“How do I get started training?”
I recommend that you start by observing at least one class (either all or part). This gives you a feel for what the training and class structure are like. The next step is to fill out a registration form, a liability waiver and pay the registration fee and one month’s dues. It all takes about 10 minutes.
“When can I start?”
Classes are on-going so you can join at anytime. If you join in the middle of the month, your dues will be prorated. There are no long-term contracts to sign. A sincere commitment to practice is all that is required.
“Do I need to have any prior aikido experience?”
Prior experience in not necessary. A good thing to remember is that everyone you see was once a beginner just like you. Being a beginner might bring up uncomfortable feelings about looking foolish or making mistakes. That’s OK. When you begin any new endeavor, it’s natural to feel excited and nervous. There is a time honored system for passing on aikido skills. It has worked for everyone you see on the mat and it will work for you, too.
“Is it OK to make mistakes?”
Absolutely. It’s the way we learn. The only person who expects you to be perfect and get it right the first time, and every time, is you. No matter how accomplished the people around you may seem to you right now, you will get to know each of them and find out that they have made, and continue to make, lots of “mistakes”. Learning from our mistakes is how we become more proficient. Whether a movement was “right” or “wrong” is not important. How it feels or how effective it is in accomplishing the desired result is much more valuable. We are interested in mastery, not perfection.
“Where can I get one of the uniforms that everyone is wearing?”
Uniforms are available here and can be purchased when you sign up - either a lightweight “karate” style or the heavier “judo” style. The “hakama” (the dark divided over pants) is added when a student has decided to make a commitment to seven virtues represented by the seven pleats.
“Do I have to get a training uniform when I sign up?”
No. It‘s OK to wear loose, comfortable clothing, such as sweat pants and a t-shirt when you begin. At some point though, you will want to get a uniform since experience has shown that a traditional training uniform is the most suitable clothing for martial arts training.
“How often can I come to class?”
How much you train is up to you. You can come to any, and as many, classes as you wish. However, beginners run the risk of burning themselves out if they try to do too much too soon. Two or three times a week is a good way to start. Remember that you are learning an art… and that takes time. The best strategy is to fit your training into your life and to be regular in your practice. This produces the best results.
“How long does it take to get good?”
That depends on you - your commitment and participation - and what you are thinking about when you say ”good.” For most people, learning how to handle simple self-defense situations and applying aikido principles in daily life shows up almost effortlessly. However, the ability to handle more complex situations takes more time. But remember, even a little training makes you “better” than you are now.
“How long does it take to earn a Black Belt?”
It is difficult to predict at the outset when a person will reach the first level of black belt since what we offer is not a “package course.” Personal factors, such as natural ability, an open attitude and consistency, all play a role in one’s progress. However, in general, someone who trains regularly can typically reach the first level of black belt in about 4 to 6 years. Remember though, earning a black belt in aikido is considered a beginning… not the end.
“What do the different color belts mean?”
The belt color indicates a student’s rank. Aikido uses the “kyu” (undergraduate) and “dan” (graduate) system of ranking. Adults begin at 5th Kyu and advance to 1st Kyu. Then, after passing their black belt evaluation, they are awarded the rank of “Sho Dan” (1st Degree Black Belt - which also translates to “Beginning Level”). Children begin at either 10th Kyu or 9th Kyu depending on their age.
“Kyu Ranks” 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 then "Dan Ranks" 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
“How are ranks earned in aikido?”
Rank is obtained through proficiency evaluations and demonstrations. Since aikido philosophy promotes harmony, there are no contests or tournaments. Instead, the skillful execution of the techniques along with consideration of one’s character and attitude becomes the criteria for promotion.
“How much does it cost?”
Dues are structured to make the training affordable for anyone who wants to train. The dojo exists because of our commitment to continuing our practice of aikido for many years. Paying dues allows us to share the costs of maintaining a dedicated training facility and supporting a full time instructor. The current training fees are listed on our website.
“Why does everyone bow?”
Bowing is a way of showing respect to each other. Our art originated in Japan and we have chosen to continue to use Japanese expressions of etiquette in our practice. Taking a moment to bow to each other reminds us of how important we are to each other as training partners and friends.
“What is the area in the front of the room?”
The area with the scrolls is called the “shomen” which translates to “the top of the room.” The scroll in the middle is the name of our art - “Ai Ki Do.” The scroll on the left translates to “When you are in harmony with the Universe, spontaneous self-defense techniques are created” (Take Musu Ai Ki). The picture on the right is of the Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, O’Sensei, taken when he was visiting Hawaii. Other items on the shomen have been given to the dojo over the years. The flowers are also gifts, as are the rocks - which come from all over the world.
“Does the ‘shomen’ have any religious significance?”
No. It serves to remind us of the ideals and aspirations of our practice. We bow to the shomen as a way of showing respect to our practice, our teachers and our training partners. In some dojos a “kami” (spirit) has been enshrined in their shomen. In that case, the shomen is called a “Kami Zama” (Spirit Seat) and does have a religious significance. We do not. I have specifically chosen not to enshrine a kami in our shomen so that each student is free to bring whatever religious tradition they choose to their practice.
“How does aikido compare to other martial arts?”
Each art has its own merits. Those of us who choose this particular path do so because we are drawn to the philosophy of harmony and peaceful reconciliation as well as the beauty of the movements.
“What if I discover that I don’t like aikido training?”
That’s OK… not everyone does. You decide when you want to stop. I do ask, however, that if you do decide to stop training, please communicate that to me. When you join the dojo, you and I enter into a Student/Teacher relationship which means that I hold a space for you - even if you are not here physically - until that relationship ends.
I look forward to walking this path with you,
Tom Gambell, Chief Instructor
Learn the Art of Compassionate Self-Defense
Be the Change You Seek in the World
Allow No Harm - Do No Harm
East Bay Aikido