A common saying in the martial arts is that you’re only as good as your training partner. For most of us during quarantine, our training partners are the wall of our garage, the mirrors in our bathrooms, or the squirrels in a park. We have very few ways of getting feedback or training with resistance. We can only kick the air, not a moving target. We can only do Kata or Forms, not practice the applications to escape attackers. It can all be very frustrating. It’s a bad time for mental health for everyone in the world, but for martial artists, all these shutdown schools mean we lose our best coping mechanism.
One of the appeals of martial arts is the potential for constant, lifelong improvement. For a lot of us, that means each backslide hits us very hard. Fortunately, we also know that our love of martial arts can give us strength during adversity. So with that in mind, here are some ways to use martial arts to stay sane in quarantine.
Find Creative Ways to Train
This is the obvious one. A lot of schools have online classes – which obviously are not as good as the real thing – but definitely much better than nothing. If you aren’t being hit by a financial hardship right now, use this resource! YouTube also has a lot of free recorded lessons and classes you can watch and follow along. You might just learn something new!
You can also think about what attributes you CAN work on right now. Obviously sparring isn’t an option, but general fitness and flexibility are.
My left leg kicks are so much better than my right, and one of my quarantine drills is doing slow kicks as high as I can. Every time I do this, I add one more rep on my ride side compared to my left.
Balance is another good skill to work on. Here’s a fun drill that you can do during commercial breaks (while binge watching shows about people who can still leave their houses):
Get in a horse stance, do 10 of every block with both arms. Now stand on one foot, repeat. Other foot, repeat. Now back to the first foot, repeat with your eyes closed. Final foot, eyes closed, do it one last time.
It’s all about creativity. When we go back to class our timing and reactions might be a little rusty, but we have no excuse to not be kicking higher, balancing better, and having our forms look sharp! For more suggestions check out my earlier entry on Solo Training.
Ways to Love Martial Arts Other Than Training
So this is where it gets trickier, how do we deal with our frustration in ways other than training?
A lot of us have some free time right now, and there are so many books, articles, blog posts (ahem) that we could be learning from. Search for what interests you! Learn the history of your art, learn the basics of a different style, or read about famous martial artists.
Check out the amazing Matthew Polly biography of Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee: A Life. I also recommend the Taekwondo history book A Killing Art by Alex Gillis.
The 1993 biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story portrays Bruce Lee writing while unable to train due to his back injury. While that movie isn’t always accurate, the sentiment is. If you can’t do what you love, find another way to contribute and create.
Start a blog (ahem), write a book, or make a PowerPoint. Find some way to keep your mind fresh so you’re not just doing forms mindlessly.
Martial arts movies… they don’t have the best acting, stories, morals, or sometimes even martial arts! What they do have is excitement, and that’s what you need to stay excited and motivated. With no one pushing you, it’s easy to lose the momentum you had in class. Watching an exciting movie can be just what you need to get off the couch and go practice!
Not only is engaging in creativity good for your mental health, but drawing martial arts techniques can help you focus on the details. Drawing the correct hand and foot positions can help you visualize those positions when you perform them. Martial arts is all about the link between the mind and body, and drawing the body helps internalize those details in the mind.
Film Your Form
This is part training and part creativity. Film your form or kata, tweak it, improve it, then film it again. Now try filming it from different angles. Here’s where we get creative. Pick your favorite song, download some video software like iMovie, and try to make a music video using the different angles you filmed of your form. Not only will you end up with a flashy version of your kata that’s fun to show people, but you’ll notice a lot of details as you watch the segments over and over again.
So There You Have It
We’re all striving to improve, and it’s still possible to improve right now – just not in the ways we might want. Give yourself a break, there’s too much to worry about in the real world already. Don’t worry about your sparring skills, you’ll get them back. For now, do what you can, stay passionate, and continue to enjoy the martial arts in a way that’s feasible.