Friday, 15 February 2013

Aikido in North Devon (for Beginners)

If you are new to Aikido, what can you expect when you turn up to a class for the first time?

It can be slightly intimidating to arrive at a martial arts class with no idea of what you are letting yourself in for. So let me try to reassure you that joining our Aikido class is not going to be a frightening experience! In fact, I think (I hope!) that you will find us friendly and that you will have a lot of fun practising with us.

I won’t go over the details of the arts of Aikido here (it will be easier to explain those at the class itself), but I do want to give you a few ideas of what our classes are like.  First, let me clarify what Aikido is not: it is not a system of hand-to-hand fighting; it is not a competitive sport; it is not something that only young people can do! Here is a short taster showing some of the great masters of Aikido...

So what is a class actually like?

A class will generally begin with a few warm-ups. These are a series of graded stretching and aerobic exercises to get you limbered up. We will then go through a number of ‘Ki’ exercises which will help you to learn how to focus your thoughts and remain relaxed and calm even when under pressure. After the Ki exercises we will move on to the Aikido techniques themselves.

As a beginner you will first learn two important skills: 1) how to get out of the way if someone attacks you and 2) how to fall to the ground safely, without hurting yourself. Once you’ve learnt those, you will be taught some ways of defending yourself against an attack. Aikido is an entirely defensive art – and it is not aggressive or competitive. We do not have ‘Aikido matches’, there is no scoring and there are no winners or losers.

On the whole, our Aikido classes are very informal. Aikido classes are – and should be – fun. That said, we take Aikido itself very seriously. So while the atmosphere of a class may be relaxed, don’t be deceived into thinking that we treat Aikido lightly. We do not. Aikido is a beautiful and challenging art. Accordingly we take its study very seriously.

In spite of the informality, there are a few formal conventions that we observe in order to show our respect for the art and for the great teachers of that art. When we enter the practice room (the ‘dojo’) we make a small standing bow. When the teacher (the ‘sensei’) is speaking, the students kneel (or sit cross legged) on the edge of the practice mat. When you have finished practising with another student, it is considered polite to say ‘Thank you’. At the start and end of a class, the teacher will welcome and thank the students. These are minor details and nobody will be worried if you are unfamiliar with the etiquette when you practise with us. But if you want some more information, please see the page on ‘Dojo etiquette’.

Finally, what should you wear? Unless you have practised a martial art before, you probably won’t have a special martial art suit (a ‘gi’). That doesn’t matter. Just wear something loose-fitting and comfortable – a sweat suit would be perfect. Please don’t wear jewellery or watches as they could easily hurt your or another person when practising. Also, bring some slippers or sandals that you can slip on an off easily. We will practise barefoot on a mat. You will need to leave your slippers at the edge of the mat. If you decide to stick with the study of Aikido, you may buy a judo-style suit at a later date. The club is able to supply these at reduced prices.

You will notice that existing students wear coloured belts and some people may also wear a pair of long, flowing, baggy black ‘trousers’ (called a ‘hakama’). The coloured belts represent degrees of skill. Beginners wear white; more experienced practitioners may wear yellow, orange and other colours. The most experienced people wear black belts and a hakama.

We practise every week on Thursday evenings in Bucks Cross. And, from the 25th of February we will also be practising on Monday evenings in Woolsery. Newcomers are very welcome at either class (see here for more information). Why not give Aikido a try? You may find it’s addictive!

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