How do I choose an Aikido school?
A couple of things that are important parts to look at in the process of choosing an Aikido school:
- The environment where you will learn and train
- The people that will be your partners
- The instructor
- The logistics of the school
Be sure that you feel “ok” in the place.
If you are not allowed to watch any classes, you may not want to invest your time and money. Without seeing a class you will not be able to get a good feel for the school.
Ask questions - don’t worry about looking stupid or asking the “wrong” question. The are going to be teaching and training you - you want to get any concerns or considerations you have out before you commit to anything.
If you feel bullied or threatened in any manner, look somewhere else.
Go, watch some classes (without participating), then ask to participate – see of the behaviour of the students changes by the fact that there is a new person in their class.
What follows are just guidelines, which can be modified according to your needs and experience.
How good are the students?
This is more of a measure of the quality of the students as students than their skill at martial arts. See if you can picture yourself with these people. Are they attentive, respectful, interested in being there? Those are all good signs…
Is there a mix of upper and lower ranks?
This is not always obvious in the various Aikido styles without belt rankings, etc. It is generally a good sign if advanced, intermediate and beginning students are practicing together. Check the approach the higher ranked students take to you – their help will probably be very important in your advancement in Aikido.
Some schools have classes separated by rank though. Ask.
Is there a mix in the type of people in the class?
Although this doesn’t necessarily mean anything if it is not present, it is a good sign if there is a mixture of males and females, older and younger people in the class. It is typical for the efficiency of Aikido that it can teach a variety of people together.
Do they move the way you would like to?
This will give you some sense of what you can achieve. Look to the senior students and see if they move the way you want to move.
Do they help one another?
In a small class this may not apply, but in larger classes it is a good sign if the senior students support and assist the junior students. This kind of personal attention will aid you greatly in your training.
Do the senior students seem fit and relaxed?
This will give you a sense of the atmosphere of the dojo. If the senior students are uptight, nervous, unfit, out of shape, or unhappy, it may be a sign to move on. However, do not be put off by a single occurrence, i.e. because of THAT day the senior student was in a poor mood. It should at least prompt you to look carefully though…
How common are injuries?
As Aikido as well as other martial arts involves physical activity and contact, injuries will occasionally occur. However, if injuries are common and/or serious, there is likely a problem in how training is supervised, and you will probably want to look elsewhere. It will be difficult to tell what the frequency/severity of injuries in the class is in one or two visits. Ask the instructor.
You will need some basic trust in the individual, as a beginning.
The instructor is the person who is going to be guiding your development as an Aikidoka. You need to feel comfortable with him or her, and feel secure in receiving instruction from them. If you have some unease or personality conflict with the instructor(s) you might want to look elsewhere.
Do the students get personalized attention?
This will be a good judge of how valuable yor time will be. If there is a good amount of instructor to student attention there will be more value for you.
Does the instructor differentiate between forms and functions?
Another good indication is to find out if the instructor(s) differentiates between form and function. In other words do they do it “because it looks good” or “because it works”. Anyhow, you should clarify the objectives of the specific Aikido school.
Are adjustments made for students of differing body types and limitations?
Another good sign is if the instructor adjusts the training of his or her student’s physical realities: telling a slow person to work contact, a fast person to work ranges, a heavy person to work leverage, a light person to work speed, or, conversely, concentrating on their weak areas to compensate.
This is an important element to be clear about. You don’t want to commit to a school if you can’t afford it. It is impossible to address what a reasonable price would be here, because the benefits offered, the local economy, the quality of instruction, and the amount of instructor time are all variables in the equation.
Find out if there are extra charges for going up in rank, find out if there are organizational dues, party contributions, mat fees, etc.
But do not be upset when an Aikido instructor charges money – they need to eat and have a place to stay. In our culture money is the way that happens. We do not feed and house wise old men. Now, some instructors teach for free or nearly for free after their primary job. However, ther costs of a school, equipment, and insurance are frighteningly high. The best way to determine if a school is being reasonable is to compare what they offer for the price compared to what other local schools offer for their prices.
If you are intending to spend a lot of time at the school you want it to be accessible, and convenient enough for you to get there after work, on weekends, etc.
Another thing you want to be clear on is when you can go to the school and when classes are.
Commitments and Promises
This is an important thing to know about any school you will be joining. Be very clear on what they will expect of you and what you expect of them. Some teachers want to teach only people who are willing to commit to them and their style, some are willing to introduce you to their style and let you dabble, some will teach you as long you show up. None of them are intrinsically better or worse, but you want to know where they are coming from so you and they are not surprised.
Find out if you are required to attend classes, find out about being late, find out what the policy is on school rules of behaviour and etiquette. Find out how you are supposed to interact with the teacher and other students. There are many styles for all these things so make sure you find out. The easiest way is to ask these questions.