Aikido FAQs

Frequently asked questions…

Here are brief answers to some typical questions we get from new students and visitors to the dojo.

Aikido in general

About our dojo

About the classes

What is Aikido?

“Aikido” can be loosely translated as “The Way of Harmony.” It is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (known as O-Sensei) before the Second World War. Many techniques are related to older martial traditions, especially Daito-ryu Aikijutsu. Besides modifying the techniques, O-Sensei changed the spirit of this art by emphasizing that it was a means of cultivating peace, rather than destroying enemies. Typical Aikido techniques include joint locks and throws, and learning to follow technique safely is an important part of practice. Aikido can range from the vigour of full-scale police tactics to healthful practice that emphasizes flexibility and grace, depending on the student.
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How is Aikido different from other martial arts?

Unlike many other arts, Aikido has no sporting, competitive component whatsoever. Its focus is on self-defence and self-development. The basis of technique is correct body centring, focus and timing, rather than muscular force.
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Is Aikido effective as self-defense in real-life situations?

That depends on the student. Your Aikido will as effective as your training has been rigorous.
Aikido techniques derive from samurai battlefield techniques that are many hundreds of years old. They have evolved and become refined over that time to be extremely effective.
Aikido techniques are often studied by police and military forces for their practicality.
If you want to learn to fight in as short a time as possible, though, Aikido is not for you. Our dojo puts no special emphasis on modern street situations, and Aikido techniques take time to learn.
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Will I learn about ki?

The concept of “ki” can translated in a number of ways, including “life energy.” It is a fundamental part of Aikido practice and of the traditional Japanese world view. We do not single it out for instruction purposes and it is studied through the practice itself.
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Does Aikido include religious beliefs?

Our dojo does not view Aikido as a religious practice. However, we do attempt to foster the ethical and spiritual beliefs held by O-Sensei (such as having a positive spirit, cooperation with others and developing a calm and harmonious mind). There is no dogma or religious doctrine attached. Likewise, the meditation and bowing, as we do them, have no religious meaning.
The portrait at the front of the dojo is of O-Sensei, the Founder of Aikido. We regularly show respect to him and his life’s work through this image, but this is traditional etiquette rather than a religious practice.
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Why do the black belts wear the wide, black pants?

Known as “hakama,” this garment is part of the traditional Japanese martial arts costume. Most Japanese martial arts (e.g. Kyudo and Kendo) require students to wear hakama. White belts don’t wear hakama in our dojo so the instructors can more easily check the student’s lower-body position and movement. Hakama are not usually worn in competitive martial arts like Judo and Karate since judges and referees need to see the competitors’ feet, there is a safety concern and the hakama may be damaged.
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How long will it take me to get a black belt?

It completely depends on the individual. It normally takes at least five years of intense, regular practice to qualify to test for black belt, with ten years of training (or more) not being uncommon.
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Why aren’t there any coloured belts?

All non-black belt students wear white belts, a traditional practice in Japanese budo. There are five grades of white belt, determined by progressive testing, that would be recognized with coloured belts in some other martial arts. (Coloured belts are awarded in the kids’ class for motivational purposes, however.)
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Why isn’t there any competition?

There is no competition in Aikido, for three basic reasons.
• A practical one is that it is  dangerous to resist many of the techniques.
• More importantly, cooperation is vital in training, for both nage (the thrower) and uke (taking the fall). Constantly frustrating nage makes it very difficult for him or her to learn the form of complex techniques properly. At the same time, uke should be practicing following technique quickly and fluidly to counter it, rather than stubbornly trying to force it to a stop.
• The third and most important reason is that O-Sensei forbade competition as something that encouraged egotism, anger and short-term goals.
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What does “Hokuryukai” mean?

In Japanese, “Hoku” means northern; “ryu” means dragon; and “kai” means association – the “Northern Dragon Association.”
The dragon is our emblem for two reasons. For one, the club officially came into existence in the Year of the Dragon. More importantly, we wanted to commemorate the dragon spirit that O-Sensei felt was integral to his martial arts.
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What is the club’s affiliation?

Our dojo is a member of the Ontario Aikido Federation and the Canadian Aikido Federation, under the technical direction of Osawa-Shihan of Tokyo, Japan. (All students must be active members of the CAF). Both the OAF and CAF are connected to Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, Japan, which is led by O-Sensei’s grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba (Doshu). Students who obtain their rankings through us should be allowed to train at any Hombu-affiliated dojo in the world.
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Who are the instructors?

