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