Taekwondo is a little strange these days

I had to do a lot of thinking before I returned to Taekwondo this fall.

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have the advantage of isolation/low population density and that, combined with early strict measures, kept our COVID numbers low overall (fewer than 300 cases in a population of approximately 500,000.)

So, this fall is finding us slowly getting back into something that looks similar to the old normal. It’s a more complex normal – physical distancing, elaborate sanitization, and more rules than you could shake a stick at- but it does bear a certain resemblance to the before-times.

Kids are in school, Guide and Scout groups are starting up, you can eat at restaurants but capacity is reduced, a lot of things are happening outdoors and there is tape on the floor everywhere.

When my instructor contacted me in August to tell me that classes would start again in September, I couldn’t commit right away. I wanted to see my friends from class, I wanted to get back into that routine again, and I wanted to re-sharpen my skills. But, I didn’t want to do something foolish and take a health risk so I could punch things in my fighting pajamas.

A selfie by the author. She is wearing a white dobok (martial arts clothing) and a white mask and her hair is pulled back in a bandana.  Two masked people   in doboks are far away in the background.
Myself, Mr. Power and Ms. L. Zurel during one of our breaks. I only realized after I took this photo that I didn’t even try to smirk or smile. Everything feels a bit more ‘serious business’ these days, doesn’t it?

I relaxed a bit when I saw the list of rules for the school. The timing of classes has changed (to accomodate cleaning between groups), there is tape on the floor to mark a distanced spot for each student, we have to wear masks on the way in and out and during breaks and we are welcome to leave our masks on all during class (at 2m apart, we technically don’t need to be masked.)  All of that helped but the thing that made the most difference for me was the fact that we are prohibited from breathing out sharply when we execute a move. That was one of my biggest concerns – the idea that I would be in a room of people projecting their breath out forcefully into the room.

So, I have been to about half of the classes* so far and it is great to be back but it is also very strange.

The class is both familiar and unfamiliar. It’s like when you dream about something that you do in real life – it has basically the same shape and the same purpose but the elements aren’t quite right.

The 2m difference in spacing is just slightly more that we would usually be apart when we are Doing our patterns. So my friend Kevin, ahem, Mr. James, is in the correct place on my right hand side but he’s too far away from me. So the unconscious cues that I would normally get from his movement under normal circumstances are now gone.

A photo of beige flooring with two pieces of red duct tape  approximately  2 m apart from each other.
Usually, only the youngest students have duct tape on the floor to keep them from piling up on each other during kicking drills. Now, there are duct tape markers to indicate a spot for each student.

I’m slightly too far away from my instructor to see them well without my glasses on. I have to keep my glasses off because I’m wearing a mask and the steaming up is too irritating. (Yes,I leave my mask on the whole time, I just feel better that way.) This isn’t a crisis, there aren’t too many subtle movements that I need to see, but it adds to the weird feeling I am experiencing.

The weirdest thing though, the most eerie, is the fact that the class is quiet. Under normal circumstances as we are doing our patterns everyone is breathing out on almost every move. So the classroom is filled with the sounds of this rhythmic breathing. Now we are all quiet. I’ve noticed myself adding comments or slightly nervous laughter more often and I am working on reigning that in. I guess you could say that the patterns could be more meditative now but it is hard to adjust to that idea in a context that was not particularly meditative before. For right now, it feels a little like something is wrong, like we are sombre as a reaction to something (and I guess we are.)

I imagine I will adjust to this over time. After a while, it probably won’t seem so weird, the silence will just become part of how class works. But, for right now, it really makes me conscious of how things have changed. And it makes me aware of the sensory clues I was picking up from other people. 

If you had asked me before, I would have said that I spent too much time glancing at other people to make sure I was on track with a given pattern* (it was a habit I was trying to overcome.) However, now I am realizing that hearing breathing patterns and judging people’s proximity were also a big part of staying on track with both the pattern itself and with the group as a whole.

But, all of that being said I really appreciate being able to return to class – especially since so many people around the world are still unable to have any sense of normalcy in their days. 

And, I especially appreciate the flexibility my instructors and my classmates are offering right now. 

Everyone in the class is able to participate at their own level of risk-tolerance. My comfort/lack of comfort with the current risk level means that I am leaving my mask on, that I am a bit rusty in my movements because my ambient anxiety affects my concentration, and that I could not participant in certain drills that would bring me ‘too close’  (for my comfort) to another masked person. All of that has been fine with everyone else. We are all being very careful of everyone else’s feelings, needs, and comfort levels and that is what makes our classes work well right now.

I’m ending this with a kiya because we can’t shout it in class these days.


*I misjudged the weight of something while cleaning my shed and wonked out my shoulder for a while so I stayed home from class a few times.

