Just a bunch of notes, probably all cached (from sources I didn't note).
Aikido training ∞
A competitive variant of aikido (Tomiki aikido) holds structured competitions where opponents attempt to score points by stabbing with a foam-rubber knife, or by executing aikido techniques in response to attacks with the knife. Most variants of aikido, however, hold no competitions, matches, or sparring. Instead, techniques are practiced in cooperation with a partner who steadily increases the speed, power, and variety of attacks in accordance with the abilities of the participants. Participants take turns being attacker and defender, usually performing pre-arranged attacks and defenses at the lower levels, gradually working up to full-speed freestyle attacks and defenses.
Aikido practice begins the moment you enter the dojo! Trainees ought to endeavor to observe proper etiquette at all times. It is proper to bow when entering and leaving the dojo, and when coming onto and leaving the mat. Approximately 3-5 minutes before the official start of class, trainees should line up and sit quietly in seiza (kneeling) or with legs crossed.
The only way to advance in aikido is through regular and continued training. Attendance is not mandatory, but keep in mind that in order to improve in aikido, one probably needs to practice at least twice a week. In addition, insofar as aikido provides a way of cultivating self-discipline, such self-discipline begins with regular attendance.
Your training is your own responsibility. No one is going to take you by the hand and lead you to proficiency in aikido. In particular, it is not the responsibility of the instructor or senior students to see to it that you learn anything. Part of aikido training is learning to observe effectively. Before asking for help, therefore, you should first try to figure the technique out for yourself by watching others.
Aikido training encompasses more than techniques. Training in aikido includes observation and modification of both physical and psychological patterns of thought and behavior. In particular, you must pay attention to the way you react to various sorts of circumstances. Thus part of aikido training is the cultivation of (self-)awareness.
The following point is very important: Aikido training is a cooperative, not competitive, enterprise. Techniques are learned through training with a partner, not an opponent. You must always be careful to practice in such a way that you temper the speed and power of your technique in accordance with the abilities of your partner. Your partner is lending his/her body to you for you to practice on - it is not unreasonable to expect you to take good care of what has been lent you.
Aikido training may sometimes be very frustrating. Learning to cope with this frustration is also a part of aikido training. Practitioners need to observe themselves in order to determine the root of their frustration and dissatisfaction with their progress. Sometimes the cause is a tendency to compare oneself too closely with other trainees. Notice, however, that this is itself a form of competition. It is a fine thing to admire the talents of others and to strive to emulate them, but care should be taken not to allow comparisons with others to foster resentment, or excessive self-criticism.
If at any time during aikido training you become too tired to continue or if an injury prevents you from performing some aikido movement or technique, it is permissible to bow out of practice temporarily until you feel able to continue. If you must leave the mat, ask the instructor for permission.
Although aikido is best learned with a partner, there are a number of ways to pursue solo training in aikido. First, one can practice solo forms (kata) with a jo or bokken. Second, one can "shadow" techniques by simply performing the movements of aikido techniques with an imaginary partner. Even purely mental rehearsal of aikido techniques can serve as an effective form of solo training.
It is advisable to practice a minimum of two hours per week in order to progress in aikido.
Weapons Training ∞
Some dojo hold classes which are devoted almost exclusively to training with jo (staff), tanto (knife), and bokken (sword); the three principal weapons used in aikido. However, since the goal of aikido is not primarily to learn how to use weapons, trainees are advised to attend a minimum of two non-weapons classes per week if they plan to attend weapons classes.
There are several reasons for weapons training in aikido. First, many aikido movements are derived from classical weapons arts. There is thus a historical rationale for learning weapons movements. For example, all striking attacks in aikido are derived from sword strikes. Because of this, empty-handed striking techniques in aikido appear very inefficient and lacking in speed and power, especially if one has trained in a striking art such as karate or boxing.
Second, weapons training is helpful for learning proper ma ai, or distancing. Repeatedly moving in and out of the striking range of a weapon fosters an intuitive sense of distance and timing - something which is crucial to empty-hand training as well.
Third, many advanced aikido techniques involve defenses against weapons. In order to ensure that such techniques can be practiced safely, it is important for students to know how to attack properly with weapons, and to defend against such attacks.
Fourth, there are often important principles of aikido movement and technique that may be profitably demonstrated by the use of weapons.
Fifth, training in weapons kata is a way of facilitating understanding of general principles of aikido movement.
Sixth, weapons training can add an element of intensity to aikido practice, especially in practicing defenses against weapons attacks.
Seventh, training with weapons provides aikidoka with an opportunity to develop a kind of responsiveness and sensitivity to the movements and actions of others within a format that is usually highly structured. In addition, it is often easier to discard competitive mindsets when engaged in weapons training, making it easier to focus on cognitive development.
Finally, weapons training is an excellent way to learn principles governing lines of attack and defense. All aikido techniques begin with the defender moving off the line of attack and then creating a new line (often a non-straight line) for application of an aikido technique.
