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Kicking through COVID: martial arts clubs remain active

COVID-19 has profoundly affected many areas of Irish life, one such area being sports, and more specifically: the field of martial arts.

Three martial arts instructors recently spoke with The Liberty to reveal how martial arts clubs in Dublin have been affected by coronavirus.  

Scott Langley (48), Instructor at Hombu Dojo revealed that the past two lockdowns have indeed influenced the club, but that they were quick to adapt to the changing circumstances and necessities during the first lockdown. 

“I remember the first lockdown was announced on the Thursday evening, Fridays we generally don’t have classes while Saturday we do. So, by Saturday morning we were fully online,” said Mr. Langley.

Post COVID, Mr. Langley looks to a future of expansion, explaining that “we are one of the few big professional clubs in Dublin and it’s our job to teach karate well and provide a well-run service”. 

He further explained: “I suspect that a lot of clubs that closed their doors last march will struggle to reopen either because the Instructor is part time or because of a lack of money”. 

These closures would open the door for the club to seize on the opportunity provided by those who will want to do karate, but have no local club to turn to. 

Mr. Langley detailed that his martial arts club ran a fair number of online classes since then: “We were teaching 17 classes a day, 6 days a week, and we did that for the whole first lockdown”.  

Asked if he had a message for Irish martial artists during this time, Mr. Langley said:  

“I think the end is in sight, and a lot of people have felt that martial arts generally speaking is something that you do in the dojo when every ounce of every martial arts teaching is that martial arts is for life and something you do every time and so Covid has just been another chance to find new and adaptive ways to practice our martial art.”  

Eddie Walsh (51), instructor at White Crane Kung Fu and Tai Chi revealed that financial turnover for his club has fallen by half due to the reduction of classes, fees, and student numbers.

-Eddie Walsh (Front) training at the Shaolin Monastery pre-COVID. Photo Courtesy of Eddie Walsh

Mr. Walsh’s club has continued in the same style of classes they usually would have but adapted for an online platform and although “Initially it was difficult” the club has since gotten used to it. 

“The format of classes has changed slightly, but in general terms the main thing that’s constricting is that there’s no contact allowed,” Mr. Walsh said, while also acknowledging that the reduced space which students must work with for training is very restricting. 

Mr. Walsh expressed a hesitation on any solid plans for the club post-COVID: “I’m not sure when Covid is going to end…It’s something I have been thinking about but don’t have a cast iron plan on yet”.

Mr. Walsh also wished to give a message for Irish martial artists during this trying time: 

“One of the key bits for me as I teach Kung Fu and Tai Chi is that it’s a martial art where there are forms to practice…you can go out to your garden and do five minutes of your Tai Chi or Kung Fu pattern…I think it’s an important aspect to continue that and to think about the day-to-day practice and keeping physically fit.” 

Mr. Walsh recommended starting with a low target and a low baseline as part of that, explaining: “If you do five minutes (of training) you might do ten next time”.

Brendan Dowling (63), Instructor at the Irish Aikido Association and President of the Irish Martial Arts Commission revealed that during the first lockdown there was a sense of “a temporary interruption then things would be fine”.

-Brendan Dowling (Left) practicing Aikido before Covid. Photo Courtesy of Brendan Dowling 

Mr. Dowling’s club did go on zoom for a while, however the unique nature of Aikido meant this was a difficult task to maintain as unlike most martial arts, Aikido “is pointless without contact” and has only a few stick forms which students could practice remotely.  

When asked about the club’s plans post-COVID, Mr. Dowling said: “It’s very hard to know…People’s relationship with contact will have changed…People will be much more reluctant to embrace and hold others”.

Mr. Dowling holds a reserved view on the future of Aikido post-COVID, saying: “It will have a slower start”. 

Asked if he had a message for Irish martial artists during this time, Mr. Dowling laughed and said, “Hang in there is all I can say”. 

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