» What makes Aikido a unique martial art?
The grace and power of Aikido comes from using the attacker’s force to throw or pin him/her with minimal effort. Aikido principles of blending and non-resistance also teach students to seek creative alternatives in conflict, both physical and verbal. As students gain confidence, they discover that force does not have to be met with force. Aikido defenses involve minimal strikes and no kicking. Instead, the student uses circular movements to control the attack. Aikido emphasizes open-hand defenses, allowing one to move quickly (making a fist involves muscular contraction, which takes time) and rely on proper technique and internal energy (ki) rather than physical strength. This “soft” power allows the student to throw with devastating force or with the gentleness of a summer breeze.
» What makes Aikido an “internal style”?
It is perhaps too simplistic to create a dichotomy such as “internal vs. external martial arts”; an advanced and mature Karate student may emphasize internal power and softness while some Aikido instructors emphasize muscular power and technical precision. Nevertheless, Aikido is often described as an internal style due to its strong emphasis on relaxation and awareness of one’s center, and how to project energy or ki through the body. In addition, we do a great deal of conditioning training, both external (strength, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility) and internal (breathing exercises). Through extensive conditioning, the student gradually develops great power. The secret to Aikido’s power is due to the fact that we practice many defenses from wrist grabs, allowing the student to learn how to meet resistance with relaxed and precise movements. In contrast, other martial arts that do not focus on grabs do not have as immediate an understanding of the imperative of movement from the center in order to develop relaxed power and extension. For some people, the concept of ki or universal energy may seem esoteric; the development of internal power can also be described simply as the integration of power of relaxation with coordinated movement. After training for several years, the Aikido student discovers that ki has a deeper and subtler manifestation.
» Is Aikido practical for self-defense?
If you want to learn how to protect yourself, we encourage you to take self-defense classes rather than a traditional martial art. Then choose a martial art that you will stick with for many years — a form that suits your personality and philosophy. There is no ideal martial art, and it may take years of training in Aikido technique (or any other martial art for that matter) to gain street effectiveness. Perhaps the best preparation for self-defense is awareness and good posture. If you react to a dangerous situation with excessive tension, fear or anger, no amount of “practical” training will help you. Aikido teaches relaxed awareness in conflict, and the fundamental importance of proper postural alignment and evasion skills. In addition, Aikido’s emphasis on blending with attacks rather than blocking makes it ideal for defending against more powerful opponents. Aikido has become popular with law enforcement personnel due to the fact that it does not rely on strikes and kicks to safely immobilize an attacker. In addition, many soldiers in elite groups such as the Special Forces have integrated Aikido techniques into tactical training due to the efficiency of the movements.
» I am looking for something that will give me a good workout and help me relax in stressful situations. Should I choose Aikido?
Find a form of exercise that you enjoy enough to make a long-term commitment. Some people prefer the complexity and variety of Aikido instead of repetitive training like running or weightlifting. After you become proficient in the art of falling (one to three months), Aikido training can be very aerobic and physically challenging. Aikido kokyu waza (breathing exercises), zazen (seated meditation), and intense physical exercise help people relax. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises in particular help students consciously change negative breathing patterns and reduce stress.
What is this Aikido style and how does it differ from other forms of Aikido?
There are many different styles and traditions in Aikido. The Chief Instructor is Vermont’s senior aikido teacher, and is one of the only fully certified instructors (shidoin ) in Vermont. He has studied intensively with direct students (uchi deshi) of the founder, including Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei and Kazuo Chiba Sensei, and continues his practice under a number of senior teachers. Some styles emphasize a soft, almost dance-like approach, while other forms of aikido teach more linear, martial technique. We believe that true aikido balances elements of softness and hardness, unifying internal power or ki with technically precise movements. Aikido should be martially effective and realistic without sacrificing the imperatives of sensitivity, awareness and the cultivation of harmony. We also strongly emphasize the relationship between weapons and empty-handed practice, a method of training the founder emphasized in his earlier years. We are the only dojo in Vermont that hosts seminars with direct students of the Founder, including Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei and Kazuo Chiba Sensei, in addition to other senior teachers (Shihan) from the United States, Europe and Japan.
I am over 45 years of age. Do you have older students?
Yes, we have a number of students who began training at this age or older (up to 70 years of age). Due to the circular nature of the technique and our emphasis on conditioning and safety, aikido is a wonderful practice for people of all ages. We encourage people with health concerns to speak to a doctor before beginning any physical exercise. In addition, please consult with the Chief Instructor if you have any particular concerns or physical challenges.
Is Aikido a good martial art for women?
Women often find Aikido easy to learn because many women don’t tend to rely on physical strength, which can impede effective Aikido technique. Aikido’s emphasis on using the opponent’s force and muscular relaxation make the art particularly useful and valuable for women.
