Written By John Pepper of Riva’s Shotokan – HDKI Pennsylvania
The COVID-19 global health emergency has profoundly changed our lives. A scenario that would have seemed inconceivable only a few months ago — our economy all but shut down, travel restricted, home schooling of our children, loved ones kept at a distance, the majority of people wearing masks in public — has become our norm. Our entire way of life turned upside down. The end will one day come, but for many it’s difficult the light at the end of a long tunnel.
The most detrimental change in our lives may be quarantining and self-isolation. These measures, helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus, negatively impact us across the entire health spectrum — psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and physically. We need to find ways to combat these negative impacts. One outlet that has helped me navigate these trying times is in-home karate classes conducted through my dojo, Riva’s Shotokan Karate, based a few miles outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States.
I have been training at Sensei Riva’s for five years and it has become a second home. My quarantine began on March 13, when my office was closed, and all employees were asked to begin sheltering in place to comply with Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order. It was a disconcerting and concerning moment. I was unprepared for the arrival of this pandemic and how it would so greatly alter my world. I was searching for an outlet to connect my current life of quarantine with my past life. The dojo provided it.
I may have been unprepared for COVID-19, but Sensei Riva was not. March 13 was a Friday. By Monday, March 16, Sensei Riva had transitioned all classes to in-home Zoom trainings. She was clear in her direction and took pains to overcommunicate with her students through email, phone, text, and social media to ensure we were all informed and understood the changes taking place. Thinking ahead, she scheduled classes out for months from the initial day of quarantine.
In addition, Sensei Riva offers us free private lessons to help continue our training while isolated. It’s a heavy workload for Sensei, who often teaches or trains a full seven days a week. Despite the workload, she has never wavered or slowed down. She began scheduling private classes early in the quarantine, and continues to offer these same classes two months in.
She sets her typically high expectations of us in our at-home trainings — we train in our gear, we arrive to class early, we train with passion and attention to detail every class. In other words, we are to train at home with the same intensity and concentration she expects of us at the dojo. At the same time, she takes great pains to be supportive during these unprecedented times.
Often at the beginning or end of class she asks after us. She wonders about our health, questioning how we are coping with the current situation. Sensei Riva expresses true concern for us all. During these periods, she asks each of us to provide an update. She respects everyone’s answer. I share little and appreciate that Sensei Riva does not push me to be more open.
I am most appreciative that Sensei has created class plans that reflect the limited training space of some of her students, including me. Every class includes training exercises that can be done in small spaces. I live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, but I have been able to train properly during all Zoom classes.
Now that Pennsylvania is beginning to slowly open up, Sensei Riva has kept us educated as to how our classes and the dojo will change once we are allowed to go back. She has already set a training process for us. Guidelines include only two students training at a time, no equipment will be used, no visitors will attend, and each student will have their temperature checked prior to being admitted to class. Sensei routinely updates us as to her expected timeline to open, always deferring to the state as the trusted source for reopening information. She is erroring on the side of our health, which is comforting to me and, I expect, other students.
She has also kindly offered to continue hosting Zoom classes for students who may not be comfortable training at the dojo when we are allowed back.
I enjoy exercising. In fact, I live to exercise. Besides karate, I lift weights and run. I exercise for two to three hours a day. Emotionally and psychologically, I am handling the quarantine well, but being sedentary throughout the day in my apartment very much weighs on me. I cannot thank Sensei Riva enough for all that she has done for me personally throughout these difficult times. I am lucky to be training with her and at her dojo.