Mental training ∞
The founder (Morihei Ueshiba) intended aikido to be far more than a system of techniques for self-defense. His intention was to fuse his martial art to a set of ethical, social, and dispositional ideals. Ueshiba hoped that by training in aikido, people would perfect themselves spiritually as well as physically. It is not immediately obvious, however, just how practicing aikido is supposed to result in any spiritual (= psycho-physical) transformation. Furthermore, many other arts have claimed to be vehicles for carrying their practitioners to enlightenment or psycho-physical transformation. We may legitimately wonder, then, whether, or how, aikido differs from other arts in respect of transformative effect.
It should be clear that any transformative power of aikido, if such exists at all, cannot reside in the performance of physical techniques alone. Rather, if aikido is to provide a vehicle for self-improvement and psycho-physical transformation along the lines envisioned by the founder, the practitioner of aikido must adopt certain attitudes toward aikido training and must strive to cultivate certain sorts of cognitive dispositions.
Classically, those arts which claim to provide a transformative framework for their practitioners are rooted in religious and philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism (the influence of Shinto on Japanese arts is usually comparatively small). In Japan, Zen Buddhism exercised the strongest influence on the development of transformative arts. Although Morihei Ueshiba was far less influenced by Taoism and Zen than by the "new religion," Omotokyo, it is certainly possible to incorporate aspects of Zen and Taoist philosophy and practice into aikido. Moreover, Omotokyo is largely rooted in a complex structure of neo-Shinto mystical concepts and beliefs. It would be wildly implausible to suppose that adoption of this structure is a necessary condition for psycho-physical transformation through aikido.
So far as the incorporation of Zen and Taoist practices and philosophies into aikido is concerned, psycho-physical transformation through the practice of aikido will be little different from psycho-physical transformation through the practice of arts such as karate, kyudo, and tea ceremony. All these arts have in common the goal of instilling in their practitioners cognitive equanimity, spontaneity of action/response, and receptivity to the character of things just as they are (shinnyo). The primary means for producing these sorts of dispositions in trainees is a two-fold focus on repetition of the fundamental movements and positions of the art, and on preserving mindfulness in practice.
The fact that aikido training is always cooperative provides another locus for construing personal transformation through aikido. Cooperative training facilitates the abandonment of a competitive mind-set which reinforces the perception of self-other dichotomies. Cooperative training also instills a regard for the safety and well-being of one's partner. This attitude of concern for others is then to be extended to other situations than the practice of aikido. In other words, the cooperative framework for aikido practice is supposed to translate directly into a framework for ethical behavior in one's daily life.
Furthermore, it should be clear that if personal transformation is possible through aikido training, it is not an automatic process. This should be apparent by noticing the fact that there are aikido practitioners with many years of experience who still commit both moral and legal infractions. Technical proficiency and broad experience in the martial arts is by no means a guarantee of ethical or personal advancement. This fact often comes as a great disappointment to students of aikido, especially if they should discover that their own instructors still suffer from a variety of shortcomings. In fact, however, this itself constitutes a valuable lesson: Technical proficiency is an easier goal to attain than that of personal improvement. Although both of these goals may require a lifetime of commitment, it is considerably easier to make the sort of sacrifices and efforts required for technical proficiency than it is to make the sacrifices and efforts required for substantive personal transformation and improvement.
The path to self-improvement and personal transformation must begin somewhere, however. Perhaps the most important (and easily forgotten) starting point for both students and teachers of aikido is to bear constantly in mind that the people one is training with are one and all human beings like oneself, each with a unique perspective, and capable of feeling pain, frustration and happiness, and each with his or her own goals of training.
If one takes seriously the notion that part of one's aikido training should aim towards self-improvement, one may sometimes have to consider how one will be viewed by others. Someone may have superb technical ability and yet be viewed by others as a self-centered and inconsiderate bully.
Bowing in Aikido ∞
It is common for people to ask about the practice of bowing in aikido. In particular, many people are concerned that bowing may have some religious significance. It does not. In Western culture, it is considered proper to shake hands when greeting someone for the first time, to say "please" when making a request, and to say "thank you" to express gratitude. In Japanese culture, bowing (at least partly) may fulfill all these functions. Bear in mind, too, that in European society only a few hundred years ago a courtly bow was a conventional form of greeting.
Incorporating this particular aspect of Japanese culture into our aikido practice serves several purposes:
It inculcates a familiarity with an important aspect of Japanese culture in aikido practitioners. This is especially important for anyone who may wish, at some time, to travel to Japan to practice aikido. There is also a case to be made for simply broadening one's cultural horizons.
Bowing may be an expression of respect. As such, it indicates an open-minded attitude and a willingness to learn from one's teachers and fellow students.
Bowing to a partner may serve to remind you that your partner is a person - not a practice dummy. Always train within the limits of your partner's abilities.
The initial bow, which signifies the beginning of formal practice, is much like a "ready, begin" uttered at the beginning of an examination. So long as class is in session, you should behave in accordance with certain standards of deportment. Aikido class should be somewhat like a world unto itself. While in this "world," your attention should be focused on the practice of aikido. Bowing out is like signaling a return to the "ordinary" world.
When bowing either to the instructor at the beginning of practice or to one's partner at the beginning of a technique it is often considered proper to say "onegai shimasu" (lit. "I request a favor") and when bowing either to the instructor at the end of class or to one's partner at the end of a technique it is considered proper to say "domo arigato gozaimashita" ("thank you").