Port Stephens families take to martial arts amid COVID-19 pandemic

SPARRING: The girls 8-10 years sparring pplacegetters (from left) 1st Naiya Ireland, 2nd Kendall Huckstadt, and 3rd Kayleigh Thompson. Picture: Supplied

SPARRING: The girls 8-10 years sparring pplacegetters (from left) 1st Naiya Ireland, 2nd Kendall Huckstadt, and 3rd Kayleigh Thompson. Picture: Supplied

The martial arts has become a welcome sporting option for Port Stephens families looking to exercise together in a COVID-safe environment.

Grand master (GM) Robert Frost, an 8th dan black belt from Raymond Terrace, oversees a chain of 35 Toogee martial arts clubs around Port Stephens, Newcastle, Upper Hunter, New England, Central Coast and Sydney regions plus clubs in Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

At almost 70 years of age, Mr Frost still presents seminars for students, black belts and instructors courses but says the coronavirus pandemic has taught the industry some valuable lessons.

"For the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 my Toogee instructors worked very hard to give our students the opportunity to continue their training via Zoom. For some this was okay," he said.

"Our older students struggled with the technology and the younger students struggled to keep focus without a 'live' instructor holding their attention. Overall though it kept our students interested and when the lockdown finished most came back to class.

"Over the following months classes with students coming to us either looking for a replacement sport they couldn't do any more or because we offered a COVID-safe option for them to get their exercise or weekly activity. In March we had the highest number of students sitting for their grading exams since 2017."

Fr Frost said Toogee offered classes for different age groups. "General taekwondo classes have been consistent but with an increase in the number of families joining, parents see it as minimising the risk by all attending one activity."

"Our Little Ninja classes have expanded since the lockdown last year and we have added two extra classes in Raymond Terrace, plus we have added gymnastics and Ninja Gym to our class line-up. We want to make parents comfortable in the knowledge that we have strict COVID protocols and regulations."

At Raymond Terrace, Toogee offers 'Live Longer, Live Stronger' classes for the over 60s, where attendance has been steady.

"We are very mindful of the age and vulnerability of these people and cap the number per class at six. Our Fit2Fite Kickboxing classes are as popular as ever even though the masks make the sessions much more demanding."

Martial arts is great for the whole family. Picture: supplied

Martial arts is great for the whole family. Picture: supplied

Usually the martial arts organisation offers regular seminars and weekend training sessions where all the black belts and students have an opportunity to come together and learn.

"But COVID put a stop to most of these sessions and we missed our annual camp last year. We did have a tournament about a month or so ago which the students enjoyed but I think it will be some time before we can have our usual national tournaments," Mr Frost added.

Mr Frost said that all Toogee instructors have completed their required COVID-safe courses, plus additional courses specific to the martial arts industry. "We have followed the rules in regard to cleaning and distancing and we introduced the QR code check in. Our policy is no mask no entry, no QR scan no entry, parents support our stance."

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