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Randy Sexton
07-03-2010, 10:45 AM
My wife would like to do Aikido training but has problems with her knees with kneeling. She walks daily without any problems but doing training in seiza positions for her is out of the question. I find in general some intolerance for those who can not do some of the kneeling training we can do and wonder how I can get her into Aikido without making her feel limited and second rate.
I have some older friends who would truly enjoy Aikido but physically can not do a lot of the kneeling and rolling we can do.
Getting Shodan requires a lot of those techniques and when people are limited how can I help them to consider Aikido as a valuable art and how do I assist them to train. How are you dealing with this?

aka Randy Sexton:)

Lyle Laizure
07-03-2010, 11:01 AM
Everyone has some limitation, you just may not be able to see them. Most times it is a matter of practice. For someone to take the time to walk them through what they need to do, rolling etc.

With regard to knees. I have had my share of troubles with knees. I spend as litte time as possible in suwari. This doesn't mean I can't do Aikido or that my Aikido is inferior to anyone else's Aikido.

IMO if someone wantes to train they should train so long as it is with sincerity.

07-03-2010, 11:58 AM
Many people train with such limitations. What does your instructor think about this? Most I have seen simply let the student monitor his/her own participation, and abstain from doing anything they aren't comfortable with. And perhaps, if classes are organized so that content is known beforehand, your wife can simply and strategically skip those that might be difficult for her.

That said, for some people, it might be inadvisable to undertake the training, but it would be a shame for her not to if there's a way she can safely pull it off. Be sure to seek her doctor's advice, also.

Janet Rosen
07-03-2010, 02:20 PM
Randy, I'd be happy to go to pm/email w/ you and/or your wife.

Since my knee blowout/surgery/rehab/onset of disabling knee arthritis I have been VERY protective of it. Having said that.... yes, not every dojo is fully welcoming. There are places I won't train anymore.

My limits include:
I cannot go into seiza AT ALL, not even to bow in. I bow in and out from cross legged. I do kokyu dosa from cross legged. I do not do shikko or suwariwaza (although I"m happy to take ukemi for hamni handachi techniques). I do not do back rolls. I cannot roll back and come straight back up - I have to get up in a circular movement and using my arms. All my forward rolls on one side end in a breakfall roll out to avoid landing on the knee; every now and then I have no choice but am able to use my foot and hands to avoid landing on the knee. I sit out when they are doing weapons kata very fast since I can't pivot quickly.

Things not done where I train now, that I would avoid if visiting dojos, would include anything that could twist or torque the knee - I'm thinking aiki otoshi, or some of the Kanai Sensei style throws that torque across the center.

It is true that coming in as a beginner with limitations makes it a little more of a challenge for the instructor then when somebody like me comes in already having made the adaptions to technique previously learned. But it shouldn't be impossible - just a matter of dojo culture.

Mark Gibbons
07-03-2010, 11:03 PM
Even in the most accepting of dojo cultures a person does have to decide if they can get enough out of training and contribute enough to others training for the time to be worth it. Those things tend to be different for everyone.

Do folks have to get to Shodan for aikido to be worth doing?


07-04-2010, 05:40 AM
Abilities and participation is a continuum.

For four years we have been conducting no-fall classes for Senior Citizens. This month the first students will be testing for their senior blackbelts!

07-04-2010, 11:51 AM
I've seen a lot of people with knee issues bow in and out standing, or sitting. That's not an issue.
If you train hard and stick with it don't worry about the promotions.
At times, people with physical limitations are promoted on recommendation. The teacher knows the person has the knowledge and skills, but a physical limitation keeps them from performing aspects of a test.

Mark Uttech
07-04-2010, 02:18 PM
Onegaishimasu. I have trained with people who have all manner of disabilities. I purposely seek them out as training partners so that I can study further. I also watch how senior instructors handle disabled students. Having a generous and wide mind teaches you things you can't learn otherwise. Mary Heiny sensei encourages using the word : "encouragement".

