Aikido FAQ – Getting Started
Want to try Aikido?
You’ve read about it. You’ve seen videos of it. You find it really interesting. But…
We understand. We’ve all been there. It can look strange and intimidating from the outside. So here are the questions that most people ask when they come to Aikido for the first time.
Is Aikido for me?
Yes. It’s for everybody. Men. Women. Children. All ages. Aikido is one of what’s called the internal martial arts. Instead of muscle and breaking power, it uses timing, position and, above all, control of your inner energy to neutralize attacks. It’s a martial art, but there’s no fighting. It overcomes aggression through harmony.
The one qualification: you have to bring the right attitude. It’s going to take time, perseverance and hard work. If you’re prepared for a serious commitment, you’re ready for Aikido.
Of course, if you have any health issues, you must consult your physician.
What are the benefits of practising Aikido?
First of all, it’s great conditioning. An Aikido class is a vigorous aerobic workout. You move the entire body, so you develop core strength. You’ll find your posture and balance becoming increasingly grounded. And you’ll find that your body is learning internal co-ordination that gives your movements supple power.
Aikido’s power comes from the free flow of internal energy. Tight muscles create blockages. So as you practise Aikido, you’ll discover how to relax where your body’s tight. You’ll take this with you through your everyday life as deep-acting stress relief. And you’ll experience new levels of calm vitality.
You’re discovering the best in yourself. If stress hobbles effective Aikido, find those things that create stress. Anger. Fear. Insecurity. Frustration. Aggression. Competition. Out they go; they’re lead boots. Look around you on the mat. You’re with a group of people all working in the same way to find the best in themselves. You’re going to make friends for life practising Aikido.
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of Aikido for your kids, we also have an article on how Aikido differs from other martial arts.
What’s all this bowing about?
It’s essential to understand this. The bow is a profound expression of respect. Once you step on the mat, Aikido practice is all about working together. But we’re human. Sometimes we bring stresses to the mat — natural human emotions but they’re also little toxins in our practice.
The bow is an act of courtesy that puts all of this back into perspective. We are all travelling the same path. We all have shortcomings that we are trying to shape into strengths. What we are trying to become is our purpose; what we are is our reality. Understanding this is the source of respect and compassion. The little bow brings great strength to our practice.
We use Japanese terms for the techniques in Aikido. They may sound mysterious at first to an English-speaking ear, but for the most part they are simple technical labels, the Japanese equivalent of things like “reverse rotational throw.” We use the Japanese because it creates a consistent vocabulary wherever in the world you might be practising. But there are some terms that have no equivalent in English; these are some of the secrets of Aikido that you can only discover through practice. So enjoy learning a few words of Japanese; it will enrich your practice.
What does the word Aikido mean?
The word is composed of three Japanese characters: “ai” = meet, “ki” = energy or spirit, “do” = road, path, way.
Understanding Ki is central to the practice of Aikido. It’s the power of nature itself, and nature doesn’t struggle with itself. When Ki flows freely through us, it keeps us vital and healthy. If someone attacks us, they’re attacking nature itself. Nature absorbs aggression and restores natural harmony.
So a good translation of Aikido would be the Way of Harmony.
Is it really effective as a martial art?
Short answer: yes. But first, look carefully at your expectations of a martial art. Aikido is not a set of combat techniques designed to hurt people. You can find that elsewhere. Aikido is a discipline for overcoming aggression and protecting people, including your partner.
Sometimes you’ll hear the question: which martial art is strongest? Karate, say, vs Aikido? That’s setting up a competition that’s the opposite of what Aikido is all about. Our intention is to deflect competition or conflict before it starts.
It takes time and diligent practice to develop Aikido skills. But ask any aikidoist who has studied for a while if they think that it has effective power. A little curl of a smile is going to tell you “if I could only form the words to describe what I’ve experienced…”
How long does it take to get a black belt?
There are two belts for adults: white and black. Kids have coloured belts. To earn a black belt in Aikido is going to take you maybe six to eight years, depending on how many hours you put in each week. Don’t be in too much of a hurry; there’s a natural growth process that takes unfolds over time.
Typically, black belts wear the “hakama,” the traditional wide trousers. They emphasize the big swirling movements of Aikido. Once you receive your black belt, you’ll have the designation “shodan,” which means in Japanese “starting out stage,” and you’ll know you’re a true beginner.
Are there Aikido courses for new students?
Just come and start practising in the basic level Aikido classes. All levels join these classes, so you’ll learn from senior Aikido students and black belts. Never be afraid that you are slowing down someone else’s practice; you’ll find everybody eager to help you with the basics. They learn by helping you; in Aikido, everybody’s always going back to the basics.
New students are often intimidated by the rolls and breakfalls. This is one of the most satisfying aspects of learning Aikido. For those of us who live a chair-bound life, it’s a great discovery to get back in touch with the ground. Our instructors will ensure that you learn the basics of forward and backward rolls. You’ll then move easily into the breakfalls. It’s step-by-step progress. Nobody is going to push you beyond your level of confidence. Once you feel comfortable with the falls, you’ll put much more intensity into your practice and you’ll find it really exhilarating.
The Aikido techniques can at first look bewildering in their complexity. But they are all based on natural, co-ordinated movement of the body. In fact, that’s what you’re really practising—natural movement; the techniques are just applications of core movement. So, don’t try to force it, bring relaxation and positive energy to your practice, and it will all start to fall into place.
So, advice for someone interested in Aikido: get out on the mat. You’re going to be in the company of people who love what they do and who are interested in your willingness to try. You have a discovery ahead of you that will always be new, every time you step on the mat. You can practise Aikido for the rest of your life, and it will continue to reveal itself. If you feel like a beginner, just be aware that everyone on the mat, no matter what their rank, feels like a beginner too.
OK, so how do I get started with Aikido?
Come and watch a class. Trust your instincts; in any martial arts school you visit, ask yourself if you like the spirit of the group. Talk to one of the instructors. Don’t hold back on any questions and concerns that you may have. If you have any health concerns, talk these over with the instructor.
You can try a free class. Just bring a T-shirt and full length, loose-fitting pants. If you want to join, all you’ll need is a “gi,” the white practice uniform. This is included in our introductory package. The membership fees are very reasonable, considering that there are at least ten hours of top level instruction that you can take every week.
Because Aikido movement uses the whole body, you’re going to feel muscles you didn’t know you had when you first start. Find your pace; it doesn’t do you any good to put your body under undue strain. You’ll condition quickly. In classes, when we’re not up practising, we sit in “seiza,” the traditional Japanese sitting on your shins. It’s very good for grounding. Some new students find this difficult with stiff ankles or knees. They’ll loosen up eventually; if you have to, you can sit cross-legged.
How often you practise is very much a personal choice. We’d suggest trying for at least twice a week.
What does Naka Ima mean?
We use the words practice or training for our time on the mat. But practice has a bit of a misleading connotation—like the musician playing scales, but not the real performance. In Aikido, every time we step on the mat, we are opening up to the flow of health-giving Ki, we are getting back in touch with the natural balance of how we move on earth and we make a direct and honest connection with others. This is what our name is all about: Naka Ima means in Japanese—in the moment, in the now.
Not sure if Aikido is for you? Attend any one of our regularly scheduled martial art classes and try it out for yourself.