As we roll into January, we’re taking a bit of a break from in person classes for some health related reasons. The first is personal and related to a family member who needs some at home care due to a surgery. The second is COVID related. The numbers are going through the roof, and it just doesn’t make sense to possibly add to the spread. This post will look a bit more at mask limitations and how this led to the decision to go online, discuss home training, and at the very end get to the month’s schedule.
Here we go again
There is still substantial debate out there about just how contagious and how serious the Omicron strain of COVID-19 is.
Aside from vaccination and getting boosted, if you’re eligible, the best defense against getting Omicron is a good mask. In a prior post, I noted the efficacy of various masks as tested by university level labs. But what exactly does 95% filtration efficiency mean in terms of protection? Last week, the Wall Street Journal published this amazing graphic to try to sum it all up.
So in our big open room with everyone wearing an N95 and everyone doubly vaccinated, we might be in great shape. In theory, if one of us were infected, it would take 25 hours for an infection to spread. Clearly we’re not in the room that length of time. But while N95 or equivalent might be great under perfect circumstances, in reality, we take them off to drink water or snack between classes, and given that in a martial arts class we move a lot, the mask may not be fitting perfectly at the end of a series of jump kicks. Also, as good as this graphic is, it’s one take on spread – and if you’re reading this, you are probably old enough to know that the CDC and other regulatory agencies have not gotten it right every time over the past couple of years. Also note the subtext – that the graphic was made in Spring 2021 BEFORE Omicron. Why not err on the side of caution as the numbers are skyrocketing? Despite some reasonable confidence on my part that we’re a pretty safe group to be around, for the month of January, we’re back online as we were for much of the time from March 2020 until July 2021.
How to train at home
First of all, when it comes to exercise, almost everyone prefers to train in group settings for the purpose of being social and for motivation. As a teacher, it’s easier for me to see everyone and make corrections to form when you’re there in front of me. And doing sparring or self defense drills of any sort are almost always more fun with others. Shadow boxing loses its appeal rather quickly. On the flip side, Peloton has made an online empire out of remote fitness classes, and I have now run into a number of colleagues professionally who say that they love their at home yoga or other fitness classes since they are much more convenient. They don’t have to drive and the classes take less planning to attend.
So given that we’re at home this month, how do you set yourself up for success? Another way to put this question is: how do you remove the barriers to success for at home training?
One of the primary issues people have is space. At the start of the pandemic, many of us realized that we didn’t have good workout space at home. For my part, my basement and garage were full of a lot of stuff that we didn’t use. We had it stored up for a rainy day. When we finally evaluated how long it had been since many of these materials had been put into storage, we quickly realized that it was unlikely that we would use them and gave much of it away on Buy Nothing or donated it.
How much space do you need? It does depend on the activity, but for basic martial arts maintenance or beginning training, a 6’x6’ floor space is probably the minimum for a single adult. You need to be able to stretch, kick, hold stances, and lay down for activities like pushups or sit ups. If you want to add a heavy free-standing bag, add an additional 3’ by 3’ to this for storage. If you want to start doing form, now you need something like 6’x10’ minimum for our basic Tan Tui. This is not ideal, but it is possible to back up as you go to be able to continue in the same direction. As I sit here in my dining room and look around, I see that if I were to push my table forward a bit and move the chairs out of the way, I’d have maybe 6’x12’ for practice space. Ultimately, in the interest of being out of the way, I cleared out the basement and garage to make space not just for myself, but my two kids who also practice.
Now that you have your space, getting and staying motivated to train is another issue. Having a group to work out with can help, and this is where the online classes come in. As I teach these classes, I set up a widescreen laptop so as to see everyone in a Zoom session. Then I can check people’s form, and participants can ask questions as needed. This is what makes it different from watching a fitness video – the interactivity. You can even see other members of class doing their thing and this can be inspiring.
I always find it fascinating to see how people adapt to their space limitations. My teacher, Sifu Artie, and I have talked at length in the past about how such limitations can help us to reevaluate footwork and body positioning and get out of being just on autopilot when we practice. In short, a change in venue can help you to evaluate your martial arts more critically – and keeping this in mind can help with your motivation.
