Why should my child choose Aikido versus another martial art?

Every martial art has something unique and special to offer an adult student. However, we believe that children have particular needs that are nurtured through Aikido practice. For instance, Aikido is non-competitive, allowing children to discover the art through inward focus and self- motivation. Character building is important in an increasingly competitive and stressful culture that all too often rewards exterior, material success rather than inner qualities of self-confidence and composure.

If your child enjoys and excels in competitive sports, then Aikido is a nice counterbalance to team competition. Many children and parents have commented that several years of Aikido significantly improves their athletic ability and understanding of teamwork. If your child dislikes competition and team sports, he/she often discovers the excitement of improving coordination, flexibility and movement through Aikido.

Many martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do, Karate and Wu Shu (Chinese forms like “Kung Fu”) emphasize striking and kicking skills. This could lead to a false sense of power that does not help children creatively resolve conflict on one hand, or effectively defend themselves on the other. Aikido, by emphasizing the importance of blending with an attack, intrinsically promotes the peaceful and creative resolution of conflict.

Striking and the contraction characteristic of more linear martial arts potentially heighten tension and inhibition in the upper body; in contrast, Aikido continually promotes core power and relaxation. The open handed, relaxed stances of Aikido allows the child to learn centered, calm and circular movements instead of relying on the rigid mechanics characteristic of many striking and kicking styles.

Children’s Aikido classes dynamically balance technical training with teamwork exercises and games. The games that we play provide a fun dimension to the focus of Aikido, while emphasizing fundamental principles of the techniques themselves, such as centering, blending, teamwork and non-violent conflict resolution. We also teach some yoga during warm-ups to promote flexibility and unified movement, essential qualities of the young athlete and martial artist.

I would like my child to learn about self-defense. Is this a good style?

Beware of any martial art that claims it will make your child a good fighter, or grant them the ability to evade or escape a significantly larger and stronger attacker. For instance, it is somewhat unrealistic to strike, throw or pin someone that outweighs you by 200 pounds (although not impossible, provided the right strategy, many years of training and the advantage of surprise). It is important that children are not deluded about their power and ability to defend themselves.

On the other hand, children need to know that there are times when it is appropriate (and necessary) to say “no,” assert boundaries, and possibly fight back. The most important self–defense skills involve the promotion of self-confidence, street smarts and awareness. In Aikido class we teach street awareness and abuse prevention skills. In addition, by learning how to move in a relaxed, confident and aware manner, children naturally learn how to establish boundaries and avoid potential conflicts or dangerous situations.

I am concerned about safety. How do you make sure that the children know how to fall?

We emphasize the art of ukemi, or methods of falling that are safe and fun. Children are allowed to progress to a more dynamic fall (higher from the ground) only when they feel comfortable with the movement and the instructor believes that they are ready. Our safety record is excellent; there are many more injuries in team sports like baseball, basketball or soccer. In fact, by learning good ukemi, the child will reduce the chance of injury in other physical activities like skiing, snowboarding and team sports.

Aggressive children and bullies bother my child. How would Aikido help?

We learn how to deal with bullies creatively by using Aikido principles. Children discover that metaphors are powerful tools to understand difficult concepts, so we integrate imagery, movement and metaphor in a dynamic and unique manner in order to promote peaceful conflict resolution. For example, Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, believed that Aikido embodies the principles of the Square, Triangle, and Circle depending on the martial context. A square represents stability (the ability to say “no” and express the necessity of boundaries or take a strong Aikido stance), a triangle might illustrate a direct entry (the ability to directly communicate feelings in a clear and non-confrontational manner) and the principle of the circle represents the way of harmony (the ability to be compassionate and understand another perspective or to blend with an attack). Each principle has an appropriate application in self-defense and in the peaceful resolution of conflict. We apply these principles in fun ways – through games, role-playing (as a bully, victim, or a bystander), and discussion.

My child often tries to bully or dominate others. Should my child practice Aikido?

Aikido is a wonderful method of transforming angry energy into something more positive because children with power issues appreciate the physicality of the classes and the fact that Aikido is fun. In class we always emphasize the importance of cooperation and the fact that the highest goal of a martial artist is to keep from fighting. Children learn through the centering movements and strong ethical emphasis that a good martial artist is compassionate and learns how to protect other children, animals, and the environment.

