Beginners Information


Everyone had to start somewhere: do not worry if things seem confusing, strange or unusual. Aikido originated in Japan and reflects Japanese tradition. This includes Japanese names for all techniques, equipment and clothing and we follow traditional Japanese etiquette. If you’re unsure just copy everyone else until you pick it up! The following sections are to help beginners get quickly up to speed with procedures, etiquette and basic Japanese words. The first word to learn is ‘Sensei’ pronounced “Sen-say”. This is the Japanese word for teacher and on the mat, the instructor is referred to as Sensei. You’ll soon pick up Japanese terminology as you train.

Keep your mind open and give it a go. You can ask questions as they come up.

General information for training

Observe the Safety Advice & Rules: talk to the instructor if you’re not sure, or if you have any medical condition, disability or ailment that affects your ability to train.We endeavour keep the mat (tatami) clean, so: shoes are never worn on the mat. Sandals (zori) are left neatly at the edge of the mat before you step on and you put them back on as you leave the mat. This keeps feet and the mat clean. The reason for this is traditionally in Japan people sat and slept on the floor: it was important to keep the floor clean at all times! Everyone helps to put the mats down and prepare the dojo before the class and tidy up afterward: there are some basic rules to this, so ask to be shown.

At the beginning of class perform warm-up exercises if you know how and kneel formally in seiza and in quiet meditation. Rid your mind of difficulties, problems and stresses and prepare for study. Kneeling formally along the edge of the mat in grade order (novices at the left side, senior grades at the right side of the mat: viewed from the rear facing the picture of O’Sensei) is also what yo should do whenever Sensei calls Seiza. This is proper way to sit on the mat: although if you have a knee injury, you should sit cross-legged. Don’t sit with legs outstretched.

Respect your Sensei, your partners and the dojo. You show this by bowing when Sensei has finished demonstrating, bowing when you meet your partner and when you enter/leave the mat, etc.

The BAF awards grades for technical merit, attitude and knowledge. Juniors (under 18 years of age) are awarded coloured belts but adults do not show their grades this way and all wear white belts: someone wearing a white belt might be novice or could be someone about to be awarded a black belt. Black belt or teachers wear hakama.

Introduction to training

Generally aikido training takes place between two people. One person performs the aikido technique: this person is known as Nage (“the thrower”) or Tori (“the taker”). The other person who initiates the attack is known as Uke (partner). Sensei will take the role of Tori to demonstrate and explain the technique.Talking is discouraged whilst training. Once a technique has been demonstrated, try it with a partner. If you don’t understand, your partner may help or you can raise your hand to ask Sensei. If Sensei is helping someone else then sit in Seiza with your partner and watch others until Sensei is available to help.

The action of uke is called “taking ukemi”, literally translated as “receiving body”. It is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack and often incorporates skills to allow one to do so safely such as break-falling. These skills can include moves similar to rolling and are often used as a valid exercise in itself. Many classes begin with ukemi training as conditioning. Ukemi can be Mae (forwards), Ushiro (backwards) or Yoko (sideways)

During the class whenever Sensei calls Yame (stop) then kneel formally but grade order is not important – kneel where you choose along the mat edge. It is good practice to quickly seek out the person that you would like to train with and kneel next to them.

Positions & Posture – Kamae

Aikido posture (Kamae) is a way of taking the correct attitude and readiness when facing your partner. You should be alert physically and mentally, showing Zanshin (intention, alertness). When standing, you have a oblique half-body stance with feet a comfortable distance apart. Bot hands are usually held forwards.The Ma-ai (distance) between the position of you and your partner should be adjusted so that they cannot harm you without making an attack. There are three basic positions from which techniques are performed:

Tachi-waza – Standing techniques
Suwari-waza – Sitting techniques: both partners kneeling
Hanmi-handachi – Sitting and Standing: Tori kneeling and Uke standing

Why aren’t all techniques practised standing? There are historical reasons for training in suwari-waza and hanmi-handachi. However in contemporary aikido, suwari-waza is important for learning to use your hips and legs. Hanmi-handachi simulates being attacked by a significantly larger person, and so emphasizes proper positioning and movement from your tanden (centre of mass).

Body Movement – Tai sabaki

How you move and where you move are two basic concepts of tai sabaki.How you move
Shikko – Knee walking
Tsugi ashi or Okuri ashi – Sliding-step forward (move the front foot forward, draw the rear foot up behind)
Ayumi ashi – Walking-step forward (move the back foot forward)
Tenkan = turn on the front foot to face opposite direction, then step straight back with front foot
Irimi-tenkan = an Irimi (either Tsugi ashi or Ayumi ashi) followed by a Tenkan
Kaiten or tentai/tenkai = rotation to pivot and face 180 degrees the opposite direction.Where you move
Omote – In front, positive. Entering into uke’s space – usually by stepping forward accross the front of uke. Also described as Irimi
Ura – Behind, negative. Moving behind uke and turning, usually a pivot on the front foot to rotate 180 degrees. Also described as Tenkan


The number and type of attacks possible are many. Aikido training tends to focus on certain attacks – usually involving the hand. Usually the junior graded person attacks first. Kicks and techniques against kicks are practiced only at higher levels. Basic attacks to learn the name and form of are listed below.Grabs
Katate-dori – Wrist held by one hand. There are two variations: Ai-hanmi (Uke’s right hand takes Tori’s right wrist or Uke’s left hand takes Tori’s left wrist) and Gyaku-hanmi (Uke’s right hand takes Tori’s left wrist or Uke’s left hand takes Tori’s right wrist).
Katadori – Shoulder grab, usually by one hand
Ryote-dori-ryote-mochi – Uke uses both hands to grab Tori’s wrists
Morote-dori – Uke uses both hands to grab one of Tori’s wristsStrikes
Shomen-uchi – a vertical strike to the top of the head or the forehead
Yokomen-uchi – a circular strike to the side of the temple, or to the neck
Tsuki – a punch, or thrust (if with a weapon). Usually delivered to the abdomen and described as Chudan Tsuki. Can also be delivered to the head (Jodan Tsuki) or below the waist (Gedan Tsuki)

Techniques (defences)

Aikido defenses are usually an immobilisation or a throw. Two of the techniques are a blend of both. Some of these are listed below.Immobilisations
Ikkyo – First technique (circling arm)
Nikyo – Second technique (painful wrist twist)
Sankyo – Third technique (turning wrist and forearm)Both
Shiho-nage – Four direction throw
Kote-gaeshi – little wrist turnThrows
Irimi-nage – Entering body throw
Kaiten-nage – Body turn throw. Usually two variations – Uchi Kaiten-nage (inside, under) and Soto Kaiten-nage (outside)
Tenchi-nage – Heaven and earth throw
Kokyu-nage – Breath-throw

Other key concepts and terms

Ki – energy, contact
Kokyu-ryoku – Breath power
Rei – demonstrating respect, manner and attitude, formally expressed as a bow. You may hear different calls for respect: Shomen ni Rei (respecting the formal head/front of the training area), Sensei ni Rei (respecting the teacher) and Otagai ni Rei (respecting your partner).
Tegatana (hand blade) – the edge of the arm from the base of the little finger to the forearm
Tanden – Centre (of mass), point below the navel which is your centre
Atemi – Tai sabaki and an attack to distract uke
Ma-ai – Distance, space or being in the right place at the right time
Zanshin – keeping focused on your partner, always alert.

How to describe aikido techniques

Technique nomenclature usually takes the following form
Body Position – Attack – Technique – Form
So “Tachi-waza – Shomenuchi – Irimi-nage – Omote” means
“both partners standing – head strike – entering body throw – to uke’s front”.It is usual to try four versions of each attack and technique combination:1. right handed attack by uke – tori applies technique to the front (omote)
2. left handed attack by uke – tori applies technique to the front (omote)
3. right handed attack by uke – tori applies technique to to the rear (ura), and
4. left handed attack by uke – tori applies technique to to the rear (ura)This discipline ensures that we use and learn with both sides of our bodies. Should you be in a position where there is no alternative but to use aikido, you will be in a poor position if you are only experienced in receiving attacks from one hand but not the other!

What to do next

Train regularly both in the dojo and outside of it – find space to think about and to criticise your own training and development. Seek to develop your knowledge by watching others and by attending courses. Above all nurture your aikido over time: there are no shortcuts to becoming proficient practitioner. Make time to learn the Safety Rules, Etiquette and become familiar with all of the Beginners Information on this page. Next, you might want to look at the Glossary and Links pages. You might find it helpful to look at the Kyu grading syllabus as it describes the techniques.
O’Sensei said to always practice with a smile on your face. So enjoy your aikido!