Aikido Solstice Seminar Meeting: Aikido and COVID – What Now?

Over sixty participants gathered on a Saturday afternoon to discuss the future of aikido amidst the COVID pandemic. A panel of six aikidoka with which included medical and business backgrounds, facilitated the discussion on how the aikido community should move forward, looking at both the scientific and the business aspects of this global crisis.

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 18, 2020, via Zoom, Aikido Solstice Seminars held a panel of six with medical and martial arts business background within the aikido community to discuss furthering aikido in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Aptly titled “COVID: Now What?”, the panelists – Dr. Gina Zarrilli (COVID Frontline personnel), Dr. Deena Drake (COVID Frontline personnel), Dr. Janice Taitel (Pediatrician), Cecilia Ramos (Registered Nurse and Birankai Medical Coordinator), Josephine Fan (Dojo Business Expert), and Amy Weiner (Virologist) – first discussed the current state of the pandemic and how it has affected not only medical personnel, but dojo owners as well. The atmosphere of the meeting seemed hopeful in the beginning, with many voicing their hopes to resume normal training habits, however, as the meeting continued, that hopeful atmosphere morphed into a frustration and concern as viewer questions taken by each of the panelists.

Amy Weiner, a virologist and first to the virtual floor, spoke of the unknown factors in reopening schools for training like people not knowing who would be at higher risk and who could be a potential carrier.  Such unknown factors create a high-risk environment not only in the dojo context, but in the larger context of society. Weiner concluded that ultimately, the reopening of schools is now more of an ethical and moral issue for dojo owners in this high-risk environment.

Dr. Deena Drake, a COVID Frontline personnel, agreee with much of Weiner’s comments and added that, considering the outbreaks in her San Diego community, she expressed her discomfort holding and participating in in-person training. With this discomfort, Dr. Drake concluded, she was more than willing to “let go” of the training space because she does not foresee regular use of it until the end of the pandemic.

The next panelist to convey her opening statements was Dr. Gina Zarrilli, another COVID Frontline personnel, mentioning that even though the death rate has increased again, the health industry is treating their patients better than since the beginning of the pandemic. She also advised the viewers to not relax their guard during this global crisis. Dr. Zarrilli also touched upon the overall stress and hopelessness that pervades daily life and essential workers. Despite the amount of stress felt by everyone, she recommended to not become lax in the fight to contain this pandemic.

Cecelia Ramos, a Registered Nurse and the medical coordinator to Birankai North America, followed, stating that she closed her dojo and finished packing everything up before joining the virtual meeting. She felt that, amid the pandemic, it was not prudent to upkeep a space where no one was actively training. Though still not comfortable training outside with her handful of students, she has not found there to be much COVID transmission in the many parks.

Next, Dr. Janice Taitel, a pediatrician, concurred with Ramos, in that training outdoors creates an environment that is close to a no-risk environment. However, Dr. Taitel expressed that many more children in her community are testing positive for the coronavirus, and parents are not allowing them outside of the house while the parents travel back and forth from work, possibly bringing back the virus themselves. Dr. Taitel expressed her desire to resume training, however, the pandemic has made it hard to plan anything for the future.

Lastly, Dojo Show contributor and Dojo Business Expert Josephine Fan mentioned that her dojo, Long Island Aikikai, lost between one-third and one-fourth of its students. From there, she and the other instructors divided the remaining students into six groups of eight, all following strict protocol and guidelines while training in the school. Moving forward, Fan expressed her desire to figure out a way to grow the dojo’s numbers amid the pandemic and hopes to have a program ready soon, which offered a renewed sense of hope to the meeting.

After these opening statements, the panelists received questions from over sixty viewers. The first and most popular question, was when it would be safe to resume hand-to-hand/contact training, to which almost all of the panelists responded. Weiner began the conversation, reiterating aspects of her opening statement: with the number of unknowns currently in play, the risk is high, adding that she foresees such risks decreasing by the end of the year. Masks are important, however, Weiner warned, people should not be so confident in the masks as they are not perfect barriers.

Dr. Drake agreed with Weiner on the imperfections of the masks, but she repeated her ethics and comfortableness argument, stating that she does not foresee herself training again until late 2021. In the same vein, Dr. Zarrilli said that it is our moral responsibility to hinder the spread of the coronavirus, stating that people have more risk of contracting the virus mingling with the general public than they do going to hospitals. Dr. Taitel chimed in, stating that COVID testing may not be one hundred percent reliable, but until there is some sort of treatment for this pandemic, contact training cannot resume in full force.

Weiner mentioned, on the topic of treatment and vaccines, based on the research, there are about three possible treatments/vaccines in the final stages of development and the studies on them will be released in the final quarter of the year. This does not mean, Weiner cautioned, everyone will have access to such treatments by the beginning of 2021, but by late next year, due to the fact that manufacturers need to acquire a license before producing said treatments on a large scale.

The final question, before breaking off into smaller groups, was twofold: How should dojo owners proceed in opening or closing their training space and can aikido survive this pandemic? Ramos responded by drawing from her own experience of closing her own training space, she was not planning to acquire a new training space until the pandemic has subsided. In the meantime, though she is training outdoors. There are many solo practices an aikidoka can do, i.e. weapon kata, paired weapon work with space between the partners, and performing the nage portion of the technique at air, that she and her students focus on. In terms of the art’s survival, Ramos paralleled this pandemic with Aikikai Hombu Dojo’s experience at the end of the Second World War; if they could have aikido survive, so can we. Additionally, she mentioned that though aikidoka may miss practicing with a partner, they all will be better suited when partnered training becomes available again.

Though the virtual air became reserved by the end of the panelists’ discussions, there was one thing that reassured the viewers hopes; it was everyone was experiencing some of the same encounters as the others. There was a sense that everyone is in this together, but everyone was also hoping for some better news, as co-host Jamie Zimron stated, “We heard a lot of things we didn’t want to hear.” The meeting, however, did not produce concrete answers for the viewers to apply to their individual situations. Maybe, that was not the real purpose of the meeting.

Perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel for this gathering was not to foresee an end to the pandemic, per se, but, like in partnered aikido training, it was to find the harmony between keeping one’s self safe and continuing one’s training on their own. As Dr. Drake asserted, continuing one’s training comes down to an ethical and comfortableness solution. As seen with both Fan and Ramos, who both seem comfortable training in the environments they currently established and adhering to an ethical standard to not spread the coronavirus further.  Perhaps, this is how the individual harmonizes with the current world crisis.

To find out more about aikido and its history in America, click here.


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