High Technology Aikido for Children
Chapter 1 - Importance of Advanced Ukemi; Fundamental
for Effective Teaching Aikido to Children
John Sing (email@example.com)
August 30, 2001
This article is Chapter 1 in a 3 part series about Ken Ota Sensei's
unique, successful, and innovative approach to teaching Aikido to
It is based on over 35 successful years of excellence in teaching
Judo, and Ballroom Dancing to both adults and children, using a
physical / emotional / psychological approach.
In these series of articles, we'll examine Ota Sensei's successful
and suggestions for increasing your fun and effectiveness in teaching
to Children. This article will focus on the Importance
Teaching Aikido to Children, and Ota's Ukemi Teaching Methods for
This three part series covers:
As always, no written article can truly capture the full flavor of
available. For more information, please take advantage of
Ota's open invitation to call or visit him at anytime He would
to share with you what he has learned so that you may enhance your own
Aikido, ukemi, and ability to teach Aikido to children.
Fundamental ways to keep children's interest (Flow, Tempo
Importance of teaching and focusing on great ukemi as first
including philosophy, tools and drills to teach great ukemi
Warm-up games and drills
Teaching children through their bodies with a minimum of talking
Backleading the basic 8 techniques
Discipline and safety guidelines, games, and suggestions
Safe randori for advanced children
Cool down games
Role of adults as models and instructors
Kenji Ota Sensei
Goleta Aikido with Ki
Goleta, California 93117
(Note: each of the following
web pages have many Quicktime movies. Please allow time for
the movies to load. Click here to go to
the Quicktime Player download website.)
Q: Sensei, what is the importance of teaching Aikido to
Ota Sensei: In today's incredibly fast
world, a child's path to growing up represents vast challenges to:
Young minds are like gelatin. We want to put in good things
their minds firm up and harden for adulthood; we must put good
in their mind before that mind becomes set. Aikido for Children
a powerful tool to teach these life lessons to our
Giving them an experience of Aikido blesses them with profound gifts
the future and all the people they will touch...... in ways we'll never
Build a healthy sense of self-esteem, community
Develop willingness and ability to help, lead, and teach others
Appreciation of value of discipline and ability to focus and achieve
Ability and willingness to work hard to achieve worthy goals
Q: What are your goals for Aikido Children classes?
Ota Sensei: The vital, effective skills that we want to
our Aikido children is not the techniques themselves; it
is what to do BETWEEN the techniques (whether on the mat or off).
The techniques are not as important as what happens in the time in
techniques, just before them, or just after them. On the mat,
between-the-technique skills are:
Q: What is in it for the adults that teach the classes?
Ota Sensei: In order to complete your Aikido training, you
must be able to powerfully transfer your Aikido skills to
Teaching Aikido to children is not really about teaching Aikido
(although you do that and learn more than you ever dreamed possible
your own technique in the process), it is about you learning about how
you appear and who you are as a person and a human being to the most
people on the planet: young children.
The children will be your ultimate teachers about yourself as a
being. The children will test and prove your knowledge and
effectiveness of your Aikido teaching skills and your ability
apply Aikido principles and philosophy to life. Children
honest, they don't lie; if they like you, if they learn quickly from
If they don't, they don't come back. Koichi Tohei Sensei
said, "Doing 10-man randori is not impressive if no one in your life
you. When everyone in your life loves you, when you create Loving
Harmony everywhere in your life, when children always like you, THAT'S
The children tell it best as to the value, here's what they have to
To complete your own Aikido training, you must give back to
Someone helped you when you first started. When you start to help
others, and especially children, you yourself will then know how
well you have learned the lessons that were passed on to
You will find infinitely pleasurable ways for further refinement."
Q: Is teaching children fundamentally different than teaching
Ota Sensei: There are really very few fundamental
between teaching children and adults. Adults are grown-up
of children, and the blocks to an adult learning Aikido, are most
often simply some subtle adult version of a child's attention and
interest span. So, teaching effective children's classes
is really experimentation to see what adult-ized versions could be done
in adult class.
Compared to adult classes, here are the specifics unique to children's
We discuss today ways that you can teach children quickly, using very
talking. Your effectiveness teaching and practicing with adults
be vastly improved by the same methods. In fact, almost all
of the adult class drills that Ota Sensei has developed originated in
class; the children have been our best innovators and creators.
In Aikido Children's class, we suggest focus is on teaching their
using backleading. This will work equally well for adults.
