by Erica Linthorst, 7th dan
A long time ago, sometime last month, I was struck by how Covid –19 seemed to be impacting so many people around me who were talking constantly about it, sounding frazzled, concerned, like they were losing it. Of course, I spend a LOT of time in the Taekwondo world so that gave me some focus. I wanted to understand and know more about how it was affecting our Taekwondo communities. I quickly wrote out what I called a survey of 6 brief, but big questions (see below).
Then, I proceeded to send the survey out to as many masters as I could, including a Facebook page plea for responses.
In the end, the survey hit 4 continents. (I had hoped for more answers that could be included here, but time is of the essence, as they say.) The responses (actual and paraphrased herein) came within those first few days.
- When Covi-19 restrictions came along, what:
- a) were your first concerns?
- b) how did you feel (emotions)?
- As things got tighter (rules and so on) what
- a) did you think of doing?
- b) plans did you begin to make (for your dojang/program)?
- Next, what
- a) obstacles or challenges did you perceive?
- Did you rely on others? How?
- Now, what
- — if anything, are you doing to maintain an engaged student population?
- — –is some of the fall-out you have seen/experienced due to the situation?
- – –are some benefits?
- – are some costs (financial and otherwise) of the Covid-19 shut down?
- How – has your work-life changed? Schedule? Workspace?
- Future Imagine we are “all cleared” to resume our “life as usual”.
- a) What, if any, changes do you see for your school? For your delivery your systems?
- b) What, if any benefits, have you accrued / earned from the Corona Era?
From the top
It is clear from the responses that, clearly, there were two (2) main issues on their minds. First, some people wrote back about concerns for their own family’s health and well-being and how they would be personally affected. The other group clearly stated concern for how their dojangs and staff would manage; how their student body (families) would cope; how they could continue to teach/exist; how they could make money and pay bills. Also, “shock at loss of life and the spread of Covid 19” was expressed as well as incredulity that [government] response was not quick, or thorough, enough at the outset.
Question #1 and parts a) and b) were designed to tease out their thoughts from their feelings. As might have been expected emotions mentioned ran from sad, fearful, angry, disappointed, “feeling crippled, nervous, and eager to find answers”. As they said, it felt like being on a “roller coaster of emotions”. One person responded that he “went to the dark side” in that first week of blanketing news, information and stories that were with us 24/7 from all over the world. After that first week, he switched to the other side, committing to buckling down and shifting to “what do I have to do? Look at the challenges and find the solutions”. One person stated that he experienced a “sense of confusion, concern, and dilemma…as a father of 2 kids, husband, and a Master, Coach, and [training center] owner for the past 20 years”. What priorities did he have to set? Another somewhat interesting string of adverbs was “...sad, depressed, anxious, worried, and hopeful”. We’ll look at the that final adverb further on.
There were some respondents who were not overly concerned as their schools remained, initially, fully operational. Others commented on the “need to be proactive and protective of…the students” and acted accordingly by setting primary distance and engagement restrictions as well as hygiene maintenance rules at their locations. Some of those who answered the survey have full-time employment outside the martial arts world. They felt fortunate in their situations which were relatively stable. There were a few answers that came from people who support their institutes and are, therefore, not directly responsible for the financial implications and considerations.
It was evident from the surveys that this first, 2-part question came early on in the Corona Era by what ensued throughout the next 5 questions.
The next question really got the ball rolling as it asks about what they started to consider doing as the [government] rules tightened up, and what plans they began to make. Just a few days after the survey went out, regulations and requirements started coming into effect at top country levels and community levels. As we came to say, “the shutdown was starting”. One of the early closings immediately struck the martial arts industry as gyms, dojangs, academies, centers, schools legally had to close doors due to hygiene concerns and the early lack of solid information regarding how the Corona virus could spread.
Before the actual closings some people continued teaching, running classes limiting or completely without physical contact. Some had to rethink curriculum so it would focus more on no-contact, inserting more poomsae, basic techniques,etc. Considerations for many included “videotaping Taekwondo material for lessons to be delivered online” and using all communication outlets to notify their families and keep them updated. One school created a “mitigation” team consisting of Master, Instructors, and Senior staff members to begin a planning process that eventually became a live experience the aim of which was “to be the normalcy and stability for our families during this crisis”. There was one respondent who considered closing the business and retiring.
