Your First Class

Before class

Please arrive several minutes early, so you can meet the instructor, and sign the “Assumption of Risk” form. (If you are under 18, your parent or guardian must sign this form.) Wear loose comfortable clothing that you can move in easily, with pants that reach below your knees (to protect your knees from mat burn). If there is extra time before class starts, you can do any warm-up or stretching that you like.

two dojo members bowing

During class

The choice and order of activities in the class are up to the instructor, except that “bowing in” always signals the start of the class, and “bowing out” signals the end.

Bowing in

When class is about to begin, students sit in seiza (kneeling) in a line facing the shomen (the display on one wall of the practice area). The instructor leads the class in bowing towards the shomen. Then the instructor and the class bow to one another, saying “onegaeshimasu”, which means roughly “will you teach me please.”

Warming up

The instructor usually leads the class in some warm-up exercises. These can include:

  • Taiso Ho: A sequence of 12 exercises, with each exercise done to 2 counts of 8.
  • Stretching: A sequence of static and dynamic stretches.
  • Ki Exercises: A variety of exercises that form the “building blocks” of Aikido techniques. Often, the instructor chooses exercises that will be used in the technique practiced in that class session.

Falling and Rolling

In a beginning class, you will practice a basic back fall, which involves going down to one knee and rolling backward. This helps you to learn how to take falls safely.

You will also begin to learn forwards and backwards rolls. Beginning classes do not include techniques that require forward rolls, but we practice rolling so that you will be able to take those falls later as you progress in your practice. We roll on a padded mat.

Techniques

Most of the class is devoted to practicing a particular Aikido technique. Usually in beginning classes, the “attack” is a static grab or hold, which is simpler to deal with than a strike.

two dojo members practicing a technique

Techniques are practiced much more slowly than “real time”, so that you can learn each of the movements. Emphasis is placed on staying relaxed throughout the movement, and being aware of your own and your partner’s energy. As you become more familiar with the movements, the pace will increase, and you will progress to working with a partner approaching to grab or strike.

Typically, the instructor demonstrates a technique or a movement, and then the class splits into pairs or small groups to practice what was demonstrated. Partners take turns in the roles of attacker (“uke”) and defender (“nage”). Both roles are equally important, and the goal is to maintain awareness and relaxation at all times. When the instructor claps, this signals the end of that partner practice. You should thank your partner, and then sit in seiza or cross-legged for the next demonstration.

Ki Breathing

The instructor may take a few minutes at the beginning or end of class for “ki breathing”, which is a controlled breathing practice that helps develop coordination of mind and body. Sitting in a relaxed, centered posture (usually seiza), you take long, slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth (with a slightly audible “ha” sound). The instructor claps a pair of wooden blocks to signal the end of each inhalation and exhalation. However, if you reach the end of your breath, feel free to breathe normally until the next clap. It’s not about holding your breath!

Bowing out

At the end of class, the instructor leads the students in bowing towards the shomen. Then, the instructor and the class bow to one another. It is traditional to say “Thank you very much, sensei” when bowing to the instructor at the end of class, to show your appreciation. Finally, each member of the class bows to and thanks every other member for their contribution to the class.

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