Properly done, backleading their bodies will then allow each student to
teach their own minds in good time, far more effectively than you ever
could. By teaching primarily through the body, using backleading,
high technology drills and games, the Aikido progresses at a much
We'll cover backleading in more detail in Chapter
2 of this series.
Kid's attention span, ability to learn, and physical ability / weigh is
different, hence, shorter attention span means a faster , more varied
pace than adults.
Always remember you are really in the entertainment business,
don't let them pause to let them think too much. Their
learning will occur when the flow and tempo of the class captivates
desire via interest, wonder, and excitement. Use drilling that
their attention and their bodies moving most of the time. If the
drills are good, they work as good or better in adults!!!!!)
We have adapted the Aikido techniques for the children, to accomodate
much smaller size of the child compared to many of their ukes.
these modifications are extremely good for adults to use!
Q: What do you mean by 'keep an entertainment or experience
pace' for Aikido Children's classes?
Ota Sensei : Truly effective Aikido teaching to children
be attained through slow pace talking, lecture, or slow pace drills. Ki
is very dynamic, you must be at realistic speeds to truly appreciate
flowing power So, I suggest it is important to create very
classes that cater to children's shorter attention span, keep their
and their bodies busy continuously. Therefore, I suggest we make
heavy use of fun drills and games in teaching children the actual
Using this approach, all Aikido for Children teaching methods and
should be truly dynamic and full of movement - aimed at giving the
the experience of Aikido movement at a safe (but
fast) speed. Rather than using conversation as a
tool (especially for younger children who do not yet have adult
instead focus on building a collection of drills to help the children
their bodies, learn to move and use their bodies, in productive,
We aim for the child Aikido student to gain true, usable skill that
can be delivered at any time under pressure, with accuracy and
These skills are experiences that cannot be just talked
After all, life itself does not teach us by lecture or in
Life just sort of pushes our minds and bodies around through
Real skill in Aikido, or in living life, are best birthed in the
experiences, and relationships that we can give our Aikido children
the drills, games, and practice.
Q: You suggest an interesting agenda for your classes, what
Ota Sensei: Our normal time duration percentages are as follows:
We spend more time teaching ukemi and warming up than most people spend
teaching Aikido. This is how important we suggest advanced ukemi
and the warmup/conditioning drills are.
Ukemi Warmup (20% of class time)
Warmup/Conditioning Relay Race Games and Drills ( 20% of class time)
Aikido Techniques and Aikido drills (including time for randori, older
kids, etc.) (25% of class time)
Judo techniques as appropriate ( 25% of class time)
Cool down games (remaining 10% of class time): 4-corners (takes
minutes) or Back-To-Back
(takes 10 minutes)
Q: What do you suggest are the ingredients for a good Aikido
The flow of the class moves at a fast and varied pace, so that
children never have too much pause to think. The class only slows
when children need to catch their breath, then we rev it up
Keeping the children's class moving, keep the children entertained by
pace and experience of Aikido.
Teach great ukemi from the beginning to allow the speed to come up. Use
Given good ukemi skills, make heavy
use of fun drills as the primary teaching tool to get the
required to accelerate the learning and speed of the children students
Keeping children safely moving is especially important to remove the
for the mind to create fears about falling or not being good enough.
by moving the class along at a good pace, and specifically having the
ones intently watching and being coached by the senior children , the
class pace raises all children's pace and learning.
Choose the training partners for the children, so that you match
the appropriate older children with younger ones for best results from
both. Older more advanced children get to be 'on stage' to give
extra work, and to give them recognition!
Run the class with 'rules' that help the children learn discipline and
the value of promptness in their lives. Our suggestion: use
the philosophy of Vince Lombardi Time for everything (i.e. always be
early for everything). Specifically in class, use a
countdown to motivate the children to line up quickly - you'll be
how quickly they learn to be alert and move fast. Failure
do so means a small number of pushups or sit-ups. This teaches
and adults the value of being alert and being early. Vince
Lombardi , the famous Green Bay Packer NFL Football coach, used to talk
about how in today's society, we arrive at work, take coffee,
we take our time (and that of others) far too casually. The
is, however, in Aikido randori and in life, that being
means being on or ahead of time in everything. So we train the
from the start (smile!)
Remember that you are really in the entertainment business when
teaching Aikido to children
Adult instructors have the primary responsibility to watch for the
safety at all times. We always watch the children very carefully,
never letting them feel fear.
