Aikidō has been described as “moving Zen”
It’s difficult to get across the worth of this practice in words. As a true martial art, or budo, Aikido training cannot be reduced to a simple category or intellectual idea. It is a path through which we encounter ourselves. Regular practice broadens our perspectives in life and deepens our experience of even the simplest moments. Aikido is not only a practical art for self-defense, but a philosophically satisfying art to last a lifetime.
Many books have been written about Aikido, but the vital life of its philosophy is found in practice. The circular movements alone can deeply affect how we feel about and approach life, but it doesn’t end there. Through a strong center and changed vantage point, any situation can be transformed. An encounter with another is ultimately an encounter with one’s self. With practice, the philosophy of Aikido can be embodied through direct experience. Such a realization from within is very different from reading or hearing about it.
To get started in the practice of Aikido, we suggest you try our two-month intro class, which meets twice a week. This opportunity will give you a sense of what Aikido training is, so that you can make an educated decision on whether you would like to pursue it or not. You will be instructed in some of the basic techniques, the circular movements of Aikido, and perhaps most importantly at the beginning, the anatomy of falling and rolling. If you’d like to be notified of the next intro session, please join our Facebook group.
Ukemi, the Art of Falling
A good portion of your initial training will involve the study of rolling as a strategy to safely recover from a fall. Whether rolling forward or backward, an important aspect of this process is the uncovering and overcoming of any fear we may have of a free fall. Once confidence in rolling is established, our bodies can remain supple and ready to adapt to a fall, rather than a having a stiff and rigid response that often accompanies fear. Mastery over falling creates a sense of independence from gravity that is critical to a martial artist, as well as being a liberating feeling in daily life.
During the first few months, your training will expand to include a broad range of techniques. It won’t be possible for you to remember everything at the beginning. Your first task is to simply do your best to duplicate what you are shown. The intention is to give you a sense for this practice and the philosophy embedded in its movements.
As you may already know there is no competition in Aikido. Beginning students often times put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform but there will be no such expectation from the teaching staff here at this dojo. Your first encounter with the art is to help you see the tip of the iceberg where you may find you are curious and inspired to discover more.
Rank and Continued Progression
There are five levels before shodan (black belt), starting at fifth kyu and progressing to first kyu. In this school, a white belt is worn throughout this period, but the gradations represent accomplishment along the way. The fist rank of fifth kyu means you are capable of demonstrating a basic knowledge of the techniques by recalling them from their names. Being able to do so is the beginning of taking ownership of the art. Although it varies from person to person, a student is usually ready for fifth kyu after approximately fifty hours of class time and additional individual effort made between classes.
While reaching the rank of shodan is certainly an achievement it’s also considered a new beginning. The practitioner now has the foundation and can begin deepening their practice to uncover previously hidden aspects of the art. Rank progresses upward accordingly.
We also train ourselves through the use of the Bokken (wooden sword) and Jyo (four-foot staff). Both of these weapons allow us to practice the extension of ourselves through the length of an inanimate object, expanding our sense of self beyond the threshold of our skin. There can be a greater perception of danger in a weapons class that heightens the senses and provides an opportunity to cultivate an intense, firm attitude without a tense, rigid body. Such a practice helps to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and allows us to practice being the calm at the center of a storm.
While Aikido has been called “moving Zen,” zazen is the seemingly simple practice of sitting still and calming the mind. Although the final aim may be personal transformation, the practice itself is a simple one and is an important part of our practice here in this dojo. If you have an interest in learning please ask, as you are welcome to join in.
One Final Note
The rewards of this type of training are directly proportional to your commitment to learn. In the old days, an apprentice was often given menial tasks for months, or even years, before they were ever shown the art. Although by today’s standard this may seem harsh, the time spent was never considered wasted. Not only was the character of the student demonstrated, but the student would also be hungry for any instruction once it was made available.
Learning such a sophisticated art form quickly was (and still is) not considered possible. The most important quality necessary for the potential trainee is a resilient and robust attitude and a dogged desire to pursue the path. With such commitment, this training will not only forge a strong person in body and mind, but, most importantly, in spirit.
If you decide to begin, don’t be too hard on yourself if you find it challenging. You may at times feel like everyone else is “getting it” and feel very lonely and isolated. This too is part of training. Make your best effort, but let go of any artificial and unfair ideas that you may have of “doing well”. This art is challenging. Awkwardness is par for the course. If frustration arises, just recognize it and carry on. Everyone, with no exceptions, encounters difficulties at some point. If you can accept this and continue to show up for class, you will be on your way to learning Aikido.