Dear Martial Artists of Ontario

You have heard the saying, ‘we are living in uncertain times’, over and over again from our political leaders, employers, and colleagues.  It seems highly understated when we consider the impact COVID-19 has had on martial arts training in Ontario.  Many of our OUMA member clubs have been closed since mid-March, and even more since the Ontario government’s declaration of a state-of-emergency, where only essential services have been allowed to operate.

The impact to Martial Arts clubs in Ontario has been devastating.  Many of our clubs operate on a month-to-month basis and have not been able to weather the storm of closing or suspending classes due to COVID-19 constraints.  This has resulted in some clubs shutting down all together, and potentially not being able to re-open when Ontario eases its back-to-work restrictions based on businesses being able to satisfy workplace safety guidelines.

More information on these guidelines can be found on the Ontario.ca web site: https://www.ontario.ca/page/resources-prevent-covid-19-workplace

The OUMA has reached out to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture and the Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA), and the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) for guidelines on providing safe conduct for martial arts fitness clubs.  You can find some non-specific guidelines to help businesses prepare for reopening here: https://www.wsps.ca/information-Resources/Topics/COVID-19-Keeping-safe-during-the-pandemic.aspx but there aren’t any specific guidelines for fitness related organizations.

So what does this mean for Martial Arts Clubs?

As of the date of this post, there have not been any guidelines specific for the re-opening of Martial Arts Organizations.  The OUMA and some of its members have reached out to the Ministry Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture asking for guidance, and involvement in defining the best-practices for clubs to re-open safely.  You can read our letter to the Ministry here.  We are awaiting their response.  If the guidelines are consistent with current best practices, we can expect them to include the following health and safety controls:

  1. Physical Controls: 
    • These could include physical barriers to control traffic entering and exiting training areas
    • Marked work-out areas;
    • Non-contact and social distancing requirements that would impact building capacity or class sizes.  In many cases this could restrict what types of martial arts practices are permitted until a safe-state is fully established (Jujitsu could be one of these restricted practices for example).
    • Air circulation and improving fresh air intake and exposed air exhaust
    • Storage of training gear to prevent open exposures
  2. Decontamination Controls 
    • Student and Trainer screening before being permitted to enter the training area
    • Using approved disinfectants to decontaminate practice areas before  and after classes
    • Use of approved personal protection equipment (PPE) such as gloves and face-masks while cleaning
    • Requiring participants to use hand sanitizers before and after class
    • dis-infecting equipment after each use.  I.e. sparring gear, gloves, heavy bags, kicking pads etc.
  3. Process Controls 
    • How instructors teach may have to change – i.e. no touching or hands-off instruction
    • How students train – restrictions on contact activities like sparring or changes to those activities (i.e. light contact sparring changes to no-contact sparring)
    • Screening students before allowing them into the training area – student inspections and health checks
    • Updates in policies and procedures related to how to treat injuries or how to deal with students who may exhibit unhealthy symptoms
    • Staggering class times to allow for social distancing while entering or exiting training spaces

These are just a few of the potential controls that may be required to be able to be permitted to re-open our martial arts training spaces.  Moreover, these controls will likely need to be maintained in an audit-able fashion, meaning if a bi-law or enforcement agent does an inspection the club owner will likely need to be able to prove they are abiding by the conditions that allowed them to re-open.

What’s Next?

The OUMA is awaiting feedback from the Ministry on our guideline request.  In the meantime, we are preparing to re-open our hombu dojo (main training club) by defining some of the controls listed above.  We are continuing to offer online video training for our members and community.  You can find them on our dojo Facebook page located at https://www.facebook.com/groups/swmbudokan/

We will be sending out a special edition newsletter on COVID-19 in the upcoming weeks with more information and resources.

Finally – I encourage you to stay resilient.  Be open to changing how you teach and train in martial arts.  Like a sharp, hardened steel blade – if it isn’t tempered with a bit of flexibility it will break under significant impact.