Back in January, when the dojo first moved into its new location, my daughter, who was nearly 4, was tremendously excited. She and her friend both really wanted to study aikido. In truth, my daughter wanted to study aikido because she knew it was something that I did, and she wanted to share that with me. Her friend was and is devoted to her, and I think he wanted to be on the mat simply because she was on the mat as well. So the two of them were very eager to train. However, because of they were so young, I didn’t feel comfortable with having them in a typical aikido class. So, instead, I created a Parent/Child class, in which younger kids could get on the mat with their parents and study aikido-related activities.
While the class was great fun, it didn’t grow. Eventually, my daughter’s friend had to stop coming to the class so he could watch his brother’s baseball games. The class then became just my daughter and I spending time on the mat. And, because I am her dad, it was very easy for us to forget about training and instead sit and read a book, or play a game, or just spend some time together. I suppose I could have kept her on the mat, but I knew that I was spending a lot of time away from her to keep the dojo running, and I wanted to make sure she had the time with me that she wanted and needed.
Fast forward now a few months. My daughter has grown in tremendously in how she is able to focus and pay attention. On a whim, several weeks ago, I invited her on the mat for our regular kids class (which generally has kids in the 5- to 10- year-old age range). I was impressed that she remembered the names of the techniques and exercises, that she could remain focused, and that she was really having fun. So, based on that experience, I told her that if she wanted to join the kids class, she could. She was ecstatic! And it made life a little easier for me, because I have two very competent assistant instructors who teach most of the kids classes, so the conflict of being both parent and instructor at the same time is minimized. On the surface, it seemed like everything was working out for the best: my daughter was having fun on the mat, my wife got an extra hour to herself, and I didn’t have to worry as much about being “Daddy-sensei.” (Note: I did NOT ask her to call me that, and I ask her not to do so repeatedly. She, however, thinks its immensely funny to call me that! Sigh.)
Yesterday, however, I watched the kids class as one of my students taught. In the middle of the pack was my daughter, doing ki exercises, warm-ups, and techniques along with everyone else, and having a good time. And I suddenly had the realization that the quiet hour we would spend in the Parent/Child class was at an end; that, while we would still have opportunities to play and be together and even study aikido together, something had changed. Aikido became something she did because she enjoyed it; not something she did because it let her spend time with me. I’m glad for this change, I am, but I also feel a little bit of sadness, because I know the years during which my daughter wants to spend time with me are all too few.
On the plus side, the dojo has grown to a point that several of my senior students have asked if they can lead class on occasion. I’m glad to provide them the opportunity, because it not only encourages them to deepen their own study of aikido, but gives my daughter and I a little more time to spend together. So I suppose, in the end, it all works out.