The Pandemic Karate Training Mindset

As we approach one year of the COVID19 pandemic, many people are getting antsy and can’t help but yearn for things to return to normal.  I have noticed many martial arts students are itching to get back to the training. Unfortunately this is pre-mature and pandemic karate training will be here for quite a bit longer.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, different studios in different states did different things.  After the first shutdown, some studios went back to normal. They are now doing everything they did prior to the pandemic in the same way.  On the flip side, other studios have yet to reopen since the first shutdown and continue to do online classes.  After a second shutdown, we are scheduled to finally reopen.

Even though we will be reopening, we are far from doing things like we used to.  We will be doing no contact classes, wearing masks, and maintaining social distancing at all times. These are the same restrictions we had in place when we reopened from the first shutdown.  This means that we are approaching one year since we have been able to do karate with a partner. Partner work is a significant part of what we do.

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What is Pandemic Karate Training?

I have been thinking about how to better communicate to students how they should be thinking about training during this time.  When the pandemic first started, many students quit training for various reasons: fear of COVID, dislike online classes, new restrictions are unappealing, and more.  Some students stuck with it for a few months with hopes that things would return to normal sooner rather than later.  A small number of students have stuck with it since the start and have rolled with the changes.

Regardless of whether you do classes online or in-person with restrictions, your mindset and approach to training needs to be different.  Depending on what level you are, this will be slightly different.  I will be breaking down the pandemic training mindset for beginners (less than 2 years of experience), intermediates (2-5 years of experience), and advanced students (5 or more years of experience) in the paragraphs below.  

Throughout this post, I will be making an analogy of building a house in the midst of a storm. This will hopefully bring my point home.

This is my opinion as a martial artist and instructor of over 30 years.  Many other studios and instructors will disagree and that is perfectly fine.

Pandemic Karate for Beginner Students

Beginner students are just getting started building their house and the pandemic karate training does not have a significant impact on their progress
Beginner students are just getting started building their house and the pandemic karate training does not have a significant impact on their progress

I think beginner students have the least impact on their training when compared to other levels of students.  The reason for this is that beginners are learning about 80% basic techniques and body conditioning.  The other 20% is partner focused: sparring, self-defense, etc.  This 20% is still rather simple and much of it can still be done without a partner.  The small part that cannot be done without a partner can easily be made up at a later time without a significant impact on progress.  Therefore, beginner students can, in my opinion, continue training and progressing with little modification.

As an analogy, think about a brand-new house being built.  While the house is under construction, the area experiences an unusually large number of unseasonal thunderstorms.  The house can continue to be built with few, if any, changes to the house being made.  The storms cause things to take a little longer but the house remains essentially the same.

Pandemic Karate for Intermediate Students

This level of student starts to have things a little different.  At the intermediate level, more partner training is required.  In addition, the partner skills start to become more intricate and doing them without a partner becomes less useful.  I would say at the intermediate level the breakdown is about 50% individual techniques and 50% partner required techniques.  The mindset of this student needs to change slightly.  

Progress is going to be very slow since 50% of what is required needs to be done with a partner.  Improvement is still made in basic techniques, body conditioning, and forms, as well as some other areas.  Slow progress and improvement can still be made in sparring and self-defense even without a partner.  The student needs to be more focused on improving in the areas they can, weathering the storm, and not focus much on rank progression.  This student is still progressing towards rank advancement, but the path is less clear and less chronologically predictable.

In our home analogy, think about a house that is already built.  You have worked on a plan to add an entire additional level.  As you prepare to start construction, a category 1 hurricane hits.  

Intermediate students are like a house needing to be shored up for a big storm
Intermediate students are like a house needing to be shored up for a big storm

You change your focus from the addition to shoring up the home to limit damage.  When preparing for the storm, you notice things in the foundation and underlying structure that are susceptible, and you therefore work on improving them.  These improvements will not only help the home remain standing after the storm, but indirectly will allow the addition to be built by ensuring the entire structure is sound.

Pandemic Karate for Advanced Students

This level of student is going to require the largest change in mindset amongst all three levels.  Pandemic karate training will have the largest impact on the advanced level student. The majority of skills learned at this level require a partner.  The skills are complicated enough that little benefit is achieved through individual training in these areas.  I would say 75% of skills are learned through partner training while 25% is through individual training.  Basic techniques and forms are still a big part of training, and can be done individually, but application of techniques and forms, as well as sparring and self-defense need to be done with a partner.  Because of this, advanced students are the group that have stopped training more so than any other.

These students cannot think about progressing in the traditional sense, testing for advanced rank on the same timetable as before.  They can, however, still make tremendous improvements and continue along their martial arts journey.  Advanced students need to focus on improving basic techniques and forms, as well as overall body conditioning which will greatly assist sparring and self-defense skill.  Advanced students should also take it upon themselves to gain a greater, deeper understanding of what they do through research and deep, analytical thought.  I encourage advanced students to become scholars during this time.  Focus needs to be on being a better martial artist rather than advancing to the next rank.

Advanced students are preparing their home for a category 5 hurricane; looking to ensure the foundation is sound
Advanced students are preparing their home for a category 5 hurricane; looking to ensure the foundation is sound

From our home building analogy, your house has been built and you have experience improving your structure.  You have also built an additional level.  You are now looking to turn your home into a single-family structure into a multi-unit complex.  However, a category 5 hurricane is approaching.  You have experienced a lesser storm and improved your structure and foundation for it, but this is a different story.  


You need to put a pause on the multi-unit complex and focus on looking at every aspect of your current structure, looking for any and every weakness and ways to improve them.  If you don’t do this, your structure will incur significant damage and you will need several repairs before adding the new structure.  If you shore up and cat 5 storm proof your home, once the storm is over you can immediately start building.  Weathering the storm has also taught you to look out for potential weaknesses in your new structure that you might not have noticed otherwise.

So, no matter what level student you are, you must change your mindset while training during this pandemic.  Do not expect the same progress or rank advancement you would under normal circumstances.  You do need to understand that there are still tremendous benefits to continue training which will ultimately make you a better martial artist in the long run.

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