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.
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.
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.)