Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most common questions asked by beginning students:
1. What do visitors need to know when entering the Dojo for the first time?
2. What do new students need to know for their first class?
3. What do I need to know about continued training?
Visitors are always welcome!
Visitors are invited to come watch any class that is in session — just come in and find a seat. The instructors may not be able to speak with you immediately, but please don’t feel that you are being ignored. We will be happy to answer any questions after the class has finished! We are always interested in growing our family of dedicated students. Visitors are encouraged to watch both fundamental beginner and advanced classes to get a complete picture of what Aikido looks like.
Please do not take photographs without speaking to the instructor in charge.
2.0 What do new students need to know for their first class?
A new student should plan to get a plain white karate or judo gi (uniform) without patches or logos. These are widely available on-line or at local sporting goods stores. After your first test, you will be encouraged to purchase and wear a hakama – the formal pleated pants that the instructor will be wearing. For your first few classes, you do not have to have a gi, you could just wear something loose such as a plain tee shirt and sweatpants.
As a new student you can start at any time, and can attend any fundamental beginner class. The instructor in charge will make sure that you receive any special instruction or attention needed to help you feel comfortable. In your first class, you will be introduced to other beginning students with a range of experience and skill levels.
If you have previous martial arts experience, it would be best to meet with the chief instructor, John Messores Sensei, to determine which classes would be best for you to attend.
After five classes new students may attend Friday classes, which are more intermediate and often include weapons training. This ensures that students are comfortable with the basics of rolling and dojo etiquette. At this stage, students may also attend the various weapons mini-classes throughout the week.
Students who have tested for at least one or two rank promotions will be encouraged to try the “regular” training classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Attendance at these classes is at the invitation of the Chief Instructor (Messores Sensei), and depends on the student’s skill level. Traditionally, these classes are attended by senior (black belt) students and focus on higher level techniques; in order to keep these classes challenging for senior students and safe for all participants, a strong base of Aikido training is required for all students who attend.
- Adult dojo dues = $90/month
- Teen dojo dues (15-17 years) = $60/month
- Youth dojo dues (11-14 years) = $50/month
- Dojo mat fee for visiting aikidoka = $10/class
There is an initial registration fee for membership in the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (the aikido organization of which we are a member dojo) of $45. Thereafter, this is the amount of the annual fee to maintain membership in ASU.
Eventually you will be encouraged to purchase your own training weapons. About once per year, the Dojo makes a group order for supplies. However, training weapons are usually used only in regular / advanced classes, and there is a supply of Dojo training weapons for everybody to use.
The parking lot in front of the Dojo is very safe. However, please do not park directly in front of the Dojo’s windows — we want to encourage other visitors to see us!
Sometimes, it is unavoidable to arrive late for class. That is OK! If you arrive late, please walk around to the back side of the building and enter by the back door (so you don’t have to cross the mat while class is in session). Go ahead and dress in, warm up and stretch out on your own; when you are ready, sit at attention (“seiza style”) until the instructor in charge invites you onto the mat. Please wait until the class is finished doing warm up exercises before you wait for an invitation to join the class. If the back door is locked, please knock and somebody will promptly let you in.
Previous martial arts experience is encouraged and appreciated at the Aikido Dojo. We have many students with senior rank in other styles, including Karate-do, Iai-do, and Tai Chi instructors with very senior black belt ranks. In fact, our Chief Instructor has a background in Karate-do as well. While previous experience is not at all required, you will find that the Aikido Dojo instruction can build well upon any instruction you already have. As a rule of thumb, our school officially recognizes rank registered with the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU) or the Aikikai World Headquarters. Practitioners of other styles and martial arts are asked to wear white belts and enroll as new students. This is not because we do not respect your previous instructors, but because our style is different enough to require the development of a “new base” of techniques and ability. If you have any questions, please speak to the instructor in charge
The Aikido Dojo is a traditional school, and practices fairly formal “samurai” Dojo etiquette. This is done to ensure a constructive atmosphere that is focused on serious training. There are a few simple rules to keep in mind; you will pick up the rest quickly.
2.8.1. Entering the Dojo. Bow from the hip, facing the front of the Dojo, when you enter the door. This is to remind you that the Dojo is a special place, and to leave the “outside world” past the door. Remove your shoes, and place them facing inwards against the wall near the door. Bow when exiting the Dojo as well.
2.8.2. Entering the mat. Do not enter the mat while class is in session. If you are late for class, enter the back door, dress in and warm up, and wait for the instructor to invite you in. Make sure your feet are clean, especially if you are wearing sandals – the mat stains very easily and permanently! When you step onto the mat, again, bow to the front of the Dojo. This is to remind you that you have now begun training, and should pay special attention and respect. Bow when exiting the mat as well.
2.8.3. Starting Class. Until class starts, you are welcome to stretch and visit with other students. Do not lean against the wall at any time. When students begin to line up in seiza (kneeling position), or the senior student claps twice, this is a signal to line up at attention and wait for the instructor to begin class. The class will line up with the most senior people to the right, the most junior people to the left. Please line up in kneeling position – if your knees prevent you from doing this, kneel to the best of your ability, even if you can only “stand” on your knees.
