During the coronavirus quarantine, it’s important to keep our defenses up while helping each other survive and advance.

With this in mind, during our minimal non-screen time, two favorite activities have emerged in our home — excluding chip-eating, which we do now at ALL times.

Non-screen time in our household is at a premium these days, due to online schooling, virtual meetings, remote work and the fact that my wife bought a Hulu subscription that has allowed us to re-watch all 98 seasons of “E.R.” during the shelter-in-place. It’s probably gotten to the point that, when we go back to whatever “normal” is, the new “normal” will no longer be called “normal” and will simply be known thereafter as “screen time.”

And by then, after all 98 seasons of “E.R.,” I will also be ready for my new, much more profitable career as an online medical consultant.

Anyway, the activities. They’re mutually beneficial for my 10-year-old son and I, even though they do not happen often enough and one of them still requires a screen because: 2020.

That activity would be my boy’s virtual karate classes.

L.J. has been taking karate lessons for about five years. At the beginning, despite the rehearsed sales pitch from a smiley sensei that the kids who enrolled at their dojo always want to go to karate and never give their parents a hard time about it, L.J. did not always want to go to karate and frequently gave us a hard time about it.

But four years later or so, once he finally accepted it as part of his routine, the only pushing back he’s done lately has been on the mats during twice-a-week classes.

All along, though, it was encouraging to watch him take instruction on how to thwart attacks. It was good to see him trying to maintain self-discipline while sparring even though, like a Looney Tune in a gi, he was prone to overdramatized flopping. And it was good to witness him taking in the instructors’ mini-lessons on how to be a better person.

This all happened while I sat in a metal folding chair amid fellow parents who were either very focused on a device or very focused on telling another parent nearby about their very incredible life — even though no one in the vicinity gave a healthy shuto.

Sure, sometimes I’d hear all of the positive reinforcement on the mats and wish the instructors would crack the whip a little harder on the kids to stay as focused as the parents were on their phones. But, ya know, being stern with kids is not a good way to get their parents to continue forking over money.

Regardless, in a world that is only growing more unpredictable except for the fact that we’re all addicted to screens and Michael Jordan was an insufferable jerk to every basketball player in his orb, the karate that my son has learned is all very useful stuff.

Stuff that I longed to try.

But, instead of paying an additional $179 per month for me to join up, I thought maybe if I watched L.J.’s classes hard enough between the tweets I was sending throughout, I could learn karate by osmosis. After all, as a baseball-crazed kid, I used to be able to watch games and mimic what I saw with some semblance of success. For instance, after seeing a Niekro brother pitch, I could get my knuckleballs to knuckle on, like, one out of every 78 attempts.

I was nearly a savant like that.

Unfortunately, as an un-osmosis-able adult, it took me four years to figure out how to help my son tie his karate belt properly despite repeatedly watching a video of this simple task. So it appeared I would actually need to get involved if I wanted to learn some martial arts.

And, whattya know, along came a pandemic.

Since mid-March, L.J.’s karate classes have been virtual. And they have all required that he have a partner.

Enter: The Dragon Helper. (That’s me.)

Instead of hoping for osmosis, I get to assist L.J. in his lessons. Granted, I only act as his predictable foil. But in these lockdown days, at least I can help my son sharpen his skills for the near future when our world becomes a bonafide free-for-all and we have to take up defenses to protect all of our screens.

Maybe I’m not the one learning Budo Taijutsu, but I’m becoming an expert at being taken down by a 68-pounder. Not to mention, I can crack the whip on my son during the lessons. And thanks to increased focus, his techniques seem to be improving in ways that might not occur in the distracting dojo.

But that’s probably just me trying to convince myself that two remote classes are worth $45 a week.

Either way, it’s a win-win one-on-one.

Much like our other popular quarantine activity: Dad’s Backyard Anger Management Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby.

I developed this as an outlet for my pent-up quarantine rage. L.J. gets to beat on his old man, but I can’t take out my frustration on him during his martial arts lessons. So we tote a bucket of balls out back, and I try to knock him around by slamming his meatballs over our fence.

Earlier this month, we even streamed such a derby on Facebook. About 20 friends tuned in during this pathetic period where sports-starved people will watch a middle-age newspaper editor strain his oblique while violently swinging and missing a plastic ball lobbed by his kid. It might not have been a 10-part documentary on everything we already knew about Michael Jordan, but it got 124 views.

The live stream ended painfully, though: I hit a liner up the middle that drilled L.J. in the shin.

He hobbled inside but quickly shook it off after applying ice.

If my son and I have learned anything over the past few months, it’s that sometimes you need to sacrifice yourself to help others.

Joshua R. Smith is the News-Post sports editor. His column appears once a month.


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