View Full Version : After the first class

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08-23-2009, 10:04 AM
I'd like to start a discussion about what thoughts you'd like to leave a new student with after his/her first class. I'm not so much looking for useful tips like "You'll be sore tomorrow" and "Make sure you're well hydrated before class" -- that stuff is pretty obvious. I'm looking more for what you say to someone who didn't have the experience they thought they would have in their first class -- but who might find something worthwhile if they stuck to it.

By way of background, sometimes we get new students who come to one class and then never come back. Clearly, it's not what they thought it would be, and they didn't like it. Sometimes you can't do anything about this: if a student has a martial-arts-movie fantasy of what martial arts training will be like, the reality is going to disappoint. More often, though, I think people have more modest hopes of coming out of their first class with a new skill, even just a simple one. Instead, they find themselves with the beginnings of a building bock that will lead to a skill, and many lack the experience or perspective to see it that way. They didn't get what they'd hoped for, and so they don't come back.

But while their first class may not be what they'd hoped it would be, it also isn't representative of what their training experience will be like in a month or a year. What would you want to give such a student as a takeaway, to encourage them to keep at it?

David Maidment
08-23-2009, 11:06 AM
If they had watched too many movies, I'd probably tell them that their first experience was likely the same as that of Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, etc. Try to put it into perspective for them; that the 'greats' started out the same way with the same approach, and that the grandiose flash comes in time.

However... there are also some beginners who very clearly just want to learn how to hurt people. Sometimes no one nor words can convert them to the right path. To them I would say nothing, so that they don't come back. I realise that's completely the wrong attitude...

08-23-2009, 12:07 PM
Hi Mary,

I think the first day for any new student should be a good representation of what they should continue to train, no matter how many years they put into it.


tim evans
08-23-2009, 01:10 PM
Being a new student myself looking back on the first class I would say patience, the techniques will come also don,t write checks your body can,t cash take it slowww

Dan Rubin
08-23-2009, 01:54 PM

Some beginners are looking for what your dojo has to offer, but after one class mistakenly think it does not. Others are looking for something that your dojo does not offer, but might be attracted to something there that they had not been looking for.

Either way, beginners join dojos for many reasons that have little to do with aikido. as I'm sure you know. Few beginners continue in any martial art for more than six months, and few of those stay with it for more than a year. And that's no matter what the school does to retain them.

In fact, I think that many beginning students have no interest in staying, they just saw something about aikido and decided to take one or two classes out of mere curiosity.

I think that the best you can do, at the end of the student's first class, is to explain to him/her what he got out of that class (he may not know), and what he can expect to get out of the next few classes, and then encourage him to ask questions he might have about those first few classes and about his expectations.

Ari Gower
08-23-2009, 04:36 PM
I came into aikido knowing that I wanted to learn a new martial art. What sold me on aikido was the relaxed atmosphere, the welcoming people, and the way it engages both mind and body.

My inspiration to keep training is the beauty and martial effectiveness of the yudanshas' technique. One day, (after a long, long time) I will be that balanced and graceful, if I keep it up.

So... I guess I'd point to one of the yudansha and say, "If you keep at it, that's what you'll become. How bad do you want it?"

Desire to succeed is essential. :)

08-23-2009, 04:58 PM
What would you want to give such a student as a takeaway, to encourage them to keep at it?
I think I would have underscored to such a student that s/he is most welcome at the dojo, and that, just in case s/he ended up feeling that way by the end of the class, s/he wasn't holding the class back but, on the contrary, was an integral part of it. Most importantly though, I would have asked if s/he felt good (sore or not): if s/he didn't, I would have asked why, and what in his/her opinion we (the instructor, the dojo) could have done differently to change that. If s/he did, I would have said something to the effect of "that's why I keep coming back here, hope you do too" :-)
Sorry Mary, probably not what you're looking for, but I just happened to be thinking about this very thing the other day, and this is the best I was able to come up with thus far :-)

08-23-2009, 07:54 PM
The dojo I belong to has a monthly introductory class that really is great for walking beginners through everything from the history of Aikido, what bowing in is and means and what a class is like including a little bit of technique. I honestly think attending that class was a major reason I kept going after.

I really could not verbalize why I decided to try Aikido. Certainly not to learn to kick somone's but or to learn to fight. But when the class was over, Sensei Tara stopped and talked to me and one thing she said was along the lines that some people think they are pacifists but they really are not. And when the time comes that that person decides to strike back it would be a very good thing if they had been trained in how to handle that.

It hit home with me because one thing I always kept well buried and locked down was the drive to strike back at those who have attacked me. She was not the first person to point it out to me that the potential was there and I'd better get it trained. But she did it in such a way that I felt like she and Garth could help me with what it was I was looking for in Aikido even though I really could not put into words what that was.

And so far they have helped tremendously. Its becoming very noticeable to people around me at work and elsewhere that Aikido is having a very positive effect on me.

I think that something that as teachers it would be good to do and that is try to see the inner person who is coming to you. Maybe you have to help them to know just why it is they are coming to the dojo and over time they will find their reason to stay.

