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Tips for teaching pre-teens

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  • Tips for teaching pre-teens

    The other day I was teaching a class and, unusually for our dojo, the majority of the people were pre-teens. I got quite frustrated with them as they didn't seem to listen to what I was saying or follow even basic instructions. I thought about it after the class and I think at least half the problem was with me and the way I communicated with them.

    My problem is two-fold. Firstly I am teaching in my 2nd language, which creates an obvious communication barrier. Secondly, I am not sure how to make kendo more accessible to a youngr age group. I'm much more used to teaching adults.

    This is really for people who regularly teach pre-teens or teens - or even younger kendoka. Do you have any strategies for engaging with younger students? Are there particular excercises that you find really work? Do you have any hints, tips or tricks? What good experiences have you had that I could use?

  • #2
    I have helped to teach elementary school aged (6-12yo) kendo classes and observed other children's practices in Japan. Here are things I observed:

    - Kids have short attention spans and poor motor coordination skills. This improves with age but basically it's a lot of repeating instructions and requires a lot of patience.
    - Different aged kids learn differently so the class needs to treat them differently. The youngest kids (6-7yo) have practice kept really short (~30min) in a kihon practice that is only for them and maybe 8-9y.o. As they get older they can stay on for the full practice.
    - Keiko has lots of variety, drills are kept short, games are introduced, make some drills game like (e.g. first to hit men when the taiko drum is struck), mix things up from one practice to another.
    - Explain things in terms of how it helps them with competition. This is how they best grasp the necessity of things.
    - A Japanese children's kendo club will have a competition calendar that has them participating in a competition a handful of times a year (say every other month), so this helps to motivate practice. If you do not have this, you can always hold internal competitions.
    - Find the balance between a practice that advances their skills and making it fun. I've seen hard children's practices that aren't fun but produces stellar kendo, but this would only work where the social norms allow this type of traditional approach. I doubt it would work so well where people feel they have other choices.

    The middle school aged kids I have practiced with tend to be the ones who started in elementary school and have a strong interest so they tend not to need a lot of TLC. There are middle and high school aged kids who only started in middle school because budo is a requirement in Japanese middle and high school. I have yet to practice with these kendoist as they tend to keep it to school practice (you can ask George McCall of kenshi247 about this type as he teaches high school kendo in Osaka... you can find him on FB). Therefore I do not have any observations on older children who may not really be motivated to practice... although I have met their adult counterparts... the salarymen who tell me that they did kendo in school but didn't continue presumably out of disinterest.

    Good luck!


    • #3
      Thank you for your reply. I think you highlight the difficulty I face. I trained in Japan for a couple of years and absorbed - or at least tried to absorb - the way kids are taught. My feeling is that without the culture of a Japanese dojo it's difficult to get European kids to practice in a way that produces stella kendo in Japanese kids. In particular, European kids just don't respond to hard training in the way their Japanese counterparts do.

      Having said that, I like the idea of fun drills, such as the one you mention about hitting a drum and seeing who can hit men first. Do you have other drills that you can suggest along this line? Games or fun activities that allow kids to repeat kihon in a way that keeps them interested?

      What I want to avoid is kids who give up because it's not interesting, or raising a generation of kids with sloppy or half-hearted kendo.

      Your advice please!


      • #4
        Kihon is kihon but the main thing I see with kids is to not let things drag for too long and to change format so keiko isn't monotonous. Keeping drills relatively short means their shorter attention span doesn't drift off and if they are feeling frustrated with one particular drill they can possibly do well in another. The older they get the more adult like they and the practice become. Preteens are still quite infantile in temperment from our perspective. This is true of Japanese kids too (particularly in Tokyo).

        The "who can hit men first at the beat" is good for adults too as it's a great exercise for training "tame". Absent a drum, a hyoshi (wood clapping blocks) or other instrument will do as long as it's loud enough. Participants should continuously kiai until the final men. For kids I like to feint a drum stroke but not follow through to teach them to watch their aite and listen rather than preempt by watching me. It gets a good laugh.

        Other "games" include:
        - Who can get their bogu on correctly the fastest (not applicable to the youngest kenshi). The reward is just public praise or (less favored by me because the message is keiko is a drag) they get to be sensei for one round and tell everyone else what to do while they sit out (e.g. 20 hayasuburi)... actual sensei should redirect anything too sadistic (e.g. reduce 100 hayasuburi to something manageable for the age group). Make a joke of anything too extreme ("you know we're not superhumans") but avoid making villans.

        - Fusen (ballon) battle royale or team death match

        - Two lines of uchidachi, each with designated targets (e.g. one uchidachi for men, one for kote, one for dou, or renzoku-waza), two teams of kids line up from youngest to oldest/most experienced, each player taking turns to run the gauntlet, and see which team finishes first after a set number of repeats (adjust for size and stamina). The last player, taisho, might be expected to finish with kirikaeshi for the added demonstration of strength and drama.

        Not every practice has to have these. Just throw something in once in a while. Also, games unrelated to kendo like relay races are ok a few times a year. Renshu jiai also seem quite motivational.

        Leaving some time at the end for kids to socialize without kendo pressure helps them build the social bonds to motivate them to attend. It's like how soldiers will fight for their squad mates, not for the generals.