What is the best martial art for law enforcement and emergency responders?
There is no “best martial art” for anything. The ideal martial art is one that you can commit many years of training or for your lifetime. A year of Aikido or another martial art may make little difference in your skills on the street. However, many professionals believe that Aikido is perhaps one of the better martial arts to supplement the training of law enforcement and emergency responders. This is true for many reasons. For instance, Aikido’s emphasis on a relaxed but upright posture and centered movement allows professionals to protect themselves and civilians, instinctively teaching the use of appropriate and effective force. In addition, Aikido’s emphasis on blending with attacks and use of pins and joint locks provide better and more appropriate alternatives to arts that rely on strikes and kicks or floor grappling. If you would like more information on the value of Aikido on the street please read the article by Carlo Fargnoli, a longtime N.Y.P.D. police officer and Aikido student. He studied at New York Aikikai with Yamada Sensei: Aikido Works – aikido-and-law-enforcement
I have studied other martial arts. Will my background help me understand Aikido?
It is important that you join the dojo with a clear mind, or an “empty cup.” The best students are those that do not understand Aikido through past training, but encounter the teacher and the art in the immediacy of the present moment. For many serious martial artists, in particular people who have practiced “hard styles” such as Tae Kwon Do, Karate, or Hapkido, Aikido becomes part of a natural evolution towards seeking a softer and more internal style. Students who have trained in internal forms such as Tai Chi Chuan appreciate the emphasis on relaxation in the face of resistance they encounter in Aikido (like push hands training, Aikido allows the student to discover how to move towards deeper relaxation in the face of resistance and rigidity). Generally speaking, Aikido training will improve one’s skill in other martial arts, whether it is Tai Chi, a striking style, or a grappling form such as Brazilian Jujitsu. This is due to the fact that Aikido teaches universally applicable principles of relaxed and integrated movement. On the other hand, skill in other martial arts may not necessarily help one understand the movements or principles of Aikido.
Do you have classes for teenagers?
Teenagers should attend regular adult classes. Teen members can also participate in free intensive seminars that integrate martial arts training, peaceful conflict resolution and leadership skills. For more information, please visit our Youth Program page.
I have children. Can they come to the dojo while I practice Aikido?
We have many families in the dojo and strongly support training parents. We have a children’s play space adjoining the mat on the Pine Street side of the dojo. The space includes many toys, couches and space to play, talk, or do homework. Children should be old enough to allow for unsupervised play, or you are welcome to bring a caregiver or take turns with a parent if the children need supervision. When you visit, you are welcome to see the children’s play space.
I am interested in Aikido, but I am not sure if I am ready to join. What should I do?
We encourage students to visit in order to watch a class, even if you have seen Aikido before. Different dojo and teachers have particular styles and methods of practice — it is important to carefully watch and see for yourself if this appears to be the right path. You should watch an entire class if possible , and then meet with the Chief Instructor for an informal interview. Pincus Sensei teaches at the dojo on Tuesday through Saturday, but often trains or teaches at seminars, so you can always call ahead to confirm a time to visit. You are encouraged to bring questions that you may have to the interview. You are also welcome to join our on-line mailing list which will give you information about upcoming events such as introductory classes, seminars, etc.
Can I try a class?
Aikido is more difficult to learn than it appears. The first few classes will focus on ukemi — the art of falling — rather than techniques. It may take several months for some people to get the feel of the art. This is why we do not allow people to “try out” just one class — Aikido takes patience and commitment (we do allow children ages 7-12 to try a class). We encourage you to watch at least one class before joining. If you like what you see, register for three months or one month sessions. After the first month, we encourage you to take unlimited classes — ideally a minimum of two or three classes per week. You should have a good sense of whether or not the art is the right path for you after at least 60 hours of practice.
I would like to begin training. What should I do?
You should watch a class and make an appointment with the Chief Instructor for an informal interview. Pincus Sensei teaches Tuesday through Saturday. You should also complete the pre-registration form or you can pre-register when you visit us at our dojo at 257 Pine Street in Burlington. Please complete this liability release form and this application form completely before mailing them to Aikido of Champlain Valley. If you are opting to take advantage of our Electronic Funds Transfer program to automate payments, please fill out the EFT form. Please mail to: Aikido of Champlain Valley 257 Pine Street Burlington, VT 05401 You can also deliver the application forms in person preceding your first aikido class. The liability release form must be signed; if the applicant is younger than 18, a parent or guardian must sign the form themselves. You must complete both pages of the form in order to practice Aikido. We do not accept forms sent by e-mail. Please contact us at 802-951-8900 if you have additional questions.
When should I start and what classes should I take?