Mark Gibbons
08-23-2009, 08:23 PM
I like to ask beginners how things went. They have usually had more material tossed at them than they can digest, nothing I can add is really going to help. Sometimes new students like people to listen to them.


08-23-2009, 09:28 PM
Beginners should definitely get one on one instruction for at least a month or so. My dojo has people that specifically are there to teach beginners, mostly because they are over 70. We are really lucky to have them, and I think it has made a difference in new people continuing. I always tell them that learning ukemi takes a while, and you just have to keep at it. also, I tell them that we go easy on beginners when it comes to nikyo and what not. If they think that someone is going to do nikyo on them like sensei does at the front, the feel pretty overwhelmed.In general talking to them in the training room is important too, it makes them feel welcome and not so isolated. The OP seems to worry about the image of aikido a lot (what is aikido anyway), but really I find people find it difficult to get into the flow of a new place and all that. not everyone of course, there are a lot of reasons to not continue.

Darryl Cowens
08-23-2009, 11:11 PM
I'd say to not only keep in mind it will take a few sessions to probably know if it is right for you, but that looking at more than one club is probably a good idea..

Linda Eskin
08-24-2009, 12:15 AM
I'd take it one step backward, and instead of talking to them after class, spend some initial time setting expectations. I had a pretty good clue, coming in, of what classes might be like, and what Aikido is about. Even so, all new students do a one-on-one interview with Sensei. I forget exactly what we went over, but if I remember correctly it included talking about my expectations, and I think I promised, if I were to stop coming to classes, to call and talk to Sensei about it. That seems like a good approach to helping people walk in the door with some perspective, and a sense of commitment.

08-24-2009, 06:37 AM
What would you want to give such a student as a takeaway, to encourage them to keep at it?

I don't think you could say anything or tell them something about Aikido that would help.
You have to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Meeting a lot of new people at one time can be intimidating.
I think a good idea would be to assign a senior student ( someone with good people skills ) to practice with, talk to and be able to answer their questions so that they feel welcomed.


Maarten De Queecker
08-24-2009, 08:22 AM
I'd say to not only keep in mind it will take a few sessions to probably know if it is right for you, but that looking at more than one club is probably a good idea..
Exactly. The problem is most dojos only give one or two free lessons, which is not enough. I know of one dojo that allows you to train your first month for free, which is already a lot better for people who are still not sure whether they'll continue or not.

08-24-2009, 10:17 AM
Our Sensei trys to get people to at least stay for a month or two to figure out if it is for them or not since there is such a steep learning curve. He offers a cheaper price for the two months as well for them to see if they like it. Seems to work at our dojo. Most of our prospective students watch one or two classes before they even join in for their free class. They are encouraged to talk to students and students are encouraged to talk to the prospective students as well.

08-24-2009, 01:18 PM
After my first class I hated my life and never wanted to come back... I guess not telling visitors that story would be my first step in them having a great first class.

K. Abrams
08-24-2009, 01:18 PM
My first thing that I have said to new students after their first day, is "Don't expect things to make a lot of sense right away, and don't think there is something wrong with you if you feel confused, clumsy, slow, and like a fish out of water. It's perfectly normal and expected."

Then I explain briefly that it takes the mind and body, which are one, a while to make sense out of a totally new experience. But, wiring happens in time."

It's more difficult with adults because they are so much more self-conscious than little children. Little kids before they hit the socially conscious stage are a blast to teach because nothing embarrasses them. They fall on their little butts without so much as a blink. They get into strange positions and try new things without being afraid that they wont' do it perfectly. They just DO it. When I was an assistant instructing in classes, I used to tell the adults to try to find their child-mind again and just enjoy the experience of jumping headfirst into a new medium. Sometimes it worked, sometimes they were just too uptight to relax. But even the latter would ease up on themselves a little when they saw that no one was laughing at them.

08-25-2009, 05:11 PM
As a new member of this Dojo, who is dreaming of 7th Kyu, the words I heard that made me stick with it was that I was starting on a journey, and every time I get up, I will learn something. I was advised not to see short term goals, or to see the black belt as the goal, the goal was the journey. It might not work on a 17 year old kid wanting to kick some butt. But for a person trying to find their place, it was sage advice.

08-25-2009, 07:41 PM
Thanks for all the ideas, y'all. I particularly liked what Dan Rubin had to say:

Some beginners are looking for what your dojo has to offer, but after one class mistakenly think it does not. Others are looking for something that your dojo does not offer, but might be attracted to something there that they had not been looking for.

My gut feeling is that one or the other of these is pretty common, simply because it's so hard for someone to get any realistic sense of what it's like until they've experienced it. Then there are the comments from Brandon, Kreyna, Maggie, Ashley and others, which (to me) all boil down to one thing: if a new student comes back after the first class, it's because you've planted the seed of the idea of gradual progress (the "journey") rather than instant results. The idea doesn't take all at once, because there's so much cultural stuff in the way (thin thighs in thirty days!), but I believe it has an inherent attraction to people -- I think that deep down, we all know that this is the only way you accomplish anything worthwhile. At the same time people become open to accepting the possibility of doing things this way, I think they can also become open to seeing value where they couldn't see it (or weren't looking for it) previously.

