Aikido Classes for Children by George S. Ledyard
6th Dan, Chief Instructor Aikido East Side
The boy came out of school with his best friend and promptly found himself accosted by the class bully. At first he tried to avoid conflict by walking away from the aggressive boy but after being punched several times without responding he decided that he must act to protect himself. When the next punch came his way he turned out of the way and grabbed the wrist and twisted it in such a way that the attacking boy was unbalanced and taken to the ground.When his best friend had summoned a faculty member for help she came out to find the bully pinned and helpless.
The technique which had enabled this boy to protect himself without actually fighting back came from his training in Aikido, a Japanese martial art which stresses non-competitive and non-violent self defense. Unlike most martial arts which are primarily striking arts, the techniques of Aikido focus on blending with an attack rather than resisting it and then using the energy of the attack to unbalance an attacker. Various pinning techniques allow the defender to end a confrontation without seriously hurting the opponent. In fact the various arrest and control techniques used by law enforcement officers are based on Aikido principles.
Parents are often concerned with the seemingly incompatible concerns of teaching their children not to be violent despite the constant barrage of violence they see on television, in the movies and via video games and yet not turning their offspring into victims. They see the need for their children to be confident yet they want to discourage aggression. Martial arts training is frequently the answer they are looking to find.
Unlike the movie image of the martial arts, real traditional martial arts training teaches non-aggression and respect for others while instilling self confidence and self esteem. Kids who study martial arts seriously seldom actually fight. They are more respectful of authority and have more self discipline than kids who haven’t had some structured activity with good role models. And the bottom line is that they are not victims. If they need to really defend themselves they have the tools.
While giving many of the same benefits to the child as the other martial arts, Aikido often appeals to parents who find the emphasis on striking in most of the arts to be too aggressive. Unlike the striking arts which are appropriate for real fighting but do not contain techniques which can be mitigated for less than life threatening situations Aikido can be fine tuned to fit a whole range of self defense scenarios from a groping date to a school yard bully. No other art focuses so much on using only the minimum necessary force needed to protect oneself. Many young people are turned off by styles which push the competitive side too hard. In Aikido there is no competition and the practice is actually cooperative. The students learn to take care of their partners because they want their partners to take care of them. The older or more senior kids take care of younger or newer students. Everybody works together because they realize that to make progress in the art one can not get better without the aid of ones ellows. Because everything is done with partners in Aikido it is impossible to progress at some one else’s expense. In order for you to get better you need to help your partners get better.
In Aikido the actual self defense side of the art is only a small part of what the training is about. Mind-body integration is the main focus of the practice and the kids learn to develop great sensitivity to the own bodies through lots of movement. Children with some learning disorders and physical handicaps have been known to benefit greatly from Aikido practice and it is frequently recommended in such cases by their doctors or special ed teachers. The movements of Aikido have served as the model for several works on conflict resolution and the young people realize through training that fighting is not the way to end conflict. In general Aikido practice seems to appeal most to bright students with the imagination to appreciate the complexity of Aikido training compared with some sort of pseudo ninja turtles / power rangers idea they might have from watching TV.
Movement games are a big part of Aikido for young people which allows for some pure fun in class while the students learn without being aware that they are doing so. Freeze tag done on the knees Japanese style and "bowling for kids" in which the students knee walk and have to evade inflatable balls rolled at them are just two of the favorites. These games teach awareness and reinforce circular body movement patterns on which Aikido is based. The Northwest is a hotbed of Aikido activity with many fine instructors. There is sure to be a school or Dojo near almost any home whether in Seattle or on the Eastside. Several of the country’s most well known children’s instructors have schools in the immediate area.
This article is reprinted with permission of the author. To visit Aikido Eastside click here