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Teaching Karate-do Shotokai to Children
Our Experience at Almada


(This article is a synopsis of a more extensive work to be presented at SIM 24/26-Oct-03)

 


I would like to share with you the experience of Associação Shotokai de Portugal on the subject of teaching Karate-do Shotokai to children.

First of all some facts about Karate-do Shotokai for children in Almada (I'll concentrate on this area (you may take a look at the distribution of ASP dojo's in Portugal at this site http://www.cao.pt/shotokai/dojos.htm) because it is my hometown and consequently I know it better than any other in the country.)

Almada is a town with a population of 160 000 and we have presently teach around 180 children (from 4 till 14 years old) practicing Karate-do Shotokai in 7 dojo's under the instruction of one technical director (main instructor) 2 instructors and 5 assistants. 

 

The years of experience of these three instructors on teaching goes like this: 26 years of instruction, 15 and 8 years.

When Murakami Sensei was alive and teaching, children under 14 years represented a small percentage of the practitioners, but last decades things began changing and now more than 50% of our practitioners are under 14 years.

So during time we had to develop a especial kind of practice adapted to small people. That was a work that lasted more than two decades. During that time we did a lot of investigation and participate and organized Federation courses and internal meetings and other educative actions, with the participation of psychologists, pedagogues and physical education teachers.

Presently we are selecting and condensing the material we gathered in a handy "Manual for instructors of children in Karate-do Shotokai". (Unhappily to English readers all this material is presently in Portuguese language, but part of it resulted from translations from English and French bibliography, I think it will be possible to adapt it to other languages i the future if someone will manifest interest).

In Shotokai children's classes variety of experiences is maximized. Specialization is avoided. We use some techniques from other Martial Arts especially Judo (mainly falls, projections and grabbing) and we do, of course, a lot of games, most of them traditional Portuguese games, (this country, perhaps due to the excellent climate conditions, has a great richness in open field games).

Despite what you may think the common part between Adult and Children pedagogy is the Technical Program. We use exactly the same Technical Program (!) for all ages from 4 to 84. So what's the trick? Adaptation of exigency. Exigency about technical perfection grows with age, from 4 to 14, always taking in consideration that child development is a personal matter and cannot be completely standardized by ages.

Grades obtained are universal. That is to say a 4th kyu is a 4th kyu regardless of age and he/she must execute all the techniques required to obtain that grade.

We impose a minimum age for "high" grades: 14 years for 2nd kyu, 16 years for 1st kyu and 18 years for 1st dan (we consider that majority is required for a person to use a black belt).

So - you may ask - how do we manage to encourage a child to continue practicing for 10 years (from 4 to 14 years) with only 4 passages of grades (6th kyu to 2nd kyu).


Well, the answer is simple. First of all we don't emphasize the passing of grades, but the practice in itself. Examinations are formal and we try to be just (children tend to hiper-sensitive about injustice) but we don't dramatize. Secondly we divide each Kyu grade into three steps (some dojo's materialize these steps with coloured strips in children's belts; others don't). Like that even in the extreme case of a child that begins training with 4 years old we have 12 steps to distribute for a period of 10 years. One thing I can assure you: the system works very well! No child will end a diligent year of practice without being rewarded, and of curse the reward is proportional to the effort and the performance shown.


 

Now one point more before ending this small report:
- We disagree that children, in order to have a balanced development through Karate-do Shotokai practice, need to compete in a sportive way.

Our experience demonstrates that this is another myth. Small people certainly need to play; and playing means lots of winning and losing games.

But that has nothing to do with institutionalised competition with rules, referees, podiums and medals.

We know what we are saying because some of us tried to do that kind of competition with children in the past. Some of us thought (as certainly many of you still do) that children have an impulse to compete stronger than adults. So we made experiences in that field: competitions of Kata, competitions of Kumite, etc.

After decades of experience, we came to a conclusion that may sound surprising for most of you:
- Children suffer with tha kind of competition, and they suffer much more than adults.

Competitions with referees and medals, even when organized in a light way, always brought tears upon small faces. They simply couldn't understand why only one or two of them climb the pedestal or won the medal.

In traditional games there is such a variety of roles that each child will have the opportunity to win sometimes, even if he/she loses most of the time. In institutionalised competition, quite the contrary happens: only a few win and normally these are always the same match after match, because the game (kumite or kata) is always the same.

So, also with children, we came to the conclusion that institutionalised competition brings more harm than benefits. So we
simply decided to stopped it. Period. 

And, believe it or not, global number of children increased, and the number of unhappy children and parents decreased!

So what about the myth that competition brings more trainees to the dojo's? Well, we don't think so.

Almada has a strong tradition in Martial Arts, so, you can find here Capoeira, Kung-fu, Judo, Taekwon-do, Aikido, etc.

However, can you believe this? Karate-do Shotokai, one of the few Martial Arts that doesn't promote institutionalised competition for children, has the highest number of young practitioners. Even more than Judo! And presently the demand is so high that that the limitative factor is, as you possibly guessed by now, ourselves. None of us is professional, so our time to teach is completely fulfilled.

I am sure that many other instructors on this list have different experiences teaching children. Some of them bet that competition is essential at small ages. Others perhaps don't.

I really would like to know the opinion of other instructors about their experiences in this field.

 

José Patrão

 Texto/Text: © Copyright, José Patrão, 2003

 

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