About The Following Blog

The following blog has been written purely for those wanting a first hand knowledge of what it is like to step into the dojo for the first time as a complete beginner as a Martial Artist. Through practising a Martial Art, you will gain many things such as self-confidence, self-respect and life-long and good friends. I hope this helps you to see into an amazing world of which you have never seen before and that I have had the privilege of belonging to and knowing.
Although I have not put my name or any name to this blog, it does deserve a dedication- a dedication to those who help people to train, who teach, reassure and most important of all- those who never give up, no matter how many times they hit the ground or a mental brick wall, with themselves or others. But above all- those who are ready to begin their own journey, it begins with one step….

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Chapter 75: Aikido, what's that?

What made you start thinking about starting a martial art? Was it something your parents took you along to? Was it something a friend, family member or work colleague was doing? Was it because you wanted something specific out of it - such as self defence?

I started Aikido for two reasons; one to widen my social circle and the second was to learn some self defence. The above questions are some that I've been asking myself over the last few weeks. Not because I'm thinking of quitting - far from it, it's just that as a newly qualified coach I've been trying with little or no success to boost our kids and adults classes.

The Sports Centre where we are based, has recently been refurbished with a dedicated dojo room and brand new mats. So clearly, the venue isn't the problem. I've put posters up in the shops near to where the centre is, but not one enquiry.

The funny thing is, I get stopped in the ladies changing room and asked what martial art I do all the time - but I can't convince these ladies to walk across the corridor and into the dojo. Why? They all say I'm a nice gentle-looking soul but it still doesn't get them to come and watch, much less even try.

It's a crying shame. Aikido is a wonderful martial art for people, especially for women to do. One of our dan grades bumped into another dan grade who trains at a different club. Apparently, this club is struggling to recruit and retain new members too. So clearly, as a club, as coaches, we are not putting people off starting and coming back. But something is stopping new people from trying.

I think I got my answer a few weeks ago. A lady in the changing room was asking me about Aikido and if we had many new people, because if there were she might consider it. During class, there was a 5th Kyu, me and three dan grades on the mat. A guy who looked to be in his 20s was watching through the door, but clocked the number of dan grades and did a runner. He did come back this week with a couple of other people, but again as soon as you make eye contact, they leg it! The only answer I have is that people are intimidated by black belts, and are unsure of starting a new hobby by themselves, especially if they come by themselves.

So we've decided to start a 10 week beginner course for both kids and adults. What has generated some interest is that as a female coach, I will be sharing the teaching with a dan grade. Interest from both men and women I might add. Why? I asked a work colleague about this. The answer was that people don't want someone who stands in a corner of a mat barking orders like a drill sergeant. Apparently, a woman is less likely to behave like this. Do people really believe that a Sensei is a drill sergeant and that the role of other higher grades is to knock the snot out of the lower grades?

I've also been taking to a friend who had children about children getting black belts. They argued as a parent they wanted to see their child physically achieve something. I am of the opinion that there should be a minimum universal age to be awarded a dan grade - and I explained to my friend why. I told them the story of the origin of the black belt, that the belt becomes more blacker with dirt the longer you practise, hence the term 'black belt'. I also pointed out that many people see the black belt as the penultimate achievement but really, that it's just the start, that you pass on your knowledge and in doing so, develops your Aikido further. At the end of this conversion, my friend thanked me, having not known this before, but pointed out that as a martial art, Aikido should really promote the strengths of the art in adaptability, competition and how this develops both adults and children.

I think my friend is right. We all know of the big martial arts schools in your home town, which are able to offer gradings every couple of months. That's fine - that's the nature of their art. We cannot promise people a black belt within 2 years, we cannot offer gradings every 2-3 months, the process of learning Aikido does not allow for that. So we in a way, as a traditional art, we lose students because we cannot offer this. And we should not offer this.

As part of our beginner's course, I am planning a demo so people can see what Aikido is and how it can work for them. I also hope to teach a small amount of aikido-related self defence as well. So I've moved away from taking about gradings with people (especially parents) and have trying promoting Aikido in terms of personal development. I think this approach is working - I now have three adults wanting to start the beginner's course. I hasten to add that they are all women - I think my club will shortly be turning team pink!

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