Kicking into gear: reopening and martial arts

A year and a half of lockdowns have hopefully finally ended. The Liberty spoke to Desmond Phelan of Arbour Hill Boxing Club and Andre Zavatini of Brazier Jiu Jitsu Academy to see what this a return to normal means for martial arts clubs. 

Some of the changes that the last two difficult years have brought us are likely to outlast the pandemic.

“We would be more wary of things that can happen now, diseases and such,” says Desmond Phelan, Arbour Hill Boxing Club’s secretary says.

As part of this new health consciousness, the club plans to keep various safety measures, such as hand sanitisers being present in every corner of the club.

The last 19 months have been hard in general. “We’ve lost a few members,” Phelan admits – but in the last few weeks the club had “got phone calls from people who want to join”. 

As Phelan is keen to point out, it’s a boxing club, for real and would-be boxers. “We take on people now who want to box, not anyone who wants to train – we’re not a keep fit club.” 

Phelan, who started boxing when he was 10, is a great supporter of the 92-year-old boxing club, crediting it for keeping him “on the straight and narrow”. 

“And it gets me out of the house two nights a week!” Phelan adds.  

Andre Zavatini (38), an instructor at Brazier Jiu Jitsu Academy in the north inner city, says government restrictions “have been a challenge for all of us”. 

Brazier Jiu Jitsu class before Covid (Photo courtesy of Andre Zavatini)

With the latest easing of restrictions, the Jiu Jitsu Academy has returned to its old timetable of two classes per night. The class numbers have seen an allowable increase of three people, bringing the classes up to 15 people per class.  

Zoom classes were not a particularly popular innovation in this academy. 

“We tried to do it – it’s very hard to do a Zoom class. It didn’t work for me,” Zavatini says.  

Covid has not been an entirely negative experience for this martial-arts instructor: “The bad thing is of course that all the people who’ve lost their lives, but the other thing is I notice people support each other more now.” 

Brazier Jiu Jitsu Academy has taken a financial hit from Covid. “We have some debts to pay now for the next two to three years as we had to take a loan from the bank.” 

The club’s relationship with its Northside locality was rough in the beginning, admitted Mr. Zavatini, but explained that a change had also come over after Covid. “The community looks after the place, not just me anymore. 

“I think things will get better.”