Introductory classes for new adult students meet at 9 am on Sunday. We also offer introductory class sessions on weeknights several times a year. Please sign up for our mailing list if you would like to be notified about special workshops, discounts, and introductory classes. Beginners are also encouraged to attend any of the basics classes and all level classes. We encourage people to take basics classes for at least one month. If you attend an all level class you will work with an advanced student who will help you learn basic movements and how to fall. We encourage new students to attend at least two classes a week. All adult students are welcome to attend classes up to 7 days a week. We now offer classes on Tuesday and Thursday morning.
I missed the first introductory classes. Can I begin in the middle of the month?
It is not essential to start with the first introductory classes, although it is encouraged. We can pro-rate our monthly membership dues if you decide to begin later in the month, or you can pre-register and enroll the following month. We encourage pre-registration to insure your place in class.
Do I need a uniform?
We encourage students to purchase a uniform (keikogi) when you join (or by the end of your first month of practice). You can wear a t-shirt or sweat-shirt (ideally without writing or graphics) and sweatpants or loose pants (no shorts or tank tops). We sell keikogi at the front desk. You should wear a uniform if you attend any of the All Level classes. You are welcome to wear a white uniform from another style if you do not have a logo or patch on the uniform.
How often should I practice?
We prefer if students train a minimum of twice a week. We have classes seven days a week in order to encourage students to train as often as possible. After your first month, three times a week is an ideal minimum, and some students (in an intensive uchi deshi/soto deshi program) train every day. Remember that it is important that Aikido balances your life, so you need to find a schedule that works for you in relation to other commitments.
I am interested in intensive training in Aikido. Is it possible to study in a traditional apprenticeship program?
Qualified students are welcome to apply to the uchi deshi (live-in student) or soto deshi (intensive apprenticeship in which you board outside the dojo) program. Please visit the Deshi Class page.
I notice that there is a lot of bowing. Is this a form of religious worship?
This is a traditional Japanese dojo (school) in which bowing and proper etiquette create an environment conducive to focused training. These rituals do not have religious meaning; instead, it is a way of expressing respect towards the path of aikido, your teacher, fellow students, and yourself. Bowing is an integral part of Budo, or all traditional Japanese martial arts. Historically, the formality and etiquette of Japanese culture provided samurai with rituals that helped them overcome fear and distraction as they prepared for battle.
Aikido is very graceful, but some techniques look choreographed. Why doesn’t the attacker resist more? Would the techniques work if someone really attacked you?
As students become more proficient they can attack faster and resist techniques, creating more realistic combat situations. Many of the techniques are dangerous if someone resists. If the attacker does not fight the movement, the defender is able to put power into technique safely, without fear of injury. In addition, by keeping the connection while falling, the student learns about blending, a fundamental element of effective technique. Aikido is a non-competitive martial art. One partner attacks, and the other person defends. If beginning students always resisted, their movements will be stiff and tense, lacking the subtle power and efficiency of proper aikido. Beginners are encouraged to resist when it helps students learn proper movement. After several years of training (once the student understands basic technique), the teacher encourages creative and constructive resistance in order to promote the development of effective and powerful technique. The non-competitive atmosphere encourages people to work on their own training rather than compare themselves to others. This inward directed practice is a nice counterbalance to the demands of our competitive culture. Aikido techniques and blending movements are effective against a wide variety of attacks, particularly when integrated with aikido atemi (strikes). Generally speaking, strikes in aikido are used to unbalance and distract the attacker rather than cause serious injury. In contrast, martial arts that rely on strikes and kicks have a greater potential to permanently injure the opponent.
I am afraid to fall. Will aikido help me overcome this fear?
Our classes emphasize safety and encourage students to work at their own pace, gradually increasing training intensity. You will learn how to fall slowly, beginning with simple rocking motions on the ground and gradually working towards higher falls. After several months, falling becomes a natural and enjoyable part of aikido training. We emphasize the art of teaching Aikido to individuals rather than classes, so the teacher may adjust a method of falling in order to support a student with particular challenges.
What is the ranking system in Aikido and how long does it take to become proficient or receive a black belt?
Aikido has two belts, white and black (we give children colored belts to increase motivation). There are five levels of white belt, going from fifth to first level. After the first level, one tests for shodan, or black belt. Students who wear hakama (the large blue or black pants unique to traditional Japanese martial arts) are either in our Intensive Training Program or have their black belts. Other aikido schools allow students to wear the hakama at the beginner level. There is also a ranking system for instructor levels that is independent of belt rank: Fukushidoin (assistant instructor), Shidoin (full instructor), and Shihan (Master Teacher). Aikido is a challenging martial art. It takes at least 6 to 8 years of intensive training (4 to 6 days a week) to achieve black belt rank. Keep in mind having a black belt does not mean you are an “expert.” Aikidoka discover they always have more to learn, and aikido involves more than technique. It is a way of life — a method of personal transformation