Academy member Gabs talks about training in lockdown and what that means to him.
I have been training at the Virtual Academy run by Steve and Paul since the first lockdown in March 2020. Like everyone these days, I am trying to make the most of what seems like never-ending restrictions on many aspects of life which we have generally always taken for granted.
Before I delve into the details of my last 12 months of training, it may be helpful to provide a brief summary of my martial arts journey to date. At the age of 6, my Dad enrolled me into a Karate school called Renshinkai, run out of a pub hall in Forest Gate. I was a scrawny little kid and my Dad clearly thought I would benefit from learning how to defend for myself. As it so happens, my Dad was also captain of a darts team and liked to practice on a daily basis with his team mates at the pub. This little trick got him out two evenings a week without fail! Clever.
Over the next 10 years, I picked up some very valuable life skills. I learnt how to play pool, darts and three card brag. And I was the youngest black belt at the club. At the age of 15, I stopped karate to focus on my GCSE's, but then we moved out of Forest Gate and I fell out of love with Karate as other more pressing activities took over during my college and university days. It wasn't then until the age of 30, I was introduced to a Wing Chun school in North London. This reinvigorated my interest in martial arts - and with a few stop-starts and another move into Essex - I continued practising Wing Chun followed by Kickboxing for several years before joining the Bob Breen Academy in Shoreditch, in the summer of 2019. I was aware of Bob Breen and his stature in the world of martial arts and I have to say, I was super nervous starting at a school that had such an amazing legacy and churned out so many accomplished martial artists. However, after meeting Bob and his instructors over the first few weeks, I needn't have worried and only wished I had started much earlier.
As opposed to focusing on just one style, Legacy Martial Arts (f.k.a. Breen Academy) pulled together several compatible styles: JKD, Kickboxing, Sticks and Panantukan in the weekly timetable and also combined these arts together to create Bob Breen's unique 4D system. When COVID and lockdown took control of our lives in March 2020, Legacy Martial Arts quickly adapted to the new normal by pivoting to virtual training, 6 days a week. The team also introduced their students to guest instructors affiliated to Bob Breen, including Neil Mcleod, who I continue to train with virtually. Being able to continue training has been a lifeline for me as I've never really enjoyed running, weights, etc as much as I do martial arts. The importance of exercise is clear from a physical perspective, but we shouldn't underestimate mental benefits as the stress you put your body through during training releases endorphins and importantly helps control our inbuilt "fight or flight response" mechanism (also known as "acute stress response"). Early humans developed a flight or fight mechanism in response to actual physical danger (e.g. running away from a sabre tooth tiger!) but these instincts are now activated in response to the daily mental and invisible stresses we face in our modern lives, which have increased exponentially during lockdown. These stresses can result in regular instances of increased heart rate, high blood pressure and a rapid breathing rate, which is clearly bad for our health and wellbeing.
Regular exercise has been shown to improve our response to these daily stresses and helps our brains become more "stress resistant". Whilst any exercise will do the job, martial arts can be hugely enjoyable (and safe) combining physical exercise and coordination with cerebral activation as you progress through your martial arts training.
Like any parent, I want my kids to be able to manage stress, face challenges head on, as well as keep fit and healthy. And just like my dad, I enrolled both of my daughters into martial arts at a young age and they also now train with Sensei Steve (Trodai Academy) and Neil & Rachel (Mcleod Academy) on a virtual basis, 2-3 times a week. I recently wanted to double check that my daughters were actually enjoying their classes, as opposed to it being something I was pushing them into, so when I suggested they could stop the classes if they wanted, the immediate response I received from both was an unwavering "NO WAY, you're not stopping us from training!!".
As life slowly goes back to normal this year, I think there will still be a place for virtual training as it has allowed me to train more often and I have learnt a great deal, but I also look forward to the day I can get back into a dojo for some in person classes, followed by some cold beer(s) and a game of pool!