Remote Class Participation
While you can just follow along and leave your camera off, this generally means that you won’t get feedback, and perhaps you have less motivation to push through when you’re tired. The class then becomes a bit more like a TVshow and much less interactive. But if you do intend to really participate, you need to think about where to set up your device for maximum utility.
First, be certain to be far enough back from your device that its camera can see your whole body. This may take some trial and error, but farther back is generally better. Of course if you are too far back, you can’t see your screen, and this can be a problem. In these cases, I recommend coming in closer for a look see and then when you are performing for feedback go back to your optimal distance. In the figure below, the camera is pointed down the page, and the diagonal arrows indicate its field of view. Inside of that area, you are visible to the camera. The horizontal boxes show your line of movement, and presuming you are using the full 10 feet or so you want all of it to be visible, So Zone A is too close, but Zone B will work. Remember that I can’t give you feedback on what I can’t see.
Another issue is your screen tilt. Many people tilt their laptop screen back or else use a tablet with a stand. The result is as shown below:
When the screen is tilted back, I might be able to see you from the waist up. Since most people do OK with the hand movements, but need help with their stances, this screen position just won’t work if you want feedback. A more upright screen will capture your whole body including the stance. If you have a tablet that leans, let me suggest that you look into getting a clamping tablet stand. You can find these on Amazon for as little as $13-15. And, you might find that you have other uses for it outside of kungfu class.
This Month’s Schedule
Over the last several months we’ve been practicing more advanced technique and form with many of you and we’ve probably given short shrift to beginner level content. Given that we are online and in limited space, beginner level content is ideal, even for advanced students. If you are a beginner, the such classes give you the opportunity to learn the techniques for the first time. If you are more advanced, the classes give you an opportunity to perfect what you are learning, but also to drill it intensely in different scenarios.
One of the difficulties with being remote is that you don’t get contact with other students and doing applications can be difficult. This is where bag work comes in. Hitting or kicking a bag gives you feedback about how good your technique actually is, and also is strength and endurance training. Although you could do this all by yourself, unless you are dedicated, you probably won’t do more than 10-15 minutes at a time, if that. Likewise, our bagwork classes also contain some technical and tactical information for students and are ideal for ALL levels. Bagwork and conditioning classes are Wednesday from 5:30-6pm, and Fridays from 5-5:30pm. If you need a decent quality free standing bag, here’s what many of us are using.
We are also segmenting out our warmups and stretching so that they will not be repeated in every class except when there is no separate warmup class on that day. I may do a couple quick stretches in later classes, but in terms of moving people along, I’d prefer to be helping people with techniques. So please DO come at the designated warmup times, or else if you have to join later, move slowly or do your own warmup before class. (Note we’d rather you come late than not at all).
There are several beginner level classes offered this month. For novices, we have a half hour of Tan Tui/Basics on Saturday mornings in addition to the bagwork and warmup/stretching classes. The next level up is 16 Step Changquan (Longfist) on Saturdays. You should have at least Tan Tui 1, 2, and 5 before joining these classes, but I suspect that most of you who are doing this class will be using it as review. The 20 Step Changquan class will be on Wednesday nights. If you are comfortable with 16 Step, feel free to join. I anticipate that we will be teaching this from scratch. If you are more experienced, I would use this class to fix details or else get lots of repetition on this form. Chujiquan, a 24 step form, will show up on Fridays. Some of you may have learned this already, and if so, you are welcome to join. We’ll be doing review on the form, fixing details, and discussing tactics and strategy.
For beginner/intermediate level, we will be working on Lianbuquan. Sifu Artie has published a book on this form which you can find on Amazon if you’d like additional instruction. I also have copies if you are interested in dropping by and picking up a copy. We will be doing a fair bit of review on this form, but also introducing accompanying back work and drills to make your technique better. This class will happen on Sunday afternoon.
Taijiquan is now on Saturday (beginners) and Sunday (intermediate). All are welcome to the beginner Taijiquan class.
If you are new, once we have been through your intros, I will give you a website login so that you can see additional online instructional materials. And if you’ve been here a while and your permissions aren’t up to date, let me know, and I’ll be sure to update things so that you can see anything you need to.
I hope that the COVID case numbers come down so that in February we are able to return in person and not lose some of our momentum with staff and with the advanced forms.
All the best,