Coronavirus could prove killer blow for martial arts – social distancing means we've had to abandon the sport we love

AS fans of mixed martial arts, we have punched our way out of the lockdown pretty well in comparison to other sports.

The football didn’t start again until mid-June, but the UFC has been showing live events every weekend since the beginning of May.

But while a handful of elite athletes are able to train and compete behind closed doors, for the average punter, it's a very different story.

Trent Scanlen, owner of Elevate Martial Arts & Strength in West London, says: “We were hoping that 4th of July was going to be the day for us, but BoJo said no. He opened the pubs, but not the gyms.”

Whilst we are all hopeful that the government will soon allow gyms to open their doors, all the talk is of social distancing measures to keep gym-goers at a Covid-safe distance from each other.

This may work for some sports, but martial arts simply can’t be done at two-metres apart, or even one metre apart.

Whether it is MMA, kickboxing, karate or jiu-jitsu, all martial arts involve physical contact – in other words social distancing of precisely zero metres.

Scanlen, aged 43, adds: “Nobody really knows what’s happening.

"The biggest impact has been on our coaching team and our staff. We have moved our business online as much as we can, but it’s tough.”

Studying martial arts, he adds, is about “skills that have been passed down for thousands of years, hand to hand – you can’t learn this stuff on YouTube”.

Meanwhile Brazilian jiu-jitsu, one of the key components of MMA, is one of the fastest growing sports, with clubs springing up and down Britain, and all around the world.

It is particularly popular with children, with many learning a fighting art from a young age that keeps you fit, teaches you discipline and self defence – and above all is great fun.

That has all now been put on hold as we all try to get our heads around a world where keeping your distance has become the new normal.

This means the many jiu-jitsu clubs up and down the country face a very uncertain future.

Marc Barton is a former A&E doctor and jiu-jitsu black belt who gave up a stressful life working in casualty to teach full time at Kingston Jiu Jitsu.

"The terrible coronavirus crisis has hit the jiu-jitsu and martial arts community in general very hard,” he says. “Following the closure of our club, we have had to adapt to more creative ways of training online to try to survive.”

Dr Barton, 44, adds: “As with all contact sports, it's very difficult to predict when we will be able to return to normal training, but we remain hopeful that we will be able to start doing what we love so much at some point in the not too distant future."

Before the lockdown it, the UK health and fitness industry was in great health – growing 20 per cent in five years to be worth around £5billion a year.

The Covid pandemic has hit many industries very hard, but as we struggle to get moving again after the lockdown, sadly martial artists are at the back of the line.

Richard Holt is presenter of the Healthy Beast Podcast.

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