Practice in most Aikido dojo is very similar in structure and format, however there are variances depending on the culture of the dojo and instructors. As we have many instructors and are open to many aikidoka from around the world, there is a general format that new and established practitioners share in below.
Setting Aside Worldly Affairs
When entering the dojo, there is a liminal area in the garden to set aside worldly affairs in preparation to engage with others in the practice of Aikido. One is here to train the mind, body, and spirit through the practices of Aikido and to investigate, study, discover, and realize the teachings of Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei).
Taking Off the Shoes
The foyer of the dojo is a place to remove shoes and place them neatly so that outside debris is not tracked around. It is customary to remove the shoes on the stone and carry the shoes to the racks or place them neatly on the floor if there is no room on the racks (during busy events or training sessions).
After entry, we bow as an expression of appreciation and respect in the direction of the “head” of the dojo, which is where the Tokonoma is located (turn right, you’ll see a photo of O-Sensei).
Do greet other dojo members, this is part of our practice. If one has arrived early, members may use any of the amenities or change early and enjoy the same space, practice ukemi, meditate, reflect, or engage in casual conversation.
Donning the Keiko Gi and Hakama
Now we change into our keiko-gi and hakama. Be sure to drink water and remain hydrated before practice, especially during the hotter months. Your clothing may be placed neatly under the benches, on hangers, or on shelves. It is customary for all aikidoka here at Aikido Shobukan Dojo ranked 6th kyu and above to wear hakama as this is part of our training outfit. If you have any questions about hakama, please ask a senior student (sempai) or instructor.
It is helpful to signal injuries before stepping onto the mat. The best way to do this is to either have already informed instructors of an injury so as best to manage. There is a time honored way of signalling injuries without much need for talk, simply affixing a small square of duct tape is helpful to signal to partners where an injury is located without the need for much talk. Just rip off a portion of tape and affix it to the gi or hakama; common locations are shoulders and knees.
Stepping Onto the Mat
Before stepping onto the mat, bow in the direction of the shomen. It is appropriate for aikidoka to do warmups before keiko, as is customary through to Saotome Sensei’s time training with O-Sensei.
About five to ten minutes before keiko, aikidoka will start assembling into seated (seiza) in lines from the front right to the front left, then forming additional rows in this sequence as needed. Be sure to leave no gaps between practicioners, and try to center the lines around the shomen with smaller groups.
Usually senior students will line up toward the front right, while junior students are rear left. This allows for students to more quickly sort into areas of intensity on the mat.
Opening the Keiko Session
Before keiko, we open the session, this is called rei, and it again allows us to collectively express appreciation and respect. This is the first moment where an aikidoka will unite with the leader of the keiko session, please follow along with your fellow aikidoka.
The instructor may either open the session with warmups, demonstration, instruction, or a lecture. During this time, aikidoka remain assembled in seiza, cross legged, or for individuals with injuries, remain standing at the rear of the mat. Be sure to be sensitive to others observing the demonstration behind you and make room for others to see.
After the demonstration, find a practice partner. Most students will traverse the mat and bow to the fellow student closest to them, asking each other to practice by saying, “Onegaishimasu” (literally means “I humbly make a request,” in this context can be understood as “please”). We then arrange ourselves on the mat to make room to practice between each group of partners to best utilize the space (think of how people use the space in an elevator when people enter and leave, we do it naturally and efficiently).
Our culture is to minimize talking on the mat, as this practice is an art of mind, body, and spirit. We further refine our perception this way, and our sensitivity to non-verbal queues which comprise most of our language with each other.
Typically, the senior practitioner (sempai) will execute a technique before the junior practitioner (kohai). In order to do this, the junior will attack first trying to emulate the demonstrators. The senior will execute the appropriate response. Unless otherwise directed, in empty hand, we usually execute a technique on the right, then left, then right, then left and switch roles.
Please follow the instructions and advice of the instructor guided in the direction of the teachings of O-Sensei. We are all climbing this mountain together.
Each partner will offer different responses and intensities, even the same practitioner may appear as different people in attacks. This is how we practice. It is appropriate for each person to be sensitive to the level of intensity and skill of each other during practice and maintain a safe environment yet challenging enough to allow for students to grow in their study of technique, on the way to principals, and on the journey to discovery, and realization of the transmission of O-Sensei, to Mitsugi Saotome, to Instructors, and to all aikidoka.
If there is an injury, please address promptly and express your limits to your training partner before engaging in practice on the mat.
If any blood or body fluids are spilled on the mat, please work with your partner to clean it up immediately.
During keiko, students are free to ask the instructor for a break for water or pacing their practice. Please follow the guidance from seniors, until etiquette is understood. In longer sessions lasting an hour and a half or more, the instructor may break class into two smaller sessions to allow time for aikidoka to rehydrate and use facilities.
Closing the Keiko Session
At the end of the keiko session, we again express appreciation and bow to the shomen and the instructor. We will then proceed to form a small circle around the shomen to thank our training partners and if we do not know each others’ names, we’ll exchange them here. Any practitioners wishing to share news or updates may use this opportunity to do so; students from other dojo may use this time to share events at their own dojo.
Cleaning the Dojo
After sessions we will do chores to clean the dojo; please ask senior practitioners for guidance on how to offer assistance. This is a form of rei and is beneficial as our space is supported by the community and the better we care for it, the better we care for ourselves, and those that come after us.
Departing the Dojo
When leaving the dojo, bow to the shomen and then proceed to put the shoes back on and depart back into the world having taken more steps up the mountain that is Aikido.
Masakatsu Agatsu, Katsu Hayabi!
We hope that this is helpful, and may ease your introduction to Aikido.