View Full Version : Teaching injured or elderly students? Is Aikido for everyone?

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08-20-2013, 11:21 PM
Since our instructor passed away we do have a new chief instructor and I still assist with teaching the basics to new students but I lack the medical background that our past Sensei had. I am having problems mainly with teaching injured and elderly students that are new to Aikido.

What I really need to know is what kind of injuries should I look out for to know whether the student is fit or not for training and even if fit when should he/she rest?

I have a lot of elderly students that have either bad backs or bad knees any tips on how to make training more comfortable for them? Should they have their own classes? Should they mix with the others? Because I don't want them to feel over whelmed by others that are fast or going in a much faster pace.

Yes I know Aikido should be for everyone and I agree but there should be a line to everything and where is the line here?

I am sorry if I am being offensive. I know that there are great success stories out there about students or Senseis who have had a lot of damage to their bodies or had injuries and still are able to train like anyone else and even better.

If I do not understand what Aikido is or means it is not because of my instructors but it is because of my poor understanding of Aikido.


Mary Eastland
08-21-2013, 06:19 AM
Hey Saud:

We had 1 student named Jean that started Aikido when she was 69. She trained until she was in her late 70s. She went at her own pace and was a good example to me about taking care of myself. When the rest of the class started back rolls, it sometimes took Jean the whole time to get down to the mat for 1. Yet she did her one...it was very important to her.

I encourage people to radically take care of themselves. I believe part of learning Aikido is being able to speak up about injuries. Getting on the mat when you have an injury and training with a regular class takes a lot of courage and patience. I work hard at supporting people who are accepting themselves as they are and training with the body and mind they have for that moment.

If you never have had an injury you might not understand the need to train though one...just because we get older and sometimes more sore does not stop our desire to further our understanding of Aikido.

This can be a time for you to work on patience and acceptance. The line is where the student and teacher agree upon. I had one student who wanted to train in a neck brace because he had just had his vertebrae in his neck fused. I would not let him on the mat. Good luck.

08-21-2013, 09:00 AM
Hello Saud,

Every person has physical limitations, whether they know it or not. For you as a teacher, you could roughly divide potential students into three categories:

1. Those who know that they have physical limitations, but don't know/haven't tried/are inexperienced at/aren't interested in working with them and discovering what they can do.

2. Those who believe that they don't have physical limitations, and therefore don't take sensible precautions to avoid injury.

3. Those who know that they have physical limitations, and who are working with them.

It's disingenuous (and frankly disrespectful to people with physical limitations) to say, "Oh tra la la, of course everybody can do everything". But blanket "I can't" limitations based on a physical condition are often dishonest as well. I think there's little you as a teacher can do with someone who doesn't have the right mindset. We had a teenage girl who was more or less dragged to the dojo, and everything was "I can't" because of a bad back. I got the strong sense that in this particular case, the bad back was less of the absolute limitation she proclaimed it to be, and more of a permanent doctor's note excusing her from exercise. If someone wants to train, they will need to be proactive in learning about their body and its limitations, and in working with healthcare professionals who know about the injury but don't know about aikido, and with senseis and fellow students who don't know about their injury.

Michael Hackett
08-21-2013, 01:24 PM
Hi Saud,

Assuming that the students in question came to you voluntarily, just simply ask them. Our student application asks EVERYONE signing up if they have any medical conditions that we should be aware of for their safety. We explain that we don't care about their medical history and aren't prying, but want to be able to respond to any emergency in an appropriate way. I haven't seen anyone get offended or balk at all - someone will today of course. We make it clear that we are just trying to protect them from unnecessary harm.

Secondly, we expect every student to participate to his own level. If you have to sit out for a few minutes to rest, fine. If you have something limiting you from doing a particular thing such as shikko, fine, just do something related that you are capable of. Do the most you can without causing harm to yourself and those limits will continue to expand. Some few folks will self-limit themselves and they don't tend to stick around very long anyway, but others will continue to train and find ways of accommodating any limitations they may have.

Basia Halliop
08-21-2013, 01:57 PM
Personally, I think if you don't know, it's better to simply be honest and open with people about the fact that you don't know rather than give them a false impression that you have answers you don't have. So if you don't know which things a particular person can do safely, if it was me I would let them know that you don't have the medical training or experience to answer that for them, but that you will be supportive of how they choose to handle it.

