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Looking Back on Pandemic Taekwondo Practice

Thinking back on my Taekwondo practice since March 2020, I see the effect of training all around me. Not only in the day-to-day workouts that are the heart of Taekwondo experience, but in the way its lessons shaped my actions outside of the dojang. I’ve now spent more than 60% of my life within the martial arts, so it’s hard to imagine how I might have conducted myself without the structure and values that Taekwondo provides. That said, when I look back on the pandemic, this is how I understand what following a martial Way has meant to me:

FAMILY, FRIENDS, COMMUNITY

Stayed sane and centered, and used this stability to try to help my family, friends, and neighbors endure the chaos, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Encouraged mask wearing and other socially responsible behaviors, speaking up politely (in all honesty, it’d be more accurate to say mostly politely) when strangers flouted best practices and, in so doing, endangered others. (Loyalty to Country, Love Widely)

Shopped for groceries and all other day-to-day needs for my parents, who are at higher risk of experiencing serious conditions because of their age, with much help from my generous and supportive spouse. (Respect the Elder, Respect The Elder II) Offered help to older and other vulnerable people within my community and network.

KEEPING THE DOJANG ALIVE

Carefully monitored developments throughout the pandemic in order to establish safe practices and policies for our dojang, in collaboration with the RVTKD partners.

Trained outdoors with everyone who requested a workout—either individually or in small groups when possible.

Guided Casey Krone in developing a new experimental warmup routine, based on contemporary conditioning principles, to supplement or replace the one we’ve used since 1997.

Participated in a Zoom legal observer training for members of our dojang, organized by Luke Ryan and Zach Farrell, to document public protests following incidents of police brutality.

Maintained the ucmap.org website to maintain a strong affiliation with the University of California Martial Arts program.

Organized a first annual dawn workout on New Year’s Day to bring in a new year of training. Participants performed Pal Gwe Il Jang one hundred times, beginning in twenty degree darkness, while the sun slowly rose over Mt. Tom.

Developed two new programs to increase membership in our school, the first of which is Free Classes for Essential Workers, and the second of which will be introduced near the end of this summer.

Organized two different series of outdoor introductory classes to give small groups of essential workers a head start when the dojang reopens. Taught 2-4 classes per week to these small groups.

Worked with the RVTKD partners to develop policies and practices for a safe dojang reopening in July.

Started work on a comprehensive flash card set to teach Korean techniques and instructions used in a typical Taekwondo class.

PERSONAL TAEKWONDO PRACTICE

Maintained regular workouts throughout all stages of the pandemic, reducing training in public spaces as appropriate for the times. Never missed a week of workouts, sometimes training every day, other weeks just once or twice. Wore out four pairs of Feiyue training shoes.

just four more outdoor workouts before reopening. . . will these shoes make it?

Maintained a reasonable level of overall physical conditioning, despite lack of access to a gym and unwillingness to exercise outdoors in public during much of the pandemic.

Made significant progress toward mastery of more than fifty different poomsae. Documented this process in a series of blog posts as a model for others to learn from and follow.

Learned a new bong (Korean for bo, staff) kata using techniques of Japanese origin.

Reviewed historical poomsae/hyung from outside the Jidokwan curriculum learned at Chosun Taekwondo Academy since 2016, learned two new traditional hyung.

As a result of working out in the park behind the mill building where I live, had many conversations about Jidokwan Taekwondo with curious passers-by and introduced our school to people who may, one day, become part of our community of martial artists.

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I’d like to encourage River Valley Taekwondo members to think about what you’ve been doing while the dojang was closed, and drop me a line at [email protected] to share your thoughts. There’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s perfectly valid to say “I survived, that’s all I could do, and I’m thankful just for that.” I will be very interested in any and all stories that our students and instructors care to share, and I will read each with respect and appreciation.

Using the words “looking back” in the title of this post might seem to suggest that the COVID pandemic is over, and that having survived, we can now view it as history. This is not my intention at all. The COVID pandemic is very much alive, not only in the US among people who can’t or won’t receive the vaccination, but among a large majority of the worldwide population.

Unvaccinated elements in this country continue to put themselves and others at risk by providing a place for the virus to exist. It’s like washing one hand but not the other. The US population is approaching a place of relative safety, especially here in the Northeast, but we are not there yet, and it could be a long time before some parts of the country are comparatively safe. As long as that condition persists, these unvaccinated pockets could potentially reintroduce the virus into areas where the virus had been under control.

Just as important, although rich developed nations are generally doing well in vaccinating their populations, there are far more people worldwide who are unvaccinated and won’t be for a long time. Rich nations must do more to share vaccine doses with nations that can’t afford them and to educate populations worldwide so they accept them. Until there’s something like herd immunity worldwide, there won’t be true safety from this disease.

Aside from the ethical obligation to protect fellow humans everywhere, there’s self-interest in making this happen. While the virus exists, it continues to evolve, and it’s possible that a new vaccine-resistant variant could emerge at any time. Depending on how contagious it is and how skillfully governments take countermeasures, such a mutation could send us back to the bad old days of lockdown within weeks or months. The slower the world is to crush the pandemic worldwide, the more likely such a scenario becomes.

Self-defense is more about reducing risk than it is about fighting. Experienced self-defense instructors say that by the time you’re using combat skills, i.e. the techniques we practice at the dojang, you’ve already failed at self-defense, and the best you can hope for is to emerge relatively unharmed and without legal troubles. Rather than thinking the pandemic is over, we need to recognize that it’s still alive in communities around this country, and raging through the rest of the world. Until those cases are knocked down, we are all still fighting, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Therefore, to return to what I mean by “looking back,” I should clarify that I’m referring to the period when our dojang was closed (March 2020 through June 2021), now that we’re about to reopen. Hopefully in a year, or in five years, we’ll look back upon that period as “the time the dojang was closed” and not “the first time we had to close because of COVID.”

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