Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Can I visit Main Line Budo’s Dojo? Of course you can. Our instructors (Sensei) and students of the Bryn Mawr Dojo of Aikido Kinokawa want visitors and passers by to enter and observe any class that is in session. While they will acknowledge your presence, our instructors may not be able to answer your questions until a technique is demonstrated or after the class has finished. Observing a class is often a reliable way of determining if a martial art is right for you or you for it. Please refrain from photography without permission, it scares the senior Dans.
2. What should students wear to their first class? The traditional uniform is a plain white formal cotton uniform called a “Gi.” They are available through a number of web retailers (hint: look for one without all of the patches and logos). The dojo will occasionally stock several Gi’s for purchase but absent specific request, they may not be in your size. Only Aikido practitioners who achieve the rank of Shodan (black belt) and higher wear a “hakama” – the formal pleated pants you will see the instructor wearing. For your first classes, you may wear loose clothing such as a t-shirt and sweatpants. New students aren’t expected to participate fully in regular classes until they have become comfortable with rolls (ukemi), can protect themselves, and are familiar with both basic technique and dojo etiquette.
3. On Etiquette. A dojo is a school. For it to function and serve its students well, there are certain rules of conduct within its walls. Aikido Kinokawa maintains dojo “etiquette” (rules of conduct sounds so off-putting). Dojo etiquette allows students to free themselves from the outside world and enter the sanctuary of the dojo for training. In religious circles one performs rituals to transition from the secular to the sacred.
Dress Etiquette. The traditional uniform is a plain white cotton uniform called a “Gi.” These are available on the interwebs (Google is your friend). If you prefer, Aikido Kinokawa will purchase a Gi’s for you at your request and suggest sizing. Noobs may wear loose clothing such as a t-shirt and sweatpants until a Gi has been ordered.
Bowing. Bowing was (and is still) a prominent feature of formal Japanese society. On entering or exiting the dojo it is polite to bow from the hip, facing the front (shomen or “head”) of the Dojo. When Sensei is ready to begin or end a class, he will be in seiza (kneeling) facing the front of the Dojo. Students and instructor will bow to the front with one of the Senpai (Senior students) saying, “shomen ni rei” (“I am bowing to the front of the room”) indicating respect and willingness to learn. Sensei will turn and bow to the class again, with one of the Sempai saying, “Sensei ni rei” (“I am bowing to Sensei”). At the end of class this will be repeated and Sensei will then walk to the edge of the mat and instruct the class to bow to one another. While you’re at it, bow to the front of the room when leaving the mat too.
Personal Etiquette. Aikido involves close physical contact. Students are expected to keep good hygiene. Uniforms should be washed regularly, and fingernails and toenails should be trimmed neatly and closely to prevent scratching. Deoderant is a good idea. Perfume is unnecessary. Remove all jewelry to prevent injury to yourself and to others. Shoes are not permitted on the mat at any time. Everything you step on during the course of the day should remain on the bottom of your shoes and not on your body or face after contact with the mat. Remove your shoes and place them under the benches near the front door prior to class.
Behavioral Etiquette. If you are late for class, wait for Sensei to invite you onto the mat. Dress quickly and quietly, particularly if late for class. When dressed, line up in kneeling position (seiza). Typically, the more junior students (lower belt rank) will line up in order from the left to the senior students on the right. Watch attentively in seiza or with legs crossed while Sensei demonstrates with a student he selects. Following demonstration Sensei will re-announce the technique and you will find a partner to practice the technique. It is not necessary to formally request to practice with another student in Japanese at our dojo. Find a partner, bow to one another, and begin. The senior-most student usually begins as “nage” (pronounced “nah-gay”) to perform the technique following attack by the uke (pronounced “ooh-kay”). It is typical, but not absolute, that each student practices each technique four times (twice on the right and left side).
