Kids Aikido: Class Structure Age 4-14
Kids Aikido Classes
Voted #4 in 7/2016 Westchester Family Magazine contest for all of Westchester.
The purpose of training in Aikido is to learn a compassionate response to violent behavior leading to a genuine sense of internal peace. The application is as valid in daily life as in an altercation. The principles are taught through physical technique and discussion.
Aikido for Self Defense
Self-defense for children differs for adults in that the attacker, normally a child, is not as dangerous and can be more easily discouraged. Also the child defending does not have the same self-control and discipline as an adult. Aikido is particularly good for this situation in that it starts teaching how to control the attacker rather than harm them. Through exercise and evasive movements, children learn how to center and use their body more effectively. Both evasion and an ability to push solidly is often all that is needed to discourage an attack from another child. Executing complex techniques is often not necessary. Also, the child learns how to fall safely, which is helpful in play and sports as well.
Aikido for Fitness
The modern school district is often resource constrained and focused on intellectual education. Physical education can be insufficient. Also, children play more through video games than sports or other exercise. Our program begins with 15 minutes of solid exercise – 5 minutes of running, bear crawls, frog jump, and ends with didactically designed games that are active. The exercise is playful. Also, before or after some of our classes, children have time to play with each other. A padded mat and foam balls often contribute to a physically active form of play. In this way, children learn to connect with and use their body more effectively, and socialize exercise as well.
Aikido for Discipline
The practice itself brings together a broad array of benefits in this area. First, the school system tends to focus on intellectual training to the exclusion of a specific focus on building positive character. Aikido teaches compassion at a fundamental level – compassion for someone trying to harm you physically – and how compassion makes self-defense more effective. While the overall tenor of the class does use their natural energy of play to encourage learning, children are required to work on the material and focus to the extent of their ability. Their capacity in this arena grows with challenge. When children behave improperly, they are disciplined firmly, but with compassion and an explanation of the need involved, reducing the negative emotions typical of this experience. They develop more confidence in their physical abilities, which translates into greater confidence overall. As a partner practice, Aikido encourages positive social development. Lastly, we have specific training methods for special needs issues such as ADHD, Autism, sensory integration, etc. These benefits can lead to improvements in school work and teaching children how to balance their life as they grow older.
Class begins with 15 minutes of exercise, continues with learning in techniques and skills, and often ends with active games that teach principles and skills needed for the practice.
The training method of Aikido differs from Karate & Judo, and so the class structure is different as well. Aikido is an open architecture system that is a 100% non-competitive partner practice. The objective is to keep the interest of the student and engage them when working with a partner. We have discussed our approach with top notch Asian martial arts masters over the years and all seem to agree.1 They explained that children learn best by being relaxed and natural in a playful environment. In that setting they take an interest and you can go in to teach them the important lessons. So rather than shut off the child’s natural energy, we use it didactically.
Study takes place on 3 levels: first hearing instruction, then contemplating if/how it is correct and then realization through meditation. Children focus mainly on hearing and contemplation. As such, real learning will not occur through a rigid format with an artificial “discipline” because it turns off the child’s investigative inquiry. You cannot learn to build a car blandly just from watching a video. You need to get your hands dirty, try, practice and investigate. In Judo the child’s interest in experimentation develops through competition, but the philosophy of Aikido precludes competition. So we capture the children’s energy through a more playful process to bring out the investigation. So instruction is process oriented similar to experimenting in an auto factory rather than focus on content in a dry, artificially disciplined manner.
1"I have often asked myself, 'How can a person in my position - a fully "made-in-Japan" martial arts instructor who lives and teaches in the United States - provide the best possible method for teaching a traditional Japanese martial art to American children?' I have tried to look at the situation from both a traditional Japanese perspective and a contemporary American perspective..." (page 2 - 3)
In many years of teaching Aikido for children, I have seen hundreds of children. Regardless of their ages and backgrounds, I have found that once they enter the dojo and participating in class, they all become - children. Children who run around the space, who jump all over, roll around, who get praised, who get scolded, who occasionally get into scuffles with other children, who make up, and again start running around. These children are at play. This play is a true learning place for them because they learn best when engaging in their natural behaviors
Using photos and illustrations it is possible to define what sorts of techniques and skills are used in Aikido. But the real value of Aikido training, I believe, is that it teaches students to deal with the kinds of situations they face in everyday lives... (Page 7)
Children and the Martial Arts
An Aikido Point of view by Gaku Homma
Note - While Steve Kanney never took classes with Gaku Homma or discussed this matter with him, he witnessed his practice on three occassions when Homma Sensei sponsored seminars for his teacher, Morihiro Saito, in Denver in 1995-7. Homma Sensei is a skillful teacher and his analysis here is consistent with instruction Steve Kanney received from other Japanese Aikido masters.