Aikido is a wonderful choice for children struggling with issues of power due to its intrinsic emphasis on the peaceful resolution of conflict and the fact that while we learn how to defend against strikes, we don’t rely on strikes in the techniques themselves. Children are only allowed to test when they complete a worksheet that demonstrates their understanding of principles of compassion and mindfulness (see the following question). Children are told that except in extreme cases, Aikido should never be used outside the dojo, and they will not be allowed to train if they cannot follow this rule.

What is the particular value of studying Japanese warrior arts?

Japanese culture emphasizes the importance of etiquette, harmony and cooperation, essential skills for becoming a responsible member of society. In order to promote an understanding of traditional Japanese culture, every child studies the Code of Bushido, or the seven Japanese principles of the Way of the Warrior. Before testing for the next rank, children complete a Bushido worksheet that demonstrates how they have applied these principles in the dojo, at home or in school. The Bushido principles are: Justice/Honesty (Gi), Respect/Courtesy (Rei), Courage (Yu), Honor or Integrity (Meiyo), Compassion (Jin), Sincerity (Makoto), and Loyalty (Chu). The child’s understanding of these difficult concepts grows with their understanding of Aikido.

How do you enforce discipline?

We find that discipline does not need to be enforced if children are genuinely engaged and excited about Aikido. Occasionally, children are told to sit and watch for a short time if they cannot sufficiently focus or if they are distracting others. We emphasize that we are not babysitters and if the child is not ready to focus, then they should leave the mat and watch the class.

Do you take children under 7?

We allow 6 year-olds to join if they are focused and coordinated. If you think it will help your child’s focus, we encourage parents to train with their child (if you are interested, you are welcome to  attend adult classes, too!)

Can I practice with my child?

We encourage children and parents to join the dojo if there is a genuine enthusiasm and interest on the part of all participating family members. We strongly encourage that parents also attend at least one or two adult classes every week in addition to the children’s class. This is not necessary, but it will deepen the parents’ understanding of Aikido, and allow the parent to improve more rapidly. We also have a children’s play space adjoining the mat so that families with children who are too young to take class can still enjoy the dojo. The children’s play space contains many books, toys and games for younger children. Younger children may need to be supervised by a parent or caregiver. No electronic devices are allowed in the dojo (with the exception of computers for homework).

What if my child is very large/physically advanced for his age and/or is over 12 years of age?

We have divided many of the children classes by age in order to support age-appropriate learning. Some 12 year olds may need to attend the teen class and/or regular adult classes. Some children at this age choose to attend both youth, teen and adult classes.

What should my child wear in class?

Children can wear clean, loose, and comfortable clothing. They should wear long pants (sweatpants are ideal) and a t-shirt or sweatshirt. Ideally, the clothing should not have any logos or graphics. We also sell keikogi, traditional Aikido uniforms. After the first month we expect every student to purchase a keikogi. If the jacket does not have an insignia on it, the child is welcome to wear a used uniform from another style. We encourage parents to purchase a uniform as soon as they feel that the child will make a commitment to practice. Please let us know if you have any financial limitations regarding paying for class and/or the uniform.

When should they start/how long should they practice?

Children can begin training any time of the year (with one exception -we do not offer Children’s classes in August). Usually it is preferable to begin in the first class of that month, because often other children will also begin at this time. We encourage children to continue training through teenage and adult years; ideally, Aikido is a lifetime practice.

How often should they train?

We strongly encourage children to attend two classes a week. Older children/teenagers should come as often as possible, ideally three or more classes a week

Can my child try a class?

We let children ages 6-12 try an Aikido class for free. A parent or guardian will need to complete and sign an application and release form before the child begins training.

What if I am not sure I can afford to pay for classes every month?

We currently have a Samurai Youth Program that supports families and children who cannot afford to pay for all or part of the membership dues. The program also allows the child to receive a keikogi (uniform) that will be returned to the dojo if the child chooses to leave. We also accept tax-exempt donations for our Samurai Youth program. Please let us know if you have any financial concerns.

I have other children. What could they do during class?

We have a children’s play space with many books, fun games and toys for children of all ages. The play space adjoins the mat on the Pine Street side of the dojo. This area is unsupervised, so younger children may need a non-practicing caregiver.

Have you worked with home-schooled children?

We have over 18 years of experience working with children that are home-schooled. A number of parents have made Aikido an integral element of their child’s physical training, and home-schooled children often practice Aikido for many years, eventually joining the adult classes.

I am ready to register my child. What should I do?

We believe that you and your child should watch a class (they could also try a class). You are also encouraged to meet with the Chief Instructor for an informal interview. This is a nice way for you and your child to meet their teacher and we can answer any questions that you may have in person. You will also need to complete an application and release form.