A budo is a way of life, a way of thinking. Aikido is more than just the competitions and the accomplishments. The game has its place; but aikido can be a tool for helping kids grow into intelligent, balanced, grounded, mature young men and women.
This past September, I started teaching Aikido to juniors (ages 6-9) and youth (ages 10-15), first in the basement of a church and then expanding to a second location at a local YMCA. Although I have been teaching outside of aikido for 20 years, it is a challenge!
Some of the first things we started developing were mantras:
- Lines of off-balancing? “No Line! Toe Line!”
- Proper rolls? “Tuck the HEAD! Curve the SPINE! Make a WHEEL!”
It is very important to me that my students, especially the younger ones, develop good habits – physical, mental and emotional. To that end, whenever I have to raise my voice, I remind them. “I want you to hear me because I care about you. I am not mad. I want to keep you safe.” At the end of every class, I bow to them and say, “Thank you for teaching me and letting me teach you.”
As teachers, we occupy a position of extraordinary influence. We have a responsibility to not just teach techniques. We are also instilling our students with a way, a Dō (道). They learn not just what you do but also what you say; and how you treat them and others.
Recently, when I asked my students why I raise my voice, an eight year old boy said, “Because you are disappointed in us.” That broke my heart. Someone has told him this enough times that he believes it is true. This kid is a challenge. He is unruly and often out of control; but he is a kid. He needs to learn and grow. Instead, he has been beaten down and now often acts out. His behavior suddenly made sense. He behaves like he thinks a disappointment would behave, because he already believes he is a disappointment.
So, what to do? I got down on his level, looked him in the eye and said, “No. You’re not a disappointment to me.” Then I told the whole class that I am not disappointed in them. “I care so much about you guys and girls! I want you to be great at this because you really can be.” And after class, I told each student something positive about their work that day.
Many of my students come from troubled homes, go to troubled school. Aikido may be where they find that they have worth and develop relationships that strengthen their character and worldview. This is not just a chance to teach kids something fun. Aikido is my opportunity to influence them and their world for the better.
We need to embrace an ideal that transcends the physical. The excellence of a budo is not trophies. It is transformation. Transformation of the body and the mind.
I wish all of us could teach children – not just to beat the British in a few years (although that would feel good!) but because they are the future of aikido and the world. Who knows whether your influence in the dojo might one day ripple to significant betterment of our world?