Ten Ways to Help Out at the Dojo

As a member of the dojo community we often want to make a contribution in some way. As a beginner there’s often precious little we can do. We can’t teach. We often don’t know enough to jump in and take on dojo projects. But there are little ways we can help out. Keeping the dojo nice is one way any of us can do a little something.

Sometimes we don’t notice the little details because we are looking at them all the time. And sometimes we just don’t know what do. Here are some ideas. They will of course vary between dojo. Check with your dojo cho, sensei, or sempai before taking on anything too risky (like painting the walls a new color!). These things are probably pretty safe ways to pitch in:

  1. Pick a small area that doesn’t get cleaned often, and take it on. Like a cabinet, or the strips along the walls that daily vacuuming doesn’t get.
  2. If you have a green thumb, pull weeds, deadhead the old flowers, prune what needs pruning, or maybe bring a few plants to fill in gaps in the landscaping.
  3. Wipe down the door jambs or baseboards.
  4. Wash the windows. Or just one window. Clean the mirrors.
  5. Seek and destroy all the cobwebs! Escort the spiders outdoors and turn them loose.
  6. Take the rags and towels home, wash and fold them, and return them.
  7. Take the rugs outside (far away from any open doors) and beat the dust out of them.
  8. Clean out the refrigerator, or the microwave.
  9. If you have dressing room curtains, vacuum the dust off them.
  10. Tidy up a closet or supply cabinet.

Taking care of your space is a small but meaningful way to support your dojo community. Make it a moving meditation, an act of gratitude, and enjoy.

Ten Tips for Your First Weapons Class

When I first started in Aikido weapons held no fascination for me at all. I never watched Samurai movies. I was not fascinated by Ninjas. OK, so yeah, I had a throwing star years ago, but that’s about as far as it went. I wasn’t planning on training with weapons at all, in fact. And then one time I had my days mixed up, and ended up in a weapons class by accident. And I loved it. Go figure.

Weapons training can help us understand open-hand techniques better, and helps develop better alignment and grounding. At our dojo we can start training in weapons right away. The classes are not reserved for advanced students. In fact one student recently did the weapons class as his very first-ever Aikido class, and he did fine.

Weapons work can seem mysterious There’s more confusing etiquette and tradition to figure out, and even more new words to learn. Plus there are people swinging sticks at you! It can be a little intimidating. So if you’re thinking about trying weapons classes, but are a little nervous about the whole thing, take heart, you will do just fine. Here are ten tips to help you jump in:

  1. In my experience at our dojo, just before class the instructor will announce which kind of weapon you will be using. The long straight ones are “jo” and the shorter curved ones are “bokken.” The little ones in the basket on the floor are “tanto.”
  2. Most dojo have some school weapons, that anyone may use. If you aren’t sure which are OK, ask. At Aikido of San Diego these are marked “ASD” on the end. The rest of the weapons belong to other students. At another local dojo there are separate racks for “public” and “private” weapons. In general, don’t mess with other people’s weapons. Another student will be happy to help you pick one out if you aren’t sure what to do.
  3. What I have seen people do most often is a standing bow toward the shomen, holding the weapon horizontally in front of them, when they step onto the mat, and when they step off the mat after class. At your dojo people may do seated bows. Keep your eyes open and follow the example of the senior students.
  4. Be very aware of what’s going on around you whenever anyone is training with weapons, and watch out behind you when you are training. It’s easy to hit the wall when you raise a weapon to strike. Watch out behind and around other people when you are on the mat! We aren’t used to people doing things behind themselves, or out to the side, but if you walk behind someone as they are coming around for a strike you could get clobbered.
  5. Notice where others place their weapons before and after bowing in (to their left or right), and how other students hand weapons back and forth with their partners (horizontally? vertically? with a bow?) and follow their example. I recently went to a weapons seminar where nearly everything was done the opposite of what I’m used to doing. When in Rome, and all that!
  6. Control your weapon during training. Don’t throw or drop it by accident! It should probably go without saying, but… No horseplay. Or Ninja/Samurai play, either. Be respectful and safe. These are real weapons and they can cause real damage.
  7. It’s OK to rest the end of your jo on the mat, but never use a jo or bokken to help you get up off the mat, and never lean on it for support. This puts permanent dents in the mat – especially with bokken that have a pointy end. Golfers won’t need to be told this. They know better than to use a club when getting up from the ground. Same idea, except in golf it’s the club that would be damaged. In Aikido it would be the mat.
  8. Never hit or touch someone with a weapon, even gently, when practicing. It’s rude. Always stop short of touching them.
  9. Stepping on or tripping over a weapon on the mat is an easy way to get injured. When we aren’t using our weapons for a few minutes during class (such as when only one partner needs to have a weapon), we put them down right up against the wall.
  10. Be alert to any local oddities, regardless of what you might have read or heard of as being “the correct way” of doing things. Some dojo have interesting little customs of their own. For instance, even though it’s not “normal weapons etiquette” to do this, when we are sitting and watching the instructor demonstrate a technique we often tuck our weapons around behind us, against the wall if there is in any danger that someone might step on them.

