2020 has proved to be a year of near-absolute carnage for the UK martial arts sector. Coronavirus has pushed many clubs to the brink of failure – if not complete collapse. Focus in the early months of the pandemic was about trying to get clubs teaching outdoors and, when country by country guidance permitted, back to classes indoors too.
As we settle in for what is now anticipated to be a longer period than first thought with Covid restrictions in place, we cast our mind forward to the return of schools across the United Kingdom, as well as the looming winter months. With this in mind, we’re doing our best to provide answers to the most commonly asked questions we hear day in and day out.
Where Are We Now?
Trying to keep up with the changing guidance is tricky at best, but across the four nations martial arts is tentatively starting to return in one form or another. It is by no means what we all know and love, but for most styles there is something salvageable.
Scotland is arguably the furthest ahead with outdoor contact sports permitted from today, August 24th. Scottish clubs will also be able to teach groups of up to 30 outdoors and re-open indoor gyms (subject to strict measures) from the end of August. Contact sport is likely to be fully resumed for all martial arts by November, if not sooner.
Wales and Northern Ireland are both permitting outdoor classes of up to 30 people. Northern Ireland go one further, permitting up to 30 people indoors too. In both nations, social distancing is required as is strict Covid-Secure measures.
In England however, the rules are not so straight forward. Despite guidelines that permit up to 30 people meeting outdoors under the control of a business, charity or organisation, the guidance for outdoor sports from the DCMS still appears to clearly state groups should not exceed 6 in total. The official guidance is here. There is clearly contradictory guidelines here;
3.14 Team sports that do not have approved guidance should not be played if you cannot socially distance from people you do not live with. Instead, people should train together and take part in activities such as conditioning or fitness sessions in groups of no more than six people (outdoors) or two households (in any setting).
Martial Arts is not a team sport, so arguably the below section might also apply;
It is against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces). Businesses and venues following COVID-19 Secure guidelines can host larger groups provided they comply with the law.
We’re actively encouraging clubs to speak with…
Why have we been failed?
Martial Arts has been given absolutely no representation or support from the DCMS or UK Government throughout the entire pandemic. To us, this shows how little the UK Government still understand about our collective arts – which, by the way, appear to attribute to more participation than Rugby and Tennis combined (c. 13%). Sport England’s unwillingness to engage the wider martial arts community has been disgraceful. All in all, the independent martial arts sector (which is significantly bigger than the NGB circuit) has been completely and utterly failed. We believe this is simply not good enough and we are pushing for this to be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency…
What have Sport England done for the independent martial arts sector?
As far as we can see, very little. Some clubs have managed to obtain a small contribution to costs from the CEF (Community Emergency Fund) of between £300 and £10,000 but the research we’re conducting seems to suggest this is very much the minority. Most clubs had no idea this funding was ever provisioned (as it was advertised among the NGBs but not outside of these cirles very widely) and of those who knew, many believed they would not be supported or were turned down. Indeed, even the BMABA and our Charitable Foundation, whom account for more than 30,000 named members including some of society’s most vulnerable, were outright refused any support. This fund…
What about Sport England changing the guidance on martial arts not being permitted to resume?
Many will recall that the Sport England FAQs on Coronavirus stated for some time that Contact Sports such as ‘Karate/Judo’ could not resume. This was in fact incorrect. Whilst the contact elements of those styles are clearly not currently permitted in England, adapted and socially distanced classes can and have returned. We did raise this with Sport England during our last press release but we received no response. We did notice that the reference of martial arts was completely removed from the FAQ post…
Can or should face coverings be worn during classes?
The overwhelming conclusion is no. Face coverings should not be worn during indoor or outdoor lessons. Whilst there is growing evidence to suggest that doing so is unlikely to cause harm to many people, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend face coverings are not worn during exercise;
People should NOT wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one meter from others.
Leisure Centres and Venues have said martial arts can’t resume as it hasn’t been approved by Public Health England (PHE). Is this true?
We’ve heard this one alot. One major leisure centre chain in particular was fast to make this request of any clubs returning to indoor training. Their position appears to be incorrectly based on a presumption that martial arts is a team sport and would require an approved strategy for the return of contact / competition. This is the case for many team sports that require close contact and it is indeed the NGBs for each sport respectively whom must present their proposals to DCMS for approval. Martial Arts does not fit into this category as it is being practiced on a non-contact, socially distanced and individual basis. When we have challenged leisure centre managers on this they have reluctantly accepted that the rules are not straight forwards and that many have not fully read the Government’s return to sport guidance either. For those interested, you should…
Can we use pads and shields yet?
