Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching Kid's Class

Over the course of the past couple months, I have been very involved in running a children’s Aikido class. This includes teaching whenever the sensei is busy or out of town. Class sizes can vary from three to nine students ranging in age from five to thirteen.

Teaching children an art such as Aikido can be very difficult. Unlike other martial arts where the sensei can line children up and instruct them all on a strike or kick, Aikido requires partner-based training and a lot of one-on-one work with each student. I have always enjoyed teaching children, though, for the special challenge it provides. This means you not only must be flexible in your approach to teaching, but creative in your explanations. For example: teaching kotegaishi (a basic wrist bending throw) can be confusing when a younger student has never practiced a martial art before. Words like, “Grab Uke’s left hand with your right and twist toward the floor,” will be met my blank looks. Most five year olds haven’t quite gotten the hang of your right and his left. Saying, “Put both your thumbs on the back of Uke’s hand and make a butterfly (sticking fingers out straight to either side); now wrap the butterfly’s wings together around Uke’s hand,” however, can help kids picture the throw a little differently. The idea is to find a way to express the techniques, keeping in mind that your audience has an attention span of about 10 seconds.

We are very lucky in our class for the diversity of students. Several students are of the Muslim faith and, therefore, have different customs and traditions they must uphold even when in the dojo. For starters—literally—it is against the Muslim faith to bow before anyone other than God. Bowing is an integral part of dojo culture, however, as it shows both respect and humility before the sensei and other students. Even more importantly, bowing is a form of self control and discipline that is especially important to teach.
After much thought and conversations with the parents, we decided upon a compromise that would not only show respect, but also fit in with Japanese customs. When other students bow at the beginning or end of class or when stepping on and off the tatami, the Muslim students put their hands together in “Gasshou”. This is similar to a “praying hands” gesture, but does not hold religious significance within the dojo setting. It is important to understand and transmit to our students that Gasshou, as well as bowing, are symbols of respect and not religion. We maintain these traditions within the dojo because they are a part of the culture of Japan and of the martial art. To lose such symbols would be to lose a part of the art.

When I was first asked to teach the children’s class, I had a couple obvious concerns. I am blind; how will I know what the kids are actually doing? Although adults are respectful enough to pay attention and do what I tell them, children are sometimes less agreeable to instructions. But rather than worry about the possibility of children running wild, I thought about the advantages of my particular situation.
1: This was an opportunity to give the older students some responsibility. I took the student who had been training longest aside before class and explained that I could really use his help; he was a good kid and now it was up to him to help the younger students. During class, I tried to partner newer students with some of the more veteran members of similar ages. It was a chance to not only teach Aikido, but teach members to look after one another.
2: Since I can’t “see” a student as they are learning how to roll or take ukemi (fall) this was a good chance to encourage the students to verbalize and work through their ukemi step by step. In one instance, I asked a student to “teach me” how to roll. This required the student to tell me, piece by piece, how the body should be positioned. This also gave me a chance to see if any important elements of the student’s roll were missing.
3: Finally, this was a good chance to encourage other adult members of the dojo to come in and help. Sure, I’ll play that card… “I could really use the help…” but truthfully, children’s’ classes are normally avoided by adults and this was an opportunity to get some people on the tatami and training.

I was always against having children in the dojo in Japan because they were mixed in with adult classes. This is not the right environment for a child to learn Aikido and can be dangerous besides. On one occasion, a child was on the mat during an Aikido class and not paying attention to anything around him. As my partner—who was likewise oblivious to his surroundings, apparently—through me, I realized just in time that I was headed straight for the kid. I had to take a very painful fall which injured my wrist quite badly. I was not only angry at my partner, but also at the stupidity of having children mixed into an adult class with no special attention.
After teaching and helping to teach over these past two months, I’ve come to see the important difference in how a “children’s’” class is run. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids an awareness of their environment that will hopefully carry over to adulthood. It is also a chance to teach respect, responsibility, and self control. The important difference between these classes in the U.S. and those classes I attended in Japan is that these are children’s’ classes with adults who participate and not adult classes with children who participate.

*editted for correct photo*

1 comment:

  1. I applaud you for teaching children martial arts because you are truly making a difference in their lives. You are taking them away from the subtle and subliminal violence of modern cartoons and kids’ shows, and showing them how to truly be brave in the face of trouble or adversity. Martial arts is never about being a bully; it’s not about the fight. It’s about how you stand up and defend yourself should the need arise. You are instilling in these children true discipline in themselves and proper respect for others. Congratulations, and keep doing what you’re doing! Good luck!

    Hugh Motz