Yesterday, I went to my volunteer coaching gig, with a sort of prop, a sadly deflated old basketball I borrowed from my neighbor Georgie, who has a knack for destroying balls. The plan was to use the ball as a proxy target, standing in for the feet that we sweep in several judo throws. The sad shape in which I found the ball was a boon, I didn't want anything that would roll far. We formed the kids into a circle and we passed the ball around using our sweeping techniques. At one point, a six year old girl who hadn't studied with us raised her hand.
"Yes, young lady, what is your question?"
"Is this a real sport?"
In the back of my mind, I thought, "Not this year, kiddo, not this year." As my actual response, I turned to my great and good friend Frenchie (the man who took my profile picture, who is, of course, Italian) and we decided to break the social distancing mandate for a while in order to show the kids what the sport is all about. We went through the throws we were mimicking with the ball, the o-soto-garis, the ko-uchi-garis and o-uchi-garis, the de-ashi-barais... this allowed us to seque into ukemi, the techniques we apply to fall without injury.
We spent quite a bit of time falling and rolling, on a soccer field rather than the mats we usually work out on. Even as I rolled and slapped the ground, I kept on thinking, "You're going to feel this tomorrow." Yeah, today involved a couple of aspirin and a nigh-scalding shower before I was functional enough to head to work.
After our classes in this not-quite-sport-no-not-this-year, we met with the two heads of the program and conferred about the rest of the semester, and probably year... with the colder weather coming upon us, and the impossibilities of social distancing indoors, and the unfeasibility of disinfecting equipment between classes, next Saturday is going to be our last session for the duration of our current crisis. We typically run twenty weeks from October to March, this year we experimented with an eight week September to October session. We worked hard, and we succeeded, but COVID is a bigger enemy than we are equipped to handle.
One thought that has been in the back of my mind for a year is 'don't be that guy'. Last year, when an artistic director wanted to bring lanterns into one of our buildings, it was 'don't be that guy who is working when the building catches fire'. This year it's 'don't be the guy who spreads COVID-19 to twenty or thirty six year-olds'. We can't socially distance a contact sport, gimmicks and props notwithstanding. I haven't set foot in a dojo since March 10th, the soccer pitch judo was an expedient, a somewhat soreness-inducing one, but the experiment has run its course. Next Saturday will be melancholy, but the right choice is to go on hiatus, or in this case you could call it medical leave.