The first time can be scary. Many people become a little apprehensive or nervous when faced with new situations: so in order to calm those nerves down, here is how it generally happens.
Come and play!
Since you’re reading this, you must at least be considering Aikido. Why not come along to the next session? The best way to find out what Aikido is all about is to come along and try it out, or at the very least, come and watch. Beginners are always welcome – even if you want to just try it out for one session to see if you like it.
When and Where
Check on the clubs' respective websites for the correct day and time. We recommend that you arrive 10-15 minutes before the start of the training session so you can have a quick introductory chat with sensei and fill in some eventual paperwork.
What to Wear
Wear something loose, that isn’t going to hamper your movement: Something like tracksuit bottoms and a T-Shirt is perfect.
Arriving at the dojo
OK, so you’ve found the dojo (training hall), you’re wearing your old jogging bottoms, what happens next?
The main thing would be to meet the main coach for a quick chat and meet some of us. If in doubt, just ask anyone present, all members are keen to help newcomers.
You can take your shoes, socks, coats and any other bits and pieces into the hall. Also take off any jewellery and anything else that might get caught in clothing and damaged. Empty your pockets of everything that might fall out, such as wallets, purses and mobile phones (best to switch off if possible).
Follow everyone else onto the mat (it is customary to make a little bow as you come onto the mat) and we all line up facing the teachers. We line up in grade order, so typically in our dojo, the beginners are at the end of the line nearest the entrance.
The highest grade present will say “seiza”. This means “sitting properly” and is everyone’s cue to kneel down.
Shortly after, he/she will say “Sensei ni rei”, which means “bow to the teacher”. We all bow forward to the teacher, while they bow toward us. There is no religious or political meaning for this, it is simply the Aikido way to show respect and say “thank you for being there”.
If you get lost at any point, just follow someone next to you. Don’t worry! Everyone was a beginner at some point, and we all made mistakes. No-one will laugh, and the teacher will probably show you, or get someone to show you the right movement.
We spend a little while getting warmed up and stretched. We start by running around the mat to get the old ticker going. We then spend a couple of minutes loosening up joints – Not stretching, just moving each joint to the maximum range of movement, so that it is nice and loose and easy to move later. Follow the teacher or someone next to you as we all wave our arms like windmills and make Elvis-style pelvis motions.
Next up, we normally loosen up the wrists with several specific stretching exercises. Because Aikido techniques often involve wrist and arm locks, we stretch the wrists out beforehand so that when the techniques are applied, we don’t cause damage to the wrist. Don’t worry, some of these exercises do involve some weird grasps and manipulation of your hands and arms, someone will come and show you exactly what to do.
Once warmed up and stretched, we often do some more exercises such as sit ups, press ups or any other kind of torture the teacher can come up with. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything, only do what you can. You won’t be told off if you need to stop for a breather. Your stamina will improve in time.
In Aikido, we spend a lot of time falling and getting back up. We have specific ways of falling so we don’t get injured and we can do the techniques again and again.
You will be shown the basics so you can start to train safely. During practice, your partners will be aware of your abilities and will take it easy.
Suddenly, you’ll see the class either line up or form a circle, then start to do some kind of line dancing while shouting some weird foreign words. No, we’ve not gone mad (although, if the teacher has a cowboy hat and some country music is playing in the background, you might be in the wrong club). The foot movements form the basis of many of the techniques you’ll try later. The first rule of aikido is “move out of the way”. The teacher will show you the basics so you can try to follow.
Once you have your feet under control, we get on to the meat of the session. The Sensei (teacher) will gather everyone around, and demonstrates a really simple technique – usually a defence to a wrist grab or something similar – against one of the higher grades (coloured belts).
Everyone splits up into pairs, and you spend the next two minutes trying to work out which way up your hands are supposed to be before you start, and you realise that the really simple technique is actually really quite hard – the Sensei just made it look easy. After a minute or so, the Sensei will come over and show you again how it is done properly – and you just start to get the idea when he calls everyone back to look at the next technique.
After a few more techniques, all seemingly easy but with hidden complexities that mean you end up facing the other way – or holding the wrong arm – you find a technique which you can do! Your 6 foot 4 partner, built like a brick outhouse, collapses onto the floor and whimpers in pain when you grab here, step just there, twist the wrist like so, and apply pressure like that – and this is the point at which you realise that Aikido is actually really cool. This is also usually the point at which the Sensei will let you in on a little secret – the fact that your partner is slapping the mat with the one hand he can still move is code for “Ow! That wrist lock really hurts! Please let me up now! Please!”.
All too quickly, you all line up again and by looking at the clock, you realise two hours have slipped by – it doesn’t seem like it!. After a couple more bows, you make your way off the mat (bowing again to the mat on the way off) and before we get changed, we put the mats back in the store room (everybody gives a hand regardless of rank).
When all is done, you start putting your shoes and socks back on, feeling warm and slightly tired – but feeling like you’ve really learnt something different, and that you’re now part of the group.
You are now ready to go home. Hopefully, you would have had some fun and will want to come back for more! Regularly, we go for a swift drink after training so if you hear the word “pub” being mentionned while we are getting changed, please feel welcome to join us!
The first session is free. You try before you buy. Subsequently, the cost is £5.00 for adults and £3.00 for under 18, students and unemployed. Once you have decided Aikido is for you, you will need to buy a gi and join the All England Tomiki Aikido Federation (“Zen Eikoku Tomiki Aikido Renmei” or ZETAR). Don’t worry, you don’t have to decide straight away, for the first few sessions, you’ll be covered by the club’s insurance. We prefer to give you time to make your mind up, and we believe that one session is not enough.
For more information, we also recommend the following guide:
the Student Guide to Surviving a Traditional Dojo
Finally, remember that the main skill you will need is not fitness, strength, speed or ability to do amazing acrobatics. The most important thing is patience.
After all, a black belt is just a white belt that stuck to it for long enough, nothing more.