the corona chronicles – day 8

over the last few days the corona crisis has deepened with many new restrictions imposed. it is a difficult situation for most if not all with some challenges up ahead. still, the only thing to do is to remain positive and make the most out of the situation.

the positives are that everyone is at home and technology is on hand to help. many dojos have already taken to the internet and i was convinced to do the same. we’ll be launching next week with three weekly sessions every monday, wednesday and friday 6pm-7pm.

the situation has also presented a unique opportunity to include instructors (and students) who would otherwise not be able to attend a real dojo. i am very pleased that we will be joined by sensei Neil Jerome, 5th dan, and sensei Rosie Lau, 4th dan.

training in a virtual dojo isn’t ideal, but at the moment it’s the only option. for me it is actually more of a necessity, not just in order to keep our karate form, but also to maintain our mental fortitude, which will be tested no doubt and the weeks and months to come.


the corona chronicles – day 5

today i want to talk about the virus in the room – SARS-CoV-2. it’s name tells us that it is a close relative of SARS-CoV, which is a virus that struck in 2002. it is also a more distant relative of MERS-CoV that struct in 2012. all three belong to a family of viruses called “corona” because of why they appear under the microscope (hence the “CoV” for “coronavirus”) and they all cause respiratory difficulties in humans (hence “RS” for “respiratory syndrome”).

all three also crossed from other species of mammal (most likely bats) into humans, which meant we had no defences against them (neither our immune systems nor medications), so they had the potential of spreading rapidly like a fire that starts in an unmanaged forest after a long draught.

SARS-CoV that struck in 2002 infected about 8000 people and caused 774 deaths with a mortality rate of about 9%. luckily through the introduction of various measure we managed to eradicate it by the summer of 2003. MERS-CoV came a decade later and is unfortunately still on-going, although it has been largely contained. to date it has infected about 2500 and caused 858 deaths with a frightening mortality rate of about 35%.

SARS-CoV-2, the most recent strain to evolve, has already infected over 300,000 people and caused nearly 13,000 deaths. it has an estimated fatality rate ranging between 2% to 6%. more worryingly is the fact that current figures relating to SARS-CoV-2, which has now been recognised as a pandemic, are just the tip of the iceberg. by the time we get on top of it fatality numbers are probably going to be higher than one would wish to even contemplate.

the obvious question is therefore how a virus that is seemingly less dangerous becomes a greater killer.

to understand that we need to go back and look at what a virus is. the next few paragraphs are probably not entirely scientifically accurate, but for the purists amongst you i hope not too inaccurate.

a virus is essentially a short piece of DNA (sometimes RNA) or in other words a little bit of genetic material. as all DNA it has a sole directive which it follows ruthlessly and single-mindedly –  to spread itself as far as possible. i used words like “ruthless” and “single-minded”, but probably “mindlessly” would have been more appropriate if at all, because a virus is nothing more than a chemical machine. actually it is not even that – it is just a set of instructions for a chemical machine to make infinite copies of the virus. it has no desires nor cognition. it is merely obeying the programme embedded into it, which is to continue making copies of itself.

to us a virus – particularly the above three – or a menace because the present a mortal danger. However, for the virus we are merely ships navigating the oceans on which it travels in its never ending quest to conquer all the corners of the earth. if fact for the virus to kill us makes as much sense as for passengers to drill holes through the hull of the ship carrying them. when a person infected by a virus dies all the copies of the virus still in that person will also perish and thus fail in their ultimate quest to spread themselves.

this gives us the first glimpse into the greater spread of SARS-CoV-2 and therefore its greater success in its mission. by not killing its hosts as ruthlessly as his cousins it has managed to travel much farther and will unfortunately continue to do so. if you look at the numbers above then there is in fact a reverse correlation between the fatality rate of each of the three viruses and the number of people each has infected and so how successful it has been. this clearly demonstrates that killing the host is counter-productive from the virus view point.

there is another aspect to this story in the fact that those viruses infect humans. over and above our immune system, which many other animals have too, and which fight infections like viruses, we are also highly intelligent and highly organised. that has allowed us to develop more tools to fight viruses such as medicines, chemicals and various social structures. for a virus to be successful, and that is to become widespread, it has to overcome those too.

the first two coronaviruses were very aggressive. they were very fatal, but also provoked a very strong response by our defence mechanisms – both immune system and health care systems. because they were so aggressive we acted equally aggressively and managed to defeat one and contain the other. by contrast, the most recent strain – SARS-CoV-2 – only causes very mild symptoms in most people and relative to its cousins causes far fewer fatalities. it also has a longer incubation period during which it is able to cross from person to person before it is noticed. by not alerting us to its presence it is able to spread without having to contend with out immune system as well as the other tools we have to fight it.

this gives us an insight not just into how viruses work, but also how natural selection works. SARS-CoV-2 is clearly more suitable to spread amongst humans. by modulating some of its aspects – lowering the fatality rate and having a longer incubation period – it has become much more successful than its predecessors and particularly its now extinct close cousin SARS-CoV.

but what all that has to do with karate?

