New to Aikido? Your questions answered
Aikido is a martial art that is based not on aggression against a partner, but rather a way of responding to an attack and using the attacker’s energy against them. Aikido has an ethic: to defend yourself without vengeance, to forgive your enemies, and to harmonize with any attack of any description. Aikido technique is a metaphor for a way to lead your life: avoid confrontations, harmonize with unavoidable ones, and maintain grace under pressure through good times and bad. Because Aikido doesn’t depend on physical strength, it is especially attractive to women, children and older adults.
Aikido is more than the study of physical techniques; proper etiquette, attitude and behavior are also emphasized. Throwing and falling are stressed equally – your partner is not an opponent, but an assistant: you acquire the technique by being thrown, and practice the technique by throwing.
There are a number of attacks against which we practice — a strike to the head, a sideways strike to the neck, a punch, one-handed and two handed grabs from the front and back — and a number of responses to those attacks — various pins and throws. In more advanced classes (and sometimes in basic classes) we use weapons, a bokken (long sword), a jo (a long staff) and tanto (a knife). We have wooden weapons at the dojo for use during practice.
We also do attacks from standing and seated positions, to simulate height differences. You generally will change partners every technique or every other technique to work with different types and sizes of attackers.
All classes at TCAC (with the exception of beginner series classes offered occasionally) do not have a start date or end date, but are offered continuously over the year. You can start at any time. At TCAC, there are many classes–you can find a time that will fit into your schedule; almost every class is taught by a different instructor, so you can find an instructor you feel comfortable with. We have many black belts Aikidosts who teach our many classes.
When you start Aikido, the first thing you learn is to take a fall, both forward and backward, so that you can participate safely in the rest of the class. One of the more experienced students will help you learn this. While more senior students may work energetically with other senior students, everyone should be aware of the level of ability of their partner and practice accordingly.
For the first weeks or months of your classes, you will probably just mimic the instructor and wonder when you’re going to learn all the terms and how you’ll remember everything. It comes with practice, practice, practice. First you learn the basic foot movements, later you focus on whole body coordination, still later on smoothness, grace, and speed.
A typical class starts with a warm up to stretch out your muscles, do wrist exercises to simulate the kinds of pins we do and to build flexibility for the practice, and then do some basic movement exercises. After we practice rolls down the mat, class will start.
Each class usually focuses around a specific theme determined by the instructor, but if you come to watch a class, you’ll generally see the instructor demonstrate and teach a number of different responses to a specific technique.
At the end of class we generally do a brief cool-down called kokyu dosa (see photo above)
You can come and watch a class (we have bench seating along the side of the mat to observe) or you can join us on the mat. Just sign a release (ah, the lawyers!), pay a mat fee, and join us on the mat. You’ll receive assistance with regard to etiquette and warm ups. A more senior student will assist you with rolls and help you through the class.
The uniform, dogi, or gi, is a loose cotton garment that allows for ease of movement. You can start practicing without purchasing one. The first time you join us, wear long sleeve sweats and long, flexible pants (don’t wear jeans, they really don’t allow much flexibility). After you decide whether this is something you wish to pursue, you may decide to buy one.
We bow to each other and the sensei (teacher) as a sign of respect before class, before doing techniques, when the instructor helps you individually during class and at various other times. Since our partners are helping us learn, we show our appreciation by bowing. A full seated bow (from a kneeling position) is done at the beginning and end of class, and generally after you work with someone on a specific technique. It’s tradition.
While Aikido does have testing, the tests focus more on the ability to perform the various techniques than who can fight better than someone else. We don’t do sparring in Aikido. You can decide if you want to test, or just choose to practice with us. There is no pressure to test, although you will find you become more focused and aware if you do so.
The skirt is called a hakama. In our dojo, it is worn by men when they reach black belt status (shodan) and by women. Why do women wear them earlier? It is said that wearing a gi is kind of like wearing pajamas, and that while it is OK for men to face each other in pajamas, it would not be acceptable for unrelated men and women to be in pajamas together. Whatever the reason, that is what happens.