I've know Eddie Frager, 3rd dan, for a number of years now and have written about him before here. He is one of the Founding Instructors of the Western Aikido Association. His dojo in Portland is thriving and directly affects a wide circle of people through their various classes and community events.
This article focuses on his kids' program which along with Low Impact Aikido classes should be the heart of any dojo's curriculum.
So here are my questions and Eddie's great answers:
Q: What is your core philosophy behind teaching the kid's classes?
Life throws us challenges every day. Children need to learn how to deal with these conflicts in a positive and non-violent manner. Conflict resolution and controlling aggression are the base for developing good self-confidence and control. Children learn the physical techniques that help them deal with physical, verbal or emotion challenges.
At Bridgetown Aikido, we have classes for 4-7 year old and 7 year old and up. I approach each age group with different goals and strive to inspire self-esteem in every child. I create a safe environment so that each child will get the maximum benefit from my practical and fun approach. Children learn through movement, so I blend mindfulness, compassion for oneself and others with lots of activity. One of my basic principles is If it isn’t fun for me, it certainly won’t be fun for them. I look forward to each class and truly love what I do.
Q: I imagine this is fun and challenging-- both at the same time. What has been the most fun? And what has been your greatest challenge?
I gave up a highly successful career as a commercial real estate broker, and decided to completely change my life in order to be of greater service to the community. I am a full-time Aikido teacher. The greatest challenge has been developing a program for kids that is both serious, practical and enjoyable. Many dojos do not teach children or don’t do it well, because teaching Aikido to children is really difficult. Our techniques are complicated; co-ordination of mind, body and spirit is a big challenge to get through to adults much less kids. So, I break it down into small bites that they use in the dojo and can take off the mat and use at home or out in the larger world. I say I wish I could do magic, and fix every child’s confidence and behavior issues – I can’t. But we makea pact between the dojo and each family to work together using tools that I teach to improve control, confidence and attitude.
A small example is my students come from all walks of life, but when they are in their keiko-gis (uniforms) they are all equal and always treat each other with respect and kindness. So I suppose the greatest joy is also the greatest challenge, in constantly moving, learning, enjoying the time we spend together and being grateful.
Q: Do you integrate games as part of your teaching?
I do not play “games” with my kids. We do Aikido “exercises” that encourage team work, cooperation, where everyone wins. This is usually done at the end of the class. During a typical class we work on Kihon Waza (Basic Techniques) and body movement. My older kids do many Advanced Aikido techniques, such as koshi-waza and shihonage, always in a safe controlled environment. Many Aikido teachers have told me they will not teach these kinds of techniques to children. I have very high expectations of my kids, and they constantly amaze me at reaching and even in many cases exceeding my expectations of them.
Q: Do the parents stick around and watch the classes? What have their observations been?
I have space inside the dojo for parents to watch their children take class, and a separate waiting area that is away from the mat. Sometimes it is better not to have have parents in the dojo when I am teaching as it is a distraction for the child, and other times it is very beneficial to have a parent present for the child, especially if they are shy or introverted. What I do stress is that when the kids are in class with me, they need to focus and be present with me and their “friends”, fellow students in class. So, if a parent is a distraction we can always have them move into the waiting room.
One of the most interesting classes I teach is our Family Aikido Class, where a parent actually takes class with their child. They are partners for the whole hour and it has been a hit since the beginning. My idea for this class came from my memory of taking class with my Dad (Robert Frager Sensei 7th degree black belt) when I was young. Back then there were no kids classes, so I would just train with the adults. It was a wonderful bonding experience for us. Aikido more than 35 years later is still a strong bond between my Dad and me. This is what one of my Family Aikido Class parents has written about his experience;
“Thanks for everything over the past year! Aikido has been the best thing that we have ever done as a father and son together. Just wanted you to know I really appreciate it."
Q: How have you adapted the tests for the kids? What kyu test do you start with? And do you see the kids moving into teenage/adult rankings?
We do kid’s Kyu testing quarterly. The kids love frequent promotions, even though some find testing difficult. And it is a wonderful way to help them develop greater self-confidence. I have developed a Kyu system for kids from 10th Kyu to 1st Kyu. I require a fairly rigorous knowledge of Aikido techniques, as kids move into the higher Kyu ranks they start to learn advanced techniques. This would translate as they come into Adult classes as a Adult 3rd Kyu or so. The way that I have structured the ranking systems, it builds a solid foundation in Aikido. I remind all of my students, that I can at any time during a test ask them to perform a technique that was on any previous test that they have taken. In this way, they do not only train for the test – but train to learn the basic skills required to improve and advance.
Q: And what are your long-term goals for the kid's classes at Bridgetown Aikido?
I started Bridgetown Aikido children’s program to teach the spiritual and philosophical principles and martial practices of Aikido. I constantly remind them that Aikido practice is based on non-competition and nonviolence. Aikido develops our capacity to remain centered, calm, balanced and focused—under the challenges and stresses of our little ones busier and busier daily lives.
I believe strongly in the ideals of the Founder of Aikido. According to the Founder the first aim of Aikido is to develop ourselves as human beings; the higher aim is to use our energies and capacities to work for greater peace within ourselves, our families, and our community. What more could we ask from our children?