well, consider this in the context of self-defence:

remember that from the virus’s view point its success isn’t measured by whether it has managed to defeat us, but by whether it has managed to live on and spread itself beyond. when we are faced with a self-defence situation, or more generally any adverse situation, we should remain focused on what is the most desirable outcome for us. defeating an aggressor isn’t and should be a goal onto itself – it is merely one possible outcome. our sole focus should be on surviving with as little harm to ourselves as possible. if we have an option to leave with our pride injured, but out body whole then so be it. similarly, if we have an option to leave with a hole in our pocket instead of a punctured abdomen, so be it. we should think like a virus – be only as aggressive as the situation warrants because any aggression will provoke an equal response, and focus on surviving the situation rather than coming out on top.

more generally that applies to any confrontation in life even if it is a mere heated exchange of words. always remember what is your ultimate objective and focus on achieving it rather than winning the argument. consider the option of giving way, but if the attainment of your objective necessitates a form of aggression don’t shy away from it. and then use only the necessary minimum.




the corona chronicles – day 4

today dealing with the pandemic is going to get just that little bit harder – the schools are closing. never mind the possibility of a visit by the grim reaper or food shortages, but the prospect of being quarantined at home with the kids for the next 12 weeks must be a realisation that is sending a chill down many a spine up and down the country.

our friends from chelmsford karate have put together a few fun puzzles suitable for young kids. it probably won’t keep them occupied for very long, but every little helps. click on the links below to download (those are pdf files which you will need to print):


word search 1

word search 2

tiger colouring

also, many clubs are offering on-line classes. i will put together a list which i will publish shortly, so stay tuned. in the meanwhile – keep calm, but stay isolated!


the corona chronicles – day 3

i’ve got muscle aches. no, don’t worry, it’s the good kind. i’ve been exercising daily and the aches are just a sign i hadn’t been doing it enough, but also that at least i’m doing the right thing now.

another form of exercise, which is also excellent for enhancing your well-being is yoga. yoga improves strength, flexibility, balance and body awareness – all very useful in karate. yoga is also a good way to stretch aching muscles and leaves you feeling nourished and reinvigorated.

there is no shortage of videos and resources on the internet and i will let you do your own research to find something that’s suitable for you. if you’re not sure where to begin look for “yoga sun salutation”. that will help you sort out your down dogs from your up dogs.

one thing i do want to add is that good technique is as always crucial for maximising the benefits and avoiding injury. if you’ve never done yoga (and even if you have) the video below is a very good introduction to the basic movements and techniques in yoga. enjoy!

the corona chronicles – the late edition

nothing to do with karate, but i’m bored, so here goes anyway. it definitely has to do with the corona virus.

on monday i want to the supermarket. more concerned about avoiding crowds than actually buying anything i went an hour before closing time. the place looked like any other supermarked on a typical day. that is if you were living in soviet russia sometime in the 70’s. rows and rows of empty shelves. and i’m not talking about toilet paper. there wasn’t even a single pack of chicken of any kind left.

ok, that i can understand – you can freeze chicken – but no bananas? ok, i suppose you can bake banana bread and freeze that. explains why there was no flour of any kind either.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-16 at 9.37.11 PM

i did find some duck. just the last one. but then you begin to think “what’s wrong with it that nobody wanted it?”. i boughted thinking that if i cooked it the next day it’ll probably be alright. it was.

anyway, i loitered around knowing that staff start stocking up the shelves at that time. they obviously work through the night, so i could not hope to get much in the short time before closing, but i remained optimistic. sure enough they brought out some baked beans. i even managed to get a four pack of reduced sugar baked beans. just because there is a pandemic raging doesn’t mean i’m going to stop looking after my waistline.

feeling pretty lucky i headed to the checkout just as the announcement came to urge shoppers to do the same. then home.

today i went again. in fact i’ve only just come back.

as much as it’s hard to imagine it was actually worse. the place was stripped bare. it was as if the store had only just been put up and and was still waiting for the first delivery of goods. other shoppers like myself were roaming the aisles with empty trolleys looking for something remotely edible they could purchase. on and on we went like lost souls searching for a hidden aisle that had somehow escaped the swarm of shoppers that in the hours previous descended upon the place like a cloud of famished locust. as if somewhere in that place there was an aisle from a harry potter film. a magical aisle number 9 and 3/4. you just needed to know which wall to ram into.

