Copyright Kate Wurtzel
Practice etiquette begins with a bow. Whether you are walking into a traditional dojo space or engaging your training partner or instructor in a park, the most formal respect is paid up front as a gesture of good will for the practice session. Borrowed from the Japanese culture from which Aikido originated, it is the way aikidoka (students of Aikido) acknowledge one another's safe keeping and is usually accompanied by the emphatic "Onegaeshimasu!" greeting. As a beginning student gets more familiar with the overall practice of Aikido, they will gain an understanding of the nuanced etiquette by trial and error, guided gently by their senior students (sempai) and teacher (sensei). It is natural to make mistakes when learning Aikido, and patience with oneself and others is required and expected. It is recommended to practice more than to talk about Aikido while you have training partners at hand. Teaching should be reserved for the Sensei leading the class. All other interactions are training opportunities for both partners and should be used to accomplish as many repetitions of the technique(s) shown by the Sensei on the mat. Judgment for correct application of technique and ukemi should be reserved for the most senior teacher on the mat. That said, O Sensei expressed that Aikido be practiced with joy and an intention for the betterment of both uke (attacker) and nage (defender). The techniques taught in Aikido can lead to serious harm when applied correctly. Safety begins and ends with you, the individual. Awareness of yourself and those around you is integral in our teaching, as it is likely that you will impact another person's practice negatively. Usually unintentionally, but nevertheless, accidents will happen, but each person is responsible for increasing their own level of awareness to keep our training environment injury free. Practice etiquette ends with a bow, as well. It is usually punctuated with a grateful parting of "Domo Arigato", and overall amplified well being of having done something enriching for both you and your fellow aikidoka.
All students are encouraged to practice Aikido as often as possible; people young and old with all levels of athletic skill are capable of learning Aikido and find that they can continue to do Aikido and promote functional movement long into their lives. However, it is not required that you acquire rank in Aikido. O Sensei emphasized daily practice over rank. This is a familiar motif in that the release of a benefit orientation to the self (loss of ego) is a feature of this art. However, we recognize the need for marking progress, so our dojo follows the guidelines presented by our membership organization, the United States Aikido Federation (USAF) for acquiring rank. There are fees associated with being a member of the USAF and testing, but testing is not required for studying Aikido.
Students who would like to become members of the USAF must attend classes and accumulate days of practice toward eligibility for tests (see USAF Test Requirements). Adult Ranks are determined through a physical test conducted by the Dojo-cho and are held periodically at our home dojo when a student(s) has attained eligibility (days) and is recommended to test by the Dojo-cho or other senior ranking student. On average, students practicing at least three days per week, and applying themselves seriously, achieve the rank of shodan (1st degree Black Belt) in about six or seven years. Rank awarded through the USAF is recognized worldwide and is transferable to all organizations affiliated through Aikikai Hombu Dojo, world headquarters of Aikido.
For folks age 12 and older, there are six kyu ranks, beginning with 6th kyu as the first received. Kyu ranks are followed by black belt ranks, called dan (shodan – “beginning” dan, 2nd dan, 3rd dan, etc.). Acquiring a Black belt requires a test conducted by a panel of higher leveled teachers, or a Shihan, or Technical Commitee member or any combination while attending a regional seminar. Our dojo includes only white, brown, and black belt determinations according to our uniform. A student wearing a brown or a black belt indicates a senior student, not an expert. Hakamas (Black or blue pants garment worn over dogi) are typically only worn by yudansha or Dan level ranks, although some styles allow junior ranks (kyu) to wear them as well. They are required only for yudansha at the Alamo Area Aikikai.
For children under 12, there is no national curriculum through the USAF. At the Alamo Area Aikikai, testing is held more frequently and the rank guidelines include 5 kyu ranks with first test beginning at 10th kyu. Because of the variation in skill levels and developmental differences of the very youngest of students, we also include extra "stripes" to denote progress of a student in between kyu ranks. We denote kyu ranks by colored stripes on the white belt of each student.
Please keep your Dojo-cho informed as to your desire and keep up to date on USAF registration dues in order to keep on track and for your personal progress to be charted.