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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Sneezing into Elbows!

The last eighteen months have been bizarre!

The challenges we have all faced were unimaginable before we all experienced the outbreak of COVID 19 around the world.

Despite all of the fears and frustrations we now dare to dream of foreign holidays, working alongside colleagues once again, and enjoying a simple pint or two at the pub.

For those of us who share a passion for Martial Arts, we look forward to getting back to training and saying, ….. ‘fancy a pair up?’

……. Man! That will be a good day!

One of my Students (Big Mike) especially relishes the sound of a foot on face Mawashi Geri Demo! It feels like we will not have to wait much longer before we test our control once more. (After all this time I suggest we all brush up on some touch control and first aid….. just in case 😊. As I have said before enthusiasm can often pollute control).

With the return of Adults to our Dojo’s from May the 17th imminent, I have pondered the possible effects of the last year on us all and wondered what the atmosphere in the dojo will be like.

Today I had my haircut, and the Barber was already an expert at adjusting my mask to work on my fade, wash my hair and then style my (increasingly) silver locks. It struck me how well he had adapted and accepted this challenge to his craft.

While he cut my hair, I thought of the small adjustments we have accepted in the last year. Personally, I wash my hands so much the skin is permanently cracked and sore. We food-shop almost exclusively online, I elbow bump where before a hug or handshake would have prevailed and if I cough or sneeze, I capture the exhaust in my elbow.

In-fact ALL of these have become instinctive; they are established habits and my behaviour has been modified!

Throughout lockdown Karate Students and Sensei alike have mirrored the behaviours of society. Some have risen to the various challenges, adjusted their routines and pushed forward. Others have put their routine and training to one side with the conviction they will pick it up again as soon as Boris gives the go-ahead.

I get it! I completely understand.

As I have written before I was later than some to embrace Zoom and alternative ways of training. Initially I just did not see how it could work or offer value.

But once I trained with a couple of people that I respect I rediscovered something crucially important.

….. Whilst I really enjoy teaching, …. I LOVE training!

Lockdown gave me the space and privacy to rediscover my karate for myself. To stretch, sweat and work on my own priorities. (I realised I have not done this for at least ten years).

I have worked on concepts, drills and principles and put in additional time for technique and the general study of kata.

When discussing karate now I separate my karate into two categories.

My Work – when I am teaching or preparing to teach and….

My training – when I am engaged in karate practice or research fuelled principally by my own curiosity, urges or interest.

(Would you believe I am currently researching quantum mechanics thanks to some interesting conversations? Thank you Dave and Felix).

As a result, I have looked forward to teaching more and more. It feels like I have a lot more to share. (Not least my enthusiasm for the art).

Last night I was teaching a group of teenagers and it was so much more relaxed than our familiar dojo classes. The students were segregated into their two-meter squares, but they interacted and spoke freely with each other. They freely offered questions and insights. We trained and we worked, but equally we interacted. It was more akin to a workshop than a formal karate class.

I resisted the urge to shout Yame and encourage the students to revert to our pre-lockdown format. The atmosphere and interaction happened by accident, but I liked it. I commented to the students that I felt less like a teacher and more like a guide!

‘Come on guys….. follow me, I know the way, off we go’

……. It was relaxed, it felt great!

As I drove home, I reflected on how the class had unfolded. There were elements of the familiar. (Seiza, Bow, Moksu…. Our familiar warmups. And of-course the Kata were by no means new). But the interaction and atmosphere was-very different. The results being that we still all worked and explored karate principles and content. Somehow it felt more collaborative!

Perhaps this is a by-product of our Isolation. On a subconscious level we all want to interact and work together?

Regardless of the psychology, I enjoyed it and I am sure the students did to.

But why am I sharing this? What insight or concept am I trying to offer?

Well, like my friend the Barber who navigated my mask whilst cutting my hair. I believe everyone in the karate community has to recognise that the World has changed.

When we are back in the dojo’s we will find some obstacles in our way. We may find that some things just aren’t the same. Some familiar and important faces may no longer be there.


For those willing to step back into the fold. Regardless of whether they have been active or otherwise these last eighteen months. I encourage you to keep an open mind, enjoy the interaction and resist blind dedication to the routines of the past.

Turn up and be ready to work!

We have a New Normal to establish. It is a fresh start and an exciting one at that!

But if you need to sneeze or cough…. Aim for your elbow!

Teenagers at Petersfield Karate
Teenagers at Petersfield Karate

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