible to teach martial arts using a camera in your living room?

Over the six months from the end of March to the beginning of October, our faithful club members tuned in to us twice a week, as we learnt different ways of presenting the knowledge and skills we’d learnt over the last 20 years.

We pushed our six-year olds toys to one side of the room out of camera shot, put on a Dobok, drew up a lesson plan and waited to see who turned up. I don’t think we ever had lower numbers than four, with the highest being around twenty-four. We started with focused lessons, teaching specific syllabus to those who were just learning it. It was also an opportunity for those experienced students to revisit techniques and sets of movements. As the saying goes, ‘To teach is to learn twice’, and I would say that this new way of teaching was us learn thrice!

My own instructor added a huge syllabus of online sessions and this was inspirational to motivating us and installing belief in what was possible. I kept a count of how many classes I personally participated in, and over the initial four months it was over 130 sessions. It was an opportunity to correct bad habits in my Tuls, which I don’t think would have ever been noticed during a traditional class in the dojang. I loved this!!

As an instructor team, my wife and I realised our strengths during this process. There are different types of teachers. Some are very visual. Some are very aural. Others may be very kinesthetic. Or maybe a combination of these. My wife and I found that she was better taking the class through the lesson plan, while I demonstrated and participated with the class. It was an opportunity for us to make fun of each other and inject humour into what we were doing. My lesson plans often were intended to be physical excursions that were aimed at making the legs hurt for days after. Developing ideas in my mind after drinking three or four strong cups of coffee, where I still believed I was in my thirties and wasn’t going to be a fifty-year-old man with a bad knee and moderate ability at best! That said, I always felt amazing at the end of each session and hope my endeavours motivated students to go the extra mile.

In July, the school very kindly allowed us to use their grounds. We started on the grass. We found the ground was quite bumpy and coming on one leg to perform a high section turning kick felt more dangerous to the practitioner than it ever would be to a potential assailant. We switched to the playground, which in turn provided us with two areas, so my wife and I could teach simultaneously. This proved popular, and some students who’d not bought in to the possibilities of participating via Zoom came back to training. The weather was awesome! When it wasn’t sunny, we were presented with an atmospheric thunderstorm on several occasions. We cancelled one lesson due to rain over the summer, and that could have gone ahead, as the weather cleared up just before the session. We had however already committed to teaching via Zoom that evening.

September has seen COVID restrictions decrease and the gyms open, then increase again as the government tighten things up again. In this time, we started reusing the halls again. Fortunately, a portion of what we teach is formatted in such a way, that the transition to being COVID friendly is an easy one. The students line up, automatically social distancing, they perform the same techniques, moving backwards, forwards and from side to side as a unit. Black Belt adults and White Belt six-year olds punching and kicking together with almost military precision. Slow down the Taekwon-Do patterns to an instructors timing, and they are practicing their syllabus, getting ready for their next opportunity to progress

July saw this opportunity realised, when the TAGB committee made the unprecedented decision to allow us to assess our own students for one grading. As instructors, we were given an opportunity to voice some opinions on this. I personally felt proud of our organisation and what they stand for. The belt in any organisation is only as good as the standard that comes from the top. I’ve trained and taught Black Belts from other organisations over the years. One, I kid you not, did not know Taekwon-Do originated from Korea and knew no terminology. That said, I’ve heard other organisations that include self defence in their gradings, have much tougher physical tests and may even incorporate weapon use. As I always say, if you plan on starting a martial art, do some research first, and consider what you want to achieve. It can be a life journey if you want it to be, but if your organisation has you running your own club after eight months there’s a good chance that the business module of your organisation is to make money out of you and your students, and the art is very secondary to this.

So, I personally felt that the integrity of what we teach was very primary. The student should be prepared to perform this syllabus at their next grading if required. It was needed though. The basic foundations are just that, intended to be basic to learn and give the student the foundation to progress on to the next stage of more complex patterns of movement. They were not intended for a student to be locked in their lounge performing it for six months, slowly developing very bad habits that may never be able to correct. This opportunity was for them to make a small progression to allow them to develop and not feel stale and stagnant in their journey. It proved to be very successful and we had 12 students progress at this stage

The next grading is already scheduled for November which will allow some of these students to progress further. No more than they deserve for the dedication they’ve shown over the last six months. It will be important for them to have a more formal experience rather than a test in a playground

The positives from this situation we’ve found ourselves in over the last six months have been utilised as best as possible. That said, its not all good! We’re teaching a martial art. A method of defending yourself. Practicing kicks and punches against thin air develops muscles and technique, but we’re not doing it against a target like a pad or another student, where the valuable lessons of distancing and timing are practiced. We can practice a sequence of blocks and punches, originating from a Taekwon-Do pattern, borrowed directly from a Karate Kata where the origins may be you are applying a shoulder dislocation. Almost impossible to teach or demonstrate this kind of application without being able to use a partner to practice self-defence or advanced set sparring. Free sparring is also currently not practiced. While this is the sport side of Taekwon-Do, distancing, timing, technique, fitness and stamina will improve through the practice of this and it’s also really fun!

What will happen over the next six months? Only time will tell!

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