The Day – Several martial arts schools endure and even thrive during the pandemic

As the pandemic lingers, several martial arts studios are thriving – even after Governor Ned Lamont was forced to shut them down between mid-March and mid-June 2020 and they reopened with new challenges.

Studios include the Black Dragon Martial Arts Academy at 113 Salem Turnpike in Norwich, Defense Martial Arts of Norwich at 15 Wawecus St. and the Japan Karate Association of Montville, 1242 Old Colchester Road in Oakdale. Their students include school children, police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, chemists, and General Dynamics-Electric Boat workers.

Schools adapted their martial arts lessons during their closure by engaging students (ranging from 3 to adults in their 60s, depending on the school) online and offering recorded lessons they could use to practice .

Their programs build confidence and self-esteem, as well as self-discipline.

Particular emphasis has been placed on “maintaining class schedules and structure,” said Master Daniel Jenkins, owner of the Black Dragon Martial Arts Academy, where instructors teach three styles of Kempo karate: karate, kung fu and kickboxing. With financial support from his students and their families, Jenkins said in a phone interview that they have roughly doubled their student base to 150 since 2020.

Parents ‘realized we were a community school’, after Black Dragon joined Norwich Mayor Peter Albert Nystrom and the Norwich Police Department in organizing backpack/gift drives and fundraisers. food. “It was something that was really huge for our community, because a lot of people really needed that help,” said Jenkins, who also organized Christmas toy drives, “as a way to keep parents, engaged families and community” on a positive level.

“And we did it without expecting anything from them. No money. No registration. We did it because it’s what a company should do.

Norwich Defense Martial Arts did not reopen until June 29, 2020, Kristin McShane, manager and wife of sensei/owner Charlie McShane, said in an email. “It’s been a crazy two years and it doesn’t seem to be calming down anytime soon. We appreciate how understanding and loyal our students have been; we couldn’t do this without them.

Some students “lost their income and couldn’t continue,” she said. The vast majority who continued to pay “offered themselves a voucher for the future”, she explained. “We have returned to the numbers we had before the shutdown and continue to add more.”

Defense martial arts teaches hybrid martial arts, which McShane described as “a mix of krav maga and kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, fitness kickboxing (non-contact fitness class on a heavy bag), and judo “.

“The vast majority of our students feel comfortable in class. We hear a lot that they’re ready for things to get ‘normal’ again,” McShane said. “For many people, martial arts becomes a big part of their life and they feel like they’re missing something if they don’t train.”

After a week of vacation after teaching Shotokan karate in March 2020, Andrew Bakoledis of the Japan Karate Association of Montville said he started creating a schedule for the different levels and ages of the students to keep their training going. “warm” and offered Zoom classes four days a week. He also returned the students their money for the march since they only attended two weeks before having to close.

In addition to teaching Shotokan karate (which has an underlying philosophy of mind control), the Montville Japan Karate Association offers conditioning classes, including personal training methods for body sculpting. and punching, kicking, striking and blocking techniques, according to his website. .

Knowing that people were losing their jobs and probably couldn’t afford to keep classes within their budget, Bakoledis said in a phone interview that he offered students free online classes in April. He also created a beginner series for everyone, including parents, to practice with their children.

“I still have it on my website and anyone can go there for free.”

He said he was “happy that people were exercising and having fun. I decided to leave it up there. Why not? These are just introductory lessons.

Starting in May, Bakoledis made an offer to its students: if they could afford it, young students could pay half the normal membership fee and adults could pay two-thirds for online lessons. “So many people were so happy to just make contributions and make their situation work,” he said.

Bakoledis, who is also maths chair at Norwich Free Academy, joked that his karate school made a profit of 25 cents in 2020.

Since the reopening of these three schools, the owners have said they have taken all state safety protocols seriously. This includes sanitizing surfaces after each session, providing additional distance between students, and adding additional classrooms. Students are asked not to come to class if they have a cold, cough or fever. In addition, all their monitors are vaccinated. However, they do not require students to be vaccinated.

No contact was allowed initially, Jenkins said, and “people were still practicing in the mirror.”

Some fights are now allowed with the appropriate face mask for the sport, he said. “If the number (of those who contract the virus in the community) increases, we disengage from contact, because we do not want to make this problem worse. And we don’t want a problem here.

At Black Dragon, adult and child students, as well as parents, all have their temperatures taken as they walk through the door. They should also use hand sanitizer.

“It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my entire life,” Jenkins said with a laugh.

“The rules in Connecticut are constantly changing and evolving as the pandemic continues,” McShane said. “We do everything we can (to) be compliant, which sometimes means that we have organized courses outside; sometimes we had to be contactless, and we follow regardless of current mask mandates.

When the Japan Karate Association reopened in June with all safety protocols in place (including 6 feet between equipment and 12 feet for exercise), Bakoledis said attendance “was a bit light, but not as light “he thought so. He added that he has about 40 students now (about 5 more than in 2020). “People really came back in person. And it was nice. I just felt like everyone was balanced about it.

“Sparring” initially consisted of “facing someone on the other side of the room,” he said.

When the state relaxed the guidelines further, Bakoledis said he kept more distance for a while because he “was always nervous about how families and students would react face to face – shouting, breathable strong, even with a mask”.

When the weather was “ok”, they “trained more outside”.

He believes that over the past year, the daily habit of doing karate or something and paying attention to your mind and body has moved away from some people. “And then people realized, because they were so short of it, that it became a priority.”

Today, there’s so much focus “on the outside, on people posting everything digitally on all these different (social media) platforms and ‘nobody ever works on who they are on the inside,'” he said. said Bakoledis.

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