Friday, March 21, 2008

All the Phases in One Room (TJEd)

Our eight-year old son, Thomas, takes Aikido lessons. Our dojo is traditional, in that it is a place where adults go to seriously study the art of Aikido. But, they also offer training for children three days per week. Watching the children's class yesterday, it occurred to me that this is one of those rare learning environments in which all the Phases are represented, and it was interesting to watch how each Phase approached the class.

The most obvious Core Phaser is the instructor's daughter, who is 8. She has been compelled to learn Aikido because her dad is the instructor, just as she has been compelled to learn cello because her mother plays. She is squirrelly, wiggly, giggly, floppy, inattentive, and clearly not there to be serious. She is often the most disruptive student in the class, but she does usually manage to learn the techniques.

Her 10-year old brother is in Love of Learning Phase. He has also been compelled to take Aikido lessons as well as violin. He seems to be willing to study the art, mostly pays attention in class, always learns the techniques, and is advancing in rank. He does at times slip into goofiness and disruption, but overall he seems to take some quiet pride in being the best student in the class, and is helpful to other students.

Adults, especially parents, are encouraged to join the children's classes, so there are usually between one and three adults in practice. These are generally the Scholar Phasers. They immediately line up when class begins, sitting in perfect seiza, intensely attentive to the instructor. When it is time to practice a technique, they quickly pair up, and practice intently until stopped by the instructor. For every one practice technique the kids do, the adults get in three or four. They are grateful when the instructor gives them personal attention and corrections. They help one another clean up their movements, get the proper flow going, and can often gain a basic mastery of a simpler technique within one practice session. They have paid their money, they have bought their uniform, they've made the time sacrifice to be there usually after a long day at work, and they're going to learn this, darn it!

Every so often one of the "regular" adult students comes in early and participates in the children's class. These are folks who practice at the dojo several times a week, are working toward earning their black belt, and are very serious about studying this art. These are the Depth Phasers. They've got the techniques down, but they continue to practice, practice, practice, to master every nuance of every movement of every technique. They are calmly attentive, have a studied grace of movement, and are very helpful.

The instructor is in Application Phase. He has studied for years, he knows this stuff, and now he's teaching others.

Every so often, Sensei makes an appearance. He's the Impact Phaser. He's been studying most of his life, he still often teaches the serious students, but his most important role is as founder of the dojo. He sees to it there is someplace for students to come study, he puts together seminars to bring Aikidoists from all over, and he makes sure people know the dojo is there for those who are looking to study. Through his committed efforts, he is ensuring that the art of Aikido will continue to be a positive influence in the world. Despite his friendly and occasionally somewhat ruffled appearance when posing as a civilian, when he steps onto the mat, there is absolutely no doubt he is Sensei. He has a very quiet intensity that inspires even the Core Phasers to straighten up and pay attention. Suddenly, everyone around him is performing at a higher level, striving to do a little better.

I am trying to recall any other occasion when I've watched all of the Phases working together in a single learning environment, and I haven't been able to come up with one. So, this was a fabulous opportunity to see the "one room schoolhouse" come together, and then some, and how all of the levels function when in such close relationship to one another. It's gotten me thinking more deeply about this dynamic, and how it will ultimately play out in the context of our own home school.

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