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.