**While that could be interpreted as a lack of confidence on my part, that is not exactly it. Sometimes, I lack confidence, but mostly I think my challenges with proprioception keep me glancing around. Sometimes, for example, I firmly believe that my foot is in the right spot for a given stance but something twigs me to the fact that it isn’t – a quick glance at my neighbour lets me correct something that I can’t quite figure out by how my body feels.)

12 thoughts on “Taekwondo is a little strange these days

  1. I have found that using toupee tape (Top Stick brand) across the top of my mask keeps me from fogging my glasses. It’s especially helpful in that it’s designed to stick to skin, and not wear off with sweat. It also peels right off easily when I tug on it.

  2. I am glad you are able to get back to class. It is sad that it has to be silent. So necessary, but sad. I believe breathing and sounding (what we call it in my form of movement) is a big part of movement. But . . . we have to adjust.

    I wish you could spread some of this: “We are all being very careful of everyone else’s feelings, needs, and comfort levels” around!

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Thanks for reading my post!

      It is sad and the energy in the room is low as a result but it is still good to be there. I completely agree on the importance of breathing/sounding and I look forward to when it can be part of my practice again.

      I wish I could spread that compassion around, too. It’s weird that some people need to be convinced to be respectful and caring.

      1. Perhaps something else can be used in place of sound. Now, “sound” is not really the point of it in Taekwondo . . . I mean it is NOT choir, but as you mentioned the energy is low so perhaps something besides a LOUD audible exhale can be used to help signify and unify? A snap? A clap? A stomp? All of those make a noise without breath. I know breathing does so much more . . . but . . . . ? I dunno. When everyone is breathing as one it helps connect the group and since breathing loud and strong enough to have that connection is not “good” right now, maybe after a move a snap (clap/stomp) would be added to signify a group “exhale”. I imagine it is not possible to do it in the timing of the regular sound because one would want to keep the fist at the end of the move, but then maybe an inhale exhale snap. Ha! I don’t know. I understand the lack of sound affecting the class. I am teaching (Nia) via Zoom and “have” to mute the class because each home has different sounds that would distract (worse than the silence) from the class. Right now we enjoy what we can have. 🙂

      2. I like your creative thinking here! I think that if I were teaching the class, I might experiment a little with non-verbal noise. Although, since we are already challenged by ‘unlearning’ the breathing, I wonder if learning something new and then having to unlearn that at a future time might be more complex than necessary? It’s an interesting thought exercise, at any rate!

        I LOVE Nia, my friend Elaine Dunphy, the First Lady of Joy, teaches it here in NL and , under normal circumstances, I love gallivanting around in her classes. She has been teaching some outdoor classes during September and is moving indoors for some safely-distanced classes as the weather cools. I’m glad you have found ways to ‘meet’ with your students, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.

        I can see why it would be distracting to have all of the ‘home’ noises popping up during your class. I have been doing some online storytelling and I miss the energy of the audience but I find the erratic background noises (when people aren’t muted) to be far more distressing than the silence.

      3. I feel we are having to be creative in the ways that we connect. We still NEED the connections they just have to be different. 🙂
        Oh yay! I get so excited when someone has actually heard of Nia! YAY! So, since you are familiar you probably know that we make sounds in Nia . . . . I miss that. I teach in my home where my husband is working so I do not make the noise that I used to AND with my students muted I miss hearing them.

  3. Can you practice outside? In Halifax we have been doing Karate in the park. No sparring, but we can practice Katas and drills. We do Zoom Karate as well, and I am grateful to all the instructors leading our Zoom classes, but I like “Live” practice better.

    I enjoy reading about your Taekwondo, by the way! I have simelar feelings about my Karate practice.

    1. Thanks for reading, Margo! I’m glad it resonated with you.

      Outside practice is not unfortunately not an option for us for a variety of reasons. We did Zoom TKD back in the spring and it was good but, like you said, I like the ‘live’ practice better.

      I happy that you get to combine Zoom classes and outside classes, I hope that we can all get back to our usual style classes soon – or that Zoom ones become more enjoyable over time!

      1. And we are currently unable to practice inside as a group for practical and legal reasons.
        Alas, there is no substitute for sparring and the self-defense exercises we did back in the Before Times. We are all concerned about how these skills have deteriorated.

        There is also the issue of grading. I am grateful I tested for my Nidan (second-Degree Black Belt) last year, as testing and grading is simply not a thing these days, at least not for us.

        I do wonder what the Aikido and Judo folks are doing now, as those two deciplines are all about close contact.

  4. Hi my name is Izzy i am 12 years old and i want to do taekwondo and i am yellow belt with 0 stripes

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