THE lead instructor with a Dunfermline karate club says that they have never been closer – despite being separated by COVID-19.

Paul Giannandrea, who runs JKS (Japan Karate Shoto Federation) Scotland, based in Elgin Industrial Estate, has hailed the "amazingly good" spirit among members after they stepped up for fitness sessions in front of their computer screens in their droves.

Since Government regulations saw them close the doors of their premises, Paul launched twice-daily karate and fitness classes online using video conferencing technology.

In what he described as "way beyond" his expectations, between 80-120 people – including members, their parents and siblings – have been taking part in each session, and he hopes it is helping them make sure they don't feel alone.

"To be honest, it has been way beyond my expectations," Paul said.

"When, on the Monday, lockdown was announced, I thought that I had to try and do something. We have been getting between 80-120 people participating in every single class we are doing.

"A lot of parents have been coming back to us with some lovely comments, like that it gives the kids structure, and that they really appreciate us helping out.

"Kids who had maybe been training once a week are now doing it 10 times, and we have mums, dads and siblings joining the sessions free.

"In terms of people's mental health, I hope that it is a tick in the box and that we're keeping them engaged and active. We tailor every class; for example, we can do work on the spot or take one step forward and one step back.

"I've been teaching for 35-36 years and I'm used to teaching in an environment with space. It has been a challenge but in a positive way. We're building sessions that people can do, virtually, in a one-metre area.

"It's been remarkably successful."

He continued: "The team spirit is amazingly good, and some of the comments make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

"There is a massive difference from being isolated, and not feeling isolated, and I think this will make our members feel that they are not isolated.

"When this is finished, our guys will be ahead of the curve in terms of being fit and strong.

"Our karate community is the best I've ever seen it."

A number of successes by JKS Scotland students last year included that of Ben Woods, who became world number one.

The Woodmill High School pupil, who was named Dunfermline and West Fife Sports Council's Young Sports Personality of the Year in February, became the first Scottish competitor to reach top spot in the World Karate Federation (WKF) cadet (for 14-15-year-olds) kumite -63kg rankings.

Ben is one of more than 7,000 students, from 120 clubs across the country, who train with JKS Scotland, and Paul hopes that number will grow further on the back of their online success.

"I think we'll definitely attract new members on the back of this," he added.

"We've created an opportunity for people to get involved, meet and see different people.

"It's been eye-opening for me – I've almost been forced to think out of the box – but it has been hugely rewarding."