View Full Version : Kids' classes, especially Boys

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Amelia Smith
04-08-2006, 09:15 AM
Last week and this coming week, I am substitute teaching a kids' class run through one of the local schools. I had expected a mixed-gender group, but the students were all boys. I don't have much (any) experience with groups of young boys, never having been one myself, and I wondered if anyone here could help me with some teaching strategies. I would like for the next class to feel more like doing aikido, and less like babysitting!

There were eight boys (the regular class is 10-12, but some of them are away), with ages ranging from about 8 to 14, sized from a skinny 4'3" or so to a medium-built 5'8", with varying degrees of fitness, coordination, and seriousness. Their gym teacher came with them to help, which was good for me, because I couldn't keep track of them all, and lots of them just seemed to want to punch each other!

Class felt most orderly when we were all doing something together, rather than practicing in pairs. I tried shikko tag, which I'd heard about and thought would be fun, and seemed to be pretty popular. We also did one quick set of line throws, which I might try again. They were reasonably focused there, but pairs tended to get distracted very easily from the technique at hand.

I would like to work with some of them more on forward rolls, but that takes individual attention, and meanwhile the rest of them are likely to go bouncing off the walls and trying high karate kicks or something else that's not aikido. Help!!!


Lorien Lowe
04-08-2006, 04:51 PM
Hi Amelia-
I've been teaching a beginning kids' class for a couple of years now, and oddly enough (?) my students are all boys too. Mine are a little bit younger, so we spend a lot of time on basic coordination - type exercises and games and less on actual technique in pairs. Which doesn't help you at all.

Some things that should carry over, though: be crystal-clear with yourself exactly where the boundaries are; the kids will be testing and trying you out, and if you're not sure that'll come across. If you get too frustrated with a particular student, quietly tell them to sit out on the side of the mat rather than snapping at them over and over - it ruins the class for the rest of the students, too.

For rolling, have everyone roll at the same time: set a line or two or three, and have everyone roll along the lines in the same direction and then walk back to the front of the lines along the side of the dojo. This way you can work with one student while the rest are practicing their rolls, or watch them all and make sure that everyone is doing ok.

Be gentle with yourself - the first kids' class I taught was spectacularly awful. There's a pretty steep learning curve.


04-08-2006, 05:01 PM
Another suggestion might be to use any insight into the indoviduals and choose their partners for them. Put a serious kid with a less focused one. That may help.

Michael Hackett
04-09-2006, 12:33 AM
Our Dojo Cho teaches the kids' classes himself and handles them much as he would an adult class in many ways. Typically, after stretching and ukemi practice, Sensei pairs the students across the mat from one another. The pairings are based on size, level, and "attitude". By attitude, I mean that he usually pairs a more serious student with a less serious student in order to keep the class flowing smoothly. He calls the pairs to the center of the mat and then demonstrates a specific technique for them and then has them practice in pairs by the numbers. For example, a static katatekosadori kokyunage ura would be initially performed in three steps. After several repetitions each, he calls for free practice of that technique, four times each starting with the senior student of each pair. During the free practice, he moves around the dojo making needed corrections, as do any assistants he might have on the mat with him. Sensei will probably show two techniques, perhaps three in any given class of an hour. The next class Sensei will review the previous techniques and show another in sequence.

Every three or four weeks, he will mix things up by teaching weapons classes for the kids for a couple of classes and then back to taijutsu. Testing is done quarterly and the kids have a "half-kyu" system of promotion, usually having to demonstrate ten to twelve techniques from the same attack sequence.

Stretching is lead by Sensei and the assistant (s) do not stretch, but move around the mat coaching the kids. We normally run three lines of students from one end of the dojo to the other for ukemi, with three students rolling at a time and lining up at the other end to return. This gives focused attention to each student as he or she rolls and makes it easier to prevent skylarking.

