So...what is Aikido?
Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (often referred to by his title O Sensei, Great Teacher) that has its origins in centuries old traditions. It is a form of Budo - a way of life that seeks to improve the self through a blend of rigorous physical training and spiritual discipline. In many martial arts, an attack comes and is stopped, and then the defender counters with an attack of their own. In Aikido the attack is not stopped, it is transformed. This is accomplished not by overpowering the attacker but by blending with their energy and incorporating it into your technique. One can say that this blending uses the attacker’s force against their intention. The aggressive action of the attacker is used to stop that aggression. Aikido is an art of defense against an unprovoked attack; a commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible. Its uniqueness as a martial art lies in its awareness of a deep sense of harmony with all of creation, therefore, training is designed to defend not only the self, but to bring the attacker under control without the necessity of inflicting injury.
On the technical side, Aikido is rooted in several styles of Jujitsu (from which modern Judo is also derived), as well as sword and spear fighting arts. Oversimplifying somewhat, we may say that Aikido takes the joint locks and throws from Jujitsu and combines them with the body movements of sword and staff fighting. Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. And, it must be recognized that many Aikido techniques are the result of Master Ueshiba’s own innovation.
On the philosophical side, O Sensei emphasized the moral and spiritual aspects of this art, placing great weight on the development of harmony and peace. “The Way of Harmony of the Spirit” is one way that “Aikido” may be translated into English. Although the idea of a martial discipline striving for peace and harmony may seem paradoxical, it is the most basic tenet of the art.
I have a bunch of questions.
Great! We have answers.
What should I wear to aikido?
When you first visit the dojo, wear loose, comfortable clothing. Sweatpants and a t-shirt are fine. When you become a member, you should wear a dogi, (also called simply a gi), which is a training uniform consisting of a pair of drawstring pants and a belted tunic. A white cotton karate, judo, or kendo gi is acceptable. Aikido gis have shorter sleeves, which allow for wrist grabs, and padded knees for knee-fighting (Suwari Waza).
How often should I practice?
Feel free to practice as often as you wish. The classes are not scheduled in such a way that you will be lost in one class if you missed the class previous. You will be learning and developing skills at your own rate. However, a minimum of two practices per week is advised in order to realize improvement.
How do ranks and promotions work in Aikido, and why are there are no colored belts?
In Aikido, there are 6 ranks below black belt. These ranks are called kyu ranks. Ranks are achieved by examination. Eligibility for examination depends primarily (though not exclusively) upon accumulation of practice hours. Other relevant factors may include a trainee’s attitude with respect to others, and regularity of attendance.
There are ten levels (dan) of black belt awarded, however the tenth level dan designation has not been bestowed since O Sensei’s passing. Generally, the kyu ranks are awarded within one’s dojo by the tester’s Sensei.
The first level of black belt, Shodan, can be awarded by a fifth dan or higher with Saotome Shihan’s permission. Generally, at the second degree, Nidan, and above, Saotome Shihan or Ikeda Shihan bestow promotions.
Traditionally, white belts are worn by those who are kyu-ranked (mudansha), and black belts are worn by by dan-ranked (yudansha). Some dojos have adapted Aikido to an American audience and offer colored belts to represent the kyu ranks; however the Louisville Aikikai follows the traditional practices of ASU dojos.
Why are there no competitions or tournaments in Aikido?
Competition is counter the philosophy of Aikido, which is not to be drawn into a fight mentally or physically. You train to keep your mind calm and free of conflict. You train the body to respond to aggression by blending with the hostile energy and combining it with your body’s own dynamic power into techniques that will bring the conflict to an end without the necessity of meeting force with force.
Aikido does not teach you how to fight. Aikido teaches you how to stop the fight. Aikido seeks to develop skills that are not limited by size, muscle fitness or age. The nature of training in traditional Aikido is collaborative rather than competitive, and the concept of competition is counterproductive to this process.
How long will it take me to learn Aikido?
One of the wonderful things about Aikido is that you never stop learning. When you start lessons the techniques will be awkward, but your training partners will work with you at your speed. As time progresses you will learn how to control your body and movements and be more efficient in dealing with attacks, whether they are punches, kicks, or grabs. Eventually you will start learning how to apply techniques while moving at full speed. Students at this level will also learn how to deal with multiple attackers as well as attackers with weapons. Even when you earn your black belt you will continue to improve and train at higher and higher levels.