Many people come to our aikido dojo wanting to learn martial arts. And everyone comes for different reasons. Some are looking for self defense, some want to learn a traditional Japanese martial art, while others are interested in the internal energy (‘ki’ or ‘chi’) development that we offer and some just want to kick butt! Ultimately these aspects and many others form part of our art and it is up to the prospective student to decide if our art and club suits them or not.
At our club we offer Basics classes for beginning students. In this class you will learn and do some traditional Japanese sword practice originating from the battlefield, strangely from these kinds of movements come the harmonious flow and movements of aikido which you will also practice, also the development of a centred, relaxed mind and something of the nature of ‘ki’. You will be able to discuss any concerns you have and find out more about the various aspects of aikido that interest you.
The human body is adaptive but can only move in so many ways, the evolution of the martial systems are designed to get to the top of this mountain, though there are many paths there. Aikido practice encompasses many aspects for training the mind, body and spirit. As a club we have been in Sydney for over 15 years, many of our students and instructors have practised and are practising other martial arts and we would be pleased to point you to those arts if they might be more suitable.
If you have particular interests in certain aspects you may find these other arts more suitable. For example for grappling arts you might like judo and juijutsu, the striking arts karate, silat and kung fu, if weapons are your interest arts like iaido – the art of drawing the sword and jodo – use of the staff. Finally internal arts like baguazang and taichi also share much in common with aikido.
Selecting a place to learn
While we hope you will come and practise aikido with us, it maybe that you end up somewhere else and/or doing another art. If so, here are some ideas and questions to ask yourself to help you in your search.
* The Instructor
Does the instructor treat their students with respect? Do you like the teaching style? Is the instructor well credentialed? or a little too well credentialed?? Remember your instructor is only human once they step off the mat – try not to confuse the person with the art and vice versa.
* The Students
An instructor’s teaching is reflected in their students, both in skills and behaviour. Can you picture yourself as a student here?
Is the club drawing from a flowing stream? Does the club have a direct connection to a master teacher from whom they can learn or belong to an organisation from which new knowledge can be brought to the club?
* Feeling is believing
It’s a difficult thing to evaluate an art just by watching – unless you are quite skilled in that art. If possible try out a class, much of many arts are hidden in finer details that are developed only after years of training. Only by feeling the art can you really discover what it has to offer.
* The Vibe
How do you feel talking to the instructor, other students, when you walked into the club for the first time? Trust your feelings and instincts. Are you/they having fun?
* Commit to training
Martial arts teach secret techniques that no-one else has and will make you special and invincible. Sadly this is just not true, only commitment to regular training over a long period of time yields results. Think about the impact on your lifestyle of training a few times a week for at least a year, only after a period of time such as this will you begin to see the benefits of your training and be able to evaluate an art to see if it’s for you.
* Money, money, money
Ok so training is going to cost you money. (Probably more than you are going to lose if you’re ever mugged). Clubs need to have money to operate. However if you’re asked to sign up to a huge 12 month contract, if you have to pay big fees to do your belt grading’s and you have to do them every month you may have stepped into Mac Dojo or belt factory – beware!
Some arts tend to employ professional instructors where as others don’t. Both systems have their merit, many would say a professional instructor’s bottom line is getting food on the table and this can compromise the ‘purity’ of the art being taught, however a volunteer instructor can only devote so much time to their art as they usually have another job to do.
* Ki, Chi and Internal Energy
Some teachers perform seemingly miraculous acts of ‘ki/chi’ power, in these demonstrations the ‘pinky’ finger is more powerful than their biggest students, arms are ‘unbendable’, bodies are unliftable even with two people trying to lift. These ‘tricks’ demonstrate the relaxed power of arts like aikido and are based on good training practice and are easily learned. Sometimes though they are part of the sales package to get you in – try to look for the substance beyond them as the study of internal energy and meditation is a legitimate part of many martial arts.
* Cults and charismatic groups
Most martial arts usually follow a feudal hierarchal based system. Instructors and students can often have a lot of control within the group whilst training and often beyond. In such systems there can be potential for abuse of this responsibility and power. While uncommon it is not unheard of that groups can operate almost like a cult.
” … In such groups leaders can make demands on followers that are seen as abusive by outsiders, … the group operates as a close knit social system and its activities are generally only carried on with other members of the group. … Boundary control is exercised by the group and compliance with group norms is assured by members … A clear difference between members and non-members is exercised” (M.Galanter, Oxford University Press, 1989). It can be very difficult to leave such groups.
DISCLAIMER: These are some thoughts of the author, opinions of others will vary
Brisbane Aikido Republic