I was intrigued by this post and have continued to mull over it, most of this draft has been sitting around for a while and with the shut down of aikiweb i had forgotten about it. But now reflecting on my most recent way of handling of beginners i thought I would submit anyway.
Beginners courses serve quite specific purposes and these determine its goals and makeup. One of the things they can address is relevance of the art to a beginner so that regular class material isn't to advanced, full of gaps (like turning up to regular classes might be with foundatuions) and getting bored because of the detail in our art presented too early.
the goals and hence 3 things of a beginners course to be taught are quite related. Some goals can be retention, graduation of beginners into regular class and sorting the keepers (wheat from the chaff) as early as possible, and to inform public so they can make an informed choice and three things arise from there
I think people can get bored early on and might mis the spark and wonder that aiki has to offer. With out some kind of beginners induction/course - retention is pretty bad
- the instructor and dojo end up servicing beginners as they come whenever they choose
- is harder to actually get people into the dojo.
As a rule i found that it was a process of halves without a begineers course that is
1/2 that people that make contact with the dojo show up
1/2 the people that show up get on the mat
1/2 the people on the mat never turn up to do a second class (even if they rave about it being the best thing they ever did)
1/2 the people that show up for second class do a grading 2 months later (thats when we do a 7th kyu in our school)
Having a beginners course enables
- people to make a social contract with other starters to stick with it (hopefully long enough to get really excited about the art and build a habit)
- people are more likely to come to something programmed, and thus turn up
- an upfront fee means people coming are more committed to finishing it
- the core of the dojo (regular students) can continue to progress without having to go back to somthing like 'unbendable arm' every time a newbies walks onto the mat
- core skills can be built quicker and mpre consistently
1 month Beginners class
My own experience with running beginners course are that they really work in improving retention to first grading and keeping the rest of the dojo humming along , however
- the first grading is then an exit statement for many (no problem esp. for a university club like i ran where a goal is to spread the art),
- can breed a service mentality - OK i finished my beginners course where is my dedicated instructor for my next belt and
- can also lead to a I paid my money spoon feed me please!
here my three things were
1/ teach fundamental syllabus to first grading
2/ teach rolling skills
3/ teach a sense of belonging (which worked to the graduation grading only , sadly...)
FWIW here is my beginners course I used to offer - it started as a 2 monther and then we did it as a one month
02 Aikido Beginners Course
Here are retention stats for the dojo over a 10 yr period - note 1 in 454 people reach shodan (~3-4 yrs by the book in our school), sample size is about a few thousand and class size ~40 twice a week with various satellite classes. It gets a bit preachy YMMV
Growing a Dojo
2 Class introduction
My current offering
is to offer a 2 class introduction which teaches some fundamentals, has home work and states that 'i expect you to take responsability for your own development '. the retention after the first grading is similar, but I find that most leave after 2 classes rather than after 7th Kyu - which is attractive to me because it allows a better focus on the stayers and hence rest of dojo and my own development.
Here my three things are
1/ present historical context of aikido, and relationship as a sword related art (not quite true but its a simpler story)
2/ teach sword cuts and fundamental techniques from it (ikkyo irimi, nikkyo (as an aiki age, aiki sage cut))
3/ teach rolling skills (i use the systema method)
(1) enables student to understand why we train as we do and start in the dojo doing the minutae and understand a little of why we are doing this. (2) and (3) are set as homework as i encourage beginners that these are the core skills to work fully in the dojo.
My thanks to this discussion for helping clarify this stuff in my mind and will do some tweaking on what i offer advertise as a result
best to all