Water Under the Bridge. Apple to Horse. The Opening Door. The Biggest Rainbow. We use colorful terms like these because they're easy and fun for kids to remember.
They describe some of the rolling, throwing, turning and stretching exercises we practice in Aikido here at Monadnock Aikikai. Our dojo has been offering training for adults in the traditional Japanese martial art of Aikido since 1984. The kids’ class was added to our training program back in February and it’s been lots of fun.
Through Aikido training, kids grow in coordination, confidence, flexibility and calm under pressure. They learn to move, fall, roll and recover gracefully.
In addition to being dynamic, Aikido is meditative and tranquil. We bow on to the mat. We learn to follow instructions respectfully. We learn to be kind, careful, tolerant and cooperative with our training partners.
Balance, “flow” and good posture are maintained while performing techniques. These characteristics are all foundational. Like learning to play a musical instrument, Aikido is an art form and a lifestyle. Mastery comes with years of practice, and Aikido consciousness has a positive effect on everything we do.
Although Aikido in the hands of a skilled practitioner can be a serious fighting art, I train and teach Aikido for mental, physical and spiritual development. I took my first classes in 1975, and I started training rigorously in Aikido in 1996.
Now at the age of 70, I still enjoy flying through the air, hitting the mat in a roll and springing to my feet again. Aikido has helped me to develop and deepen a sense of clarity and calm while under pressure. It keeps me young.
I figured Aikido would be great for my 8-year-old granddaughter and for other young kids like her, so I started this class. I encourage the parents to come on to the mat and practice with us.
On many Saturdays we have a curious and enthusiastic crew of kids ranging in ages from 5 to 12, along with a few older kids and three or four parents... with all of us giving it our best shot! There is no formal semester or block. Kids can start anytime, and we’ll help them get up to speed. Then it’s all “time, pride and effort!”
“Water Under the Bridge” describes the following exercise: one of my adult co-instructors gets on hands and knees and forms a rather daunting bridge to cross. I demonstrate draping across the “bridge,” reaching under toward my toes, and crossing in a soft, quiet and circular forward roll. Then each kid and adult can give it a whirl.
The first time we tried this, I “spotted” each kid for safety and it looked to me like they would never be able to get it right. Now almost every student can flow over and under the bridge like water, landing softly on the mat. This will eventually evolve into dynamic, leaping rolls, high breakfalls and instant recovery.
While doing carpentry recently, I had a ladder slip out from under me and instead of simply falling to the ground, I was able to fall into a controlled roll, projecting outward over a bed of rocks. I got up a little shaken but unhurt.
I thought, “Well, that sure made all those Aikido lessons worthwhile!” Learning to fall properly is “worth its weight in gold!”
In class, each student is different. Some are shy. Some adventurous. Others are poetic and spacey and when I ask them to turn, they twirl in delight.
Aikido is “food for the spirit” and poetry in motion. And we all learn at our own pace.
Any child or adult who studies Aikido diligently begins to grow in balance and coordination. This inevitably has an impact on any other sport or physical activity. And similar to the study of music or art, continued practice yields greater and greater levels of mastery.
I recently watched a blind Aikido student test for and achieve her black belt rank. I was so moved by this. She was quite skilled.
But the thing that moved me most was the obvious love and respect shared between this woman, her teacher and her fellow students. They were all so proud and happy! They developed this team bond by overcoming obstacles and in their mutual quest for excellence.
Study a movement art like Aikido – or, study another martial art. Study sport, dance or music. Explore woodworking, painting, hip-hop, yoga or ballet. Once you find your passion, give this study your heart.
Walk a warrior path! May we all walk and study in beauty!
Bill Whyte can be found Saturday mornings teaching Aikido to kids from 9:15 to 10 a.m. at Monadnock Aikikai, 152 Davis St. in Keene. For more information, call him at 313-3226 or visit monadnockaikikai.com. You are also welcome to visit or try a free class any time.