Starting a beginner's program
Due to some good suggestions on a recent thread I posted about starting a new dojo and getting people in the door, we have decided to start a "Beginner's 6 Week Introductory Program" to Aikido at our dojo. The classes for the program will meet once per week for one hour. We have some ideas of our own on what we want to include in the course. We would also like any suggestions or examples as to what to include, from those of you who have run such programs. I also would like to hear from those that have participated in one before, and what was good/bad about it. If you have never participated in a specific beginner's program before, but would like to put in suggestions that would be great too, but please indicate this. Keep in mind that I am not talking about ongoing beginner level classes, but a specific program of set length to give an overall introduction to Aikido in a group setting.
What are your goals? What are your expectations? What are the expectations of your students?
Since you have only 6 hours of training, I'd recommend keeping discussion to a minimum. Don't tell, show. And better yet, don't show what you can do, show your students what they can do.
Common occurances from past experiences:
Most people who attend the beginner's course do not join the dojo.
Most people get bored with long discussions about anything (philosophy, history, ritual and technique), they are there in gi or sweatsuits and want to do things.
Most athletic people can grasp forward rolls quickly. Backward rolls take longer. Breakfalls are terrifying.
The beginner's group has diverse interests. It's not possible to meet everyone's expectations in a short period of time.
Best of luck,
I completed a 6 week beginners course 3 weeks ago.
I agree that many people in the course do not become members but I don't see this as a negative thing. Since the course runs for a defined period of time it gives people an opportunity to sample Aikido even if they know that they do not have the opportunity to commit to it long term. This helps to "get the word out there" about your dojo and brings in other beginners who WILL become long term members. Our beginner's course also did not require investing in a keikogi. We worked out in sweats. This helps get people in the door so they can decide if Aikido is right for them since there is little initial investment to lose.
In our beginners course we focused on basics and got an opportunity to learn the customs of the dojo in a non-threatening environment. Since we were all beginners there was no sense that you were the only one in the room who did not know the customs and exercises. Everything was carefully explained in the beginning and the pace picked up over the term of the course.
When it came to techniques, we stuck to the basics. Each technique was demonstrated for us 5-6 times with important points emphasized so we would have the opportunity to take in as much as possible before pairing off with a partner. We would train for a short time before stopping so that the instructor could point out further details about the technique. This was immensely welcome. During these pauses the instructor would point out what the class was doing well and then point out elements of the technique to focus on that were being overlooked or gummed up. Then we would grab new partners. Each technique started at the first step and then more elements were added throughout the evening until we were performing the full technique. Most of all, the instructors were charismatic, patient, humorous and conveyed the spirit of the dojo well.
Higher ranked members were encouraged to attend the beginner's course. These members were excellent Uke and had a lot of good advice during practice that was offered without ego. I believe that they also benefitted from this exchange. Additionally, I managed to form a bond with some of these senior members and they have continued to show a personal interest in my progress. Their attendance in the beginners course was indispensable.
After the 6 week course concluded we had 2 weeks of "tweeners" courses. The beginners course taught us Ukemi and the basic techniques while the tweener courses further prepared us to join the general classes by empasizing us insight into what to expect. For example: one of the most important things I learned was how to "beat feet" across the mat to get to a good partner so I wouldn't end up running in circles like an idiot. The tweeners course also picked up the pace and intensity to better match the general class.
Personally, I believe that a beginner's course is the best thing that a dojo can do to encourage a larger membership. It provides an environment where people can grow into your Aikido community and creates a welcoming first step for people to "try on" Aikido to see if it's right for them. It also seems to help shape the community within your dojo and teaches Sempai to take an active role in their Kohai's progress.
We found ,in our beginners series, that two classes a week was more likely to retain people because they felt more comfortable and had a chance to pick more up.
Michael, we have run a regular 5-week beginners course (one every 6 weeks) for the past two or three years and they've proved invaluable in helping the dojo grow. The things we've found work best are:
1. assign a high grade (preferably dan) to the beginners for the entire run of the course. This helps the beginners feel they have a high ranking ally in the dojo and helps add a more personal touch to the course.
2. rotate the teacher assigned for each course to prevent them getting stale
3. Keep the beginners practicing separately from the rest of the class for the first two lessons, then gradually introduce them to the rest of the dojo.
4. Have a goal in mind for what you're going to teach them so that, at the end, you can review what you've been through and show them how they've improved and what they've learned.
5. Make the cost of the course cover the full five weeks and charge up-front, but enable people to carry over missed lessons so they get their money's worth.
6. Don't get too dicouraged if you get a 100% drop-out rate at any time, it happens, but the next one all might stay.
Jeanne has a good point re frequency, we can only offer this once a week, but twice a week course would be much better.