“did somebody discover that over-eating is effective against COVID-19 and forgot to tell me?” i wondered. it was as though the population was planning to eat its way out of the pandemic.

a polite announcement came reminding people that they were now restricted to a maximum of three units of each product. if the person making the announcement was taunting the shoppers then their tone, devoid of any irony that was clearly present, did not betray that.

still, i managed to pick up four lemons and some fresh figs. that’s the sort of thing you can still find – stuff you can only have in small quantities or over-priced luxuries. so couldn’t find ketchup, but there was plenty of tabasco sauce and marmite if one is so inclined.

anyway i kept strolling through the empty aisles waiting for the trolleys to come out. like a vulture circling above a dying animal waiting for it to take its final breath. on my way i passed by the gluten-free section, which had somehow survived the onslaught. if you are unfortunate to suffer from coeliac the good news is that at least you can get some food. and all those people who are “on a gluten free diet because it’s healthy” – liars!

finally they started to come out. the trolleys. i quickly scanned one – some uncle ben’s red sauce of some description and more baked beans. having no interest in the former and having already bought some of the latter on the previous visit i quickly moved on. i only had a few precious moments before closing time.

i moved from aisle to aisle looking for basic necessities. they brought out some super strong flour which i needed, but it was all the way at the bottom of the trolley and i knew they wouldn’t get to it in time, so i moved on. tissues? could be useful, but i had enough.  nappies? thank god i don’t need those.

then i struck gold. PASTA! yes, of course it was italian pasta. the other stuff only looks like pasta. admittedly it was de cecco and being something of a snob when it comes to anything to do with food i usually only eat barilla, but desperate times. moving nonchalantly, so as not to attract the attention of other shoppers who might beat me to it i moved towards the prize. like bilbo sneaking up on the sleeping smaug, i made my way towards the single carton of fusilli pasta glistening in glorious isolation against the desolation of the otherwise empty shelving unit. having finally got there i quickly grabbed two packets. yes, i could have taken a third, but i’m a snob, not a pig.

one final scan to see if there was anything else and then to the checkout. on the way i had an itch in my nose and instinctively i gave it a good rub. i rubbed my nose with the same hand that was grabbing the trolley’s handle a moment ago. the same handle that had been touched by scores of people in the hours before. could this be the most expensive pasta i’ve ever bought? well, at least i won’t die hungry.


the corona chronicles – day 2

early days, but so far so good. no serious karate withdrawal symptoms so far. oh yes, and no corona either. anway, his came up on my feed which is quite apropos – a 12 week workout plan:

i’ve often stressed the importance of cross training and the current predicament could be the perfect opportunity to workout. i’ve tried it myself and it’s a good workout with a good emphasis on core strength and functional exercises, which make it a good complementary training to karate.

some important pointers:

  • briefly skim through the video before you start to check that you understand all the exercises. once you start training you don’t want to have to pause and rewind.
  • start at the pace you can maintain. each video is a 30 minute workout including warm-up and cool-down, with quite a few short breaks throughout, so net working time is 15-20 minutes. try to find a pace that will be challenging, but one that you can keep without stopping other than during built-in breaks.
  • maintain good posture. keep your spine straight as much as possible. this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always upright, but it should be straight unless the exercise specifically demands otherwise (e.g. forward fold). when performing exercises such as squats hinge from the hips, but keep the spine long and your chest up.
  • engage your abs. not just for exercises like plank or crunches, but throughout. for example when doing leg lifts imagine it is the abs that pull the leg up. to engage your abs pull your bellybutton into your spine and keep it there! yes, throughout.
  • protect your knees. when performing exercises such as squats, lunges, side lunges etc, make sure your knees are in a good position. the knee or knees bearing the load of your body should be directly above your foot with the heel firmly planted. when doing squats send your weight back as if sitting on an invisible chair, with your weight into your heels, not your toes.
  • keep your shoulders soft and relaxed. when lifting your arms make sure not to engage your neck muscles but do engage your lats to keep your shoulders in.
  • quality and not quantity. whilst the pace is important for building endurance you will only benefit if you do the exercises correctly. you’ve got 12 weeks of this, so focus on doing it well and building from there.
  • if you enjoy the workout remember to give heather the thumbs up and like her video.

if you can’t tell your deltoids from your glutes here’s an overview: muscle groups of our body

enjoy the programme. your journey starts here: week 1 / day 1

the corona chronicles – day 1

Yesterday the government advised to avoid “all unnecessary travel” and consequently i suspended all training. i promised everybody that i would be posting ideas for training at home,  so i thought i’d start straight away. “no time like the present” thing.

i filmed a short sequence and checked the result. i wasn’t happy at all. i can be quite critical, but frankly, i haven’t been training enough myself. so that was short-lived, at least for now, but not entirely useless. just filming myself for a few minutes and watching the result gave me a few things i want to improve. after all, the japanese word for training is “keiko” (稽古) which means something like “reflect on the wisdom of previous generations”, so reflection and examination should be integral to karate training.

and there we have it – your first training tip: film yourself and then examine the result. you will be able to see what i see when you train in the dojo. you will notice some of the things we work on (e.g. are you striking to the correct target? is your hikite tight? etc.). then it’s just a matter of: film, examine, improve, repeat.

As a possible exercise i can suggest the following:

standing in shizentai (natural stance) perform choku zuki (straight punch): 10 times slow, 10 times fast and 10 times double punch (do 5 starting on the right and 5 on the left). that’s 30 punches in total. film from the front and from the side. makes 60.

now examine the video and find just one or two things you’d like to improve. repeat as necessary (perhaps also in kiba dachi).

you can also make your own exercises. if you practice kata i recommend breaking it down to short sequences. fix on thing then move on to the next. remember to film front and side as each one will reveal different details.

enjoy and send your comment!