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Local dojo adapting to new COVID-19 training sessions and competitions

Tom Kelly has been teaching Shotokhan Karate for over three decades, but this year has to fundamentally change the way he educates his students because of COVID-19.

Kelly has five to seven advanced, black belt students who attend his training sessions and the workouts are taking on a new look during the pandemic.

Sparring, self defense lessons and any other format that would require the students to be near or in contact with one another have stopped entirely.

Students stand 10 feet apart during the workouts and wear a mask when not in the midst of performing an aerobic form.

These changes have become the new norm for Kelly and the other practitioners, and the procedures are paying off.

“We’ve been doing it for four months now and nobody has gotten sick or anything. We worked out virtually for a while, but it just wasn’t the same. You can’t do the hands on corrections you need to do, especially with advanced students,” Kelly said.

Usually the students participate in competitions across the U.S., going head to head with the best America has to offer in order to earn a trip to the world championship.

The ongoing pandemic has cancelled those plans and turned to a new avenue of competition, virtual tournaments.

Since they can’t spar one another virtually the competitors are tasked with sending in videos of themselves performing Kata, which are basic forms, or Kihon, which is a choreographed set of forms woven together.

Kelly, as one of the four members of the World Referee Commission, was tasked with grading the final set of 80 videos and scoring each one to help determine a winner.

Kelly said it was an arduous process to be the main judge, and the format didn’t appeal to his students who would normally take part in the competitions.

“We were offered to have our people in it, but there was nobody that took up the offer. It seemed like all my guys who compete want to get in there and mix it up. (The virtual competition) didn’t have the same appeal to them,” Kelly said.

Submissions came in from across the globe for the competition that ended over a month ago, but Kelly said it’s unlikely there will be another this year.

With so much uncertainty regarding COVID-19, and because the usual components of competition aren’t possible in a virtual format, it’s unlikely any new competitions will occur until 2021.

This benefits Kelly’s students as it now gives them more time to focus on the tiny details of each form, stance, block and strike before competing once again.

“What it does is it allows me to focus now on making my advanced students better at what they do. It gives me extra time because we don’t have to devote time to fighting and teaching those techniques. It benefits everybody,” Kelly said.

As Kelly educates his own students here in the community, he’s also started a project that will be used to educate current students across the world, and future generations.

Kelly, along with a few consultants, began compiling video explanations of every gritty detail of Shotokhan Karate.

Kelly said it’s become obvious over time that some sensei across the globe aren’t teaching their students the proper forms and principles of shotokhan correctly, so the goal is to document everything in hopes it helps educate teachers and students around the world for years to come.

“A lot of sensei have passed on and some of the people now teaching are not good at the art themselves. I’ve provided myself with a project for life. We have to put it down somewhere otherwise it’ll get lost,” Kelly said.