Most of our kids are boys and our minimum age is ten. Our oldest current young student is fourteen and ready to move to open classes soon. There is a lot of emphasis on dojo ettiquette and the kids respond really well to formalities expected. We seldom play games, but now and again we might have shikko tag, bulldog, or even a few minutes of sumo at the end of class. He keeps them so busy that they don't have much chance of getting too far afield.

Trying to do a kids' class by yourself can certainly be like herding cats, though. This works pretty well for us; maybe there's something here that can help you. Best wishes!

Lorien Lowe
04-09-2006, 10:09 AM
lots of adult assistants is a *big* help, even if they're not ranked or even trained in aikido. Sometimes a parent will want to put on a gi and train in class, and it's been a good thing so far when it happens (the parent has to train with all the kids, not just their own - and, in the current case, the son is learning by showing his dad how to do the techniques). I could see where that could be a problem with some parents, though, and I just hope that I don't have to stop allowing it because of some over-controlling adult.


04-09-2006, 01:38 PM
I have no experience with teaching but i would say half of them will be gone in a short amount of time because most kids won't take martial arts that seriously, at which point your job will be easier.

04-09-2006, 05:17 PM
I have no experience with teaching but i would say half of them will be gone in a short amount of time because most kids won't take martial arts that seriously, at which point your job will be easier.

And most adults don't? 50% retention is actually really good!

I've found that we tend to retain the kids more until after their first test where they parents at least have them stay until they get their yellow belt and then they move them on to something else. Then those who stay until their second test seem to stick with it.

But regarding crowd control, I've noticed the same thing and it can be the same with girls in the class as well. It takes one or two to get out of line then they all get out of line. Watch out for holidays like Halloween where they'll be running on sugar highs a lot. In these times, it's just best to revert to group exercises. One thing I've found that the kids love is what I call "Sensei says." It's a great way to drill them on things like footwork (irimi, tenkan, tenshin) rolls, shikko, ikkyo exercise, etc while keep some semblance of an order. I usually don't go down to one but the remaining 4-5 who seem to do the best. I usually say something like, "oh you beat sensei." And then I do another round or two. And it's more fun to them that just pure drilling them.

Another fun thing I do is have them do rolls over a jo. You can have one of the kids help (especially if this exercise really scares them). You start with the jo on the ground and keep raising it higher. A few will want to go really high and some will just want to keep it low. It's a good way to teach rolls for height and distance. (This is my fall back method when they all get really out of hand and I'm all by myself.)

Lines like you have done works too and so do group exercises.

But like others have said you need at least two other helpers on the mat if you want to break them up into pairs.

Steve Mullen
04-09-2006, 06:09 PM
My advice FWIW would be to do some quite intense fitness for the first 1/2 of the class, the idea being you get the little buggers so knackered they have no energy to act up. :)

Amelia Smith
04-10-2006, 06:53 AM
Thanks everyone for your suggestions! I especially like Steve's idea of running them ragged for the first half of class.

Paige: The class is through the local charter school, so they're all locked into it for the remainder of the school year. I'm only teaching for these two weeks, though.

The kids seem to have regular pairs, based on size, but I don't like that idea so much. Sure, for some techniques it's good to be with someone close to your own size, but I won't be teaching them koshinage!!!

Anne Marie: I'm definitely going to spend more of the next class working on rolls. Rolls over a jo might be just the thing. I can get the other adult to hold it, maybe.

Thanks again everyone! Keep 'em coming!


04-10-2006, 08:16 AM
When I unexpectedly found myself solo-teaching our kids class, I decided that having them be a little bit scared concentrated their attention wonderfully. One game is "whack-a-mole": you have them stand in a line or circle, and rapidly them over backwards. They need to take good ukemi and get up again quickly. Teaching a throw whose ukemi is a bit stretchy for them has the same effect. Of course, it is hard as a substitute teacher to do scary stuff....