We teach the older child students to act as role models for the younger
Always allow the children to be children. While keeping good
we must always be non-fussy and kind with their techniques. As
grow older, they will naturally modify and refine
their techniques to the proper level in beautiful ways you would
imagine. Why? Because their minds and their teachers told
they were doing it well at every stage of their young lives. They
learn they can always improve, but that to try and start is always met
with kindness and encouragement.
Q: Sensei, you strongly recommend a strong, primary focus on
Ota Sensei: I suggest starting all Kid's Aikido classes with
fun ukemi drills. Ukemi warm-ups allows children to
off excess energy and makes their young minds open and present to
the Aikido movements and techniques that will follow in the class.
More importantly, ukemi is the major determinant on how much you can
accomplish in the rest of the class, how quickly the children can
and how safe the class can be. Therefore, the primary skill we suggest
focusing and teaching children is ukemi.
Did you know that the #1 reason for injury for children / young
getting hurt or dying is falling? And of that, falling and
hitting one's head? Hitting one's head is on the
falling of bicycle, etc.......... ukemi skills will save children's
Excellent ukemi at high realistic speeds is giving the children an
level and and survivability skill that far exceeds that of almost any
children's activity (except probably for gymnastics).
We teach them advanced ukemi from the beginning , using
warm-up and practice with ukemi on PADS adapted from gymnastics.
Inexpensive futons or discarded mattresses can also be used.
find that with these pads, the kids will LOVE ukemi. With the
fear from their minds (and fear of injury from OUR minds).
Everyone is born with a fear of falling. But, children also don't
know what they "can" and "can't" do. So, the landing crash pads
the crucial element to start the children on a path to learning good
The pads give them the confidence that they can do it, and they
Q: How should I teach Ukemi to Children using
Ota Sensei: The key to our ukemi success is teaching using
gymnastics landing pads and gymnastics barriers and at a very safe but
eventually high speed. If the child practices too slowly, they
always have time to develop fear. Rather, we lovingly coax them
having fun on the pads (safely), and the children discover they can do
The key point about teaching ukemi is always SAFETY, both on and
off the mat. Safety is mostly in the attitude of the class and
supplemented by proven safety high technology training methods adapted
To achieve advanced ukemi for children:
Using the methods touched on below, we have been able to teach our
to do the following SEVEN different types of ukemi:
The instructors are constantly saying, "when you reach the right level,
then you can go do that fall". Go step by step, we
let the children get ahead of their own ukemi skill level!
Constant supervision by adults
High technology soft landing pads and barriers using proper drilling
Use soft barriers to teach high rolling skills. Soft
barriers provide motivation
Use various kokyunage timing throws to teach leading, blending
Always insure proper weaning of children onto the regular mat, no
does fall before he/she is ready
In addition to the adult instructors teaching the ukemi, young
watch the advanced older children and learn by imitation. The
and skill of older children's ukemi determines the pace of the ukemi
of the class. When good ukemi skills are present, the pace is good and
sufficiently fast; then, the younger children never have a chance
to pause too much. This is important, because when children stop,
they develop fear of injury they never had before). By seeing
other older children can do in ukemi, this reverses the situation;
children don't know they "can't" do it, and instead they do learn to do
it by watching and imitating.
The following sections give suggestions of ukemi drilling and
Step 1: Teaching Basic Ukemi
We start by rolling on pads, assisted at every step by older children
and adult instructors:
Rolls on pad drill warmup
Senior children help
roll on the pads
As necessary, the very new beginners are segmented to their own pad
with their own instructor to learn the basics. Safety is always
and never compromised in the search for energetic pace.
Step 2: Teaching High Roll Ukemi
We then proceed to build high falls, one step at a time:
In this way students get used to being in the air; they get the
to start combining 'roll and slap' with height.
Start by low barrier, to get child to go over straight and gain height.
Once they are going over properly, we introduce 'roll and slap' without
a lot of barrier height.
After that, we slowly start to raise the barrier in gradual
(we have several increments of barriers).
IMPORTANT: any time that we raise the barrier , we raise
landing pad (i.e. doubling
the landing pads). This is critical to assure we
fear as the young student knows that there is no 'drop' to the
If the student never develops fear (and we watch and wean them like a
every step of the way), they will learn to do advanced ukemi in a
of months. Most of our orange belt children can do most
the advanced ukemi, and certainly by the green belt level they all
We have found all children of all body types are wonderfully flexible
acrobatic, given the right safety training and encouragement.
and double landing
pad (Caitlin going over high barrier)
the advanced upper belts get to go over the very high barrier, the
white belts need to "go around". This is a very motivational goal
for the lower belts, as we tell them, "when you earn your higher belt
get to do this too!":
Step 3: Teaching Advanced Ukemi
After basic ukemi, we specifically have drills to teach children
(breakfalls), side slaps, full body, and kick-outs.
