COVID-19, Aikido and more!

COVID-19, Aikido and more!!

Jonathan Weiner, Dojo Cho at Aikido of Charlotte chats with Reuven Lirov, Dojo Cho at Pinellas County Aikikai.

Reuven: Right now the biggest thing on my mind is bouncing ideas about how dojos are getting through this whole COVID thing. And that’s the biggest thing right now because what I’m seeing a lot of is just people acquiescing and just assuming that they’re done. You know I’m seeing a lot of that where it’s all become this sort of nostalgic thing right where everybody’s watching videos of just you know seems like everybody just kind of gave up.

Jonathan: Well let me ask you this, those that you are paying attention to that you think are doing the right things what are they doing?

Reuven: I was actually gonna ask you that question so thanks.

Jonathan: Well I–

Reuven: Well I honestly, honestly the thing that I’m seeing the most successful is the people who are mirroring gyms right. I mean the people who are mirroring what’s working in tangential industries right so if you’ve gone virtual and you’ve got, and not only content but some sort of accountability built in so that people feel the need to show up, you know and then secondary for me would just be trying to keep the hours as close to your normal hours as you can so that when this whole thing is over, they don’t have to reestablish those habits of showing up, you know?

Jonathan: Yeah that’s–

Jonathan: I mean I think that’s a big thing is that was gonna be my question to you is what you think is working for people and what isn’t?

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s I mean you basically answered the same way I would’ve and we talked about this I think a few times last week but there’s the following your business, making sure your business runs giving value to your paying customer and in our case our students.

Reuven: Right.

Jonathan: So I think those that I was actually on a Zoom this morning with one of our senior students and we can agree that everybody that’s currently training, likes Aikido.

Reuven: Sure.

Jonathan: But there are certain people that love Aikido and those are the people that you know I think you’d agree that you and I running schools just want to give them as much value as we can to keep training off or out of the dojo on their own, whether it be techniques they can do solo or weapons or fitness or what have you. Where do I see the challenge is the bulk of the students that just like Aikido and because we’re not getting together they’re not getting all those things that we get in addition to training so what are you doing in your dojo to try to retain those that like Aikido but aren’t getting to the dojo based on the circumstances?

Reuven: Yeah I mean that’s a really good one. I mean I think it’s a lot of trial and error, I don’t think anybody’s really been in this situation before. You know it’s really interesting to me to realize that you know in the 60s and the 70s and the 80s people were riding high on the martial arts industry being huge and part of Hollywood and then you know to come into the late 90s, 2000s people not so interested anymore, then a financial crisis. People still not that interested maybe a little bit because of BJJ being interesting and CrossFit, people getting active again and then this happens and it’s like man, newer dojos are just getting hit. I mean the ones that survive I think are gonna be in a really good spot but you know I think the thing that that’s helping me anyway is consistent communication and then and having an environment where they feel like they’re contributing you know. Are you finding the same thing, are you finding people that like it are just falling off or are you finding anything for you that’s working to keep ’em around?

Jonathan: Yeah I mean like you, we get barraged with so much Aikido noise on Facebook there are groups and there’s this instructor’s group and there’s our own organization and then you know we each have our own channels and social media outlets so it gets overwhelming but I think what makes Aikido unique is let’s just say, and again let’s just take Joe Punching and Kicking Arts Dojo with like 80 students right and their culture is come in and fight and learn right. I’m curious to answer your question I think what makes Aikido really unique is the relationship between the students and the teacher and the students is a little bit more like, I think more like a family, I don’t think that carries over in every art. Even in a gym for that matter with a couple hundred, three, four, five, 700 members, you don’t feel like a family in there you feel like a number.

Reuven: Yeah.

