by Emmanuel Manolakakis

This is a topic that has generated significant attention and questions of late, so I thought I would share with everyone my thoughts and experiences.

I’ve been teaching youth (ages 8 to 15) at my school for over a year now. Repeated requests from enthusiastic parents convinced me to venture down this path. I will admit initially the thought of teaching such a deadly art worried me.

What to show youth?

Everything – just take the edge off it a little. I try to cover all the topics that we do in the adult class. I have found that the youth really enjoy the variety from class to class. In the very beginning, I tried to avoid topics like strikes, multiple attackers or knife work, but I found it difficult, it was like I was lying to my students. I was assuming that they were not ready to understand. The reality is youth are born ready to understand. In the first year of my youth program

I have taught most of the fundamentals of Systema including multiple attackers, knife, chain, gun, chair and stick work. Their understanding is phenomenal!

Here are some key points that have helped me and my youth program.

Explain, explain, explain!
Youth are naturally curious and can really absorb information, so spend time talking about why your doing things the way your doing them. Be patient – they are listening, it just doesn’t look like it!

Keep them focused!
Help them focus on breathing, running, rolls, push-ups, squats, leg and body raises to get rid of the excess energy they seem to have so much of. If you see someone being careless explain it to them. If all else fails – more push-ups!

Have Fun!
This is where your creativity as a teacher must come out. Find ways to make a game out of the principle you are teaching that day. There are countless ways of doing this and many books written about youth games. Just make sure you communicate the idea of fun and learning, not silliness.

Sometime ago, I asked Mikhail Ryabko, “Can you explain how to best teach Systema to youth?” and “What should we teach and not teach?”. He replied, “youth need to see you as a friend first, if they see you as a friend they will trust you and do whatever you ask of them, if they do not trust you, no matter what you show they will not follow”.

It occurred to me then that maybe some of the frustration we have with youth is related to the dominate approach we take.

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