Social distancing is the latest buzzword, and it’s meant to ensure our survival. Proper distance and survival have always been part of martial arts.

Okay, I can’t say ‘always’ or even all martial arts, but I can speak from my personal experience in aikido over the last fifteen years. My martial arts training has had an incredible impact on my daily life and my writing (how can one write modern warriors without training and fight scenes??!). It’s not surprising to me that I turn to it now to understand the current pandemic panic.

And that’s what this blog series will focus on – applying martial arts lessons to the coronavirus developments. I’m not sure certain how many parts there will be. However, if you have questions or want to talk, feel free to comment below. You might inspire a new post!

For now, let’s start with social distancing.

Ma’ai (pronounced roughly like my eye) is the Japanese term we use on the mats. It is used to judge the proper fighting distance to start training. We measure it by both partners extending their front arms. Fingertips should barely touch. This is the distance to start a training sequence (meaning one person attacks and the other uses an aikido blend/ technique to respond).

Why this particular distance? It is considered safe because neither person can hurt the other…without moving forward. This means a choice must be made to act – a decision to attack. A decision must also be made to respond to an attack.

It’s easy to give all the power to the attacker. When I first started aikido, I had a strong fear response to just drop to the ground and hope the attacker didn’t actually get me. Logically, I knew this was the equivalent of feeling like a blanket protected me when I’d had nightmares and thought a monster was in my bedroom. Being attacked, even in a classroom environment, was terrifying.

A Rahki is a warrior protector, and you’re a Rahki.

Potentially being attacked by a virus is also terrifying.

Aikido helped me understand the weakness in attacks though. Now, I lack the scientific background to truly apply this to potential weaknesses in a virus. However, we can still continue this analogy in a slightly different way.

See, the attack is only one part. There are multiple layers in one’s response to it. Yes, my drop to a fetal position is one potential layer. Aikido prefers a different reply.

Aikido teaches us to breathe, move, and relax. It offers the options to blend outside of an attack or even to enter in more directly. There are not only many techniques, but there are variations on those techniques as well as take-downs, throws, and pins.

There are more options than just to live in fear of a potential attack.

There's no magic potion, no ancient secret. There's not enough training to guarantee anyone's security. You continue to train, learn, and adapt.

That’s the lesson I’d encourage all to take now. Yes, fear is there and that’s okay. There are still options. A friend posted on FB to encourage people to take notes from this experience. I’d like to support that response.

Did you have emergency supplies?

Does your family have a plan to contact each other during emergencies?

What new daily life routines are causing you stress?

Start notes on these things and develop a new planned response. This brings some control back to you.

I’d also like to encourage all to find some joy and focus on it. Aikidoka are actually encouraged to train joyously. This doesn’t mean ‘goofing off’ or that you aren’t serious in your efforts. It does mean that you enjoy the work, I think.

Are you and yours spending time together and talking?

Is there time to do things you’ve meant to do?

Are you paying more attention to your health?

An attack is a limited event, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lasting impact. It also doesn’t mean it can’t give us valuable lasting lessons that improve our lives.

Breathe, move, and relax.

Take your power back during this panic – take your power back, learn, and grow!

We are currently focused on our survival and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t let fear paralyze you. Breathe, move, and relax. Take notes and start family discussions. Try something new and different as you find a new ‘normal’ during this time.

As I said, I’ll be applying other martial arts lessons to our current craziness. I’d love make this a discussion so please don’t be shy about commenting. If you prefer to contact me privately, use the Contact button on my website and send me a message!

Stay healthy, my friends!


9 thoughts on “Pandemic Survival: Lessons from martial arts [Part 1]

  1. Very interesting points! As a fellow martial artist (over 15 years in Tae Kwon Do) I had never thought about the situation in that way. Before we had to suspend classes, my instructor was working with me on not repeating the same responses over and over again. In sparring, I had certain “go to” reactions that quickly became predictable. He told me to change it up. I think that too is something we need to focus on now. We can’t go through our “go to” responses. We need to be open to mixing it up. And it’s hard. In life, we have to give ourselves permission to fail at it (in class, we have an instructor standing there to tell us to do it again!).

    We have to look at this as an opportunity. Several years ago, I spent three months unemployed. My biggest regret from that period is that I did practically nothing. Ok, I did a lot of job searching, and the house was suddenly spotless, but that was a wasted opportunity to learn, to try, to be something new. So seize this opportunity. Set aside time to try something new. Learn something. Or maybe it’s spending more quality time with your family. Dust off the board games and shuffle that deck of cards. This time is what you make of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! We do all have ‘go to ‘ responses on the mats and off. I know I do anyway! As you also noted, productivity at home isn’t always easy. I do know I hope not to look back and feel I missed an opportunity.

      Thanks for reading and replying!

      Liked by 1 person

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