In gassho,


Randy Sexton
07-05-2010, 09:39 AM
Thank you all for the kind comments and suggestions.
The question in regard to the Black Belt you mentioned testing for their "Senior Black Belt" is that a true distinction between that and a ":real Black Belt" and if there is a distinction; is that something that OSensei would have approved of?
I remember the story of an old retired Japanese businessman who came to OSensei and talked to him about his sadness of never having trained as he wanted to but had been too busy with his family and business and OSensei took him out on the floor and told him :"Today we are both beginners" and began to teach him and awarded him his Black Belt one year later.
Two things strike me here: 1. that OSensei did not limit him 2. his award of the Black Belt was not a "Senior Black Belt" which brings to question do we make far more of it than OSensei ever intended us to?
I think the idea of "Senior Black Belt" is good but perhaps totally unnecessary in the view of OSensei.

The question of my wife learning and our older friends learning has made me consider talking to my Sensei about possibly starting a Senior program with safe guidelines to offer Aikido to everyone . I will be testing for Nikyu this month. I probably should wait till finishing my Black Belt before approaching him with the idea or should I plant the seed?

Any suggestions? Comments?
Doc Randy

Ed Keith
07-05-2010, 02:36 PM
Many years ago there was another student in the dojo where I was training who had no arms. I learned a LOT working with him.

More recently I had a student who was a paraquad, no use of her legs and limited use of her arms.

I firmly believe every one should be able to train, and will make what ever adaptation is necessary.

That said. If you can stand you can fall, and if you can fall you must learn to do so safely. falling safely is the single most important skill to learn in aikido. I even worked with the parquad falling out of her chair or the chair falling over. Figuring out safe ways for a disabled person to fall can be a real challenge, but it is necessary to find a way to do it.

I have found in most cases bad knees are not so much a problem falling down as standing back up, so get up using your hands. It may not be graceful, but it is safe, and safety is what is important.

Janet Rosen
07-05-2010, 03:36 PM
That said. If you can stand you can fall, and if you can fall you must learn to do so safely. falling safely is the single most important skill to learn in aikido..I have found in most cases bad knees are not so much a problem falling down as standing back up, so get up using your hands. It may not be graceful, but it is safe, and safety is what is important.

This is my experience also - and Randy, I actually think that the most important skill seniors can learn from aikido is HOW to fall safely, not how to do aikido w/o falling.

As a nurse working exclusively w/ a population >65 and living in their homes/apts, I see firsthand how loss of flexibility and quad strength contributes to falling - which often leads to death due to pneumonia, head injury, etc.

But I also see countless hours and $ spent on "falls prevention" but the bottom line is you cannot prevent falls, only minimize the risk. I was talking with local folks (social director at sr. housing + my Sensei) about a program focusing on those of us not YET so old and frail - the middle aged out of shape - and slowly teaching them to once again be comfortable with being on the ground and eventually falling. I had to put it on hold due to family issues unexpectedly taking up a huge chunk o' time (my own octegenarian mom moving to my town) but plan to revisit this when there is time in the schedule.

My two cents from the geriatric front lines.

07-05-2010, 04:01 PM
I think you should find a dojo willing to accomodate your wife. I know my dojo (and several others) who are more then willing to take injuries into consideration. My sensei in fact can't do much from suwariwaza and my husband can't some days. She may find over time (not sure of her injury) that she may in fact gain more mobility in her knees. Who knows! As far as her being "second rate", a good dojo won't make her feel that way. Heck, I like working with my husband sometimes just to get out of doing seiza (especially when we've been doing it most of the class). :D

In fact, my sensei likes to tell a story about a gentlemen who trained in our dojo until he was about 93 I believe. He started in his late 70's! Obviously, there were things he couldn't do, but he still earned his shodan and beyond. I am sad to say I never met this man everyone speaks so fondly of. :( My sensei has also told me about a person he has trained with who only has one leg. He said sometimes they were a prosthetic and other times they don't. He said they have remarkable aikido and have adapted to make it work for them. I guess you just have to find the right teacher, dojo and learning environment :)

Russell Davis
07-05-2010, 07:29 PM
I think anyone within reason who has a disability and would like to study martial arts should be allowed to do so, its a case of finding the right class/instructor which might not be Aikido based.
I used to teach my dads buddy who was 73 at the time and an ex Aikido student, he was able to continue learning Aikido and other techniques from using a simple Kali/Escrima drill.
No need to do rolls breakfalls etc etc, just kept it all in stand up position, he enjoyed it! and thats all that matters.

