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When I began teaching children Aikido I was entering a journey into the unknown. I had watched a video and read some articles, however at the end of the day I was an absolute beginner. I knew the children would be different to adults yet in how many ways I did not know.
Looking back to the beginning one of O'Sensei's quotes was particularly relevant:
I certainly made mistakes with the children and feel I have learnt much from these. The mistakes I made were similar to ones I have made in adult classes. Typically trying to teach someone too much, too soon; constantly correcting, rather than allowing them to find their own way. This was particularly relevant with the children, who have a much shorter attention span than adults, and train for less than one hour per week. I found myself wanting them to improve at a much faster rate and spent too much time teaching and correcting, rather than just letting them do the technique. Patience is a virtue I am working towards developing and children's classes are definitely assisting me on this journey.
I have learnt many things from children's classes. As with adults, children have taught me that everyone learns at a different rate and in a different way. While one child may take to Ukemi immediately, another develops Zanshin (awareness) at a much earlier stage. While one child has a natural Shikko, another has a greater knowledge and understanding of etiquette.
I feel that children have favourite people to train with, just as adults. The new children are often left searching for a partner and this scene brings a smile to my face, as I have visions of our adult classes, where a new student is left floundering and alone as everyone partners up with someone they know. As we are all aware, this is usually followed by a friendly reminder from our Sensei to take care of the new people, and likewise similar reminders are conveyed to the children.
In the children's class if a child is unpartnered they train with a Sempai. I love being this Sempai, and the huge smile of pride on the child's face as they successfully perform a technique is really heart-warming. They are totally open, unsure and grateful all at the same time. I now see similar reactions when I train with new adults, that I did not see before. The look of understanding and relief when Ikkyo or Shiho Nage finally works. I have realised that from them I can learn so much, and truly test both my technique and knowledge. They have an openness that we unfortunately sometimes lose as we move through the grades.
I love teaching the children and have learned many lessons from doing so. I have taught children of a variety of ages, with differing attitudes, abilities and knowledge. Some children have been very ill and at young ages are facing challenges that we adults may never have to face in our lifetime. Seeing the smiles on their faces as they enter the Dojo bring homes to me the true meaning of Aikido. I believe that by seeing Aikido through a child's eyes we can continue to grow and truly embrace the challenges we face.
By Lyn Meachen, Yudansha Grading, 25 July 1998