You'll want to change activities fairly often, and have a couple of group drills on tap for when attention falters. We have them line up at one edge of the mat facing forward, and then imitate a leader who is moving side to side with different footwork--grapevine step, shuffle-slide, hopping, jumping, etc.

Do you have any more senior kids? You can sometimes appeal to them to help focus the group. A large group all the same rank is more difficult.

Having someone around who can take ukemi from dramatic throws helps motivate the kids to improve their ukemi, and the vicarious fear factor doesn't hurt either. (This is my usual role in our kids' classes, and I confess, I love getting tossed around and hearing the kids go "oooh".)

Mary Kaye

04-10-2006, 07:30 PM
There are some survival tools you will need in this environment. First would be Positive Discipline (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345402510/sr=8-1/qid=1144714652/ref=pd_bbs_1/103-0387594-7301416?%5Fencoding=UTF8) . With kids you will be spending some of your time imposing discipline. Doing so in an effecient manner which doesn't disrupt your class makes a huge difference.

The other is a clear lesson plan. This doesn't have to be micrometrically defined, but you should set some goals for what you want to accomplish during the class and have an idea how long you will spend on each activity.

As for games, use them sparingly. Focus is lost in any game, even the good ones.

Line techniques are a Good Idea. Adult assistants are a Good Idea. Running them ragged works sometimes, but may backfire.

YMMV, but I find a few affirmations to be useful:

Q: What's the first rule of Aikido?
A: Focus!!!
Q: What's the second rule of Aikido?
A: Focus!!!
Q: What's the third rule of Aikido?
A: Focus!!!

Get 'em to answer "Focus!!!" every time in very loud voices. Them make them show you what focus looks like. They can do it, they just need to be motivated.

Be rigid about etiquette.

These are all things that have worked for me in five or so years of teaching kids. I learned 'em from a guy who's been teaching kids for more than twenty years. It won't "just work", but it will help you find your stride.

Lyle Bogin
04-10-2006, 11:01 PM
Try to embrace their chaotic state and guide them towards techniques.

Boys love to wrestle and play like puppies.

I like to get to know kids a bit, and find what they are interested in. I don't feel limited to teaching aikido techniques. The principals of the martial arts can be expressed through any form.

Jumping over objects style contests is a nice break for a teacher.

I like to slowly build the intensity up to a point where I actually ask them to focus.

Remember, as long as noone is getting hurt, there's no reason to be upset. If all they want to do is run around and kick eachother, teach them how to do it well. Then they will follow you into your vision for their training.

Jorge Garcia
04-11-2006, 08:24 AM
I always find it interesting that when someone asks about teaching kids, there is such a wide range of advice. I find it humorous when people start giving esoteric advice based on principles. I think that in this kind of a question, it would help to know how long the posters have taught kids. Some never have but are offering what they think.

I will also acknowlege there are indeed some very talented individuals that can make good things happen with kids that are able to make Aikido principles live on the mat. There are also some that can do a lot with the games and their kids have a great time.

The problem is that there are so many variables. How large is the class? Do you have 3 or 30? Are they well behaved kids form a middle class community or are they inner city kids that come form tough neighborhoods?

I am a school teacher by trade and have taught grades K - 8 since 1987. I have been teaching Aikido to kids since 1995. The small classes are easy to handle but the time passes slowly for the instructor. The large classes require a lot of skill and the plan is very different.
I am not a game player for a number of reasons.
1) People put their kids in martial arts to learn martial arts. That is the expectation of most parents.
2) Kids are game players by nature. In school, they will play games all day long if you let them but it's not until you get them down to work that they also get serious about learning.
3) Kids focus isn't as good as the adults and games make them wilder and less focused.

