Thursday, May 29, 2008

Good day at the dojo

Sometimes Noah loves Aikido, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he even harbours fleeting regrets that he ever started it. That's because most of the Aikido students he knows seem to be committed for the long term, and he feels like he needs to be similarly committed. I remind him that a number of students have dropped off the radar. But, well, he feels like he's started it, and he would not want to give up on this pursuit that he's obviously doing well at. He feels like he ought to keep going, and when he's there, he quite enjoys it. But sometimes when it comes time to go he can think of a few other things he'd rather do.

Today he really truly loved it. He paid really close attention to all the details of instructions and demonstrations and tried extra hard to apply all his observations. He felt good about himself because he did everything almost perfectly.

I wonder if he's feeling a little more comfortable about sticking with Aikido because of experiencing how belt tests are handled. A couple of weeks ago at the spring gasshuku (seminar), a whole lot of white, yellow and orange belt kids took part in the classes, activities and routines of the day. Finally at the end of the day it was time to do belt testing.

The sensei called forward all the white belts (there were six or eight of them). They performed a number of skills and moves, as a group, repetitively, based on verbal instructions in Japanese. After four or five minutes, they were dismissed and took their seats at the back of the dojo. The half dozen yellow belts were called forward. They went through a similar, though slightly more advanced, set of skills. Finally the orange belts did their skills. Some of the kids hadn't fully learned the skills they were being asked for, or weren't sure what they were being asked to do. They were encouraged to "watch the others ... and just try something, do your best." It was all quite low-key. The two senseis sat and observed the kids quietly without comment.

When it was all over the students were all called forward one by one to receive a special participation certificate for the all-day gasshuku. Finally one last yellow belt boy was called forward. He was the only student doing belt testing this time around. None of the students had been aware of this -- they only knew that they themselves weren't doing testing. He was awarded his orange belt and a special certificate.

So there was no harsh spotlight on the student doing the testing. No one but the senseis and the student himself knew he was actually being tested. And all the other students were gaining the experience of doing the testing, but without any of the stress or worry. A 'dry run' if you will. When they are offered the opportunity to test, they'll have been through the whole experience at least once already. The rule is that you are not eligible for belt advancement until you've done at least one gasshuku as a non-testing student. These senseis doesn't seem to advance students quickly. There is only one student under 17 in their two programs (in two different towns) who is more advanced than orange belt level. From glancing at the attendance cards of the students in Noah's class, it looks like only two of them have done any belt testing this year. Belt promotions mean a lot of work and a lot of committment. They mean something big. But the testing doesn't seem to be a big deal. If I had had to design a system of grade-promotions for a children's activity, I don't think I could have come up with anything more to my liking.

Noah is no longer saying he never wants to do belt testing -- which is a significant change in his stance. And he seems to be enjoying Aikido more consistently lately.

He especially loved it today. The other thing that was different today is that one of the boys with some behaviour / attitude issues was not there. Noah is extremely sensitive to negative attitudes amongst classmates. He finds poor behaviour by other kids stressful, because he gets emotionally wrapped up in what he assumes are the hurt feelings and frustration of the instructors. He finds that the whole atmosphere feels poisoned to him. I don't know if being in school for the past 7 years would have worn down that sensitivity in him, but even though it causes him stress sometimes I'm sure glad he still has it.


  1. I remember you from one of the ivillage boards, so I'm so happy to have found your blog. You are a wonderful writer and I enjoy reading about your charming children and idyllic rural days.

  2. Wow! The real Aikido! Unlike the silly running about and tumbling with a move tossed in here (instructions in Ukrainian) and there that Iris went through.

    Nice to see he's enjoying it!


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