  • Jim Barnes, 6th degree black belt shidoin (senior instructor) is the Chief Instructor of the club. He is Past President of the Canadian Aikido Federation and a member of the CAF Examinations Committee.
  • Yumi Nakamura, 6th degree black belt shihan (master instructor), is the dojo’s Senior Instructor and also Chief Instructor of Aikido Tendokai. She is a member of the CAF Examinations Committee.
  • Tom Lindsey (4th degree) and Vadim Potanine (4th degree) are associate instructors, teaching under the guidance of Yumi and Jim.
  • Igor Sitartchouk (3d degree) is an assistant instructor, teaching under the guidance of Yumi and Jim. Other, more junior black belts teach from time to time, as part of their training.

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May I take a trial class?

Beginners are encouraged to take a free trial class before committing. Please let us know in advance that you are planning to come.
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May I take a guest class?

If your home dojo is a Hombu affiliate, you are welcome to visit us. If possible, please let us know in advance that you are planning to come. A mat fee of $10 per class will apply.
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Can I transfer to your dojo from another one?

If your former club is a Hombu affiliate and you have your previous instructor’s permission, you may join us with your previous rank. If you are transferring from another Aikido group or do not have a recommendation from your previous instructor, please consult the Chief Instructor.
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When to the beginners’ programs start?

You can start immediately, in any beginners’ class. Every student starts by learning basic Aikido falls, stances and footwork, taught individually by one of our instructors. After this introduction, the student starts to practice with the rest of the members at a safe pace.
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How do I pay?

The dues and fees are posted elsewhere on this website. We accept cash or cheques only. Dues must be paid in advance, and students unable to do so should consult the Chief Instructor immediately. Discount plans are available for students who want to pay for a period of practice in advance (e.g. three months or a year). Students who know they will have extended absences can “freeze” their dues by prior arrangement.
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What’s the age range for the kids’ class?

The youngest age we take is approximately six years old, with the final judgment on admission to be made by the Senior Instructor. The oldest is approximately 14 years old. Students older than 14 should join the regular classes.
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Your location and schedule are difficult for me… what can I do?

There are several other Ontario Aikido Federation dojos located in the GTA and around the province. You can get the contact information from the Ontario Aikido Federation.
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What equipment do I need?

You will need at least one uniform (gi, included in the beginners’ package), which should be washed after every practice. You will also need a pair of sandals to wear inside the dojo after leaving your shoes in the lobby.
If intermediate students choose to participate in the weapons classes, they will need to supply their own staff (jo), wooden sword (bokken), wooden knife (tanto) and a bag to carry them in. Please consult the Chief Instructor before using a weapon procured outside the dojo in class… many of them are not solid enough for safe practice.
All necessary equipment is available for sale in the dojo.
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What if I have health concerns?

You should not practice Aikido if you have health problems that might be worsened by practice. Examples might include serious cardiac or spinal disease. If in doubt, consult your family physician and the Chief Instructor.
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Do I need to bow to the instructors, the other students and the picture of O-Sensei?

Yes. Japanese etiquette is the norm in our club, and respect is a cornerstone of Aikido and martial arts in general. Again, the bows as we practice them have no religious connotations and should be understood as etiquette.
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Do I need to roll and fall?

Yes. Learning to fall is an important part of practice (as well as a useful general safety skill). It enables your partner to practice with correct energy and extension without injuring you. The falls we practice are normally soft falls, and most beginners quickly learn to do them painlessly and effortlessly.
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Is it necessary to practice with everybody in the club?

Yes. In Aikido, beginners practice with seniors, women and men practice together, older students practice with youths, and people of all ethnic groups and beliefs practice together in an effort to understand each other better. There is something to be learned from every partner in the community, and it is normal to set a pace and level of technique in practice that both partners can handle safely.
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How often should I train?

We currently schedule classes six days a week, and some students come to all of them. Beginners should try to come three times a week for the first few months. We recommend that all students practice a minimum of twice a week, if possible.
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Can I wear shoes in the dojo?

No, street footwear must not be worn into the dojo. Please leave your shoes on the mats at the front door and change into sandals (zori). If you don’t have zori, leave your socks on. Wear zori everywhere in the dojo except on the mats. No bare feet anywhere except on the mats, and bare feet ONLY on the mats! Showing respect to the dojo and keeping the mats spotlessly clean are priorities.
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Do I have to help clean up the dojo?

Yes. Cleaning the dojo is a sign of respect. If you see something that should be cleaned or maintained, please do it immediately. All students are expected to help clean the mats after each practice.
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Do you ever expel students?

The main grounds for expulsion are:
• fighting
• refusal to follow instructions
• unsafe practice
• disruptive behaviour
• refusal to observe the norms of Japanese etiquette
• practicing while intoxicated.
In this dojo, we have never had to expel a member, but we take these points very seriously.
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If you have a question about these points or anything else regarding our dojo, please contact us.