Within a day or so of initial shock waves, what became evident was the commitment to the communities they serve, indomitable spirit to “deliver the goods” and all the tenets of Taekwondo that have inspired these leaders to do just that: lead and serve; maintain contact, respect, integrity, and self-control. These leaders could see that there would be obstacles ahead and it pushed them to thoughtful, creative, sometimes innovative solutions so that most of their students could remain engaged, active, and feel connected. As the world, in so many ways, grows smaller, and the ability to stay in touch via the seemingly daily growth and use of technology, coupled with the current physical lockdowns it was increasingly clear that to remain viable schools continuing to provide Taekwondo education throughout this era dictated an unprecedented use of multi-media platforms such as real-time Zoom. They also did it by creating videotapes of their curricula, by teaching online (virtual) classes, and even offering private lessons. For some, this was a continuation of what they had already been doing, for others this became a fast learning curve with many “firsts” and trials and errors ahead. People who worked in volunteer Taekwondo clubs had to shift the way human resources were organized and the amount of time spent on their endeavors.
One person gave this personal account: “Since almost all of my [social] outlets were taken from me, I decided to commit to going outside every single day. …I walked with friends, at a safe distance, until I was exposed. …I walked on my own. Then my knee gave out…. I went to church to sit in quiet…there was no Mass. [The parish closed.]” Eventually, he drove miles away to his favorite pizza place, then sat in his car to enjoy his order. This is one story of personal tribulations that highlights the fact that transitions varied greatly from school to school and leader to leader. Another person took home some of his dojang material and equipment (for insurance coverage purposes) and a few days later vandalism began in his city causing damage, broken windows and stolen items.
How did Taekwondo schools manage? In many instances they relied on senior instructors and staff, adult students with technology know-how and personal as well as student family members to support these endeavors to help make things work. One person asked black belt students to submit their videos as motivation for other students. Mentors, coaches, and colleagues were of even greater support than previously during this Corona Era. One leader realized that since his internet connection at home was very poor, other instructors had to do most of the online training.
As this period lengthened dojang owners could finally turn to the governments for some relief; staff could be furloughed and possibly go on unemployment; rents and mortgages could be put off with limited or no penalty. Concerns increased rapidly for how bills (mortgage, utility, and others) and financial obligations (paychecks) would be handled.
Fear was also high that there would be loss of students, cancellation of contracts, and a falling off of both interest and engagement. This continually posed the question of how to juggle requirements vs. necessities. It was clear from many responses that there were very delicate balancing acts going on – some met with positive “let’s do it” actions, others with quickly becoming urgent worries about remaining financially solvent and at the same time providing topnotch professional services.
So, the question arises: how does one maintain an engaged, active student population?
Someone said, “6 home workouts per week + extra challenges and Zoom workouts [adding] weekly personal email to check in on students.” There was a comment that even with online training “…classes are about half the normal size.” Another person remarked: “We have recorded clips to cover all techniques, combinations, poomsae for our kup syllabus [making it available through the club website]. Dan material is also recorded.” A huge number of dojangs are teaching virtual classes, some as many as 4-5 days per week as well as pffering private lessons (ranging from 1 day per week to daily, by registration. There was a response that was reinventing their entire system. It was linearly driven: “We present one curriculum segment for each group (beginner, intermediate, advanced, and black belt) to work on every week. Since these segments are recorded and accessible online it gives the student the opportunity to “custom make” a class covering all requirements for their belt level.” Some instructors have offered that students may send them videos for review and constructive support.
This next response stands out as landing squarely in the “creative/innovative” category: “I have had one parent’s night; am planning another one. Also mentioned was virtual “family movies nights”; online testing [see photos below]. Goal-setting and providing a reliable framework for consistent Taekwondo development is proving valuable to most schools where they underscore the importance of the Tenets of Taekwondo and even an “At Home Black Belt Challenge” where students are challenged to think “Would a Black Belt do / say this? Act in this way?” That school leadership also writes about changing it up every week and completing other challenges that earn them points toward rewards.
“I have prepared a class journal for my students and am tasking them to accomplish 10 points of Taekwondo training each day.”
And, at least one other respondent began to utilize a system for “live-streaming – broadcasting in real-time on a reliable platform”. He has used some of this communication time providing “philosophical and historical presentations” too, supporting his traditional approach to and system of Taekwondo.