In the end, I guess all you can really do is reassure a new student about feelings of confusion or being overwhelmed, encourage patience, and welcome them to continue training.

Darryl Cowens
08-25-2009, 08:20 PM
if a new student comes back after the first class, it's because you've planted the seed of the idea of gradual progress (the "journey") rather than instant results.

In the end, I guess all you can really do is reassure a new student about feelings of confusion or being overwhelmed, encourage patience, and welcome them to continue training.

Indeed.. at my age and stage of life, I didn't walk into this with any romantic ideas about becoming the next Steven Seagal, walking the dark streets and defending the weak, or even relying on unlocking any great self defense skills... I've managed to avoid confrontation, and walked away from what was difficult to avoid my whole life so far, so I don't see that changing.

Likewise, I have no great daydreams of walking around with a blackbelt either, counting down the days until I get to wear a hakama... I've watched some pretty skilled kyu ranked practicioners, and if I can manage to emulate some of what they can manage and know I'll be more than happy with my progress.

What is more important to me is that the whole art intrigues me and fascinates me... and just to be able to participate in it, and get out with other people doing something new, has unlocked an enthusiasm I haven't felt for a long time.

Kevin Karr
08-25-2009, 10:45 PM
I'm not quite sure why an Aikido school would be overly concerned with whether or not a newcomer returns after their first visit. If they don't return, they didn't want whatever it is they saw or experienced. Is it up to the Sensei to try to explain Aikido and the attractive aspects of it so that a newcomer will understand? That is impossible to do, anyway, because the subject is much too complex. People will see what they want and make their own decisions, we shouldn't need to "convince" or "persuade" them to return. That (the newcomer's lack of understanding or interest) is not the problem of the school or the Sensei, it is the newcomer's problem. The training for the rest of the students who see something valuable in Aikido will continue the same regardless of whether or not this newcomer returns. If they do return, of course they are welcome, otherwise...have a nice day!

It is up to the newcomer to do research and figure out if Aikido is the martial art they want to pursue. They need to watch more than one class. They need to ask themselves if they are prepared to make the commitment. They need to take it upon themselves to speak to a senior student or Sensei (if he/she is available), but most senior students and/or Sensei ask if the newcomer has any questions. In this event, they (the sempai or Sensei) should do their best to truthfully answer their questions. They may give answers that the newcomer won't like, but that is not the Sensei's problem.

The only responsibilities that lay (lie?) in the hands of the school or Sensei is for the students to train hard and for the Sensei to maintain a high standard. They shouldn't need to make sure newcomers were happy with their first training session or with Aikido. The newcomer has to make these decisions for themselves. That is their responsibility as an adult pursuing the path of classical Budo.

If the need to "persuade" a student to return is a matter of $$$, then that is a different path altogether and one's priorities need to be reviewed. Unfortunately, Budo is not a money-maker, it is a long, hard, and lonely journey that only has benefits if one wants to see them.

p.s. - Sorry if this rant sounded too "hard-liner" and preachy, it is only my opinion. It also may not be the answer you wanted...

(p.p.s. - Thin thighs in 30 days? That is definitely not Aikido. However, you *can* promise thick, muscle-y thighs, wrists, and forearms if they train a lot. Tres sexy!)

08-26-2009, 06:58 AM
first time i tried aikido class, many many moons ago, i thought all these peaceful resolution and blending stuffs were crap-bola. i had lots of aggression and fights in me (still do) so i left and did other fighting stuffs. many moons later, i ran across a newspaper advertising note on aikido, went and checked out the aikido dojo and been there ever since. maybe it was the skirt that attracted me which i kept having the urge to shave my legs (just the urge mind you, very light urge, tiny actually, hardly significant, mostly nothing really, you don't even notice it!). :D
i think we should hung the sign on most aikido dojos "passive aggressive club". methink, we might attract more folks that way. :p

08-26-2009, 10:41 AM
My dojo has newbies observe a class first so they get a good idea of what's involved. We also tell newbies that it is a gradual process, you learn it bit by bit, and that everyone learns aikido differently, and you can't measure your progress by comparing yourself to somebody else.

Even so, as a "former newbie" I try to encourage newbies by giving them specific anecdotes about where I was when I first started, or I point out positive changes in their technique (like my husband is now a lot more dynamic in ukemi on the mat, uses his hips more, and bends his knees more in technique, for example).

Sensei asks people to give it a month or two of consistent practice before they make a decision one way or another. Then, you have them think back to when they started, and where they are now, and they are able to better see the progress they are making.

When I was a newbie, I had already seen a class, and knew it was going to kick my butt pretty badly. I made the internal committment to train, at least twice a week, as regularly as I could manage, even if I didn't feel like it or was having a bad day.

Nevertheless, a bit of praise or positive feedback from an instructor is still really nice to recieve every once in a while. I don't expect it often, and it certainly does play to ego (which is not necessarily a good thing). But I think it goes a long way towards helping newbies feel more comfortable, especially ones that are on the fence about aikido in the first place.

08-26-2009, 10:57 AM
Glad you found what you were looking for (or at least somewhat). :)