Martial artists, coaches fight mental fatigue to stay positive

Covid-19 patients housed in a temporary hospital in Russia had been told to take up a tai chi as part of their journey to recovery.

Doctors there said practising the Chinese martial arts improves ventilation and drainage in the patients’ lungs during and after the illness.

Ironically, Covid-19 stopped tai chi practitioners in Malaysia in their tracks due to the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Tai chi isn’t the only one.

Martial arts coaches and practitioners have not been able to train properly since the pandemic hit Malaysia, resulting in the first MCO March last year.

As the regulations were gradually relaxed, the trainers and practitioners found their rhythm again while embracing new norms.

Physical distancing was adopted with a limited number of trainees. The only contact the trainees had was with the punching bags that were disinfected after every workout.

But the second round of MCO which started on Jan 13 threw the industry out of the ring.

To top it all, allowing night markets to operate during this period was a real kick in the teeth for the athletes and trainers.

Given the spike in Covid-19 cases, many expect the MCO to be extended beyond Feb 4.

This has left some martial arts coaches taking up other jobs, including delivering goods, to put food on the table. Others have thrown in the towel – selling their equipment or closing down their gyms.

Their Facebook and Instagram pages, once filled with videos of exciting training and sparring sessions, are now filled with sad and gloomy posts.

Muay thai exponent and trainer Shareh Nasrullah, had last night, posted a picture of himself on Facebook, wondering when he will be able to get back to work and buy a new toy for his baby girl (main picture).

“It’s mentally tiring and frustrating not knowing what’s next,” admitted Shareh.

“Online classes may work for yoga or cardio workouts but not when it comes to martial arts. Take muay thai for example. You need to feel the intensity to get going.”

Shareh is not making excuses. Any practising martial artist will tell you online classes are simply not on. It’s even worse for those who are into Brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts.

Malaysia Mixed Martial Arts Association (MASMMAA) president Rashid Salleh is concerned about the mental health of those within the industry.

“People get involved in martial arts to de-stress, as an outlet to stay positive and to fight depression. Now that’s been taken away from them. What do they do now?” Rashid asked.

He said the association has had “a lot of conversations” with MMA associations worldwide.

“And it was agreed, among others, that we have to look into the mental side of those involved in the sport.”

Throughout 2020, MASMMAA organised online talks to motivate its stakeholders.

“But a year on, people are fatigued. Gyms are closing down, gym owners are selling their equipment … it’s difficult to plan when you don’t know when you can operate.

“We can’t help them as well as we don’t know when we can come back. We stand advised by the Youth and Sports Ministry.”

Rashid said he and his team have been working behind the scenes to ensure their members and martial arts practitioners remain mentally healthy.

“It’s not easy to be positive. Even the word positive is negative these days… especially when you hear someone who tested positive for Covid-19.”

“I’ve been calling the athletes, gym owners and trainers. I pay close attention to what they post online and reach out as much as possible. It’s all about communicating with them, so that they know we are here for them.”

Rashid said the pandemic had highlighted the importance of sports psychologists.

“We need good sports psychologists. Even the most positive people have been affected by Covid-19.

“It’s not just for MMA or martial arts but for other sports too,” he added.