Jonathan: So what we’re doing and what I’m doing is I’m consciously scheduling and reaching out weekly, preferably on video Zoom like we do. We keep in touch pretty regularly, probably weekly and we get on a video chat and just make sure that they’re all getting touched in some way whether it be Facebook Messenger or text or email so everybody knows that I’m thinking about them, I still love them, I’m still concerned about them, I hope they’re healthy, I hope they’re working out, I hope they’re doing the Aiki Tabata program. And just you know moving their body and trying to weather the storm. That’s I think if dojos do that, I think everything else will fall into place.

Reuven:Yeah I think part of it is also it comes back on us as instructors to some extent, or to a huge extent I mean this is the time where I think what I’m seeing a lot of is you know instructors who you know post these quick little videos basically saying here’s some stuff, go practice it and my take on it is more guys this is a great opportunity to lead by example you know and to instead of, so my view on it was I’m not creating content because of COVID-19 and because I need to do something and because it’s virtual now or because people can’t maker it to the dojo, I’m working out anyway, I’m doing my Aikido work anyway so why not take that opportunity, restructure maybe how I would normally do it when I’m by myself, like I wouldn’t talk to myself the way that I shoot those videos right now like alright we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna put, I just work but that small change and then just putting a camera in front of me allows me to create content that I mean I’m already going through the motions anyway because for me training is daily and I go through all this stuff anyway, physical training and Aikido so whether I have people to practice with or not so I just I think that there’s a tremendous benefit to showing students hey, there is no end to the day to day grind. The grind of your training is where you should find your joy not in the eventual like oh, you know the end result is I’m gonna have the skill and I’m just gonna demonstrate and teach and that’s really the goal of all this, it’s like no the goal of it is what you’re doing. You’re experiencing the goal of Aikido it just gets better and better over time I think.

Jonathan: Good point.

Reuven: But I think, and I notice that a lot with what you’re doing I mean with the Tabata and the Zoom classes and everything that I was actually gonna ask about because I’m not doing that, I’m doing Facebook Lives so I can get comments and things but I don’t see them live to practice because again for me it’s a window into my training that I’m giving them access to, not that I’m trying to facilitate a class virtually. Are you finding that the Zoom class has a benefit to it or is it pretty much end up the same way?

Jonathan: No, it’s a great question. It’s totally different because when we started out we were talking about this and by the way, I gotta applaud you for what you’re doing because not a lot of people know that that’s what you’re doing and I’m glad you shared that because as a friend of yours and someone that’s into fitness as we both are I just think it’s awesome that you do that, and I wish more instructors would do that actually. And that’s why, I’ll kinda get to the end of that how I’m actually doing the Tabata workout myself in Zoom with people so I’m not just saying go do this, here’s what it looks like I’m doing it with you. So yeah here’s the reality, and again you know we decided to do virtual classes we originally wanted to keep it just to current active members, students that are paying their dues in good standing et cetera that are training so we have a small group on Facebook for that. And then I was thinking to myself, you know not everybody is comfortable in front of the camera, not every instructor knows how to do this even though it’s not particularly difficult.

Jonathan: Sure.

Jonathan: So you know in the spirit of Aikido and what we do, why don’t we share you know what you’re doing. You’re sharing, you’re opening it up to people to train with you virtually. So we then, we did a few classes in our Facebook group which you’re a part of which is like 382 members and it’s a pretty good footprint. It’s not the public page, obviously, that’s for the public this is a private group so we put it in there and you know it was getting some good feedback from some other instructors and they were watching it and they liked it but like you said it’s very one-directional so–

Reuven: Yeah.

Jonathan: It’s hard you know as someone that’s been teaching for a long time I don’t teach in front of the camera, I have camera experience. It’s a different world.

Reuven: It is odd, yeah.

Jonathan: So it was very, the positive is I could open up the class to 380 people, they can partake or not partake they can you know we can watch and not do anything and that’s fine and then we moved over to Zoom recently because of the engagement and the involvement so you know if there are nine windows open there’s teaching going on and practice and then I can actually if we’re doing like a kata, I can look at each person ’cause I’ll just be like okay these five moves okay Jim you’re up and he’ll do five and next Tasha and then Jim and then Jack.

