We live in a scary world right now. If we look to ancient wisdom, we may find some of the answers to today's hidden enemy. Interestingly, the key principle is an ancient Chinese tenet: "to know your enemy and know yourself." Sun Tzu's belief was that you will never be in danger if you take this principle to heart. This principle applies for both martial arts school owners and health care providers like myself. It is an applicable concept in the management of the COVID-19 virus, and in our collective endeavors to mitigate this danger. The basic martial principle it demonstrates is understanding your opponent. Our opponent in this case is the COVID-19 virus. It is crucial to obtain a competitive advantage by understanding how the virus functions. Once we understand that concept, then defeating it is possible. This knowledge will help reduce the impact of this viral pandemic.

Have you given that much thought to what this virus is, or how it is spread? How do we combat the COVID-19 virus? Martial arts school owners need to understand how this virus is replicated and spread in order to proactively mitigate the risk to their students.

What is in a name? COVID-19 is an abbreviation: CO for corona, VI for virus, and D-19 for December 2019, when it was first identified as a possible threat and contagion. Now that you understand the name, let's discuss some basic biology. A virus, according to Wikipedia, is a "submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms from animals and plants to microorganisms. 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 what type of opponent we are facing, let's lighten things up a bit and view this as a martial artist would by asking a basic question: How can we defeat the enemy? In martial arts we have ground games, stand-up skills, weaponry, collective locking systems and many others. What style of fighter is this coronavirus, and how does it deploy its favorite weapons? If I had to label COVID's fighting style, I'd say it's got more in common with stealth systems like ninjutsu. Lets' identify some of its silent methods - how a coronavirus attacks and what its special characteristics are.

Here is where Sun Tzu' discussions come into play regarding "know your enemy". The virus needs you and your cellular machinery in order to replicate itself and mount an attack. We can deny the virus entry into our bodies through social distancing, meticulous hand washing, and exceptional surface cleaning. We destroy its ability to wield our own cellular machinery as a weaponry against us. These efforts will reduce contact with the saboteur coronavirus. It wants to sneak into our systems, steal our cells' nuclear machinery and make millions of copies of itself using our nuclei as its own replication factory. When it is done, the cellular structure is damaged, and the virus moves on to infect other healthy cells. By utilizing the weapons we have with improved health practices, you will deny COVID-19 entry into your body and take away its ability to mount its attack.

Another great martial arts mantra is, "Never stop an enemy when he is getting ready to make a mistake." The mistake we sometimes make is underestimating our opponent. Coronavirus can be defeated through the simple practices of hand washing, physical separation, masks, good nutrition, good hydration and staying active – all these things help our immune response and help us combat the enemy – regardless of its manner of attack.

In order defeat COVID19, there are many recommended steps for martial arts school owners and their students to take. First and foremost is physical distancing, not social distancing per se. At this time more than ever before, the use of social media and an online presence is mandatory. Research shows that most people who have habituated to a specific activity will reset that need after about 4-5 weeks. That means if you do not do something to keep students engaged, you will see students moving on to other activities rather than returning to your martial arts school. An online presence with at home exercises and drills can keep them thinking about martial arts. It will also emphasize fitness, which is a direct engine that drives our immune response and allows our bodies to fight back against this unseen enemy.


We must also look at how COVID19 is spread in order to understand how we can help stop the pandemic. It can be transmitted through contact (for example, shaking hands with an infected person or touching a door handle immediately after them, then touching your nose or mouth) and or through airborne particles released when a sick person coughs or sneezes. That means wearing masks can protect you from infection. Wearing a mask will greatly reduce the viral footprint. Next, of course is hand washing. The general rule is use soap that has antibacterial ingredients. Wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds making sure to remove rings and other articles from your hands. You still need to wash rings and bracelets as well. Generally, we recommend allowing the hands to air dry naturally rather then risk the possible recontamination with public paper towel dispensers.

The next option is hand sanitizer, which can be in small personal use dispensers or in larger pump style dispensers at the dojo. I recommend you suggest personal hand sanitizer units to your students. The pump-style dispensers have frequent use and the push pump can become contaminated. If you're using the sanitizer properly, it will help reduce the spread of the contagion – but again, you musy be meticulous with sanitation. Alcohol sprays are also available and are particularly useful for larger surfaces like mats, stretch rails, mirrors, weight equipment, bathrooms and locker areas. If you're not sure if something has been sanitized, the rule is to clean it prior to use. Also, keep track of cleanings and post them on a visible clip board – this assures a regular schedule for cleanings and it demonstrates publicly your efforts to defeat the COVID.

Finally, some thoughts about sparring gear and equipment. Students should bring their own gear to class and take the time to clean their own equipment. If if the dojo has public use gear, it needs to be cleaned after every use and you should ensure that the storage location or locker is also being sanitized.

Most of these types of mitigation efforts are common sense. The issue is when we lack the motivation to keep our areas clean and safe. We are inviting retransmission of the virus if we do not follow these guidelines. Remember, COVID19 is a ninja with secret powers. In order to defeat a persistent enemy, we must be persistent in our own effort to stop the spread and combat COVID19 on a regular basis, even once this pandemic has passed. We must "know our enemy and know ourselves." Through that study we can defeat COVID19 with the weapons we have – soap, water, masks, separation, sanitization and most importantly our situational awareness and common sense.

Dane S. Harden

Western Masters Martial Arts, Inc. 1979


Brief: Dane S. Harden is a retired Army Colonel and served as a medical officer for 35 years in the U.S. Army. He has deployed many times on NATO and various combat operations around the globe. Colonel Harden is a retired Senior Flight Surgeon and now works in Primary Care Medicine. He holds black belts in Tae Kwon Do, Yoshinkan Aikido, kickboxing and sword arts. Harden Sensei's teachers include: Grand Master Jhoon Rhee, Master Joe Lewis, Hanshi Kevin Blok, and Shihan Dana Abbott. He began his martial arts training in 1969 and has been involved in the militaries combative programs and teaches in the United States and Europe.


Merriam-Webster's Dictionary

(16th ed.) (2016) Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Wikipedia: www.wikipedia.com

Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
Keep Reading Show less

Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

Keep Reading Show less

Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter