Our aim at River of Life dojo is to teach you effective technical skills and awareness through the mastery of movement, timing, and breath. The ultimate goal is to develop a centered person with a relaxed and confident posture who thinks clearly and calmly under pressure and instinctively reacts to conflict with an appropriate degree of force.
Everyone works at their own level, with partners who take turns attacking and throwing each other and applying a variety of joint locks. Practicing this way in a safe environment develops control as well as sensitivity to the direction and energy of various attacks.
Learning how to attack properly and fall safely is a very important part of the training. A good attacker (uke) makes a sustained, committed attack. Usually it involves a grab or a punch and the idea of pursuing without being aggressive, so that the defender (nage) has some momentum to blend with and redirect. Uke then protects himself or herself from injury by taking a forward roll, a backward roll, or a break fall. The art of attacking and falling is called ukemi.
Aikido techniques have the power to cause harm, but their fundamental aim is to seize and maintain control of the attacker. The underlying principles include martial posture, proper distance, the concept of entering the attack, blending with the energy of the attack, taking the attacker’s balance (mentally and physically), relaxed concentration, and presence of mind. Strength, size, and youth are irrelevant in Aikido, which is predicated on the use of speed, timing, body positioning, and intuition instead of power. You will be trained to remain poised under attack, while using the attacker’s own energy against him—sensing where that energy is going and redirecting it into the ground.
Working with wooden practice weapons is also part of the training—sword (bokken), staff (jo), and knife (tanto)—as the movements of Aikido are derived from the same principles of swordsmanship practiced by ancient Samurai. The footwork, entering principle (irimi), and evasive movements all stem from techniques originally developed to disarm the Samurai during the longago era of their great battles. Today, Aikido uses these same deadly techniques to preserve life instead of take it. This reverence for life is what O’Sensei had in mind when he created Aikido, which teaches its practitioners to protect not only themselves but also their attackers from harm.
In many ways, Aikido is a classical martial art that teaches self-defense techniques and body-mind connection. But its deeper purpose is victory over oneself: self-discovery, self-transcension, and the capacity to see clearly and choose wisely, on the mat and in your life.
As O’Sensei said: “Aikido is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.”
River of Life Dojo offers classes seven days a week and three levels of training—beginners’ class, open class, and advanced class. Each is led by an instructor, with at least two classes a week at each training level. Our system is structured so that students can advance at their own pace.
Periodically during the year—every four months—we conduct kyu testing (pre-black belt) for those students who have logged the required number of training hours and who show understanding of the rank requirements. There are are six kyu levels before black belt, or shodan—the first test being the 6th kyu test.
The primary focus of the beginners’ class is ukemi, which involves all aspects of receiving technique—from how to wage a proper attack to how to fall down without hurting yourself. By training on our matted surface, you will learn how to roll and fall efficiently, with the least impact on your body, and regain your balance and return to a standing position quickly, ready to attack again. Rolling is very important in Aikido, and the initial fear of it must be overcome in order to feel comfortable on the mat and avoid injury. So students in the beginners’ class learn to fall and roll from different angles and positions.
The secondary focus of the beginners’ class is basic Aikido movement—footwork and body-positioning—and an introduction to the foundational principles underlying the art: maintaining correct posture, keeping centered, relaxing, and extending energy outward. Through repetitive training, one learns to feel at ease delivering and evading attacks, and, most importantly, remaining calm under pressure. New students are encouraged to attend at least ten beginners’ classes before joining in on the open-level classes.
People of all levels are welcome to train in the open class. Here, the focus includes executing the 15 basic Aikido techniques (kihon waza), more advanced ukemi, and weapons fundamentals and paired weapons kata that will enhance your sense of spatial relationships and reinforce the use of both hands while performing techniques. You will practice moving gracefully while following the principles of posture, presence of mind, and extending one’s energy. Basic technique can involve grabs to one wrist, both wrists, the shoulder of the uniform, or overhead strikes, diagonal strikes, seizing from behind, and kicks. Members also learn more advanced ukemi—rolling and falling from swifter defensive movements, taking break falls, and recovering from a fall quickly in order to renew the attack. At times, the training will include defending against multiple attackers, which is called randori or taninzudori.
The more involved and subtle techniques are reserved for the advanced class, whose members must hold a rank of 3rd kyu (brown belt) or above.
Common themes include: How weapons techniques relate to empty-hand techniques. Realistic defenses against knives, clubs, pole arms, and swords. (Wooden and leather-covered bamboo training weapons are used instead of live blades.) The effective use of atemi—a strike intended to disturb the timing of the attack and unbalance the opponent’s mind and posture. Taking difficult ukemi, including break falls, for techniques such as koshinage (hip throws). The role of breathing in connecting to one’s attacker and generating power. Reversal techniques, or gaishiwaza. Advanced randori practice, which can include defending against more than three attackers at once who are coming fast and with intent and who are each attacking differently or may be armed with practice weapons. And how to sense where energy will go when the attacker resists being thrown; this sensing practice is called oyo henka waza and naturally leads to takemusu, or the spontaneous emergence of unplanned technique.