Mental Etiquette. Whenever possible, arrive at the dojo with a positive mental state for practice. We all have our stressors in our daily life. Aikido aims to free us of them. Bringing them with you onto the mat (while sometimes inevitable) is not encouraged. Attentive practice is the best practice. This is a martial art. If you are inattentive during its application you are likely to get injured. (Our lawyers tell us that’s what the waiver of liability forms are for -but we’d rather you not be injured anyway). Your partner is not trying to hurt you. He or she is learning as you are. If your partner seems particularly rough or you are nursing an injury, bring this to their attention.
Housekeeping Etiquette. Aikido involves close physical contact with the mat. The importance of keeping the mat clean can not be over-emphasized. Sweeping up the dirt, dust, hair, skin, and who knows what else, not only contributes to more sanitary practice, it promotes a sense of ownership. You are caring for your dojo. While you are sweeping the mat, look around you, is the dojo otherwise clean? Are the weapons racked? Are dirty Gi’s left hanging in the changing area? Again? Take pride in your dojo!
4. Weapons training. You are not Samurai and are not training to be Samurai or Cosplay convention goers. Weapons training in Aikido will not make you a legendary swordmaster, or even a competent one. Weapons training, both in class and on your own, is designed to maintain your focus and to sharpen your Aikido practice. There are routinely weapons at the dojo for use by students. If you continue your practice of Aikido (which we hope you will) you will be encouraged to purchase your own weapons.
5. Parking at our Dojo. We do not have our own private parking lot. Further, the Main Line appears to have a large populace of attentive meter maids. Students are cautioned to be mindful of the time left on their meters for both on-street and lot parking. Some of the meters are “quarters only.”
6. Injuries. Aikido necessarily involves contact -Aikido Kinokawa does, anyway. Even in your early ranks, you will be thrown by senior students and Sensei (although perhaps not as hard). Do not take this personally! It is not uncommon in our dojo for black belt testing to end in matching eyes. What toughens you spiritually and mentally is also designed to toughen you physically. Serious injuries in our class are rare. You will likely be bruised and sore and will certainly be tired at the end of class. If you are injured during a class and are not able to continue bring this to the immediate attention of your Sensei. You should not “suffer in silence” or “tough it out” at the risk of magnifying any injury and reducing your future practice time. Because you will be voluntarily undertaking the study of a martial art and for the reason that Main Line Budo is not a guarantor of your safety and health, you will be asked to sign a waiver form. (Again, thanks to our lawyers, you are asked to disclose any pre-existing health conditions you may have).
7. Cost. The cost of your education at our Dojo will depend upon the particular practice you undertake. Please consult individually with your Sensei. Dues should be paid by the first class of every month you attend. Discounts are typical for students and children.
8. Rank. There are some martial arts schools who do not rank students until their black belt level. There are also some who quickly elevate unprepared students to high ranks. You should study a martial art for your spiritual and physical health and not for the pursuit of a colored belt. In Aikido, the rank of black belt is termed Shodan (or “first step”). It is not an end point in your training. It may take several years and many hours of practice in the Dojo before your Sensei elects to test you to advance in rank. Testing is both a happy occasion and recognition of your accomplishments.
9. Additional Physicial/Spiritual Training. Any physical or spiritual activity which compliments your ability to practice Aikido is encouraged. There is knowledge to be gained in many forms. Do not, however, allow this to substitute for our Dojo experience which can not be emulated anywhere else but in our Dojo.
10. Breaks in your Training. Whether for health or for personal reasons, students of all ranks periodically stop training for periods of time. Aikido Kinokawa Ryu is designed to prepare you for everyday life. If everyday life takes precedence, do what you must but remember to return. No matter how long a student has been off the mats, they remain welcome at our Dojo.
11. How do I begin? Good question. Be open to the idea of learning something about yourself. People of all ages, backgrounds, genders and professions come to our Dojo. Each has something to learn and something to offer. If you are ready for a life-changing experience which extends beyond the four walls of our Dojo then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.kinokawa.org.