See? That’s not so bad. Pay attention, train safely, and have fun! 

Ten Tips for Visiting Another Dojo

[I’ve been meaning to write up a series of “Ten Tips” posts, for all those subjects where I have a little of this and that to say. This is as good a topic as any for the first one.]

I love it when aikidoka from other dojo come play with us. It’s fun to meet people from all over the world, and to learn a little about how things are done in other places. I don’t travel a lot, but if I did I’d sure want to visit other dojo, meet folks there, and get my Aikido fix!

I’ve been to a few other dojo for seminars, talked to a lot of people from other schools, and I’ve been confused myself when trying to figure out how things work in new places. So here are a few pointers for figuring out “the way things are done” that might help you feel more at home when you train somewhere else:

  1. Most dojo welcome visitors of any affiliation. Knowing the affiliation or lineage can be interesting, though. The dojo where I train for instance, Aikido of San Diego, is affiliated with Aikikai, through the California Aikido Association (CAA), under Division 3, headed by Robert Nadeau Shihan.  
  2. Notice (or ask) how are instructors and others addressed? At our dojo only Goldberg Sensei is addressed as “Sensei”. At some dojo any instructor who is teaching at the moment is addressed as “Sensei.”
  3. Belt colors, if they are used, can help clue you in to the level of your training partners. We have a few belt colors (6 & 5 = white, 4 & 3 = blue, 2 & 1 = brown), and only yudansha wear hakama. In some schools, belts are white for all kyu ranks. In others, everyone wears hakama. So don’t assume that people wearing white belts are newbies, or that those wearing hakama are yudansha.
  4. At every dojo where I’ve trained, and in the seminars I’ve been to, people don’t line up in any particular order. But at some dojo, people do line up according to rank, so keep your eyes open to figure out where you should sit.
  5. We usually don’t clap when we bow in. In some schools, the instructor leads bows with two claps, or sometimes four. Always follow the instructor’s lead.
  6. In many schools, everybody trains with everybody else, and lower-ranked students are encouraged to approach senior students and ask them to train. But at some dojo students train with others near their own rank. In some schools lower-ranked students do not approach seniors, they wait to be asked.
  7. At the dojo where I train, we usually change partners throughout the class. At some dojo you stick with the same partner through the whole class.
  8. In some places you try a technique two times, and then switch with our partner, while in others each partner does the technique four times before switching.
  9. In many dojo it is OK to unobtrusively step off the mat for water (we often keep a water bottle near the edge of the mat), or to go to the bathroom if you must. Do this during training times, never when the instructor is demonstrating a technique or speaking. At some dojo leaving the mat for any reason is strongly discouraged, and you should ask first (don’t just duck out). If you think you might need to excuse yourself during class, ask a local student how things are done, or just watch the others who regularly train there.
  10. Also notice (or ask) how you should return. We bow in without interrupting the class and return to training, and a standing bow is OK. At some dojo you would wait, in seiza, at the edge of the mat for the instructor to allow you back into the class, and do a seated bow when you are acknowledged.
  11. Enjoy!

If you are in San Diego area on business or vacation, come play. You will be welcome. You can find directions, mat fee, etc. here: http://www.aikidosd.com/membership.htm