What is Essential?

ESSENTIAL [ uhsen-shuhl ]adj of the utmost importance;  necessary;  basic; indispensable, necessary.

This word is undeniably a key buzzword associated with the current pandemic. What exactly is essential?  Supermarkets? Gyms? Liquor stores?

In New York State, several gyms,such as  fitness centers and martial arts studios, have recently joined forces to file a lawsuit after being suddenly removed from Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan. 

These fitness professionals, myself included, argue that not only can we run our businesses adhering to current guidelines, but also that fitness is essential. The type of training that we offer, whether it is running on a treadmill or drilling armbars, defines essential [ uhsen-shuhl ]adj of the utmost importance;  necessary;  : basic; indispensable. 

Many of these owners have more strict cleaning protocols than the stores and restaurants that are already open down the block. They have separated weight machines more than 6 feet apart from each other and put markings on the floor for spacing during classes. Most of them, due to being members only establishments that require check ins or pre-registration, have a system of contact tracing already built in. 

We are ready. We just await permission to open our doors. 

It is indisputable that human existence requires certain places. . We need hospitals, grocery stores, our community gatherings.. Beyond that for actual survival, it becomes a little trickier. Liquor stores remained open throughout the lock down in NYC. Also, many big chain stores like Target. Are these places essential Now that we have moved into our broader reopening in my city;, clothing stores, tattoo parlors, nail salons, hair salons, and outdoor dining are open. While very few would argue that these places are essential for human survival, they certainly add to the overall health and happiness of countless lives. And isn’t mental health and happiness also essential?

Beyond my wants and needs to reopen my dojo, I’ve seen first hand how karate and BJJ training enrich the lives of our members. First, are the physical benefits of exercise. Moving your body is healthy. It feels ridiculous to even write that, but here we are. Martial arts training contributes to weight loss and cardiovascular health. In addition, exercise helps with both anxiety and depression.

Simply, moving your body benefits your mood. 

Now, we desperately need our gym communities.  “After being quarantined during the epidemic of sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), individuals who were quarantined or had relatives who contracted SARS were 2 to 3 times more likely to report high levels of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms than the rest of the population.” 

This current situation is no different. Humans need to see, speak to, and yes, choke other humans in order to be happy. 

We believe our gyms are essential and it is our duty to keep each other safe. We have the guidelines for other businesses, such as frequency of hand washing and cleaning of door handles, bathrooms and entryways. We are currently cleaning the mats constantly, but this routine is even more important now, in addition to uniform cleaning and screening students for symptoms. 

In addition, many schools are implementing small class sizes and limited pair or pod training where students only interact with 2-4 other students for a set period of time. Some places are required to test regularly for Covid19 as a prerequisite for stepping onto the mats. In the meantime, those who are at greater risk are still following along at home in Zoom classes, begging their spouses to be their partners for just a few minutes. Any open school should certainly figure out how to continue to offer a virtual option. 

People’s safety was never up for debate. But the collective loss that the martial arts community is experiencing goes far beyond school owners’ financial futures. . 

So the question is not are our gyms essential? Of course we are. Now we must adapt to our new environment and rise to the challenge that we face, even when so many people do not understand what we do. 

As a BJJ community, we are equipped to move mountains. It’s what we do.


Jennifer Fremon

Guest Writer

Jennifer Fremon is a sixth degree black belt in Kenshikai Karate and a brown belt in BJJ. She and her husband run UWS Kenshikai Karate & BJJ in Manhattan, where she teaches karate to children ages 3 and up. When she isn’t attempting to heel hook giants, Jennifer enjoys drinking coffee, walking her dog, making doodle art, and watching the sun set over NYC. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her fierce 12 year old daughter, and thinks there is no greater joy than seeing a child accomplish something new.

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