How to Start
The best way to begin is to join us for a class. You are welcome to just watch, but you will get much more out of experiencing it for yourself. It's never too late for your first class, and beginning students are always welcome.
The art of Aikido and our methods of instruction have been developed for men and women of all ages. You do not have to be a trained athlete. We require more than physical strength, because we must learn to lead the attacker’s power with timing and a relaxed but irresistible manner. This requires a combination of calmness and concentration. Regardless of your ability when you start, you can develop these skills with practice throughout your life.
What to Wear
We wear a traditional Judo gi, which is comfortable and durable. If you don't have a gi, wear loose, comfortable clothing. Sweatpants and sweatshirt are a good choice. Shoes are never worn on the mat. Socks are optional. Before practice, you should remove all jewelry, watches, etc. for your partner's and your own safety.
You don’t need to buy a gi until you decide to stay with Aikido for a while. They are available from any martial arts store or may be purchased through the club at a discount. Gi sizes are pretty simple, look for someone about your size and weight, and find out their size. As for tying your belt properly, you should ask an advanced student or one of your instructors.
What Practice is Like
Each class begins with warm-up exercises intended to get your muscles ready for activity. It is a good idea to do some slow stretching on your own before and after class.
This is followed by ki development exercises, which help you develop your awareness, concentration, stability and power.
Next, there is falling or ukemi practice. Learning to fall safely and comfortably is vital to your enjoyment of Aikido. We practice forward and backward rolls, which may be challenging at first but soon becomes second nature.
Most of our class time will be devoted to practicing Aikido techniques. The instructor will demonstrate a technique several times, with explanation. The students then pair up and practice the technique with each other. You are encouraged to work with a different partner each time a new technique is demonstrated. Since everyone is different, this helps you learn to effectively throw many types of people.
We finish most classes with an exercise called kokyu-dosa, a fundamental exercise to help you learn how to move people with a very relaxed and soft touch.
As a beginner, it is a good idea to work with more advanced students, those with colored belts. They will be able to show you the essentials of the technique, and are trained to protect you and themselves from injury. While you are practicing, the instructor will walk around helping students individually, to improve your understanding and performance.
As with other Japanese arts, you can be promoted in rank based on your progression in experience, understanding, and responsibility. Your rank is denoted by the color of your belt. In order of increasing rank,
At black belt level, practitioners of Aikido also wear a hakama.
When your instructors decide that you are ready, they will invite you to test for the next rank. We have no tournaments or competitions. In this practice, your challenge is to improve yourself, not to beat others. Our focus is to help, rather than compete with each other. This makes all of us stronger.
Since we have no competitions, you may be wondering how you can gauge your progress. The Kokikai basic principles are displayed at the front of the class during practice. They are the measuring sticks against which you can evaluate yourself. You improve by applying the principles to your technique with a natural, comfortable feeling, and ever less effort. There are many questions you can ask yourself. Am I keeping my balance through the entire technique? If not, where am I losing it? How can I improve my posture? Are my movements comfortable and natural? Can I reduce unnecessary tension? Am I keeping a positive mind? These questions are helpful to people of all skill levels. By being aware of the basic principles and applying them to what you are doing, you have a powerful and open-ended means of measuring your progress. Don't worry about how fast or slow you're going, or compare yourself with anyone else. Remember that your progress is relative only to yourself. Also, don't worry if not everything makes sense at first. Stick with it and it will.
There are no attendance requirements, but regular practice is important for your improvement. Try to practice at least once a week. You will improve more rapidly, if you practice more often, but consistency is most important to your success. Find a schedule you can regularly commit to. When you do go to a class, make sure you legibly write your name on the sign-in sheet. This is important because your advancement in rank is partially based on your attendance.
The first and most important rule is never hurt anyone (including yourself). Injuries can take a long time to heal. If someone gets hurt, they may not want to come back. The best way to avoid injury is to pay attention and use your common sense. Be aware of your partner, and of what's happening around you. Likewise, be aware of yourself. Some of our techniques cause pain, but there's a big difference between causing pain and causing injury. We strive to always challenge ourselves, but don't be foolish. If something feels like it's injuring you, don't do it. Also, if you have a strain or some other minor injury and choose to practice anyway, make sure you let your partner know, and stop if you need to. Don't let a minor injury turn into a major one! If you do get injured in class, tell your instructor immediately so that he or she can make sure that you get the proper care. Please do not leave without telling someone.
Don’t forget to remove all watches, jewelry, etc. before stepping onto the mat. This reduces the chances of someone getting snagged, poked, or scratched. Likewise, keep your fingernails and toenails well trimmed, so that you don't scratch your partners. If you prefer to keep longer nails, make sure they are filed smooth.
When people get tired they can get sloppy and careless. Push yourself, but know your limits! Aikido is about being in control. If you ever feel in danger, immediately stop what you are doing.
Our primary concern is to keep your practice safe and injury free, but it is also important to show each other consideration and respect.
There are times when we bow during class as an expression of appreciation and respect for our dojo, instructor, or fellow students. There is no religious significance to this. You should bow whenever you enter or leave the dojo, and whenever you step onto or off of the mat. Class begins and ends with a series of bows. Also, you should bow whenever you switch partners and when your instructor helps you individually. This is like a polite "thank-you".
Always arrive on time. The exercises at the beginning of class help prepare you for what follows. Class officially begins when the instructor bows to the front of the classroom and then to the students. You may step freely onto the mat anytime before this moment. If you arrive late, first bow at the edge of the mat, then find an open space towards the back and sit quietly. The instructor will invite you to join the rest of the class.
If you need to leave the mat for any reason, remember to tell your instructor first. If you know that you will have to leave early let your instructor know before class starts and again when you are leaving. This is important because your instructor must have everyone accounted for.
During class, your instructors are addressed as "Sensei" which means teacher in Japanese. If a ranking student leads a class, they would be addressed by first name.
In Aikido, we sometimes train with weapons to compliment our open-hand training, and to further develop our understanding of our art. We use three weapons in our practice: the bokken (wooden sword), the jo (staff), and the tanto (wooden knife).
Generally, weapons training will be incorporated into practice in one of two ways. We may practice self-defense against an opponent wielding a weapon, or we may practice kata, which is a specific series of movements that is designed to increase your skill with weapons.
What Can I Do On My Own?
The practice of Aikido techniques requires a partner. Still, there are things you can do by yourself that will improve your practice.
Often, beginners find it difficult to sit in seiza (formal sitting posture). Try practicing this posture while meditating, reading, or watching TV. Start with a short time, one or two minutes, and build up. Eventually, seiza will be a very solid posture.
The ki development exercises can also be done alone. The wrist exercises are simple, and will strengthen your wrists, helping protect them from injury.
Weapons kata is easy if you own your own bokken or jo. Extra falling practice is also valuable.