Thank you all for your generous replies so far. Some good stuff we hadn't thought of before, some stuff we have considered and your comments have helped to reinforce. I wish we could do a twice a week program, but that's just not practical for us yet...hopefully in the future. Keep the info. coming in I'd love to hear more.
FWIW, at ADV we've implemented a beginner course like this during the past year.
We teach a 4 week once a week cycle exclusively to help orient the newcomers into the dojo culture, as well as start working on basic falling skills. we also have alotted time to beginners practice during the week, but these are open classes and follow the regular format.
During this period we cover the most often used terminology, plus introduce the beginners to some of the basic concepts and principles, do a lot of explaining about what is done in class, teach the warmups , aiki taiso; etc
So far, it's been well received by the beginners, and it helps make the process of starting out less awkward.
I certainly wish the program had been there when I started.
For the first nine months I was at my dojo, we did a month-long (seven classes) Intro course, which people could also repeat. I did it a couple of times before I was comfortable joining any other classes, because my forward rolls were the despair of the dojo.
This fall we switched to a one-week (two classes) Intro course. The idea was to integrate people into the regular classes quicker, and to have less obstacles in the way of people joining (previously there was some sense that they should wait till next month, if they came mid-month). The classes on Monday and Friday immediately after Intro were Basic, taught more gently than the regular, but with a mix of levels.
It's hard to say which was more successful, because in the spring we were listed with the Experimental College and in the fall we weren't, and that had a huge impact on how many new people came at all. I thought, on the whole, that the new people found the shorter class more intimidating. It wasn't enough time to teach much rolling, and when Basic started with rolls the new people seemed to feel at a loss.
One of the most successful beginner things we did, I thought, was to introduce some ki tests and "cute ki tricks" at the beginning. The "aha" of being able to do something surprising seemed to come quicker and easier with unbendable arm or unliftable stance than it did with any of the throws. And I think "aha" is important in bringing beginners back--it surely was for me.
The other practical thing I can say is that encouraging a few more experienced students to come to the Intro classes helped a lot more than it hurt. It was important not to treat the classes as a chance for the experienced people to train together (scary to watch!) but having sempai as ukes for sensei, and as partners for the newbies, worked a lot better than having sensei try to do it all him/herself. We have one high-ranked student who diligently comes to almost all of the Intro and Basic classes, and he had a lot to do with my sticking with aikido through all those rotten rolls. (And the expression on his face when he threw me into my first full-speed forward roll made it all worthwhile.)
My first two months of Aikido were through a class such as this. Many aspects of it were helpfull, but the foot-work drills were of immense help.
The first ten minutes of class every day, "Left foot forward, and ten-kan.. one! two! one! two!..." and so on, through irimi, ten-chin, irimi-ten-kan, ten-kai, and so on.
When techniques were being demonstrated later on, it really helped to be able to indentify the steps involved and be comfortable with each.
Hope this is usefull,
We've done this for the last three years in our dojo with a class for Children and one for Teens/Adults with success. Ours is ten weeks long, once per week. Here are a few points, which we've found successful, in no particular order.
Start the first class with introductions and some brief information about Aikido vs. other martial arts, class etiquette, safety, and working cooperatively. Most students have heard about Aikido but don't really know much about it.
Maintain a relaxed atmosphere. Use humour.
We offer the students an opportunity to attend another class each week by joining the regular class. If the beginners can do this in a non-threatening environment, they overcome more of their fear.
We introduce standing mae ukemi and ushiro ukemi later in the course, when students are more relaxed. Until then, they do lead-ups while seated on the mat.
Maintain a relaxed atmosphere. Use humour.
Students can repeat the course. They can be role models for newer students. We will challenge returning students at their own level when the instructor acts as uke.
We introduce footwork as Irimi One (slide forward), Irimi Two (step forward), Tenshin One (slide backward), Tenshin Two (step backward), Tenkan One (pivot 180 degrees at waist), and Tenkan Two (swing leg around 180 degrees). This standardizes our body movement so students can see how a technique is done as well as listen to verbal clues.
And lastly, maintain a relaxed atmosphere. Use humour.
Ki tricks work really well. I think the overall goal can be to spark the imagination of the participant. If they feel they have aquired some new ability or understanding they may become interested in coming back for another helping. After all, an "intro course" is really a sales pitch ;).
I agree with Mary Kaye - include something wchich is exciting and sparks interest, not just basics and ukemi.
In my mind, one hour is very short time. I have done one hour beginner's classes, and found that ukemi practise for complete beginners takes time. Beware so ukemi practise does not take the major part of the class. That might be a bit boring, and also terribly frustrating for those who have difficulties in getting the hang of it.
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