How does social distancing work when sparring or grappling together on a mat is a key part of your sport? We caught up with athletes and trainers as they figure out martial arts in the time of Covid19.
Lynne McEnerny boxed for Ireland at the highest levels, and before that competed in Kickboxing but these strange times are shaping up to be her biggest challenge. She was only just back in St Paul’s Boxing Club in Waterford and coaching under one set of regulations when even tighter rules were introduced in late August.
She says: “Now it is six inside, we need a coach and a COVID officer in that. It’s really nice to be back again, but we have to re-schedule everything. We put an extension on last year, so if we close that off we could have two sets of pods.”
So far only the ten carded boxers are back. McEnerny is keen to get the kids classes going again but is not sure how. “It is very frustrating, I think boxing has been left behind,” she says, adding there is currently no contact under IABA guidelines.
McEnerny (39) still has her love for boxing, and that is what keeps her going. “Why do I feel I want to box again? I don’t think it ever leaves you.”
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Mixed Martial Arts kept a high profile during the Lockdown with Dana White at UFC putting on shows on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, that isn’t open to everyone. Katie Saull is back training at StraightBlast Gym in Dublin without any idea when she will fight again. She is signed to the American promotion Invicta Fighting Championships, but they are only hosting US-based fighters for now.
She says: “We’re training in groups, so that is quite small, just the Elite-Pro group. It’s so nice, just so nice. I was training with my boyfriend in the lockdown, we did a lot of pads and running and strength and conditioning. I thought I was in decent shape, but there’s a lot of wrestling and clinching so you need the sport to condition.”
Karate coach and former Galway footballer Marie Dolphin should be celebrating her 30th year in charge at Kiltormer Dojo in Galway, but it is hard to party at a distance. Instead everything has been online since March. Her first experience with Zoom wasn’t great, but now her Kata classes are flowing.
She says: “It is going to take a long time to get back to where we were. There’s been so much work put into Irish karate over the last few years, we had the Irish Open for the first time just three years ago.”
Dolphin took her classes outdoors in June and July, grateful for free use of an astroturf pitch. But that’s not sustainable for the winter. “My venue is big thankfully, it’s the GAA sports hall so we can do groups. So you can have a group but in pods of 6 and each individual must be 2m distance from the others,” she says.
Muaythai fighter Sarah Dunne was on our TVs this time last year in the RTE Ultimate Hell Week and training for regular fights. Now it is light contact sparring while wearing a mask at Champion Thaiboxing in Dublin with no idea when she will compete again.
She says: “We are wearing masks at the gym, sanitiser at the door and myself and Amy check temperatures. The philosophy is we can all do with going back to basics, so it’s like 50% power really. You can’t breathe normally through the masks.”
Dunne misses the clinching and grappling her sport usually requires, but jokes training with masks is like doing altitude training every day.
And in Wexford Eimear Codd is working on getting her children’s Muaythai classes up and running again at the Valhalla Gym. “We were communicating with the parents all the way through, they are back now. We have hand gels everywhere, but it’s about personal responsibility too.”
With kids as young as four in her classes, she’s relieved the parents have been happy to send them back. Even at six in a pod, those classes can still go ahead. “It’s brilliant, they are all paired up and definitely don’t spar.”
As we know the restrictions and rules around sport and COVID19 change rapidly. Any references in this article were in place at the time of writing. Contact organisations like the Irish Martial Arts Commission and Irish Athletic Boxing Association and Sport Ireland for the latest changes.