Today, while two of my students that started their Aikido practice at age 8 have now become – after 10 years of efforts – Shodan, I would like to propose a revisited version of my earlier article Children and Aikido.
di NINO DELLISANTI
My first encounter with children on a tatami during an Aikido class was about 25 years ago. I offered as a substitute for the teacher in charge for children classes, in the same dojo where I used to practice. He couldn’t held the children classes anymore because of his job commitments. Of course I gladly welcomed the opportunity I was offered.
The idea of “experimenting” being a teacher was part of an ideal goal, a common idea collectively shared, which can be found in many practicioners of the art.
Incidentally, we can say that many things have changed since then…
To go back to that time, it was in this way that I found myself with 4 young aikidoists and with a number of matters I never imagined before.
To make things clear, as a starting point it must be said and underlined that I was a young practitioner, also I can evenly state that I was in a condition in which the state of physical ”fury” was the prevailing one in me. The idea of “Aikido” practice prevailing in me, but also in that period of time, was almost entirely based on a tangible physicality thanks to which everything could and should made to work.
Obviously there were deep aspects of the practice, the so called “philosophical ones”, but mainly it was all about listening to the body in its workings and finding gratification and satisfaction in it. In short, I believe that there was not much difference with any young practitioner with a kind of strong physicality that is looking for a way to manifest himself today. I now can say that it is a fact implied in the practitioner age, it is a specific idea of the practice.
Suddenly, finding myself teaching children, I had to face an all together different dimension of the practice. I immediately realized that I wasn’t ready and honestly speaking , not to find a good excuse, times weren’t ripe as well. Back then, children in Aikido practice were seen as aliens. There were several reason people gave against Aikido for children: arm-lock techniques are dangerous!!! Children can’t grasp the “philosophical” aspects of the art!! Aikido is technically too complex for children to reproduce the movements! And even more commonplaces.
In spite of all that and of the fact that I wasn’t ready yet, I was seduced by the experience, for me so difficult. I remember, for example, the pride I felt anytime I found educational responses that produced positive results. That sense of satisfaction brought me once to show the “progress of my children” to the person who was my Aikido teacher at that time. I still remember in a remarkable way that at the very end of the demonstration I went over to him, expecting an opinion, with the ultimate idea that I was going to be gratified from that opinion. Imagine if I was prepared to the fact that the opinion could be condensed in the sentence “They are just children”. That used to be a common idea in the Aikido community and my teacher’s idea could have not been different and, in the end, mine too. What had happened though, the sense of frustration I got from it, didn’t prevent me from realizing that in that practice there was the expression of something I couldn’t define, but that I was not prepared to drop.
At that stage there was a pause and that brings me to 1992. In fact I had to leave that course too, to use that time, not “free” anymore, for my job, but in 1992 with the help of a few sympatizers I founded our small Association with our own dojo, and we all decided to have a course for children.
We taught that it was important for its educational value, for the absence of contests, in contrast with other disciplines that ask you to win .
In this case too, from the choise of these motivations, however true, it’s possible to deduce that there wasn’t much trust in the fact that Aikido practice could actually be accessed by children.
Of that time I remember the efforts, mine and of the others that with me were running the classes for children, to find coherence between adults and children practice, the struggle to teach ourselves starting from zero.
Back then we knew about Judo and karate for children. Aikido for children?
It was spoken about, but little was known about it, information wasn’t circulating properly. In the meanwhile, attention brought us to notice how discoveries were continously possible, often having children as builders of those discoveries.
Passion, which becomes focus in the practice, was always the first motor, making us experience a brand new world, made of potentials that can be organised. In brief, we were learning through playing, because there is no doubt that for a child playing is life and the way to learn. Also we discovered what it means the trust for the teacher, and not for his skills, but for his ability to pass on knowledge. What impressed, and still impresses my perception, was the nature of an experience lived in a complete way, that any activity carried out by childrens discloses .
This is the meaning of Budo, of martial way, long before rationality can disveal it, it is already there, in its substance.
It was a revelation . We were the only ones missing; we did became conscious that wasn’t Aikido to be too hard for children to learn, instead we were not in possession of the proper didactical tools capable of establishing a relationship at a technical level.
It is at this stage that happened a decisive meeting. As the encounter with Cristian Tissier was decisive for my Aikido, the one with Jean Micheal Merit was decisive for my Aikido for children. The first time I had the chance to see him at work and to listen to him, many things became more clear: everything can be teached to young aikidoists, it’s matter of being able to observe what they can express if they are free to do so, to come to an understanding of which elements they can reproduce, without resorting to simplifing interpretations and with a constant attention aimed at respecting and preserving a young body that is growing up. Nothing is impossible, it’s all matter of having the right method and a step by step process, along with a a serious coherency in relation to the physical goals, for a development in conformity with age that doesn’t underestimate (as often adults do when they have to deal with children) the natural potential of the individual.
The second consideration derived from the encounter with J.M. Merit is , if possible, even more powerful: the educational role it’s actually one of ”restitution”. The society in which we live (Aikido included), despite all the defects that we can recognize, gives a lots to each of us. Teaching children will give us the chance to return something back to society and to become world citizens.
Traduzione : Giuseppe Martino 03/11/2011
Copyright Nino Dellisanti © 2011
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