07-07-2010, 12:09 PM
Aikido training can expand to accommodate mild personal health issues without too much difficulty. Severe disability or injury should probably be more closely evaluated and you may need specialized training to accomodatethose individuals (and a doctor's note). I have only ever asked people to leave the dojo who represented a health risk either to themselves or another student. I am not aware of any precendent that would prevent a student from being a dojo member because of a chronic condition.

In most cases I have witnessed, students with debilitating or chronic injury who have successfully trained for an extended period of time:
1. Are vigilant about activities in which they may not participate
2. Add a physical regime to their training to maintain flexibility, stamina, and strength
3. Communicate their condition to their partners and the dojo as a whole

I have also seen the opposite for students who have left:
1. They were not vigilant about activities in which they participated and "overdid" things, often resulting in injury or discomfort
2. They used aikido as their single source of exercise (and did not train effectively enough to gain physical conditioning)
3. They were embarrassed about their condition and did a poor job of communicating thie condition to their partners (especially during seminars).

As for progression through training, I do not know of precendent which would prevent assention in rank due to a chronic condition.

I believe the largest challenge to students who possess a chronic condition that alters their ability to train is feeling technique. I advocate ukemi and uke waza as a great learning tool; modified training will often sacrifice uke waza and focus on nage waza (because nage waza is more comfortable). I equate the challenge as explaining color to a blind man, you can do it but it is much easier to point to a blue object and say "that is blue"...

Garth Jones
07-07-2010, 01:56 PM
Not being able to sit in seiza, or even do techniques from the knees should not be reasons to not train. As other folks have said, learning how to fall safely may be the most important result of aikido training so hopefully your wife can work on that. There are plenty of people with knee problems who don't sit seiza, etc. but can take ukemi. Personally I would be a bit disappointed in a dojo that didn't work with that level of disability.

As for testing, that depends. When Ikeda Sensei calls dan tests he always asks if the person's knees are all right. If not, no problem, he just has them do the whole test standing. Of course, he's had surgery on both his knees and can't sit seiza any more either.

I hope your wife finds a way to train!


Marie Noelle Fequiere
07-07-2010, 02:00 PM
Of course, common sense is necessary in every circumstances. For months, I was pesterd by an old school friend who wanted me to teach her soft karate. She had serieous health problems, and her doctor advised her to avoid any brutal activity. And since we are about the same (old) age, she hopped that I could teach her a watered-down version of karate. I patiently explained to her that karate is brutal, period. Soft karate is like a salty apple. Besides, for a number of reasons, I am not interrested in teaching. So I advised her to try aikido, making clear that I would not be doing the teaching. I gave her informations about the dojo location, the schedul, etc... She never came. She wanted soft karate, with me as an instructor. I regret that at the time, I did not yet know that there are a couple of tai chi instructors in Haiti, maybe tai chi would have even be better for her.
On another hand, we have the pleasure these days to welcome in our school an french aikidoka - a black belt, I' m not sure what dan, but he's been training longer than our sensei -, who came to Haiti to teach (english) and was pleased to find an aikido dojo to keep training. From the very first day, sensei sternly warned us to handle our friend with care: he has a serious hip problem, and can only take easy ukimi. Breakfall is out of the question. Well, ou friend may not be able to breakfall, but he is an exellent instructor, who even often fills out for our instructor when necessary.
My karate instructor would teach just everyone who showed up in his dojo. Elderly, deaf, special students, he welcomed them all and did his best to make them bypass their limitations so they could be the best that they could. He only "failed" with two children who had both lost both feet, and were walking on prosthesis. The prostesis were unconfortable to wear, and the kids were soon in pain, so it was obvious that this was not the right activity for them.
I do not think that bad knees are enough to keep someone away from aikido, but everything rests in the hands of the instructor. For reasons that we may not want to judge, not all of them are willing to take in challenged students. What your wife needs is a supportive instructor. Once she has that, she can do aikido.

Randy Sexton
07-08-2010, 01:46 AM
Thank you all for your very kind responses and the encouragement to find a way for my wife to train. Thank you!!
Doc Randy