Business as (un)usual: Learning martial arts with North Valley Aikikai


Yi Yu

David Goldberg practices with a Jo, a staff, in the parking lot behind North Valley Aikikai in Northridge, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Jo staffs are used in every class for social distancing, according to Lee Lavi.

Samantha Bravo, Assistant News Editor

Inside North Valley Aikikai’s 1100-square feet dojo, you would usually find people practicing yoga or Japanese martial arts Aikido and Iaido, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these practices have been moved to parking lots and parks to follow safety guidelines.

Chief instructor and owner of North Valley Aikikai, Lee Lavi said the facility pre-covid was a lively environment filled with parents, grandparents and kids of all ages.

After moving classes to Zoom, Lavi said teaching virtually was difficult because trying to create an interactive atmosphere through a screen wasn’t the same as it was in person.

“It was a shock because I didn’t know how we could adjust our practice, which involves touching and interacting and feeling each other and harmonizing with each other’s movements,” Lavi said. “After about two or three classes, I was ready to give up. It was extremely challenging for me because I’m a person that likes to read the person and feel the person and the screen and that dissonance that was created by the Zoom. It just felt a lot farther than far.”

Lavi continued with Zoom classes for three months.

Since the pandemic began, Lavi said she has lost around 70% of students from her classes, some cancelling because of new scheduling conflicts brought on by the pandemic. .

When Lavi started shifting her classes to local parks around the area, she said everyone enjoyed attending those classes.

“We started meeting at Bee Canyon Park, so I shifted to half Zoom and half in the park, but then everybody just loved being in the park,” Lavi said. “We still didn’t touch each other, we were just working by ourselves, we didn’t interact with each other, but if we did it was from afar. We started doing weapons with contact only with a long stick, two long sticks, so that basically gave us the six feet and we got more comfortable with that.”

Lavi said as the weather changes she will have to adapt to the new normal.

“Just finding solutions, being creative, and finding a way to blend with the situation, to harmonize with the situation rather than quit,” Lavi said.