Beginning in Aikido
If you have not trained in aikido before, you may try several classes for free. You’re welcome to practice in regular athletic clothing, such as sweatpants and a t-shirt. This should be loose fitting and accommodate rolling around on the mat. If you choose to continue training, you can choose to purchase the introductory package or pay month-to-month. The introductory package consists of three months of classes at half price and a keiko-gi (uniform). We encourage you to get a keigo-gi (uniform) as quickly as possible, as some techniques are difficult to practice without potentially damaging regular clothes. We keep some common sizes in stock, but there’s no requirement to buy one from the dojo.
Basic Dojo Etiquette
Proper observance of dojo etiquette is an important part of training. The following etiquette guidelines are widely accepted across Aikido and other dojos teaching traditional Japanese martial arts. These guidelines are largely followed in both dojo and seminar environments and should be taken seriously.
- When entering or leaving the dojo, it is proper to bow in the direction of O-sensei’s picture, the kamiza, or the front of the dojo. You should also bow when entering or leaving the mat.
- Shoes should never be worn on the mat, under any circumstances.
- Be on time for class. Students should be lined up and seated in seiza approximately 3-5 minutes before the official start of class. If you do happen to arrive late, sit quietly in seiza on the edge of the mat until the instructor grants you permission to join practice.
- If you should have to leave the mat or dojo for any reason during class, approach the instructor and ask permission.
- Avoid sitting on the mat with your back to the picture of O-sensei. Do not lean against the walls or sit with your legs stretched out. Sit in seiza or cross-legged.
- Remove watches, rings and other jewelry before practice as they may catch your partner’s hair, skin, or clothing and cause injury to you or your partner.
- Do not bring food, gum, or beverages onto the mat. It is also considered disrespectful in traditional dojos to bring open food or beverages into the dojo.
- Keep your fingernails and toenails clean and cut short.
- Keep talking during class to a minimum. Conversation should be restricted to one topic — Aikido. It is particularly impolite to talk while the instructor is addressing the class.
- If you are having trouble with a technique, do not shout across the room to the instructor for help. First, try to figure out the technique by watching others. Effective observation is a skill you should strive to develop as well as any other in your training. If you still have trouble, approach the instructor at a convenient moment and ask for help.
- Carry out any directives of the instructor promptly. Do not keep the rest of the class waiting for you.
- Do not engage in rough-housing or needless contests of strength during class.
- Keep your training uniform clean, in good shape, and free of offensive odors.
- Pay your membership dues promptly. If, for any reason, you are unable to pay your dues on time, talk with the person in charge of dues collection. Sometimes special rates are available for those experiencing financial hardship.
- Change your clothes only in designated areas (not on the mat).
- Remember that you are in class to learn, not to gratify your ego. An attitude of receptivity and humility (though not obsequiousness) is advised.
- It is usually considered polite to bow upon receiving assistance or correction from the instructor.
- During class, if the instructor is assisting a group in your vicinity, it is frequently considered appropriate to suspend your own training so that the instructor has adequate room to demonstrate.
People often ask about the practice of bowing in Aikido. In particular, some people are concerned that bowing may have some religious significance. It doesn’t. In Western culture, it is considered proper to shake hands when greeting someone for the first time, to say “please” when making a request, and to say “thank you” to express gratitude. In Japanese culture, bowing is a part of all these social conventions.
Incorporating this particular aspect of Japanese culture into our Aikido practice serves several purposes:
Bowing helps familiarize Aikido students with an important and very relevant aspect of Japanese culture. This is especially important for anyone who may wish to travel to Japan to practice Aikido. Given the widespread practice of Aikido in the U.S., an understanding of the correct way to bow, and the correct circumstances under which you should bow, can also be very important to students either studying as guests at another dojo or attending a seminar. There is also a case to be made for simply broadening your cultural horizons.
Bowing can be an expression of respect. As such, it indicates an open-minded attitude and willingness to learn from both teachers and fellow students.
Bowing to a partner serves to remind you that your partner is a person — not a practice dummy. Bowing reminds everyone that you should always train within the limits of your partner’s abilities.
The opening bow, at the start of class, signifies the beginning of formal practice. This “community” bow is much like a “ready, begin” uttered at the beginning of an examination. So long as class is in session, you should behave in accordance with dojo rules and etiquette. After “bowing in,” your attention should be focused solely on the practice of Aikido. Bowing out, at the end of class, signals a return to a less Aikido-focused state.
When bowing either to the instructor at the beginning of practice or to your partner at the beginning of a technique, it is considered proper to say “onegai shimasu” (“I request a favor”). When bowing either to the instructor at the end of class or to your partner at the end of a technique, it is considered proper to say “domo arigato gozaimashita” (“thank you”).
[Parts of this text are adapted from Eric Sotnak’s “The Aikido Primer”]