An eight-year-old stands in good hanmi with right hand extended in invitation, “Hey Dad, grab my wrist.” Dad walks up taking his son’s invitation in a cross hand grab. Dad is quickly introduced to the mat as son steps in performing a kokyunage. Father and son exchange grins, the elder’s in approval, the child’s in glee. As father gets up off the mat he is met with the next invitation, this time from Mom.
This scene is played out every Wednesday and Saturday. What started out as a coincidence of convenience has turned into a well attended high-energy class held Wednesday night and Saturday morning where youth and adults are encouraged to train together. With a very family-oriented student base, we count among our members nine family groups- some combination of parents and siblings all training in Aikido. Imagine if you have one adult and two youths training in the same family this could mean four to six trips to the dojo per week, possibly two trips in a day. By training together one or two of these trips can be eliminated.
The real benefits go far beyond logistics. In these classes we emphasize the non-competitive, cooperative aspects of Aikido. Relationship and communication issues can be explored on the mat. The different generations are given a common platform to build future discussions. Families have a chance to spend that all-so-important quality time together that we hear so much about.
Good role modeling is an important aspect of any child’s development. Our parents are our first role models. When we are young we just figure our parents know everything. We seldom stop to wonder how they came to know everything. What a great opportunity it is for a child to watch his or her parent struggle with and learn something new, to make mistakes and constructively enter into the learning process.
As an instructor, the family class may be your biggest challenge. You must not only deal with varying degrees of ability, but also with the physical extremes of pairing an eight-year-old with a forty-year-old, and with vastly different attention spans. You must choose techniques that both can do safely. You must also mix traditional Aikido teaching with activities common to youth and children’s classes. Although we have found that parents are just the big kids on the mat and are happy to join in with the more youth-oriented activities.
If you have families that are members of your dojo, consider setting aside a class for them to train together. If you don’t have families training, consider encouraging their participation. There is nothing like the support of a spouse, parent, or child to keep you coming to the dojo on a regular basis.
When we have new students join the dojo we gather in a circle for introductions. Part of the introduction is to tell why you train or what you get out of the training. The adults always come up with some philosophically important reason for training. The kids cut right through and touch upon the reason we all continue to train: it’s fun! Family class reminds us of this important truth.