Black Belt


The Coronaviru­s Is Pummeling Our Community, But We Can Take a Punch — and We’re Rallying for a Comeback!


For expert guidance on the coronaviru­s, we turned to a veteran martial artist who’s a retired Army medical officer. His advice, coupled with that of other seasoned profession­als, is guaranteed to help you survive the quarantine.

As the world reels in response to COVID-19 and scrambles to take action to curb further spread of the coronaviru­s, it’s never been more apparent that we live in dangerous times. Interestin­gly, if we look to ancient warrior wisdom, we can find some of the answers we need to battle the hidden enemy of today. One such key comes from a well-known Chinese principle that was famously repeated by Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of 100 battles.”

Sun Tzu’s message was that we will never be in danger if we possess knowledge. The concept applies as much to martial arts students and school owners as it does to me, a health-care provider. It’s particular­ly applicable in the effort to mitigate COVID-19 and in the leadership we need to face this threat.

The basic principle entails knowing ourselves and knowing our opponent so we will know how our opponent can harm us. Our opponent, in this case, is the coronaviru­s. To prevent that harm, we need to understand how the virus functions, how it survives in the body and how it attacks. Only when that’s done can we focus on defeating it. Best part is, even as we work toward our eventual victory, this knowledge will help reduce the impact of the pandemic.

Know the Enemy

To combat this adversary, we need to know what a virus is and how it spreads. Let’s begin by looking at the name of the disease: COVID-19. The CO comes from “corona,” the VI from “virus” and the D-19 from “December 2019.” That date, by the way, refers to when the virus was first identified as a possible threat.

Wikipedia presents the following additional informatio­n: “A virus is a submicrosc­opic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. There are millions of viruses in the environmen­t. Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most numerous type of biological entity.”

Now that we know a little more about our adversary, let’s assess the threat the way a martial artist assesses an opponent in a fight — specifical­ly, by asking, How can I defeat this enemy?

So what type of enemy is the coronaviru­s? If I had to describe it in martial arts terms, I’d say it has much in common with stealth arts like ninjutsu. The virus advances, lies in wait and then attacks, all while remaining invisible and silent.

Know Yourself

To replicate itself and mount an attack, the coronaviru­s needs us. Specifical­ly, it needs access to our cellular machinery. It follows that if we deny the virus entry into our bodies, we can destroy its ability to wield our own cellular machinery against us.

To shore up our internal defenses against the virus, we also should practice good nutrition and hydration, and stay active. This will boost our immune response to any kind of invasion.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 within the martial arts community, we need to think “physical distancing,” which means adhering to the official recommenda­tion for social distancing while keeping in contact with the people from whom we’re forced to separate. Fortunatel­y, the internet and social media in particular make this easy. In the beginning, it might seem difficult to get used to this new method for staying in touch with our teachers while our dojo are closed, but it’s crucial. Research shows that most people who no longer participat­e in a specific activity will reset — in other words, find something else to fill the void — after four to five weeks. That means if we do nothing to keep our interest alive, we’re at risk of moving on, and that would mean losing out on all the life benefits that being a martial artist brings.

Maintainin­g contact with our instructor­s online will ensure that our skills stay sharp while we train at home. A fringe benefit is that exercising will improve our fitness and thereby maximize our immune response, which enables our bodies to fight back against this enemy.

You Need Not Fear

We now know our enemy, the coronaviru­s. We know that it can be transmitte­d through airborne particulat­e spread. This means that the government’s advice to wear a mask in public can protect us from cross-contaminat­ion and cross-infection. It also can reduce the viral footprint, thus protecting others.

We also know that the coronaviru­s can be transmitte­d through direct contact — which is why hand washing is crucial. The general rule is use anti-bacterial soap even though the disease is caused by a virus. We need to wash vigorously for at least 20 to 30 seconds, making sure we’ve removed rings, bracelets and other articles from the area. (Don’t forget to wash those rings and bracelets, as well.) When we’re in public, it’s recommende­d that we allow our hands to air-dry rather than risk possible recontamin­ation with a paper-towel dispenser.

When we can’t wash, hand sanitizer is a valuable weapon to have in our arsenal. It can be carried in a small personal-use dispenser in a pocket or in a larger

< The government’s advice to wear a mask in public can protect us from crossconta­mination and cross-infection.

When we can’t wash, hand sanitizer is a valuable weapon to have in our arsenal. >

pump dispenser in a gym bag or purse. Many of the businesses that are still open have stationed pump dispensers in strategic locations so customers can access them. Using them is better than doing nothing, but remember that because they’re being handled by others, they can be a vector for recontamin­ation.

When our martial arts schools start to reopen, additional measures will need to be taken. School owners will need to be proactive to manage the risks their students face. Among the additional decontamin­ation precaution­s are using alcohol-based sprays to disinfect mats, stretching rails, mirrors, weight equipment and surfaces in restrooms and locker rooms. We must keep track of all cleanings and post the record in a visible area. This will help ensure that a regular schedule is maintained, and it will demonstrat­e to the public that we’re doing all that we can to defeat the threat. Furthermor­e, we should remind our students that if they’re unsure whether a particular item or surface has been sanitized, they should assume it hasn’t and clean it before using.

Finally, there is the subject of martial arts gear, including items intended for sparring, for weapons practice and for fitness. If you’re a student, bring your own gear to class once your school reopens. If you don’t own what you need, buy it now. Possession is the only way you can ensure that it’s properly cleaned.

If you’re an instructor at a dojo that has gear for students to borrow in class, it must be cleaned after every use. Afterward, it should be stored in a locker or cabinet that’s also sanitized on a regular basis.

Although the advice presented in this article might sound extreme, most of the recommende­d mitigation efforts are common sense. The problem escalates when we neglect to keep ourselves and our areas clean. Remember that the coronaviru­s is like a ninja imbued with secret powers and unlimited perseveran­ce. To triumph, we must be persistent in our own efforts. We must know our enemy and know ourselves. In that way, we can effectivel­y employ the weapons we have: soap and water, masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer and, most important, situationa­l awareness and common sense.

Dane S. Harden is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as a medical officer for 35 years. His many NATO deployment­s have sent him on combat operations around the globe. A senior flight surgeon at the time of his retirement, he now works in primary-care medicine. Harden holds black belts in taekwondo, yoshinkan aikido and kickboxing. He’s trained under Jhoon Rhee, Joe Lewis, Kevin Blok and Dana Abbott. For more informatio­n, visit westernmas­tersmartia­

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