Strange as it may sound to some, but a lot of martial arts instructors that I’ve met don’t like teaching kids classes. Usually, the reluctance to teach these classes stem from the idea that kids have a tendency to lose focus and get distracted; they have parents waiting in the wings either to (a) attempt to teach their child when you’re working with someone else, or (b) complain to you after class that your not giving their child as much attention as another; or, worse yet, kids just plain think differently from adults. Imagine that!
Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching kids, however, comes from the fact that kids, by and large, train inconsistently. And it’s this issue, out of the multitudes of things one could write about regarding kids and martial arts, that has been on my mind lately.
Many people who read this blog are experienced martial artists; you folks already know that training in a martial art requires dedication and consistency. Correction: training in any activity requires dedication and consistency. Kids are not known to exhibit these traits. Even if they did, they are tied to the whims of their parents regarding what activities they can participate in and when. Given that there is so much for a child to learn and experience, it is no wonder that kids end up moving from activity to activity. Also, martial arts training is year-round; there’s no point in time where we say: “Well! Time to wrap up the Aikido season!” (Although I find the notion highly amusing!) Consequently, parents will pull their kids out of the dojo in order for them to participate in a seasonal sport, and then rejoin the dojo after said sports season has ended.
At first, this tendency to pop in and out of the dojo frustrated me greatly. A part of this frustration stemmed from the turmoil this fluctuation inflicted upon the dojo’s finances. Another part, however, stemmed from the fact that I was the one, most often, who had to explain why student A, who had been training solidly for 6 months, was now a higher rank than student B, who had stopped training in order to play another sport for a couple of months. I didn’t (and still don’t) like the feeling that Student B felt like they were being punished for something that was not really their fault.
Now, however, I have a different perspective. I understand now that kids have a lot more activities on their plate most people imagine (even those who have kids of their own). I consider it part of my job, then, to ensure that their experience with aikido is as productive and enjoyable as possible–regardless of how often they might disappear from the mat. Instead of getting irritated at parents, I now try to work with them, so we can work together to ensure that their child understands that just because they may not advance in rank very quickly (or at all), it doesn’t mean they aren’t learning and they aren’t improving.
Part of the reason I have shifted my perspective is because the dojo’s financial situation has stabilized quite a bit. But most importantly, I realize now that getting irritated doesn’t change a thing. Kids are kids. Parents are parents. Getting upset because it’s soccer season (or whatever) doesn’t do a thing other than alienate the parent and child in question. I would rather students leave, and feel that their short experience at the dojo was a positive one, than try to guilt people into staying, resulting in them feeling resentful over time. This doesn’t mean that I encourage inconsistency in training–I will always encourage students to train continuously, as that has the best benefits, but I no longer think that getting upset when students aren’t consistent does anything to help solve the problem.
Aikido requires confidence and a feeling of well-being to do well; to me, that means that I should try to foster those feelings, even in those whose participation in the dojo is less than what I’d like.