When the instructor is ready to begin class, he or she will be in seiza facing the front of the Dojo. The instructor will raise his or her hands, then bow, then raise and clap twice. This is traditional and has no religious meaning; students will bow and clap at the same time as the instructor. Again, students and instructor will bow to the front. Then, the instructor will turn to face the students, and everybody will bow one final time while saying “onei gashimasu” (pronounced “oh – nye – gosh -e – mas”). This simply means “I hope to learn from you,” and indicates respect and attention. Please note that the instructor says this as well!
2.8.4. During class. In between each technique, the class will line up in seiza – in no particular order. The class will watch silently while the instructor demonstrates techniques. When the instructor announces the technique, all students bow to the instructor quickly, and find a partner to practice the technique. Usually students try to find a different partner for every technique. With your partner, find an open space, make a standing bow to each other, and begin practice. Usually, each partner practices each technique four times (twice on each side, right and left), and then trades places. The senior-most student usually begins as “nage” (pronounced “nah-gay”, the person performing the technique).
2.8.5.Odd Person Out. Aikido is a partner practice, and often there is an odd number of people training. If you end up as the “odd person” without a partner, simply pick a pair that you would like to practice with, and sit in seiza out of the way (but where they can see you) until it is your turn. You will be able to “rotate in,” so that everybody gets a turn. Remember, it is up to the unpaired person to choose a group; people who are already training should not invite other people to participate as it wastes training time and appears to be an excuse to take a break! Just as important, if somebody is waiting to train with your group, you should be sure to not ignore them but switch out after both you and your partner have had a turn. When taking turns in a three person group, it is customary for each person to do the technique four times, then uke (attacker) sits down, and the partner who was sitting gets up and begins as uke.
2.8.6. Ending class. At the end of class, the instructor will tell the class to line up. Students should line up in seiza, in no particular order. The instructor will raise hands, bow, clap twice, and bow, just as at the beginning of class. The instructor will face the students and bow again; this time, everybody will say “domo arigato gozaimashita” (pronounced “domo aree-gah-toe goe-zai-mash”), which simply means “thank you very much!” Finally, the instructor will ask the class to sit in a circle, where everyone will bow to each other.
All students are expected to keep good hygiene. Uniforms should be washed regularly, and fingernails and toenails should be trimmed neatly and closely. This is to prevent injury to yourself and others. If you have long hair, you are encouraged to keep it tied (in a ponytail for example)
Students are requested to remove all jewelry before class. This is partially to maintain a clean, uniform training environment. Most importantly, however, this is to prevent injury. Aikido practice includes close physical contact with others and the mat (such as rolls), as well as very quick movements and grappling. All of this can result in rings, earrings, watches, bracelets and necklaces catching fingers and skin on yourself and others, creating unpleasant injuries. Although students occasionally wear tight fitting, smooth wedding rings, students are encouraged to remove rings as well, or place tape over them.
Many students have vision problems. It is perfectly acceptable to wear regular glasses to practice, though of course protective “sports” glasses are even safer. The nature of Aikido practice is such that with a little care, glasses will not be damaged or cause injury. Contact lenses work very well.
Sometimes, due to injury, emergency, or other need, you may have to leave the mat while class is in session; this is OK. Please do not leave while the instructor is demonstrating a technique; however, if you need to step off the mat, it’s best to get the instructor’s attention or permission first so they know what is happening. Once you have addressed the problem, you may step back on the mat. As always, be sure to bow when stepping on or off the mat, and do not interrupt the instructor when they are demonstrating a technique. Please don’t leave the mat unless you have a reason.
Our school has a very good record with injuries; very few injuries occur, and none of them have been very serious to date. All students are taught to look out for themselves and their surroundings at all times. Further, we encourage an atmosphere where the goal is to help each other learn, and not hurt other students. However, we practice serious martial arts, and accidents can happen. If you have a minor cut or scrape, please get the instructor’s attention, leave the mat, and attend to it quickly. The Dojo policy is for the injured student to clean, disinfect, and cover even minor wounds, to maintain a safe and sanitary environment. Bandages, a first aid kit, and disinfectants are available in the desk (a senior student can show you). When you are done, take diluted hydrogen peroxide and some Q-tips (in the desk drawers) and scrub any places on the mat where you may have bled. Please note, you may have to cover the injury with duct tape to keep the bandage in place!
If you have a sprain or strain, we have ice packs. Even if you think you might have injured yourself, please tell your partner, and take a break for a couple minutes to rest and recuperate. Very often, minor injuries are unnecessarily made more serious by “toughing it out.” Remember, a neglected injury can keep you from training!
Follow the advice of your doctor. If you have a more serious injury (whether received in class or not), be careful about attending class until you are sure the injury has sufficiently healed.
