What should I expect at my first Aikido session at The Hut Dojo?
What is special about Aikido?
Before you get on the mat you should understand that Aikido is essentially very different from other martial arts like Karate or Taekwondo in that the person with whom you train is NOT an opponent, but a training partner - who permits you to use his/her body to learn your art, as you do in turn for them. It is NOT a fight or a contest of strength. Your training partner trusts you not to take advantage and hurt them. Don’t forget, you yourself will also be on the receiving end of the techniques!
In Aikido there is no “winner” or “loser”, both partners should simply try to learn from the training experience and improve their technique. Aikido as taught at The Hut is NOT a combat sport in the normal sense of the word and in Aikido throughout the world there is no physical competitive aspect.
The essence of Aikido is relaxation - for both training partners. The person applying the technique must NOT use physical strength, but should aim to perfect the movement so that the training partner is unaware of being “muscled” and therefore is not motivated to react against it.
When applying Aikido techniques you must always bear in mind the principle of “No force”. This will eventually enable you to move smoothly, in a relaxed manner and prevent you from tiring yourself out. When you learn a technique properly, the technique itself produces the desired result.
Timing is also an important aspect of Aikido, a technique applied too soon or too late will prove ineffective.
When receiving an Aikido technique you should also apply the principles of Aikido, namely not to resist the technique but to “blend” with it, which will enable you ultimately to redirect the power of the attack. If you tense up or resist you risk being injured. You might succeed in making it difficult for your training partner to use a particular technique but in reality he would just switch to a different technique. However when practising in the Dojo the attack and defence specified by your instructor must be used.
What should I wear?
If you already have a white Gi - Japanese style trousers and jacket - maybe you have already practised another martial art - by all means wear it. You should not however wear a coloured belt, only a white belt. If you have gained an Aikido grade at another club, please consult with the instructor before wearing your coloured belt.
Otherwise any loose fitting clothing such as track suit bottoms and T shirt would be adequate. A sleeveless vest top is not a good idea as this will mean that your bare shoulders could come into contact with the mat. Jeans are almost certainly going to prove too tight. Your clothing should of course be clean. As you will train barefoot you should bring some flip-flops or slippers which you can wear from the changing area to the edge of the mat to avoid bringing dust and dirt onto the mat on your bare feet.
Please ensure that your fingernails and toenails are well trimmed to prevent injury to yourself or your training partners. If they are long they should be taped up. Long hair should be tied back and all jewellery removed to prevent injury and loss. Make-up should not be used as it risks being wiped off on your training partner’s jacket.
The room in which you train is called the Dojo and the floor is covered with thick rubber mats called Tatami which cushion your body when rolling. As you step onto the mat it is customary to bow towards the far end of the dojo where the portrait of Sensei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, is hanging. You should also bow when you leave the mat at the end of a session.
When the instructor calls the class to attention at the beginning of the session, all the students kneel down in the Seiza position, left big toe crossed over right big toe, hands on thighs. The higher grade students will be nearer the front, so you as a beginner will be in the back row. The instructor will face the portrait of Sensei Ueshiba and he/she and the class will bow at the same moment. The instructor will then turn to the class and bow to the class who bow at the same time.
If the training session is already in progress it is customary to wait at the edge of the mat until the instructor beckons you onto the mat. Likewise you should not leave the mat without the instructor’s permission.
Social chit-chat should be kept to a bare minimum and you must be totally silent when your instructor is demonstrating a technique.
Food and drinks should not be brought onto the mat. You may however leave a small bottle of water on the shelf at the end of the dojo. Ask the instructor’s permission before you drink any.
The session normally lasts about one and a half hours with no breaks. It ends with the same kneeling and bowing as at the start. Don’t forget to bow as you leave the mat.
Please note that there are toilets at the Hut but no showers.
What will I actually do during the session?
Important note: if you are taking any medication or have any physical problems you should discuss these with the instructor before the session.
Your instructor will begin the session with a brief warm-up and then the class will practise some of the basic moves of Aikido - turning away from the line of attack – Tae Sabaki and Tenkan - and moving in towards an attack - Irimi.
The class continues with Ukemi or rolling escapes. The basic forward Ukemi may at first glance look like a forward roll, but is in fact a shoulder roll which is executed using only one arm rather than the two used for the conventional forward roll. Your instructor will help you to learn this technique.
Next you will practise Tae na Henko, moving off the line of a partner’s attack and “blending“ with the attack rather than opposing it. Your instructor will demonstrate.
The class will continue by practising some or all of the five throws and four immobilisation techniques on which Aikido is based. In the initial stages of your Aikido career all of these are practised from a series of static positions, the first two of which are as follows:
1: Your partner grasping your right wrist with his/her right hand (or left wrist with left hand). This is called the “First Form”.
2: Your partner grasping your right wrist with his/her left hand (or left wrist with right hand). This is called the “Second Form”.
In all there are sixteen of these basic positions which you will gradually learn throughout your Aikido career. Even up to Black Belt standard you are unlikely to study more than the first eight in any detail.
It is customary to make four attempts at any technique before switching roles with your partner.
As much of Aikido is based on joint locks you should feel some slight discomfort as the hold or lock is applied, but care must be taken because they are capable of causing serious injury, having been developed from Ju-Jitsu and other martial arts. If at any moment the pain gets too much for you, slap your thigh with your hand and your training partner will slacken the hold. If you are on the floor, slap the mat.
During the training session you should kneel along the edge of the mat whilst your instructor is explaining the next technique, then when he/she has finished, you bow whilst still kneeling then stand up and find a partner to train with. It is customary to choose a different partner for each technique to provide variety, small, tall, light, heavy, more/less experienced etc
The instructor will teach a variety of techniques in each session, some of them elementary and others more advanced. Typically the more elementary techniques will be repeated from session to session as these are the ones which you will have to learn in order to make progress up the grades. The more advanced techniques you will not need to learn properly until later but they illustrate the principles of Aikido in action, which is why you are trying them out.
How do I make progress in Aikido?
By repeating the techniques you will slowly begin to understand the how and why of Aikido and after a few month’s practice, having observed your progress, your instructor will discuss with you taking a “Grading” at which you will be able to demonstrate what you have learned.
If this is done successfully you will then move up to a higher Kyu (student) grade and eventually wear a coloured belt. You begin as an 8th Kyu grade and work your way up through Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue and eventually to Brown belt, which is 1st Kyu grade. This is followed by the most junior Black belt or Dan grade – 1st Dan, after which you could continue up the Black belt grades.
Enjoy your Aikido!