Jonathan: And get feedback.

Jonathan: Yeah and get feedback and then it’s not just me demoing where I’m not seeing them because they can just be learning the kata wrong for an hour it’s like what good is that?

Reuven: Sure, sure.

Jonathan: So there are advantages to Zoom, I like it and yeah I think just depending on what you’re trying to do and where you’re going with it I think there’s value to both. Have you, is it something you’re considering at this point?

Reuven: No.

Jonathan: That’s fine.

Reuven: I thought about it and the way that I have everything set up now is I’m using this as a way to establish a virtual program in perpetuity. So essentially my goal is to set this up so that not only is it valuable to people right now so that they feel like they have real meaningful class length content that they can continue you know every day if they spread it out, every day of the week and they feel that whether they’re supporting the dojo at the lowest level or at the highest level we set up three remote support packages for that or if they just maintain their normal memberships they’re getting value for that during this time right. The other side of it is once all this content is created so, the amount of content is basically determined by how long we’re off the mat, essentially turns into a remote training program that I can offer to people who might have a good reason for not being able to come to the dojo you know but still want to explore Aikido. You know whether they’re in a place that doesn’t have a dojo or they’ve got a medical concern that keeps them off the mat but they’re really interested, this is a way for me to extend my love of Aikido to them you know in a way that they can kind of explore it. So I think that there’s a value for sure, to both, but for me, it’s like what am I doing right now, well partly it’s really just convenient for me to let people in on my own training, and just narrate more and then set it up so that it’s useful going forward beyond this whole COVID-19 thing you know.

Jonathan: Gotcha.

Reuven: Yeah, so what alright COVID-19 depresses me, we should talk about something else.

Jonathan: Let’s talk about COVID-20, no.

Reuven: Yeah, let’s start talking about the next pandemic.

Jonathan: That’s funny.

Reuven: God. No, I honestly you know I wanted to on the media side I think it is an interesting place to go because of one of the things that I noticed in thinking about you know seminars and all of that. One of the things I noticed the most is the lack of audiovisual quality that goes into producing a great event. In other words for me, it’s like there’s always this perspective of keeping the costs down for an event which is totally fine so that members feel like oh it’s not that expensive but at the same time if you increase a seminar fee, like summer camp or winter camp or any seminar really to cover some AV cost so that you can get really good audiovisual at an event. I mean is that, would it just make, do you think it would just make the cost of a seminar to astronomical for people to go to or do you think it would actually provide value?

Jonathan: Not at all.

Reuven: ‘Cause I feel like it would provide value.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s yeah it’s a combination of factors which we both know. Some of which I’ll share in this and some of which I won’t but you know it’s hard to not realize how easy it is to produce or do what you’re saying because we both come from a professional event side of our businesses as well. You speak a lot in front of groups so you know what it’s like to work with that media partner to mic you, to record it, to have it professionally you know AV’d and all that and then my company does some of that as well for certain clients. So you know we’re in California we covered a 500 person event and it was all media so no it’s really not that difficult and technology today it’s not even that expensive to do it’s just a question of the powers that be, understand how easy it is and the value that it would provide because you know one thing that I see more and more is and even our technical committee Shihan for example in the USAF is they’re doing a lot more explaining now at seminars. There’s more talking so–

Jonathan: For sure.

Jonathan: In my dojo you know it’s pretty big, it’s open it’s hard to hear in the corner.

Reuven: Yeah, oh my god, yeah.

Jonathan: From one corner to the other so if you put a wireless lav on that instructor, and we do like when Demko Sensei comes in we wirelessly lav him, and then we produce that. Obviously that’s my background, pretty easy but at a USAF or winter camp for example, if each instructor were wirelessly laved and there was a camera or a couple of cameras in each corner capturing the class, there’s tremendous value there. So they did that, you know they’ve done it before at summer camp and they were producing DVD’s now unfortunately again just maybe people don’t realize but DVD is a dead format so it makes no sense to produce a DVD. I would say that five years ago but today especially. So just producing the content and having it digitally available or people can buy the digital download on YouTube Premium or Vimeo Pro or whatever, it’s simple, it’s very easy to do. I see the value, I mean you’re probably talking about how many people go to summer camp typically? Three, 400?