Beginning the study of Aikido can be very daunting. Unlike many arts, all techniques are practiced with a partner – who will be actively resisting your efforts. You must learn new ways of moving, which can make you feel clumsy. You will probably be surrounded by people who make the things you have difficulty with look effortless and graceful. You will learn to roll and fall to avoid injury, which can be frightening at first – and can generate a wealth of bruises and stiff joints until you become comfortable.We want all new students to know that is is natural. Even more importantly, every single person in the Dojo has gone through the exact same experience! In fact, just about any senior student can probably share humorous stories of when they were beginners too. It takes a lot of guts to enter a new school, filled with strangers, and commit to the long process of training in a martial art.
So hang in there! We all know how discouraging it can be, but before you realize it you will be helping others!
3.0 What do I need to know about continued training?
This is a very common question. In the United States, we are raised to seek external recognition and rewards, so this is understandable. However, the black belt rank is not a terminal degree, pedigree, or certificate of skill, and it certainly does not mean one has “mastered” a martial art. In fact, the japanese term for black belt is “shodan”, meaning “first step” – traditionally, attainment of a black belt means the student has learned enough of the basic movements that they can finally focus on studying the real core of the art. Actually, Aikido practitioners can train and receive up to the 10th degree of black belt (though only after a lifetime of service and at the very highest level of attainment)! What this means is that in a traditional Dojo such as ours, attainment of a black belt is not easy or quick. Depending on the student’s determination and discipline, natural skill, and progression, it could take as little as five years or as much as ten or more. Do not be discouraged; learn to appreciate the subtle changes you are creating in yourself. The study of Aikido is its own reward and goal.
At the Aikido Dojo, there are 6 junior (white belt) ranks, and a different test to progress between each. We do not use colored belts, only white or black. When you enroll in the Dojo, you will receive a handbook that explains the testing an progression requirements.
Testing eligibility requires a minimum number of classes attended, a minimum period of time (between a few months and a year between tests, depending on rank), and skill level. You should keep track of classes and seminars you have attended on the ledger in the Dojo. If you feel you are ready and eligible to test, please speak with your instructor; however, your instructor may also prompt you to prepare. There are no “surprise” tests; special classes will be conducted to rehearse test techniques and to demonstrate “practice” tests.
At the Aikido Dojo, we don’t require testing; progression is up to each student. However, testing is a very important part of your training; there is no lasting value in being humble by not testing. As human beings, we tend to quickly reach “plateaus” in our skill advancement, where we can get diminishing returns from our training. This is only natural, as we all develop habits very quickly. The process of preparing for tests, and performing in front of your peers, plays a very important role in breaking those habits and starting us out on a new level. For the good of your own training and advancement, we encourage you to test as soon as you are ready. Tests also help the instructors, as they demonstrate to the instructor’s peers and teachers where they need to improve their teaching. Testing also helps other students as they help you prepare, and helps improve the combined excellence of the Dojo.
In order to improve at Aikido, the best thing you can do is practice Aikido. Aikido practice is based on person-to-person practice. However, if you are interested in exercises you can do at home that can help you memorize your techniques or practice basic Aikido movements, your Aikido instructor can suggest some “suburi” or “kata” (solo weapons forms) or “kihon waza” (basic exercises). Many students are tempted to supplement their martial arts training with anaerobic weight training to build strength. However, too much strength training will quickly reduce flexibility, suppleness and speed in muscles, and can be a serious detriment to your Aikido training. True martial power comes from timing, structure, and developing your “center”, which can only be distilled in martial training.
However, most martial artists will agree that low-impact cardiovascular and aerobic exercises (running, swimming, bicycling) can be good complements to martial arts training as they increase endurance, lung capacity, and circulation.
Again, there is absolutely no substitute for training, and a regular schedule of training is best. As such, it is not necessary to buy books, videos, or other paraphernalia to improve your training and reach your goals.Nonetheless, high-quality instructional books and videos (your instructors can recommend some) can occasionally be helpful for memorizing complex movements, understanding the Japanese terms, learning the history of Aikido, or just spurring new ways of thinking about your training. However, a student should keep in mind that books and videos are unable to capture many of the subtleties of live training, and cannot teach your body. There are many “armchair” martial artists with impressive libraries!
Japanese terms for the techniques we practice are used in Aikido Dojos around the world. This allows students to travel and visit other Dojos (even where language barriers exist) and be able to train and practice with other students. However, at the Aikido Dojo we do not place a special emphasis on Japanese terminology, and generally students simply “pick up” all the common terms over time, as part of hearing them in regular practice. It is unnecessary to make a special effort to memorize the terms. A glossary of common terms is contained in the student handbook that is provided to every new student.
Sometimes, for health or personal reasons, students feel they must stop training for an extended period of time, for months or even years. The student may have to travel, devote more time to their family or work, or even just explore the need to “try other things.” Since Aikido is meant to complement and strengthen your everyday life, we understand this and do not think poorly of students that must take time off. No matter how long a student has been away, they are still part of the Dojo and will be welcomed back without question.
The instructors of the Aikido Dojo welcome all comments, questions, and concerns; we are strongly interested in any feedback our students have to give. Please talk with your instructor, send email to the address listed on the “Contact” page, or use the anonymous feedback page under the “Community” link.
This FAQ is copyright © 2000-2004 the Aikido Dojo / The Academy of Warrior Spirit.