Only when the student has proven expertise in going over high
straight and true, only then do we slowing allow them to start doing
on the pads
Airfall on pads
Airfall drills on pads
Instructors very specifically monitor the progress of the students -
no student is allowed to go past his or her skill level in ukemi before
Learning the other six falls follows the same progression:
Senior children help juniors
other falls pads (Caitlin helping Leyla learn kick out)
Basics of learning kickout
Basics of learning
With those drills in place, we slowly work up to the following
speed advanced ukemi drills, only as the children are ready.
like what you see:
High Kickout drill on pad
High Full Body
over pads - note the double pads
Ukemi crossing drill
Essential Importance of Ukemi to Aikido Children's classes
Q: At what age can we start airfalls (breakfalls)?
Q: Why teach breakfalls (and other advanced ukemi)?
Q: Why do we advocate the teaching of these advanced ukemi?
Anytime after the basic rolls and roll and slap
As long as the child is taught properly and safely, their young bodies
and young minds will quickly take to doing these fall
The methodology and reasoning behind Advanced Ukemi is discussed in
detail in the Ken Ota
"Ukemi, Rhythm, and Timing in Aikido", Aikido Today
March/April 2000. We believe advanced ukemi to be a real
to create advanced Aikido rhythm and timing for effortless power.
Advanced Ukemi is the essential element to allow safely teaching Aikido
skills at realistic speeds, movement, and pace; and allows our
to experience realistic drills.
With the landing pads, barriers and other teaching tools, everyone can
learn advanced ukemi very safely
Advanced ukemi will greatly boost the class's progress and what is
to be done (example:
taken from sankyo
It instills great
in the children when done properly and safely
Most importantly, advanced ukemi may save their life someday!
We owe it to our children to give them with an ability to perform
at realistic speeds on the playground. Otherwise, at some point
child will self-discover that his Aikido activity hasn't given him real
life skills. More importantly, at realistic speeds, children also
learn realistic wisdom and maturity to use Aikido wisely, including not
using it at all if necessary. We very strongly feel we have
responsibility to the children and parents to instill this level of
Ukemi is the essential foundation element to achieving this.
Start class by teaching the children Excellent Ukemi. They
just love it and keep coming back for more..
In the next chapter in this series we will examine the topic of
Ma'ai to Children, and Backleading.
Summary: Aikido for Children Part 1
Aikido for Children, specifically tuned through advanced high
methodology and innovative drilling, is a beautiful tool to teach life
skills to children. Children properly taught and highly motivated
at this young age will naturally develop great Aikido at the same time.
We hope you enjoyed Chapter 1 and are looking forward to Chapter
2: Dynamic Ma'ai for Children and Backleading.
We owe it to our children to not only give them Aikido philosophy,
also the true Aikido ability to be able to appropriately, wisely,
and powerfully use Aikido for real on the playground or in real life
situations if they ever need to.
Some of the ideas in this article may seem quite a bit out of the
However, we suggest that the world our children are growing up in has
changed, but education and teaching methods haven't necessarily changed
with it. Therefore, as parents or as role models, we need to be
to new and bold, effective ideas. In over 35 years of
Ken Ota's methods have graduated over 30,000 students. We offer
ideas and methods here for your enjoyment and use.
Aikido is a powerful tool for all of us is to develop the ATTITUDE
self-confidence with kindness, power with gentleness, speed with
To give to our children the ability to see, learn, and do Aikido in
spirit and relationship will be a gift for their lifetimes.
For more information, please take advantage of Ota's
to call or visit him at anytime. He would love to share with you
what he has learned so that you may enhance your own Aikido, ukemi, and
ability to teach Aikido to children:
Kenji Ota Sensei
Goleta Aikido with Ki
Goleta, California 93117
of us in
Goleta Aikido with Ki, Thank You for visiting this article.
(Ken Ota is seated in the front row on the left, with his wife Miye
to his left).
Article written by:
August 25, 2001
Where to buy gymnastics Pads and Barriers
You can get the kind of gymnastics landing pads and jumping barriers
we use from:
Athletic, Inc. - Mats - http://www.americanathletic.com/matspadding.html
Athletic, Inc. - 'Action Shapes' -