We try to teach Aikido to the kids and I found out that they enjoy Aikido as much, if not more than the games. In our classes , the beginners do 4 techniques every class and the advanced do 8 techniques. After doing their own techniques,those at the level above join the lower level group and become the "teachers" and help their classmates. At the end of class, we do a modified version of randori that we call freestyle and the kids love it. It is like a game to them but they are learning the most important principle of real Aikido-keep moving.Kids love the challenge of learning the techniques for the next level and they love the responsibility of helping others. Once they reach orange belt, we let them buy weapons and they start doing basic techniques with the bokken and jo. They love that also. I found out that there enough real Aikido out there that they love, that can fill up the hours, so as not to do any games at all. I have taught hundreds of kids in the last two years and have been surprised and deeply rewarded at what they have accomplished.I tell my kids every day, "You can play all day, you can play at home. Why would you pay to come here and have someone play with you? Lets do some Aikido"...and they do!
Best wishes,

Mark Uttech
04-11-2006, 10:29 PM
Amelia, try suwari waza when you feel you need to get a handle on the energy. Basic aikido really does work the best, better than games. In gassho,

Melissa Fischer
04-13-2006, 12:53 AM
Wow, so much advice and lots of it conflicting! Fortunately there are many right ways to teach Aikido. How to know what's working? Watch the kids; are they getting a good work out physically? Are they enthralled with the material? Watch their eyes, are they on you? And watch yourself; are you relaxed? Are you enthralled with your own material? Are you training? Seems to me the answers should be yes at least some of the time. Otherwise, search for a way to get there.

Amelia, 2 weeks of classes is perfect for getting your feet wet. Good luck and have fun!


ps My Sensei, Bruce Bookman, has a video out on teaching kids Aikido.


04-13-2006, 01:07 AM
With two weeks only to get the job done, I'd have to say your best bet is going to be to try and invest in some assistant instructors. Bump the adult to child ratio up as high as you can get it. That is going to be the smallest investment with the biggest return within this kind of setup. Anything else has a very big potential to backfire and/or to not come into fruition until your two weeks are nearly done or actually over. This is not to say that folks have not given good advice - they have. I just think the two week time limit, in light of the program you are trying to do, makes the advice of more assistant instructors the sole practical one.

So you know where I'm coming from - you can check out our website. We do a lot of different things than what folks have mentioned here, but we also have a very different setup - which allows us to do those things quite easily.



Amelia Smith
04-13-2006, 07:43 AM
Well, I had the second class yesterday afternoon. The three bigger (not sure how much older, just bigger) kids weren't there for some reason, so I only had five. The five younger/smaller boys were all quite managable. I think it helped that they were all at closer to the same level, at least in terms of age. Also, I work with the mother of one of the "livelier" boys, and mentioned to her that I'd met him. She put the fear of Mom into him, and he was very funny. He would start going off in all directions, then suddenly remember himself and tell the other kids to shape up and behave and be respectful. It was very cute.

Anyhow, we did a lot of rolls, and some swariwaza ikkyo. I think some of them actually improved their rolls a bit. They liked just rolling back and forth a lot. Because there were only five of them, I could get around to work with each of them on all the techniques, which made me feel like we were really doing aikido. My adult assistant (the director of the school phys ed program) decided that I could handle them, and spent the class making phone calls. So it worked out OK.

I was thinking it might be interesting to do some sort of summer program, but we'll see about that.

Thanks, everyone!

Jorge Garcia
04-13-2006, 07:46 AM
Good job!

Best wishes,

Jorge Garcia
04-13-2006, 07:56 AM
A second thought. When you first go out there, all you see is the problem. Then you look at it and try to figure it out in it's own context. Through a little intense focus, things work themselves out if we are really trying to address the issues. Humans have been figuring out how to handle things for a long time. If we persevere, we can overcome. My first day at the Clay Road YMCA, I had 52 people on the mat and 30 guys playing with 15 basketballs on the other side of a screen in half the gymnasium. It was deafening. No one could hear my instructions. I had all new people with only one helper. It was chaos. I felt terrible when it was over. That was two years ago. Today, I can't describe to you how great things have worked out. I think our capacity to succeed at difficult challenges is underestimated. Again, glad things went well.