What to Expect
When you watch an Aikido class you’ll see students rolling and falling—and getting up to do it again and again. They seem to defy gravity as they fall and roll effortlessly across the mats without making a sound. And they actually look like they’re enjoying the experience. You wonder, will you ever be like them? It may seem as if these students were born with talents in Aikido. But, just like you, there was a time when they stepped on the mat for the first time. If you devote yourself to practice, you, too, will progress in your Aikido abilities. Aikido of Chester County welcomes you to this wonderful art—the benefits of which can last a lifetime.
We know it can be a little daunting to try something new and perhaps something so different than anything you’ve done before. Here are some tips to help you know better what to expect when you step onto the mat for the first time.
First, don’t worry or be intimidated about the Japanese words and numbers being used or not knowing what to do or how to do it. Everyone—yes, everyone!—is a beginner at one time and everyone learns what’s expected. The supportive nature and culture of the dojo (school) means that senior students help the new students, and eventually when the new students become senior, they will be expected to help the new students. This culture of helping newcomers is an integral part of the dojo, so you’ll be helped and welcomed. During class, the instructor and other students will help you follow along and explain what to do.
When you come to your first class at Aikido of Chester County, please arrive about 15 minutes before the class starts to fill out some paperwork.
Wear comfortable exercise clothes consisting of long pants and a short- or long-sleeved T-shirt.
Please be sure not to wear any jewelry (earrings, rings, etc.) or watches, as these can cause injury to yourself or your training partner if they become caught. Also please keep your fingernails and toenails short to avoid injury to yourself or others.
Before you step on the mat, you’ll remove your shoes and bow in the direction of the shomen (the shrine with the picture of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido). It’s traditional for new students to line up on the left side of the mat and the senior students on the right side of the mat. A senior student will clap twice as an indication that it is time to line up. Once the instructor enters the mat, the class bows in and then begins a series of warm-up exercises.
The order of the exercises is designed to gradually increase your circulation and prepare you for the techniques practiced in class. Aikido of Chester County strongly believes in teaching students ukemi (rolling and falling to protect yourself during the execution of Aikido techniques) from the very beginning, so students start learning how to fall and roll correctly early on in their training.
The final segment of the warm-up is usually rolling, first from kneeling, then standing, then walking. As a beginner, you’ll be gradually exposed to more advanced methods of rolling as your abilities and confidence increase. Remember that it’s perfectly normal to feel awkward or uncoordinated when learning to roll. Unless you have a background in gymnastics or other martial arts which include rolls, rolling is not likely something you’ve spent much time doing—or at least not since you were a kid. Just do your best to relax and remember to breathe.
Following the warm-up, the instructor will ask a student to be his partner to demonstrate a technique. After the demonstration, students will bow, pick a partner, and start practicing the technique. This scenario is repeated several times during a typical class. Usually, students will change partners for practice of each new technique. Typically each partner will practice the technique four times, and they will alternate being Nage (the person executing the technique, or throwing) and Uke (the person receiving the technique, or being thrown) until the instructor calls “Yame.” This is the signal that students stop, bow to their partner, and line up again to watch the demonstration of the next technique.
At the conclusion of class, students line up behind the instructor, all facing the shomen. The instructor and students will bow toward the shomen, then the instructor will turn and bow to the class, and all students will bow in return.
That’s it. You’ve just experienced your first Aikido class!
As you head home, many thoughts may be swirling around in your head, mimicking many of the circular movements you just tried. You may be wondering what on earth you just did because you’ve never done anything like it before. And you may also find yourself smiling. It was so foreign… yet it was so joyful, so uplifting, and you haven’t felt this alive in a long time. If so, welcome to the wonderful adventure that is Aikido. Let Aikido of Chester County be your guide, and we’ll see you at the next class!