“Sensei, you’re frozen”

CPX Intern Jassamyn Reyes on the experience of teaching martial arts classes over Zoom, and the importance of physical touch in relationships.

If you found work meetings or university tutorials difficult through Zoom, try teaching martial arts – a contact sport by definition. For me as an instructor, this restriction to two dimensions was the trickiest part of lockdown, punctuated with cries of “Sensei, you’re frozen!” or “No guys, like this!” Even now, teaching face to face again, physical contact is restricted – no more high fives, fist bumps or hugs.

We think of the physical as important to romantic relationships, but all kinds of intimacy involve touch. Verbal cues are not enough. Being human is not about efficiency, but about experience – a reality some of our tech habits try to bypass. I no longer need to talk to friends over the phone, because I can just send them a message. Technically speaking, I can communicate ideas and opinions simply by tagging people in other people’s posts.

But we are not just our ideas and opinions. We are driven by the desire to feel loved and accepted through physical contact. Touch is one of the most important forms of communication for our health – from skin-to-skin contact at birth onwards. Physical touch can help regulate heart rate and blood pressure and reduce stress.

So what does it mean to declare, as Christianity does, that God himself has come within reach of our hands? The apostle John spoke of his message as that “which we have looked at and our hands have touched”. His friend Jesus, he said, was the God of everything, incarnated – literally, enfleshed. Jesus’ three-dimensionality means anyone could (and can, in the written records) watch him as he teaches, heals and of course touches those he meets. If touch is so important that even God does it, it’s not surprising I’m missing it in these socially distanced days.