Of particular interest to me has been the differences and similarities in how universities, on the one hand, and martial arts schools, on the other, have handled the migration to an online format. To be entirely honest, I am not sure how successful this experiment has been on he academic side. Chronic absenteeism and levels of rock-bottom morale suggesting actual depression have left many high-school and college instructors struggling to connect with their students. I have seen some great on-line teaching happen in traditional martial arts venues, but this is also a crowd that generally self-selects. Still, it is always fascinating to see these two world coming together as happened recently when the Taijiquan classes sponsored by Miami University’s Confucius Institute were forced to turn to on-line grading for their students’ Duanwei advancement.

“WA martial arts business owner willing to go to jail to stay open.” While most news stories featured discussions of the move to on-line teaching, the previous headline reminds us that a not insignfigant number of schools have refused to take this rout. In the last month there have been several stories of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools that have refused to close their doors in defiance of state and local regulations. One of these is the Battleground Martial Arts Academy in Battleground Washington.
“Rodeman says he disinfects the space on a daily basis, and does everything to maintain a clean environment. But he also noted that his business doesn’t really fit into the phased reopening plan, which left him with few options.
“A law enforcement officer came to my door, handed me a paper that says I can’t even reopen until phase four. I said, ‘Even at phase four, I’m still not legally able to practice jujitsu in here.’”
“So I decided to say, I can’t agree to that, I can’t follow,” he said. “I could be looking at a $5,000 fine and one year in jail. … I’m willing to make a stand because I believe what I’m doing is right.”
Prolonged closures is a threat to all sorts of martial arts schools and gyms. Still, BJJ schools seem to face additional challenges as their style has grounded its legitimacy not in solo-drills with grappling dummies, or Zoom conditioning classes, but rather in constant practice with a non-cooperative opponent. Not all instructors are enthusiastic about the possibilities of remote instruction as a way to stay connected with their students. Additionally, given the popularity of the style many schools are located in large locations which command relatively high rents. Similar stories of defiance are playing out in other states as well, such as the case of Rice Brothers BJJ in California.

“(My group) thinks the virus is on the downscale and there are studies that came out that show most of us have had coronavirus anyway,” Rice said. “We need to operate and we need to pay rent. It’s either we go broke and file bankruptcy or we operate business.”… Rice isn’t going to conduct online classes and remains adamant about allowing his grapplers to train at his gym. Rice says he is making his students follow proper sanitation guidelines by having them wear only freshly-cleaned gis and his staff is washing down the mats before and after each training session.”

Of course the vast majority of BJJ schools have opted to place the safety of their students and local community first by following state and local regulations. Still, the economic costs of being a good citizen are high as the following article reminds us. There is some relief on the horizon for gyms and martial arts studios in states like Georgia and Florida which are currently encouraging reopening. Yet once again, the intimate nature of BJJ training seems to ensure that returning to the mats will not necessarily be a return to normal training.

Gracie Barra Martial Arts School in Kissimmee is implementing several safety measures, including having each person practice in their own square, 6 feet apart from others.
“We are allowing people who live in the same household to train together, such as siblings, spouses, roommates,” Owner of Gracie Barra, Igor Andrade, said.
The school is also requiring temperature checks and sanitizing at the door. Members must also come dressed and ready to avoid crowded use of locker rooms.

While COVID-19 is having a profound impact on small businesses around the globe, its effects are also playing themselves out in the realm of public diplomacy. One Chinese, English language, tabloid ran a story titled “Chinese Martial Arts Help Cubans Deal with COVID-19 Lockdown.” The traditional arts seem to be almost custom made for this sort of event. And given the profound ways in which the COVID-19 outbreak has damaged China’s global image, it is not surprising to see stepped up public diplomacy efforts. At least some of that has come in form of increased support for martial arts communities overseas, as this article reminds us. Facing profound economic dislocation, the Chinese embassy in Rwanda has donated a large amount of food to help support the country’s Kung Fu community in the hopes that they can continue their training.
The National Review (which has a very specific editorial direction) addressed these sorts of efforts in an article titled “Traditional Chinese Medicine as Soft-Power Play.” While it directly addresses TCM’s interplay with COVID crisis, one suspects that similar arguments could be made about certain martial arts programs.
“As scientists and biotechnology companies around the world are racing to develop therapeutic drugs and a vaccine for COVID-19, China has been busy promoting traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) abroad as an effective treatment for the disease. The Chinese government reported that 87 percent of COVID-19 patients in China received TCM as part of their treatment and that 92 percent of them had shown improvement as a result. This claim hasn’t been independently or scientifically verified. So why is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) advocating TCM with such vigor? Ultimately, this push is part of a soft-power play.”
Kung Fu Tai Chi is ceasing publication