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Richard Harnack
01-01-2001, 06:02 PM
Over the years I have taught classes for children, primarily because that was the model I saw with Kobayashi, Sensei. This past year I have let the children's classes "die on the vine" as it were. My reasons are that I have become incredibly busy with the adult classes, teaching once a week at a local college (no, not Aikido, Chinese & Japanese history & culture), plus trying to run a store and have time to be at home.

I have had persons who helped me in the past, but as they advanced their lives also became more full. I would like to start our children's program up again, but am somewhat hesitant to do so.

My main problem stems from time constraints. Most children programs I have run have usually are 5:30 - 6:25 pm Monday - Thursday.

Is there anyone else out there with background in Aikido for children (ages 6 - 11, at 11 & 12 I begin to move them into the adult training because of size)?

Also, how do you address rank issues especially for the smaller children. In Seidokan we have extra "belt levels" with 2 sub-divisions. Our requirements are stated, but the implementation is left up to the individual instructor.

By the way, this about the first year away from children's classes for me in 20 years, so it is not as if I haven't tried things. However, I am an increasingly faster aging old dog and need to be shown the new tricks on occasion more than once.


01-01-2001, 09:50 PM
Mr. Harnack,

I understand the situation you are in. I also have some time constraints when it comes to teaching. I don't own a store or teach at a local college, but my career requires me to be ready to go 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. When I began my children's classes I decided that children under the age of ten were too young (basically I felt that children younger than ten did not have adequate motor skills to learn Aikido), I was wrong. I now teach basic Aikido skills to children as young as six. I've found that the children are able to learn the basic movements just as the adults and in some cases, even better. I've found that patience is the key and I expect the children to learn the same techniques as the adults with respect to kyu rank. Do I have formal testing with the children? No, I do not. I pay very close attention to each child (I have small classes) and when I believe that each child is capable of performing the techniques properly (including Ki exercises such as Udefori Undo, Tenkan Undo, Kokyudosa, etc.) I promote them. Some people may find this method of promotion to be a bunch of garbage, but I do not. The children come to class every day thinking that today could be the day they are promoted and because of this they work much harder.

In my adult classes I do have formal testing. Adults for one reason or another feel more at ease with the testing environment. You can't hold the children to the same mental and physical standards as the adults, however you can expect them to be able to properly demonstrate basic Aikido principles and movement. For example, I've found that the children are much better at rolling and falling than the adults. It seems that the adults are afraid of smashing their heads and the children are not.

You have stated that when the children begin to mature physically (they get bigger) you move them into the adult classes. I do the same although it is usually after they turn twelve or thirteen.

When I first began teaching the children, the parents were in the same area and could observe. I found that the children didn't pay as much attention to me as they should and the parents often added their "two cents". An example would be, "No Joey, you need to put your left foot forward, no Joey the other foot", says a parent. The parents can be distractors. Now the parents use the fitness centers exercise machines and running track (good for them) while I teach the classes.

I hope this painfully long post will give you some new ideas on your childrens classes. You have stated that this is your first year in 20 being away from childrens classes. I've probably not written anything that you haven't thought of before, but you asked. Good luck!

Richard Harnack
01-02-2001, 05:56 PM
Louis for your response.

Those of us who have taught children's classes experience a different level of frustration on occasion (not to mention joy) which we do not necessarily have with the adults.

The reason for an age 6 bottom limit for me is the child's skeletal development. Quite often in younger children the collar bone is not as sturdy as we need in the rolls, and they are subject to "green stick" fractures.

We must grow them larger in St Louis, because I have been finding 11 year olds at 5'1"+ and 100+ pounds which puts them over the smaller women in my classes.

I have had the experience with parents you have mentioned. Basically, I give a lecture when the parent enrols their child that while the child is on the mats, their behavior is my concern. However, since I began to teach children back when the McMartin Pre-School molestation scandal was breaking, I have always made it my policy to have the parents in attendance. My other reason is to keep them involved in their child's training and not to use Aikido as a cheap baby sitting situation by dropping the child off and leaving. I have found the occasional parent's "correcting" from the side lines to be worth the sacrifice.

I look forward to hearing from you and others.

Thanks again.