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You can’t learn karate by watching it on TV

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, an essay/blog on staying committed to martial arts:

You can get an elite college degree online. But can you get a Black Belt?

In the era of coronavirus, prestigious schools at every level from private grade schools to Harvard and Penn are teaching online.

We offer an intensive, interactive, engaging martial arts curriculum to help people become Black Belts. How can we possibly keep that going when health officials warn against close contact?

The answer: We act like martial artists and we train for self-protection like we do every other day.

We make adjustments. We don’t accept a watered-down education. The saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.”

An inability to meet in person should produce a stronger martial artist and martial arts community. We have to work harder to learn. We have to look for more ways to connect and add to our abilities. We need it now more than ever as larger institutions are closing, social opportunities are diminishing and even outdoor activities are getting canceled.

It is damaging to our health to become sedentary, scared and solitude. The goal is to balance overall community health and personal well-being. Create a sense of normalcy and empowerment in the face of unusual days without jeopardizing public safety.

Here at Action Karate, this is stripe week and we typically test students on whether they know self-defense techniques by doing them on a partner. This time, we are performing them in the air. Instead of effectively doing the strikes, blocks and takedowns on a person using self-control, we are looking for increased power. In the few days of this kind of testing, students seemed to ramp up their energy level and at the same time were met with a really significant challenge. Students who would typically pass their stripe test seamlessly were struggling for being quiet, unconvincing or calm. At the end of the technique, we say “Stop, stay back!” If they don’t say it with urgency, they don’t pass. This challenge has helped to refine and change how they think about techniques. And now that we’re here, I think at least once on the road to black belt, students should perform a technique in the air like they’re mad, scared and serious. It’s making them better martial artists. This is a teaching achievement we might not have accomplished if it wasn’t for coronavirus.

If you break your right arm, you’re forced to be able to use your left arm for both basic tasks and even for more advanced purposes. Basic tasks like tying shoes, advanced tasks like one-arm push-ups. You don’t want a broken arm, but you cope and rise to the challenge or you get scared and fail.

Once you can do one-arm push-ups, you realize that it makes your regular push-ups better and added a new layer of strength.

At Action Karate, we often live stream classes but honestly it’s hard to learn anything by watching a live karate class online. We are now producing more insightful, high-level videos every week. Instead of filming class, instructors are talking to the camera and teaching more refined points in our curriculum.

We are having our most experienced instructors with unique knowledge sets make videos that provide a more well-rounded martial arts education. And the more we do it, the more we’re realizing, wow, these videos are helpful anyway.

If you play football and the game is rained out, look at game film in a new light and gain insights for when you can play again. Watching film won’t make you a great football player. Applying the lessons once you’re on the field will absolutely elevate your game.

No one is called to train in martial arts only when it is convenient or all circumstances line up perfectly. At times there are sacrifices and challenges.

When martial arts started, you couldn’t go to a karate school and get a cool weapon. You used a farming tool. If anyone caught you practicing, the punishment came from an oppressive military. People had to pretend they were using a fan when in reality they were practicing to defend themselves from a sword. They weren’t allowed to train in groups at all. We are so fortunate that we are not in that situation.

One of the definitions of martial arts is training for the basic need of self-preservation. That’s exactly what our students need right now -- a sense of normalcy, hope and accomplishment in an era of sickness, restriction and limitations. We are going to continue to work hard as martial artists even when we have obstacles like schools closing and people wearing face masks. Self-preservation means we don’t give up on our goals, we persevere to make our bodies and minds healthy and strong.

In conclusion, No, I don’t think it’s possible to get your Black Belt by watching videos online. But I also would say, you can’t become a black belt if you think showing up is all it takes. You need to know how to turn a disadvantage to your favor. In other familiar words, being a martial artist means you take an aggressive, bigger opponent and turn their strength against them to flip them on their backs. That’s how we beat the odds and become Black Belts no matter what.

- Rochelle Brenner, head instructor at Action Karate in Mt. Airy, currently getting motivated by the week's lesson plans and videos

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