Aikido (a.k.a the martial art of peace), is a form of physical exercise that can be practiced by people of all ages – young and old. This martial art aims to teach students a means of self-defense by blocking the opponent and ensuring that they do not get hurt. While Aikido is not a violent art (students are taught to avoid violence as much as possible), it can be quite effective.
Learning Aikido is not just about learning self-defense – there is a lot more to the art. It is also a great way to learn discipline, self-awareness, and get valuable exercise too. If you are thinking about joining an Aikido class as a beginner, you might want to know what to expect.
10 things to expect (or know) for your first Aikido class:
- Arrive 15 minutes early for a meet and greet.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
- Remove all jewelry and keep nails short.
- Bow when entering and leaving the dojo.
- Bow-in before the class begins.
- Aikitaiso (warming up stretches) before class.
- Mokusou or Ki breathing exercises.
- Falling and rolling practice.
- Slow demonstration of basic “attack” techniques.
- The teaching of Japanese and Aikido terms.
It is important to note that a beginner’s Aikido class will differ from that of a more advanced Aikido class. The above 10 points relate specifically to afirst-class aimed at beginners. Aikido is a foreign art to someone who has never practiced it, and it is natural to expect several lessons to pass before a student grasps the concepts and movements.
If you are just starting out, do not give up to quickly – give it time. The first few classes that you attend will be slow and quite demonstrative. This is to allow students the time to grasp the concept and not feel overwhelmed by all the new things they are learning.
Below is a more in-depth look at what to expect during your very first Aikido lesson.
What to Expect During Your First Aikido Lesson
While there are a plethora of things you need to know about Aikido before you get involved in it, I believe there are 10 things that will be helpful to know before you attend your first class. These 10 points have been briefly mentioned above – find out more below:
1. Arrive 15 minutes early for a meet and greet.
A significant element in Aikido is discipline. Being on time is considered discipline, but being 15 minutes early is “on time” when it comes to Aikido. Part of the discipline required of Aikido practitioners is arriving at class around 15 minutes early.
In your first class, you will need to meet with your teacher and possibly even sign your registration documents – but that’s not the only reason you should arrive a little early. Being early allows time to meet and greet without cutting into your lesson. You will find time to meet some of the other students and get to know the instructor a little better. It is valuable for breaking the ice before a lesson.
2. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
Aikido, much like many martial arts, is not practiced in tight gym clothing. Ditch the tank top and tights and opt for something a little less trendy. Instead, choose loose-fitting pants (preferably long) and a baggy t-shirt. Some students choose pants that just cover the upper leg, but in the first few classes, long pants are recommended as they help students avoid mat burn.
If you plan to attend lessons over the long term, you should invest in a Gi, which is an official training uniform that consists of a loose white cross over a jacket, belt, and loose long white pants. This is not strictly required, but it is designed to make all Aikido moves and techniques comfortable for the student – it is the ideal thing to wear when practicing.
3. Remove all jewelry and keep nails short.
It is not advised to wear dangly earrings, bracelets, and necklaces to your Aikido class. You will be working in close contact with other students during your lesson, so it’s essential to remove any jewelry that might snag on clothing or scratch the skin. As a general rule of thumb, no jewelry is worn to practice.
Also, both fingernails and toenails should be cut short and kept clean for your safety and that of your fellow students. If you have long hair, you should tie it back neatly. Similarly, students must be extra careful with personal hygiene as they are working in close contact with each other.
4. Bow when entering and leaving the dojo.
As a show of respect to your teacher and the other students, you will be expected to bow when entering the dojo and when leaving the dojo. You have probably seen students doing this in training videos and wondered what it means. This is a standing bow towards the front of the class, which is called the “shomen”.
In your beginner classes, you will be taught what to say when bowing. Usually, these are the Japanese terms for “good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good evening”.
5. Bowing-in before class begins.
Just before the class starts, there is another bow that takes place. Bowing in is different from the standing bow that is done when entering and leaving the dojo. Before the class begins, students must kneel – this is called “seiza. The students all kneel in a line in front of the instructor. The instructor and class bow to each other. This is seen as a request from the students for the instructor to provide Aikido training.
6. Aikitaiso (warming up stretches) before class.
It is essential to do several warm-up stretches before exercising, and in Aikido warming up is called Aikitaiso. The warm-up consists of full body stretches to help loosen and relax the muscles. The objective of warming up is to prepare the muscles and joints for the upcoming exercise. These exercises will usually account for the first 15 minutes of your class.
7. Mokusou or Ki breathing exercises.
Breathing is a vital part of Aikido practice and is done at the start of every lesson. By knowing how to breathe correctly, you can gain control over your body and mind. You can also carry out exercises without getting out of breath or tiring out too quickly.
This breathing exercise is carried out in a sitting down position. The posture is relaxed and centered. Students take deep, slow breaths in through the nose and slowly out through the mouth. This is repeated several times. This breathing practice is a part of being mindful, which is an element of Aikido.
8. Falling and rolling practice.
The very first thing that you will be taught in Aikido is how to fall safely. Safe falling is the art of falling and rolling in such a way that you avoid injury. If you do not learn this correctly, you could potentially sustain numerous injuries during practice and in real-life situations where you choose to use Aikido.
Soft mats are used for this practice, so you do not have to worry about a hard landing. In the first lesson, you will be taught basic back falling ad basic forward and backward rolls.
9. Slow demonstration of basic “attack” techniques.
There are many techniques to learn in Aikido, but the first lesson will not focus on many of them other than basic attack techniques. Other methods, such as strikes can be more challenging to master and are better left for lessons when students are more settled in.
An attack is a grab or hold movement. To ensure that students are given time to grasp the concept and learn the moves precisely, everything is demonstrated at very slow speed. The more the class progresses, the quicker the moves will become. Class speed advances as students skills advance.
Most technique exercises will be practiced with another student in the class (students usually work in pairs).
10. The teaching of Japanese and Aikido terms.
In your first Aikido class, you will probably hear students and the instructor using certain Aikido and Japanese terms. Do not feel overwhelmed. These are simple terms that are taught and learn as one goes.
You are not expected to know any of these before you attend your first class. You just need to pay attention and try to repeat the words and phrases that you hear the other students and the instructor using. You will be surprised at how quickly you pick up the words and phrases.
Hopefully, the above information will help you to feel fully prepared and enable you to enjoy your very first class. It’s important to note that Aikido is not a quick and easy martial art to learn. Aikido demands time, attention, and dedication from its students. It is good to know what to expect because once you start becoming more serious about Aikido, you can expect to spend many years dedicated to learning it.