Not in England, Wales or Northern Ireland at the moment. As and if the guidance in Scotland progresses to permit contact, Scottish clubs will be able to resume pad work again. For all nations actively within non-contact and social distancing phases of lockdown, pad work and any use of equipment…
Can families from the same household do contact training such as grappling?
This is one we’re hearing more and more and it is a really interesting point. Theoretically, this should be permitted. There is no clear guidance that is being broken if two members of the same household, whom are living together, make physical contact. The ‘blanket’ recommendation is that this shouldn’t be permitted but on a case by case basis, clubs and instructors may be able to make the case that this type of training should be permitted. The likely issue is going to come through enforcement officers (whom we will cover in a moment). It’s quite likely (if you are training outdoors) that an enforcement office…
Are Sport England, DCMS or Government engaging with independent martial arts?
No, absolutely not. We have found trying to elicit any response from any government authority is next to impossible. We are waiting weeks for generic responses and we know we are not the only ones to experience this issue, either. As unbelievable as it is, we have had some MPs and other authorities…
Are councils now introducing costs for those wishing to teach outdoors?
Yes, some are. We have had numerous reports (and have verified firsthand in a number of cases) that councils are now charging sports clubs and community groups to use outdoor public space for exercise classes. We have had clubs charged between £250-£1000 for teaching one2one outdoor sessions, and £1,000-£3,000 for group sessions. This is on the basis of the club needing to obtain a permit. To us this is nothing more than profiteering and is absolutely disgraceful. On appeal…
Is the martial arts association community working together to get the Government to respond?
Unfortunately not. Our Group spearheaded MARSC – a cross-industry project to produce a joined-up approach to getting martial arts back into action. As usual, politics, egos and money put the brakes on a large-scale industry response. The silver lining…
Are there any enforcement officers checking up on clubs?
Yes, absolutely. We have had numerous reports right across the UK of unplanned inspections and visits from enforcement officers, Trading Standards and Public Health England officials. This is not isolated occasions or instances where clubs/gyms have given reason to be inspected either.
We have had viable reports of clubs receiving texts and cold-calls from ‘interested potential students’ wanting to learn more about their club and classes. The callers are asking similar things, with the questioning usually progressing as;
I would like to try X (style) but no nothing about it. Can I give it a try?
I’m interested in grappling and Mixed Martial Arts. Can I grapple at your club?
Can I come and visit the dojo and see how it works?
When challenged by instructors the callers are often declining to answer any other questions and leave the call promptly, promising to get back to them. Often calls come in from withheld numbers or landlines.
We have also had lots of instances of Trading Standards and Council Enforcement Officers turning up unannounced at both indoor and outdoor lessons, checking for Covid Compliance. Instructors have been asked to verify insurance, safeguarding, risk assessments, Covid-Readiness, social distancing and so on…
What about school resuming?
The truth is, we really don’t know. There is talk of ‘pubs and gyms’ closing in place of schools re-opening but more recently, gyms seem to have been removed from the ‘chop’. We know it is becoming more difficult than ever to hire school facilities for out of hour classes, and in-school martial arts sessions look dubious.
There is going to be some difficult months ahead for martial arts, as much as we hate to say it. We don’t believe it will be anything near as bad as March-June but with the light fading and colder, wetter days rolling in we are concerned that outdoor instruction will become increasingly more difficult to facilitate safely.
If you haven’t already…
What next then?
For the time being clubs need to continue pushing to rebuild. We have been saying for many years – and re-literate this again – that now is the time to start future-proofing your club by ensuring it is financially secure and solvent. To make it to spring and the warmer weather of 2021 through to, we hope, the relaxation of non-contact regulations, clubs will need to be self-reliant. Funding from external sources is…
What help can BMABA provide my club over the coming months?
We can confidently say there is no other martial arts association in the UK that has done anywhere near as much as BMABA in supporting, guiding and protecting our clubs during lockdown. Naturally, this proactive and industry-first approach will continue throughout recovery through to the end of next year when we anticipate the potential of martial arts being back to pre-Covid conditions.
Everything from a free Covid-Aware martial arts instructor qualification and Covid-Policy through to marketing material, council liaison services, risk assessments, covid and hygiene equipment, club communications, subsidised insurances, free qualifications and courses, business support, covid-recovery toolkits and so, so much more. Our guidance on evolving regulation and easing of lockdown measures is properly curated and managed for accuracy, and we’re working across our extensive group of not for profit organisations to make it easier and more affordable than ever to keep your club alive during lockdown, and thriving when you can safely re-open.