Reuven: I mean at least 600. No, I mean yeah.

Jonathan: 600 okay?

Reuven: Yeah at least 600.

Jonathan: I mean call it 500 for argument’s sake and if each person paid $5, $5.

Jonathan: Yeah $2,500.

Jonathan: Probably if they knew somebody in Aikido that had a professional AV company that would do it for a non-profit price that’s what you’re looking at. It’s not much.

Reuven: Right.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Jonathan: And I think that there’s, it seems to me like there are two aspects to it right ’cause there’s the production value that goes into content that I mean it becomes so valuable to Dojo Cho who are promoting their dojos ’cause they can use that content right. They can use that content to promote their own dojos and say look how big our federation, our family is and it really is a really beautifully big organization, warts and all. And I think the other side of it though is the to your point about understanding what people are saying, ’cause I think you can do this right. As you’re recording content ’cause they’re lavved up, you can also daisy chain that to speakers to right so that you can actually–

Reuven: Right.

Jonathan: Hear them better if you’re in the back corner during the seminar. ‘Cause I think that’s part of it right, like–

Jonathan: You’re right on the money and then look at and again I love winter camp, one of our favorite seminars we get there every year we train you and I have a blast, love it, love the Greek place, love the whole place.

Reuven: Amazing seminar, yeah.

Jonathan: Think about when they do weapons outside and the ocean’s crashing down with waves.

Reuven: Can’t hear it, no you can never hear anything they’re saying.

Jonathan: So teaching weapons outside and I don’t know what the rules are with the hotel if they’ll let someone have a PA there with a speaker ’cause it is open public but that’s an example of like what you just said having a couple of JBL speakers on stands.

Reuven: Yeah.

Jonathan: Synced up to the mixer just to project the volume out so yeah it’d be great, it’d be awesome. I hope one day we get there.

Reuven: Yeah I think that would be cool. You just need to learn to mute yourself after you teach. You ever had that, the hot mic moments are not good.

Jonathan: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Reuven: I think that would be, ’cause I think that there are and that’s sort of a joke but I know that there are those kinds of logistical concerns that people have, especially people who are more old school like oh you know I don’t want to be recorded saying this or that or you know if I say something I was joking and somebody takes that out of context or something like that like I totally understand all of that. And then I think that there’s a justification that happens where they say, instead of addressing that directly some instructors will say no no it’s because martial arts should be learned by watching and then doing, what I say is not important but at the same time it’s like well you are talking and clearly that means that what you’re saying is valuable and so I don’t want to miss it right?

Jonathan: Especially if you’re talking more than you used to talk and that’s more your style is that’s the training, you have to take what you can get. So like Shibata’s class, he mumbles a couple of words and you go practice for an hour, that’s awesome.

Reuven: You don’t need to mic him.

Jonathan: Yeah, and then you know–

Jonathan: He just.

Jonathan: And then other instructors don’t talk much and then some talk a lot but you’re right you learn by doing it not by watching it and if you can’t do it, watch the instruction and if you can’t see it or they’re talking you can’t watch anything you have to hear it right so no I think you were right on the money and I was gonna say one more thing about winter camp. Oh, so yeah the fear of being recorded it’s 2020, everybody’s got a phone out recording everything I mean how much content goes online at all these camps and seminars without the instructor even knowing it right and some pick up some sound, some don’t but I think if you’re you know back to what you said, how hard is it to professionally produce content for like some of the big camps. It’s not and then, of course, the powers that be get final approval on the edit so if an instructor sees their class or hears their calls and said something maybe they didn’t want out you just pull it out of the edit and it doesn’t ever get out there so–

Reuven: I think that’s

Jonathan: There’s a lot of ways to make it work.

