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
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
|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
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
- 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
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.
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.