Monday, August 20, 2007

Mini-Dogi's, Maximum-Fun...

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go with Arakawa Sensei to one of his many kindergarten karate classes. This particular one at Shirayuri [White Lily] Kindergarten (conveniently located in between my house and the Shiramizu Dojo) had about 30 five year olds in a vary spacious, well built gym. Apparently the owner is a very wealthy businessman who owns a large number of kindergartens, hospitals, and other buildings so it's understandable that it was very well built.

Aside from the great facility, the class was a blast! All these little kids with their small dogis practicing diligently were so cute, it was hard for me to not grin from ear to ear for the whole class. But beyond that, I noticed they were rather well trained. I paid particular attention to what parts of the movements and stances that Arakawa Sensei placed emphasis on as, I presume, those are the core principles which help the students improve. We spent most of the class doing junzuki and jodan uke, and junzuki dachi was always broken down into 4 main points to help the kids check their position. The 4 points were the striking fist (straight out, aimed at the solar plexus), the resting fist (on the same line as the punching fist and pulled far back), front knee (bent, positioned over the ankle), and the back leg (straight).

More than that, it was very educational to observe how the class was set up to promote a sense of discipline and how small, unspoken challenges and rewards could encourage other kids to improve.

As an example, the class started with all the kids sitting in the back of the gym and as Arakawa Sensei did the roll call, each kid would run up and line up. Of course, they had a little help from the other sempais there (Yoshiwara Sensei, Yamazaki Sensei, and her daughter were there to help), but all in all it went very smoothly and accomplished the task of taking attendance and teaching them the proper way to line up in one go. Sitting in seiza was also broken down into 4 steps: 1. left knee down, ball of foot on floor, toes bent 2. right knee down, same foot position 3. straighten the toes, bridge of foot on floor 4. bottoms down.

Or, during class, Arakawa Sensei would often ask one student who was doing a particular movement well to come and demonstrate at the front of the class. Afterwards, he would give them a little boost on their way as a reward. This little jump in the air quickly became quite sought after and you could tell everyone wanted to do well in order to have a chance at being boosted.

These little things are bits of teaching that I rarely get a chance to see when I train with teenagers and adults. And yet, they really interest me in that my club in Vancouver has more kids than adults, so all these ideas and methods I've never seen before really help me to develop and refine my own ideas and methods on how to approach teaching. I'm hoping I find time and get chances to observe more children's classes because I still have a lot to learn.

In the picture above, the building in the back, on the left is also part of the kindergarten, so it is actually a large group of buildings.

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