Shikukai in Essex, Shouwa Jyuku – the challenge of returning to the Dojo.

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Shikukai in Essex is open for business. Since the middle of May we have been managing and designing an intelligent return to training.

It’s not really realistic to just bounce people straight back into a pre-Covid training regime, it needs to be handled with care and consideration, and we are doing just that.

Over the months of lock-down it gradually dawned on me exactly what the full cost of enforced inactivity was liable to be. I know that many people recognised the problem early on and set about engaging with any form of exercise that was available to them. Running and exercise apps acted as motivators to pound the pavement; anything was better than nothing.

But for some this headlong leap into road running may have been great for the heart and lungs and to burn off those indulgent calories, but the joints were ill-prepared for the amount of sudden pressure and wear and tear. The combination of lack of stretching, no real warm-downs and poor footwear soon slowed some of these runners down, or stopped them dead in their tracks. Hamstrings twanged, cruciate ligaments just gave up and knees went into revolt.

Of course, some people just waved the white flag and were content to watch the weight pile on, unaware of how long these lock-downs were liable to go on for, and assuming that their bodies would just suffer a minor physical drop-off and, after a couple of workouts… back to normal. Not so.

As the situation dragged on, the potential for physical and mental atrophy became very real. When motivation was needed anxiety and uncertainty created a kind of brain fog and the normal pressures and purposes of life morphed into something very unfamiliar.

Of course, everyone’s position was different. While for some Covid was a devastating experience, other were able to flip the world turning upside down into something they could benefit from.

The positive stuff.

One positive aspect of this was that we now had time to contemplate. I know that so much navel-gazing happened over the lock-down periods; which is not a bad thing. Normally this generates some kind of plan; but plan for what exactly? And on what time-scale?

I suspect that many people had the opportunity to recalibrate their lives, unsure of what they want, but certain about what they didn’t want. Forget about those pipe dreams of ‘learning a language’ or ‘buying a cello and turning into the next Jaqueline Du Pré, I don’t know anybody who actually did that.

Maybe, out of all that darkness and depressing TV news the human spirit was able to push beyond and reinvent itself? (This is the optimist in me speaking).

Another positive was that we were able to revaluate the importance of connections to family and friends. However, Skype/Zoom calls only went so far; a poor substitute for being face to face. People started talking about ‘hugging’, something that was hardly ever talked about or valued before, it was just taken as a given.

On top of all this, for me, it made me reframe the importance of the Dojo and training shoulder to shoulder, face to face.

It is said that you only really appreciate something after it has been taken away from you – so true.

Our own ‘return’.

When we did return to the Dojo in May; although nothing was said, smiles on faces and a palpable atmosphere of positivity spoke volumes.

After all, karate training is paradoxically something we do for ourselves, but in a group. Just look at all we gain from our training experience.

Put aside the physical benefits and examine all of those other life-affirming attributes.

For that evening, at that time, pressures melt away, you almost become someone else; but in reality, you are tapping into aspects of your persona that normally lay semi-dormant in your day-to-day life.

The Dojo can be described as a crucible or a hothouse, but there is something about being in that supercharged environment, alongside other people that makes it so special. Add to that all the benefits of being in a Flow State [See previous blog post] and it is everything that is positive and rewarding.

The first sessions back have really been about rehabilitation. I knew that the two areas to work on were; looking at what people’s physical condition was like and also how much of a slip-back had occurred in terms of technical knowledge? More of a memory thing.

In the first area, tightened muscles from so much sitting around was something to tackle. I spent longer on the warm-up and stretch and incorporated fascia and core work throughout, and I have kept that going.

I also knew that hammering up and down the Dojo in lines was going to be too much of a shock to the system; so, kihon work has been interspersed with kata.

For kata it was all about memory work and patterns. The same with paired exercises, although these were hindered by the fact that Covid regulations say that we still cannot work in pairs. We did however work body evasions against Jo; this gave some feeling of responding to a threat.

Speaking generally, there never has been a better time to get in the Dojo; if you are a new beginner, or a lapsed martial artist who has never really shaken off ‘that itch’, now is the time to take positive steps.

Even if you are just curious; come along, watch a session, talk to us. If you are of the mindset whereby you want more from your martial arts training than just making ever-faster shapes, then maybe Wado Ryu, as a form of Japanese Budo is what you are looking for.

Photo: George Krethlow-Shaw 2nd kyu working on Kushanku.

Tim Shaw

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