Reuven: Yeah, and I think that’s such a great point right no matter who it is that is worried about you know hot mic situations or moments or whatever it’s like listen you know you understand that these things don’t get out when they’re done this way. They don’t get out unless they’re edited and because they’re edited you know you just gotta know whoever’s editing is someone you trust to understand and you know and then of course that you get final say so you get a look at it before anybody else does.

Jonathan: Right.

Reuven: But yeah I mean I think that that’s I wonder what the I don’t want to say playing field, that’s such a business jargony term but I wonder what the field is gonna look like like post-COVID-19 when it comes to our dojos.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Reuven: ‘Cause I know that there are people that are, I know Dojo Chos that are saying oh I’m not opening for at least two years ’cause I mean not only can I not open until there’s a vaccine but I also can’t open until there’s confirmation of my body already having antibodies and all this stuff and I wonder if that’s doing harm more than just to themselves you know.

Jonathan: Yeah that’s a great point and I kind of would chalk that up to the personal belief of where that person lives in the region, and what their political beliefs are and what their media beliefs are and you know and you’re right to that point and again I don’t want to make this about that by any means everybody’s entitled, we live in a great country, have your own belief system, choose to follow whatever news source you want but my personal belief is yeah it’s hurting them because sure, don’t open up if we’re still if every government says hold sit tight, we’re working on stuff, let’s be sensible, let’s be logical, sure, but to throw out a statement now to say that it’s gonna be two years, that’s a pessimistic comment and it doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t help yourself so I just think to be positive, be optimistic that you know this isn’t the first time in the history of our country or the world that something has come across right, like this? So that’s my point.

Reuven: Yeah, and I wonder yeah and I think it’s an excellent point. The thing I wonder is one of the issues with this is transmission especially in large groups right where you have an inability to do contact tracing and all this other stuff and you know far be it from me to speak to the pandemic transmission and all that stuff that really you should listen to the CDC and those guys for ’cause they’re experts but I wonder if dojos are as much of an issue as we make them be when there’s what a few thousand people that we’re talking about across the entire country practicing Aikido today. You know where you’ve got a couple of hundred dojos, what is the average class size, 10 to 20.

Jonathan: Right.

Reuven: You know maybe the best thing to do is to say alright guys no big seminars for the next year.

Jonathan: Right.

Reuven: You know but you guys a still train at your dojos I mean just put a cap on it say if you get more than 50 people on the mat, you gotta cap it. It’s like alright well that affects what three dojos in the entire country who might hit 50 people in one class. And how many dojos are basically running seminar level class, like day to day classes?

Jonathan: Yeah well you know my wife’s in healthcare, she’s a pharmacist and one of our students is a nurse that’s brother is a physician at Duke that’s specialty is an infectious disease and population health so we get some good intel and I follow BBC, CDC, and WHO you know the World Health Organization but yeah I think you’re making excellent points and then I think the good news is that no matter what happens whenever we go back to normal, the awareness level of personal hygiene will be forever changed I hope for the greater good.

Jonathan: I hope too.

Reuven: So to your point I think if when things open up, slowly but surely and then full-blown we’re open, I’m gonna mandate the same hygiene that we had you know you and I were talking a week or two before we had to close by the state government. You have to, if you have any symptoms quite honestly you really don’t belong in the dojo, for what we do close quarter and sweating and rolling around.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Jonathan: But, having said that you need to wash your hands upon entry, you need to use hand sanitizer and as long as people are healthy, then yeah small groups of people should be able to train, I don’t see why not. Again, I’m not a–

Reuven: I wonder if we actually could end up winning and I hate to use that term in an Aikido discussion but the idea that all of these competing tangentially competing activities right like big gyms and CrossFit and you know all these big studios you know they’re I mean let’s say that you can’t have, that when they ease restrictions they’re gonna put a cap and say no more than 20 people I space at a time,

– Right.

