Like most clubs, we immediately shut down our regular practices in mid-March and spent a couple of weeks trying to deal with the uncertainty. Inspired by ‘zoom sessions’ hosted by the Etobicoke Kendo Club and University of Toronto Kendo Club, we, along with other JCCC martial arts clubs, started our own online classes, and quickly expanded to practices on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. ‘Zoom Kendo’ can never replace real Kendo but we try to live with the restrictions and leverage the advantages of the zoom format. Most important, we decided to provide a regular practice and meeting point for our members to stay connected and maintain some form of Kendo practice and development. Over the months, the practices and drills have evolved. We are experimenting with more ‘interactive’ drills and ‘volunteer’ members to lead the class’s warm-up exercises and suburi. In addition, we organized several ‘social’ online events and even a Bike Ride get-together.
At the end of last month, we started outdoor sessions at the rear JCCC parking lot. Practicing with running shoes on concrete is far from ideal but we felt it was important to reconnect with our home at the JCCC and take advantage of the opportunity to get outside and swing. The JCCC staff were extra supportive, providing the space, power, wifi access and mobile washing station. By practicing at the JCCC, we were also able to test their new online registration and sign-up protocols.
The club chalked up individual ‘social distance’ circles for each member for the individual drills and suburi. Instructors and session leaders were equipped with clip-on wireless microphones so they could provide instruction without shouting. Members that were not able to attend our outdoor sessions were able to join via zoom. Note: One of our major challenges is to find a way to simultaneously host our outdoor session while providing meaning instruction for our ‘zoom’ participants.
It has been refreshing for our club members to reconnect and practice together again despite the obvious restrictions (masks, no kiai, social distancing, etc.). Just as we had challenges when we first started hosting our zoom sessions and made adjustments along the way, we are constantly trying different things outdoors. As one senior member noted, practicing Kendo during the pandemic represents ‘new territory’ and we have to be prepared to experiment as if we were a ‘start-up’ company. Last week, we positioned 4 striking stations (tire dummies, extended padded pole and Kendo specific dummy) to give our members the chance to strike (while observing proper distancing).
At this point, we will continue to host our regular ‘zoom’ sessions on Wednesday evenings and outdoor sessions on Sunday mornings until the end of October. We’ll assess the overall situation in Toronto before we make any final decisions on how we operate in November and onward.
We hope that by sharing our experiences, we are providing ideas on how best for other clubs to practice Kendo during these challenging times.