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Susan Dalton 08-19-2013 11:51 AM

The Little Kids' Class
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This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton 2013, all rights reserved.
They ran and shouted, tumbled all over each other. A ten month old baby crawled after them on the mat, and they loved on her and got small and gentle when they came into her space. Then they were up and running wild again. One of them cried when he walked in the door and saw a tall, red-headed man and me. An adult held him, hugged him, tightened up his gi and rolled up his pants' legs, then sent him into the fray. Soon he was running and squealing, flopping down on the mat and barrel-rolling.

After a few minutes, Sensei clapped, and they lined up, sort of. In the corner, the baby was nursing, her eyes following the big kids as long as she could keep them open, then closing. "Hop!" Sensei commanded and off they went, back and forth, following, or at least attempting to, whatever Sensei told them to do. They skipped and ran backward, did complicated footwork to get from one end of the mat to the other.

Forget jet lag; these warm ups were fun! I loved the one where we turned sideways, stepped across in front, took another step, then stepped across in back. I could fly across the mat doing that one. For once, I was moving at their pace. Most of them had trouble with it, so Sensei asked me to demonstrate for a few minutes. Then we were army crawling on our elbows, and squirmy little bodies shot past me again. At the other end of the mat, we got into down dog (thank goodness for all that yoga I'd been doing) and in that position galloped across the mat. Or at least they galloped. My dog/horse had a few issues. When I got to the other side, a little girl rattled off a long stream of Japanese, much more quickly than my tutor talks. I looked at my friend, the tall red-headed man. "She says she's a lot faster than you are," he said. She wasn't lying.

She took my hand and led me to the edge of the mat to point at the water bottles when I didn't understand Sensei was calling for a water break. The little boy who had cried earlier cried again when he couldn't get his water open. Another child opened it for him and handed it back.

Sensei told me I should sit and watch the rest of class since we had two more classes to do and he didn't want me exhausted before the adult class started. Before we got here, I thought that with jet lag, the heat, and humidity, I might have trouble with my endurance during a seminar taught by a shihan from Honbu. The seminar had been no problem, but now keeping up with these kids in this short class had me breathing hard. I thought of something I had read a long time ago about a professional football player who tried to mimic a two year old's movement for a day and found he didn't have the stamina.

Their knee-walking wasn't pretty, and some of them put their heads down on the mat and rolled over that way while others barrel-rolled. Very few of them did what I would think of as a proper forward roll. Still, many of their back rolls were beautiful and soft, and they had no fear about running full speed and falling into whatever version of a roll they were doing. Or if they didn't like rolling, they did one roll and then ran to the other end of the mat. The baby had awakened and she crawled across the mat to climb into Sensei's lap. Her mother stood up to retrieve her, but Sensei shook his head. The baby watched the rest of class sitting with Sensei.

"The three to six year olds need a safe place to run and play," Sensei said. "Too often they're told to be still, to be quiet. Here they can move and shout, be kids." He explained that in this class, the freedom to move and make noise is most important. Waza comes later.

Adults had to help the children sit in seiza position and get their line straight to clap out. That took a while. Did they know the smiling old man teaching them is a 7th dan? I don't think so. I think they were just having fun. And they were really happy Sensei had bought them candy on the way back from the seminar in Takayama.

Then they were gone, and the older kids, the seven to twelve year olds, were filing in for the next class.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.

Janet Rosen 08-19-2013 03:34 PM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
I know there are those who think aikido is not appropriate for small children. I think it depends on what the goals of the class are. I know I would really like your Sensei :-)

Susan Dalton 08-19-2013 08:44 PM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
Yes, you would like him very much. This class may be my most favorite I ever attended. (Of course, my tall, red-headed friend tells me that every class is my favorite class, which might also be true.) Being in this class was so much fun! And the kids were obviously learning how to be a community and care for each other.

I forgot to mention the very high adult to child ratio. In fact, for this particular class we had more adults than children, but only my sensei, my shihan, and I were on the mat. The others helped from the sidelines.

Sand-Wind 08-20-2013 06:10 PM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
I think it is really important for children to have fun and be themselves since they are very young I think its hard to be very strict on them you don't want their childhood to be filled with unhappy memories. Its better to make them love Aikido first by letting them express themselves freely.

My Sensei did not like having children in his dojo and now I understand why its because he wanted a class just for children and since he did not have time to make other classes he never took children in since the difference between the atmosphere between children classes and adult classes were great and the teaching style was not the same as well.

But I do agree on kids starting martial arts at an early age whether its Aikido or anything else since they learn faster at least that's what I have experienced. Since they are still soft and don't use much muscle its great! I remember a story about my Sensei and his daughter he said "As she got older her Aikido become not that good since she started to try using her muscles more to do Aikido."

Thank you for this article and your time and hard work.


Susan Dalton 08-20-2013 07:09 PM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
Thank you for your kind words, Saud. Other people teach most of the adult classes, but my shihan teaches the children. I love to watch him with them. In some dojo, the children's classes pay the rent. However, this class was certainly labor-intensive, with more adults than children, but all involved enjoyed it, I think.

SeiserL 08-21-2013 05:29 AM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
So agreed.

I could just watch the kids doing Aikido and be content.

Every Saturday morning we have an open class with all the children (of all ages).

Train in a joyous manner.

Shoshin: beginners (child) mind.

Well said. Compliments and appreciation.

Susan Dalton 08-21-2013 08:35 AM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
I'd seen quite a few children's classes--I used to teach 5 - 12 year olds at our dojo, and my friend who teaches now has done a tremendous job. We have a waiting list every year. But I had never seen 3 and 4 year olds "do aikido."

Linda Eskin 09-05-2013 04:38 PM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
I help out in our kids' classes, too, and it's an adventure (especially as I have very little other experience dealing with kids). Everything you said sounds so familiar. LOL It's amazing, even as little tiny people, how much they resist paying attention and trying anything new, when they "already know" how to do something (roll, stand, etc.). After that first somersault or barrel roll it's very hard to get them to try doing anything else. Patience and good humor are absolute requirements. :-)

Susan Dalton 09-10-2013 05:33 AM

Re: The Little Kids' Class
When I used to teach, I had three sets of siblings in my class, including my own kids. There's something special about watching people who love each other/get on each other's nerves do jyu waza.

One of my favorite memories is listening to the children talk about "Old Sensei." I guess I didn't do a good enough job explaining the honorific O.

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