Reprint: This article is reprinted with permission from the Association of Women Martial Art’s Instructor’s (AWMAI) Newsletter.
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Ethics and Reopening
by Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens
Like most of California, the operation of gyms in my area has been strictly curtailed for many months. Likewise, my jujitsu school has been closed for in-person classes. All of our classes are being held online. In Yolo County, where I live, restrictions were eased slightly just last week. Under this phase, gyms are allowed to restart indoor operation at 10% capacity.
Sensei Katie Murphy Stevens with props
This put me at an ethical crossroads: open now, or wait until the next phase, which allows 25% capacity.
My school has a small workout space. Danzan Ryu Jujitsu has some big arts that take quite a bit of room. We can have 10 people working simultaneously, as long as everyone is aware of their surroundings. We can have 20 people working, if some groups pause occasionally for their classmates to complete a big art. I figure that 10% capacity would allow about 1.5 people per class. Including me. Ack!
I could rationalize that 'capacity' can mean many different things. I could check to see what the fire marshal has set for the capacity of the workout room. Maybe I could skirt the issue, have more than 1.5 people in class and call it '10% capacity.'
Would my students go along?
I know they want to get back on the mat as much as I do. But what role would hierarchy play in their decision to go along? If I say it is okay, would they agree, in part, because I am the head instructor? I think it is safe to say that my voice would be a strong influence.
Would it be safe to compromise the capacity guidelines? In my personal opinion, the best way to avoid a communicable disease is to avoid the contagion. I want to model the behavior that I think will be best for myself, my students, my elders, my loved ones. Compromising the guidelines would go against those values.
I quickly came to the conclusion that before I reopen in-person classes (with lots of safety protocols), I will wait until the county guidelines allow gyms to operate indoors at 25% capacity. I'm so proud of the students who have stuck with their training - the majority of the school, actually. We continue to think of new ways to make meaningful progress in our martial arts study using online training.
Is Zoom jujitsu as good as in-person, full contact training? No way! Is it better than giving up? Way better!
Postscript: In the time since I wrote this article, COVID-19 cases have soared in California. Sadly. Most of the state is under a stay-at-home order again. I will continue to hold classes online, and I look forward to brighter days!