Fallout? Problems? Financial issues? There have been so many and not all are visible currently. At this point, the general sense is that their future and the future of their schools / programs is clouded. Here are some not unexpected remarks:
- We’ve had to cancel major club level poomsae competitions that we host
- Cancellation of dan grading
- 25% drop in income; loss of income in general
- Technology is sometimes difficult to work with
- Student families are facing financial difficulties that may lead them to cancel this activity (putting food on the table is a higher priority); TKD while seen as a beneficial activity is also a luxury
- Students want to quit
- Members are freezing their membership
- Landlords are not giving a break on rent
Noteworthy, were many responses regarding the benefits accrued to your business from the Corona Era:
- While we keep training, we keep healthy
- I Finally got around to making the videos of the curriculum which will beneficial moving forward
- Now we can see possibilities to create training at a lower cost
- We are helping students build mental and emotional muscle; strengthening attitudes
- We have really seen how seen supportive our Taekwondo family can be
- This “new way” that we’re teaching TKD has sparked creativity from all leadership team members
When we looked at costs, they mostly broke down into financial and personal categories. About finances, one Master wrote “I invested in an external web cam, a tripod, and a network enhancer to help with the virtual classes.”
The more personal discussion revolved around work-life balance and use of space.
“My business is growing,” wrote one Master.
“I am busier than ever. Before Covid-19 I’d normally work 10-12 hours a day, right now 16-18 is normal.”
One couple run a Taekwondo program saved money by moving back into a parental home and now give daytime online “classes” when children might be in school. For them, expenses were too high to live independently and run their program.
“I spend more time on the computer and less on physical activities – I go almost non-stop.”
“As volunteer instructors we are struggling to balance time. All of us have full time jobs and therefore this is a challenge…in my case, I am directly involved in Covid-10 research…”
“I only work about 4-5 hours a day.”
“We are trying to keep our own stability choosing not to overwhelm ourselves by attempting to do too much.” At this dojang they made the decision not to add more to what they were doing but to keep it streamlined.
“We decided to have one room [in our home] changed into our mini-dojang.”
“I’m home a lot more and that means more quality time with my family.”
“I have a full-time day job and now work exclusively from home. Not having classes throws me off. It’s easy to forget what day it is!”
“Yes – since I now work from home instead of at the dojang my schedule is more flexible.”
Answers to the final question fell into every space on the negative to positive spectrum.
- Looking forward to returning to hands on training AND decided to offer early morning classes online.
- Keep on checking in online with students and give more feedback online also. Offer more individualized programming for those who need it.”
- “Just can’t wait to get back.” “Hoping to go back to business as usual.”
- “Value life more and train harder.”
- “Being able to pivot quickly and efficiently is important.”
- “Out of disaster, rises new opportunity. My world potential clients/athletes grew larger (from 2-4 countries).”
- We see tremendous value continuing to offer our online private lessons; make online snow days; electronic contract sign-ups… I think we truly learned just how exciting our classes can be!”
- “E-learning platform will keep working.”
- “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
- “I am better prepared for any situation in the future.”
- “When we resume we expect a very difficult financial climate so recovery will take time. Our club is not based in an affluent area….”
- “Learning flexibility. Understanding that the world is changing at a very rapid pace and balancing traditional with modern is essential.”
- “We really are limited only by our imagination.”
FINAL NOTE: This project started in late March 2020 and since that moment the world health climate has been changing daily, still with many unknown and unclear implications for this time and the future. Due to government regulations in many areas, the effects on our Taekwondo communities have varied widely and initially sparked very serious concerns regarding the viability of continuing their form of Taekwondo education. Therefore, the future of Taekwondo remains in flux. Due to the Corona Era, people seem to have learned new technology, new techniques for delivering services. They have worked with cohorts and colleagues, friends and family to create and implement means of meeting their own goals while serving their populations. These new methods may very well be woven into future curricula and teaching practices. This group surveyed has certainly gone through all the same human struggles as everyone affected by Covid-19 coupled with innumerable business and financial problems. What is definite: Taekwondo will survive and, in no small part, due to the vision and passion of its leaders. Will Taekwondo education change? It may certainly go through some revamping to the benefit of all recipients. As TKD competitors are known to say, “fighting!!”
COURTESY INTEGRITY PERSEVERANCE
SELF-CONTROL INDOMITABLE SPIRIT