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Karate practitioners deal with lack of classes

Katie Barkman and Hayden Walker are world-class athletes who competed and medaled in the World Karate Martial Arts Organization World Cup last year.

They train under the watchful eye of Sensei Tom Kelly and have been rising through the ranks over the years.

Both earned bronze medals at the world cup in the sparring category, despite being moved into the black belt bracket without notification.

During the lead up to the competition both athletes were training multiple times a week with Kelly to hone their abilities.

However, all of that has stopped with Kelly cancelling training sessions until the Coronavirus pandemic passes.

“As soon as it hit with social distancing we cancelled classes. Each one of my students was encouraged to keep up with Kata in the house or yard,” Kelly said.

Kata is a routine of forms that Kelly and his students perfect during workouts, but it wasn’t the only aspect of training.

Sparring was also integral, along with pupils and teachers spending significant time together perfecting the minute details of karate.

“When in class I can go through Kata and they can tell me what I’m doing wrong and what to improve on, where as at home I have to figure it out,” Walker said.

During the spring and summer tournaments around the country typically take place.

But due to the spread of COVID-19, the majority of those tournaments have been cancelled, which leaves Barkman and Walker without avenues of competition.

Kelly said karate is a skill that requires intense regular training to maintain an athlete’s abilities.

There are still certain aspects of karate Walker and Barkman can work on at home, but it won’t have the same impact.

There’s also the possibility that as the athletes work at home they could build bad habits without the supervision of a sensei.

“At home you can’t see yourself doing the Kata, so you can’t know if you’re doing it right or wrong,” Barkman said.

Kelly said the time missed would likely set the athletes back a year as far as missed opportunities to learn new forms and improve their sparring.

Barkman and Walker will have to work even harder to reach the levels they were previously at before classes were canceled.

“Where the world class people were, they won’t be near that when we come back. It’s like piano, you have to practice every day. You have to stay with it to stay at that level,” Kelly said.

It’s a hindrance and a setback, but Walker said he can’t afford to let his foot off the gas, even with training sessions being canceled.

“There’s a lot of downtime so I have to motivate myself to get ready. Tournaments have been canceled, but I have one in November. I have to prepare myself mentally and physically for the ones in the future,” Walker said.