They may want to consult with a doctor or physiotherapist to discuss what movements are likely to be good or bad for them, or they may know their own body well enough to judge for themselves what they're OK to try. Ultimately it's up to them to take care of themselves.

IMO your responsibility is to provide an environment where their choices of what to participate in and how intensely are respected (or to tell them honestly if you don't believe you can provide that environment).

Janet Rosen
08-21-2013, 03:01 PM
No offense taken, I would think - these are very good questions.
In general, folks with bad knees should avoid shikko and suwariwaza to prevent additional wear and tear on the cartilage.
Folks with mobility, range of motion or pain issues need to be allowed to take their time in learning to be comfortable getting down/getting up, being on the ground, and learning to roll and fall.
I lead a separate class for people with those problems, but I don't recommend doing so unless the person leading the class know how to do so. There are lots of easy ways to adapt "regular" aikido to no-falls aikido or slow aikido. In fact, there is a thread on aikiweb here about a seminar in Virginia at the end of this month on that subject. HERE is link (http://www.aikiweb.com/seminar/united_states/va/spotsylvania/2013_08_30/2013_08_30/aviv_goldsmith_5th_dan_michael_aloia_5th_dan_paul_rest_3rd_dan_tom_osborn_1)
I would be happy to communicate more with you either here on this thread or via email. Actually, let't keep it here on this thread you started, since others may also continue to contribute valuable info.
Oh Jun keeps reminding me I have a column on the subject :-) http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22821

08-21-2013, 04:30 PM
Thank you guys for your replays they are really helpful and reassuring. I too have an injury and I have been dealing with it but the fact that we don't have a higher level instructor with us anymore still scares me.

We have been recently getting more and more students that either have injuries or pretty old that were not accepted into other martial arts due to their competitive nature. Some are doing well others not so well and I guess it more up to their will power. I found a lot of answers I was looking for here so thank you for your help again!

No-fall Aikido seems really interesting. Wish I could make it to the seminar bad sadly I don't think I will.

Anymore replays are ideas on this problem would be greatly appreciated.

08-21-2013, 11:41 PM
In the last year we've had folks come to the mat with the following: Colostomy, artificial leg below the knee, damaged knees, multiple spinal injuries and surgeries, general poor health, chronic pain and other issues. They come with a great spirit and leave with a strengthened one even if it has increased their discomfort. Teaching them is an opportunity to better our aikido technically and extend the spirit of Aikido in the community. Our bodies were made to move, not be still. Anyone can toss people around. Some Sensei's go a whole career and never have the blessing of teaching those with limitations. We had a teen last year who insisted on training with his leg in a hard cast so we all accommodated and learned!When applying a pin or joint technique to new folks I don't always wait for them to tap. I can see when 'enough is enough' that is my responsibility. A lot of people will push harder than they should. We have the responsibility of knowing when to stop and when to go up a little. For folks who can't take rolls or get up and down a lot we will only 'take balance.' It is an 'aiki' opportunity to work with damaged/injured students on the mat without causing injury and without being over protective. They are there to learn Aikido, to move their bodies and they know it may be uncomfortable for a short time. Listen to their bodies talk, watch their eyes and face for signs of when 'enough is enough' but don't coddle them. That isn't what they came to the dojo for. Should most people over 50ish take a whole class of 'high-falls' probably not. Shikko and seiza are specific challenges for knee and hip injuries.

Janet Rosen
08-22-2013, 12:43 AM
Saud, in terms of how to structure classes...so much depends of course on total student numbers and how many classes a week can be offered. It might be nice to offer a low impact class, a high intensity class, and the rest mixed classes.

09-04-2013, 11:36 AM

My sensei, from whom I am still learning, is now 83 years old. I remember when I started learning from him, approximately 10 years ago, he was still teaching some stuff that in today's practices won't do at all, such as Suwari waza. Of course at that time he didn't have issues with his knees. Now he has.
He obviously had to adapt by learning and accepting his limitations.

I think that the same concept applies to aikido students. Every person knows his/her limitations and the most suitable person to know what to practice, is that same person. Understanding how those limitations modify our way of practicing is very important both from the student and the instructor side.

You asked where the line is. Well, in my opinion the lines should be drawn by every person that would like to learn this wonderful art. And you ,as an instructor, should treat every student with the same energy, patience and respect regardless his/her limitations.

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