Reuven: Sounds like a perfect marketing opportunity to say hey guys since you’re not allowed to go to gyms since you’re not allowed to do all these things that you were doing before seems like the perfect time to take an intro class and maybe explore some Aikido.

Jonathan: I love it, I love the way your mind works. That’s great.

Reuven: It just seems to me like you know right I mean couldn’t you look at and look around and see that Gold’s Gym can’t open, you know, L.A. Fitness can’t open for another year until there’s a vaccine-like they literally say there are specific businesses that cannot open until there is a vaccine because those groups are too big and you know the sweat and all that other stuff. Like alright well we’re never gonna see a group, or we’re gonna cap it just to make sure that we follow the guidelines but the reality is we probably wouldn’t have beaten that cap anyway in the average class size but here’s the perfect opportunity, let’s start doing intro classes again, those are one on one.

Jonathan: I love it, I love it and then now you got my 360 mind working like with the next commercial with the voice-over going like, going something like dropping several hundred dollars on that concert ticket that you can’t go to, well we’ve got a solution for you.

Reuven: Right, like oh my god.

Jonathan: Check out the intro Aikido class, totally. And I was talking about this as we’re multiple business owners too. The way business is gonna be done and for our conversation the business of running an Aikido dojo.

Reuven: Sure.

Jonathan: The way business is gonna be done forever, I think is forever changed with this.

Reuven: Yeah, yeah.

Reuven: Just the amount of contact and travel in general so I think, to wrap up I think Aikido there are dojos that are doing the right things, providing value to their students, putting out content, you know leading by example, training still working on their own self, working on I mean that’s really what Aikido is right it’s an opportunity disguised for self-improvement.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Jonathan: So if you’re working on themselves then I think we’ll be you know overall the people that remain standing will be the ones that ought to be.

Reuven: Yeah, agreed, and nothing is sadder than proving out and seeing that someone who you thought was really cool ends up being a career teacher and they actually don’t do any self-improvement, they don’t do any training of their own it’s like yeah I guess that makes sense but you lose all credibility and that’s just too bad.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Reuven: I think this is sort of a litmus test. This whole situation is gonna be a great litmus test to see who are the people actually embody the idea that Aikido is a lifelong practice and who are those that are you know just people looking for opportunities to show off.

Jonathan: Yeah and I want to end with, I’m looking at the calendar and me kind of knew and then I forgot but please pass my regards to all your students that I would’ve been seeing this weekend that is now–

Reuven: Yes, I actually got a few messages about that, and yeah absolutely I will do. Yeah, we’re all really sad about that and you know just hoping that June can still happen and–

Jonathan:– Yeah.

Reuven: So we’ll see.

Jonathan: Well we will get on the mat again one day my friend, as usual as always awesome to chat with you and–

Reuven: You too.

Jonathan: I love what you’re doing keep it up and we’ll talk to you real soon.

Jonathan Weiner
Jonathan Weiner

Weiner Sensei, Chief Instructor & Dojo Cho has been studying Aikido for over 20 years and currently holds the rank of Godan (5th Degree Black Belt) as recognized by the United States Aikido Federation and the Aikikai World Headquarters (Hombu Dojo, Tokyo, Japan). Weiner Sensei is also a Shidoin (certified senior instructor) appointed by the USAF and Aikikai World Headquarters. Weiner Sensei oversees rank promotion and testing at Aikido of Charlotte and has attended over 130 seminars in the past 20 years learning from many Shihan (Master Teachers). He also actively teaches Self Defense Workshops to corporations & organizations such as Newell, TIAA, Real Estate companies as well as various associations. His credentials also include NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Certified Range Safety Officer (RSO), and is a Certified Glock Armorer. Jonathan is the Owner of 360 Visuals, Inc. a Video Production Agency.

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