I subtitled this blog as a journey of martial arts and multiple sclerosis. You might have noticed there’s been a lot of multiple sclerosis and not a lot of martial arts so far. 2020 has been the year of virtual reality.
The Best Laid Plans…
My last session of martial arts with all the contact and grappling was in February, just before I received my second Lemtrada infusion. So, it feels like a hundred years ago. The plan was to repeat 2019 – recover for a couple of months and return to training at the start of May.
What was it Rabbie Burns said about the best laid plans of mice and men?
The Coronavirus lockdown began and with it, our classes came to a halt on 17th March. As November approaches, normality is still on hiatus. The impact on everyone’s fitness, wellbeing and general mental health is undoubtedly impacted by this lack of training. How exactly do you keep a martial arts club together when you can’t punch, kick or grapple each other?
The Evolution of Virtual Practise
In the time since March, my club has tried various methods to keep the spirit alive. How we do that has very much evolved over time and as lockdown has progressed.
Initially the club black belts held video calls to plan what we would do once the lockdown was over, and we could resume classes. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be a much longer interruption than we first thought.
We extended the video calls to the entire club, as a way of keeping in touch with everyone. These virtual sessions provided a forum for discussion and to ask questions but soon the energy dropped off.
Video Killed the Martial Arts Star
The next stage was our black belts creating a series of instructional videos and then taking questions during a Zoom call. This produced workouts that could be done indoors, in a confined space and using whatever we could use as a substitute opponent. We do a lot of wrestling on the ground so I used a chair to act as an opponent whilst I demonstrated double leg takedowns and half-guard defence. It looked slightly strange but did allow me to create some movement drills for the club.
After a few weeks of videos, the energy and enthusiasm started to drop once again. There are only so many times you can talk through similar routines without it becoming repetitive. Although everyone was encouraged to try the workouts, the Zoom sessions themselves were not providing any exercise.
Can You All Hear Me? Let’s Go!
To remedy this, we now have black belts leading a virtual workout on the weekly video calls. Again, working in a confined space has proved an interesting challenge but we have been able to manage a nice variety of practices, get some movement and sweat a bit. In addition, we have been recording the sessions so that members who cannot make the call (or have ropey internet connections) can watch them later.
I’ve had a lot of fun both leading and taking part in these sessions. Is it a substitute for the “real” thing? No, it’s not, but it’s been a good way to get moving and keep seeing my clubmates. Channelling my inner Joe Wicks, my sessions generally have been martial arts themed, high intensity interval training.
I’ve been inspired by the excellent site Fitness Blender and incorporated various striking and movement drills. I think these have worked well, I’ve certainly been able to work up a good sweat during them. It’s been interesting to see how the different instructors have come up with some quite different ideas for training in a confined space and occupying a small window on a Zoom meeting.
Challenges Now and Still to Come
There is the challenge of confined space and the medium doesn’t lend itself to an in-depth study of the finer points of kata. Obviously, there’s no contact or resistance to any of the moves so a degree of visualisation is required. It will be interesting to see the effect that has had on us whenever we get back to normal training.
I imagine the first few sessions could be painful, particularly in the following days. You get used to taking bumps, landing on the mats and breaking falls and striking pads or other people. Having not had any of that for nine months, I expect it will take a while to build up the body conditioning again. At least my Mr Happy pad is still smiling despite lack of use!
I miss training so much. It’s been part of my life since 2007. It’s been great having the weekly virtual sessions and we have turned these into good cardio workouts. However, it’s very much making the best of a bad situation. When we are back in our regular hall, doing a full practice, we’ll know that we are through the pandemic and life has returned to normal. Who knows when that will be? Whenever it is, one thing is for sure: it will feel good.