The dojo is closed for now, but karate lessons press on.
The novel coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has put a halt to many organized recreational activities, but Wesley Chapel-based Keiko Shin Karate Academy has found another way to keep members sharp, while staying home — via virtual classes using the Zoom online video conference platform.
Many Keiko Shin students find themselves training in their living rooms. Others find enough space in their bedrooms, backyard or lanai.
Even Sensei Ernesto Fuentes, who operates Keiko Shin, makes it a point to change up his own backdrop when facilitating karate activities and workouts to students.
Though it’s not quite the same as the traditional Keiko Shin dojo on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, students make do to practice katas and kick-punch combinations.
“Our kids are so dedicated that they made room, they found room,” Fuentes said. “They moved some furniture, and you’d be surprised to see how much space they have.”
The online classes have been continuing for the past month or so, around when the Pasco County School Board suspended all in-person school events and extracurricular activities until at least May.
To Fuentes, the virtual offerings help maintain students’ progress in achieving their karate goals, also keeping them active and motivated.
“We train hard. Virtually or no, we do train hard,” said Fuentes, who started the academy 15 years ago. “Parents are happy to not see their kids sitting on the couch, playing video games.”
Even in cyberspace, the academy has maintained a full schedule, Monday through Friday.
Classes are offered for beginners and advanced athletes of all ages, including adults.
As many as 28 students have joined in at once for an online class, Fuentes said.
To help monitor and ensure proper techniques are followed by all, the sensei enlists the help of black belt-level teenagers to monitor the many split screens “and make sure the kids are doing it right.”
Fuentes said the handful of helpers frankly has made the transition to online easier. He explained it allows those younger, beginner students to get more personalized attention and correction — perhaps the biggest “limitation” of virtual classes, as compared to live, in-person instruction at the academy’s physical facility.
Either way, the virtual classes have kept entire families occupied with something positive to do.
Les Borowski is an adult black belt student at Keiko Shin. His two children, Nicholas and Olivia, are students, too. His wife participates in early morning workout sessions that are offered through the academy.
The regular activities — albeit online — have kept the family up to speed in their respective karate and fitness progression.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re affected, to be honest, by the COVID-19, because we’re still in shape, still doing what we’re supposed to. The only drawback is we cannot compete because all the tournaments are closed,” Borowski said.
He said his children “love” the virtual setup, because there’s no commute, which ultimately gives them more free time. “As soon as they’re done with karate, they can come back into their Minecraft or Fornite (video games), or whatnot,” he said.
Borowski noted he also makes it a point to jump in on his children’s regular Wednesday classes, as a bonding mechanism. “The three of us are bouncing around, so it’s pretty neat, actually,” he said.
Besides teaching varied karate forms and techniques, Fuentes has developed improvised at-home strength and conditioning warmups and workouts for both Keiko Shin students and anyone in the community, in lieu of full-service fitness centers now closed.
That includes bodyweight exercises, such as pushups, sit-ups and squats, along with plyometrics, like jumping in place. He’s also resorted to water bottles and one-gallon water jugs as makeshift dumbbells.
Borowski finds the creative workouts “very helpful” for families without home gyms or specialized equipment.
“Sensei’s very adept at using all the items you find around the house — chairs, water bottles, things like that — so he builds the exercises around everyday stuff that everybody has at home already,” Borowski said.
For 17-year-old black belt Lauren Anderson, Keiko Shin’s virtual classes keep her moving and focused through the relative monotony of this new temporary stay-at-home lifestyle.
“If it weren’t for this,” Anderson said, “I would be on my couch, and I would feel like I’m lazy and not doing anything productive.”
Anderson, a student at Wiregrass Ranch High School, simply connects to the classes each week through her smartphone.
While she admits it’s “not the same as being at the dojo,” Anderson said the online instruction is “a really good way to stay in shape, and keep my karate going.”
She added: “I get a full workout, I’m sweating, I’m sore, even though I’m at home.”
Anderson has been a member of the karate academy for six years.
Though the virtual setup is right now the only option to maintain karate skills, the teen is hoping to someday return to the Wesley Chapel dojo she loves, after the coronavirus pandemic passes.
“It’s just nice to be there and have that open space, and have that communication and personal connection with people, and I actually get to talk to people, and sensei can actually go up to me and say something,” Anderson said.
Meanwhile, Fuentes insists Keiko Shin will follow guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other state and federal health officials, before reopening the academy.
That means virtual karate lessons will continue indefinitely, he said.
“We try to keep everyone safe and the families safe,” Fuentes said. “To be honest, I’m dying to have my kids back in the academy, but whenever it’s safe and when (health officials) decide it’s safe to come back, then we’re going to open our dojo.”
For information, visit KeikoShin.com, or email .
Published April 15, 2020