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Kerala lockdown a punch below the belt for martial art teachers

When things were getting better, the second wave arrived, pinning down the martial art masters. Can self defence be taught online - there was only one way to find out...

Published: 13th August 2021 06:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th August 2021 06:51 AM   |  A+A-

Image of self-defence

Image of self-defence class at a Kerala school used for representational purpose. (File | EPS)

Online Desk

Keerthy Raju is an All India Taekwondo Federation-accredited national referee of the sport. The youngster, a 3rd Dan Blackbelt from South Korea-based Kukkiwon World Taekwondo Academy, has a martial arts school that has remained shut for over a year now. Her self-defence classes at schools stopped when the pandemic forced education institutions to shut and go online. Keerthy used the opportunity to prepare for UPSC and later accepted a job offer in Ernakulam and resumed online Taekwondo sessions via Google Meet. Despite her income falling to one fourth of what she had been earning, she stayed afloat thanks to her other job. However, Keerthy is well aware that hers was a lucky break and things are not going well for full-time martial artists who depend on their academies to make a living.

The pandemic lockdown, to put it bluntly, broke the backs of martial arts schools in Kerala. Shut following the national lockdown in March 2020, the academies found respite towards the end of the year as they got to resume classes with a limited number of students. But just when they were getting closer to normalcy and new admissions were slowly happening, the more baleful second wave arrived. 

"Like in all learning, there are quick graspers and slow learners in martial arts too. We are trying our best and hope they will come back later with doubts. If the schools are willing to give an hour to extracurricular activities like in normal sessions, it can open a source of income for us. But with most teachers having portions pending, not many schools can afford that now even if they want to," Keerthy said.

Today, martial art schools are allowed to open with most of the restrictions having been lifted. Reality though remains grim. People are shaken to the core and most are not willing to take a risk. Rumours of a possible third wave that is likely to affect kids more are not helping either.

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Alappuzha-based martial artist Pradeep Kumar used to take classes at four centres. He used to take two weekly classes, each one and a half hours long for every batch and was making enough to run his household. The Taekwondo expert has not held a single class since March and is in a bad place financially.

"Since we practice kicks, students will have to keep social distancing and our classes are conducted in open spaces. Still, parents are scared to send their children and how can we blame them," says Pradeep, who used to teach close to 50 students between December 2020 and March 2021.

Income from schools stopped

Pradeep too was hired by a few private schools to train students but all his contracts now stand terminated, drying his secondary source of income.

Several CBSE schools organise weekly martial arts classes - mostly karate or taekwondo - for students as part of extracurricular programmes. Keerthy said she was hired by private schools on a contract basis while government-run institutions had the Nirbhaya scheme - the self-defence programme for girls. 

Tourism shut down a blow for Kalaripayattu

There are several martial art schools that the tourism sector helped sustain. Sessions of Kalaripayattu, Kerala's very own martial art, is a popular part of cultural tours organised for foreigners by resorts and travel organisers. Kalaripayattu schools are hired to perform in front of tourists and provide an additional income for the trainers. 

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Munnar-based Kalaripayattu trainer Unni Gurukkal says survival has become a question mark for his group. "We can't try online classes as advanced lessons are risky to practice in the absence of an expert. Teacher-student interaction is vital to learn stances and positions in Kalaripayattu. One can teach the Kalari-based exercises over the internet but nobody is gonna sign-up to learn that alone," said Gurukkal, who used to organise one-hour long shows regularly for tourists at different locations with 30-odd students. 

Can one learn to fight online?

"We need to fix their stance, kicks, punches, movements and angles many times before they start doing it. Breathing exercises and workout sessions are important in martial art classes.  There is no way you can evaluate these over the internet. Hence, there was a lot to think about before starting online classes," Keerthy said.

"Children getting acquainted with e-learning at schools helped a lot. But the beauty of the art is lost and there is no satisfaction for the masters," sums up Keerthy on going online with her mixed martial arts and taekwondo lessons.

Thiruvalla-based full contact karate master Vinu agrees. "Pads, punch bags and human partners are necessary to learn many techniques. Throwing hands and legs in the air alone will not help students to learn these skills," he said.

Hopes of brighter days

Vinu considers himself to be lucky as some students in his recent batches have been working adults who have been able to pay their fee. He had a handful of senior students who could take lessons online without injuring themselves. "I share the link of the live classes to the academy's WhatsApp group for the students to join. One good thing about the online format is I can teach several centres at the same time," he said.

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But he had no choice but to go on with limited disciples.  "There were a few fresh recruits when we restarted classes after the first wave. But when we went online, I couldn't include them as freshers take time to learn the basics and I can't correct them virtually. Full-contact karate is tough and tires the body fast," said Vinu, who used to teach around 25 students online.

Vinu is hopeful of improving his financial position after he recently restarted regular classes with nearly 40 students. 



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