Running ’round the mat

Dojo Waiting AreaOne of things that I’ve enjoyed most about the dojo’s new location is that we have a lot more space. In our previous location, at a nearby YMCA, we used a small multi-purpose room. It served us well for many years, but as classes started to grow we faced two problems: (1) we desparately needed more mat space, and (2) parents and siblings had no place to sit and spend their time.

While it would have been easy to focus on the first issue, the dojo as a community agreed that, when we relocated, we had to find a space that could accomodate families and siblings. Most of us who train have families of our own, after all. I’ve lost count of how many times my wife and I have taken little H to an activity, only to find that there’s no space for the parent’s to sit, let alone for any siblings to play or entertain themselves. I firmly believe that training is a family event regardless of how many people from that family actually step onto the mat. We can’t train unless our friends and families support us–at least, not for the long term.

Fortunately, as you can see in the picture, we were able to find a place that had ample room for kids and families to sit, play games, even (gasp!) do homework. As a result, our kids classes usually fall into a pretty regular pattern:

First, the kids arrive. We have a pretty simple policy at the dojo: before class, students and their siblings are allowed to get on the mat (assuming all waiver forms have been signed and so on). They play games of tag or other activities. It serves to get a lot of those wiggles out that seem to build up over a long day at school or sitting in the car. Since my wife is a creative dance instructor, I’ll often let the kids choose a prop that they can play with: hula hoops, streamers, etc. Yes, yes, it’s not martial. But the laughter these kids bring is wonderful.

When class starts, I ask one of the students to ring the bell. I have to admit: when I started allowing siblings on the mat, I thought I’d have a problem getting them to leave when class started. Turns out I needn’t be worried. As soon as they hear the bell, the students line up in seiza, and the siblings bow and step off the mat. (Yes, it’s understood that, even if they aren’t training themselves, siblings need to follow dojo etiquette as much as possible.) While I (or one of the senior students) leads warm-ups and the class activities for the day, the siblings have the entire waiting area to entertain themselves. The area is also where parents sit to have tea or coffee, read, and even use our wireless access to finish up work at the office. To be sure, the overall noise level is louder than what it could be if we were just doing aikido, but the noise is worth it.

At the end of class, we have our presentations. Each student comes up, selects an uke, and then demonstrates one of the techniques we have covered in class. By this time many of the adults have shown up for the first adult class of the evening, and they often participate in these presentations as the ukes. I definitely notice that the parents, who may have been engrossed in other things during most of class, suddenly are very attentive during this portion of class. These presentations not only provide students a chance to show their stuff, but to learn how to sit and pay attention to each other. Over the past couple of months, I’ve watched as students go from being barely attentive to the presenter, to highly attentive, to actually commenting on how this student stands up really tall during technique, and that student looks really calm when they throw.

After class, everyone quietly bows and gets ready to leave. Tempting though it may be to have a few more minutes of play time on the mat, we have a rule: you leave the dojo calmly–not all wound up from a game of tag! There will be plenty of time to play again next time.

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