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VOL 42, NO 2, SPRING 2020


Adaptations Beyond Sparring: Pandemic Edition

By Sifu Robin Dahlberg

Ascension Martial Arts, San Jose, CA

As martial artists, many of us train to spar. We take the forms and techniques we've learned, and try them in a somewhat unpredictable setting. That can mean breaking forms apart, moving at different speeds, varying the height of our attacks and defenses, changing our vectors, and occasionally making something up on the spot.

This same practice gives us the skills to work with the ever-changing landscape that is our current reality with COVID-19. First came the social distancing. How well do we know our own range according to the length of our limbs or the distance of a jump? Now we can map that to the new 6-foot rule between people. It's relatively easy in a large space with few people. But what kind of movements or body language can you employ to maintain distance when there's a line for the store?

If your school or training space has stayed open, this a great opportunity to get creative with non-partnered partner work. How well do you know your movements with an invisible partner? Can you talk your invisible partner through the sequence? Another fun challenge is to have that 6 foot space between actual partners. If one partner punches, the other can respond to a chi strike with 6 foot range.

For those of us who are studio owners, making the decision to close is incredibly difficult. We feel a responsibility to continue providing the many benefits of training, not the least of which is stress relief and keeping the immune system functioning well. The school is also our livelihood - how do we ensure we will have business to reopen? But we are also looking to the health of the larger population. We are in the business of health, among many things, and we have a responsibility to lead through our actions.

These actions include constant adaptation. My partner and I choose to close our school about a day and a half before it became a mandate. As much as I wanted to provide video lessons to our students, we determined that it was not going to work for our highly personalized training methods. Instead, we are using this time to build up our subscription video series. We've been talking about doing this for many months (possibly years) and now we have been granted an unprecedented chunk of time to make it happen.

In the sense that we are sparring with our situation, we can also use our training to move beyond a panic response. Often, the first few months (maybe years) of sparring are very reactionary. We are relying on our limbic system (or "lizard brain") to help us not get hurt. With time and practice, we begin to trust our training in order to move more effectively. How can we use that now? We don't necessarily have infectious disease training, but our experience with sparring tells us it is possible to find more effective ways of moving or being. This guides us to root out the best information we can find, and even move past the panic of those around us.

We have the tools within our martial arts to help us and those around us through these interesting times. Whether you practice softer, internal styles or hard, external styles, keep moving your bodies to stay healthy and strong. Maybe create a small group where you can challenge each other or just check in. Whether it is pushups in the park, kitchen kata, or bedroom burpees, we have the creativity and fortitude to adapt beyond sparring.

Photo courtesy of Sifu Robin Dahlberg.

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