Though I took a bit of a break because of finals, Aikido has been a fairly regular thing for me during my time here. Club activities in general can be pretty demanding, but they provide a good sense of community, as well as a window into the culture that I think other study abroad students miss out on.
As for the martial art itself, I may have mentioned it before, but Aikido is a Japanese martial art for self-defense. It’s not so much concerned with hurting one’s opponent, as it’s about redirecting their attacks and disabling them in order to protect oneself. The martial art has lots of wrist locks and most moves end up with the opponent on the ground.
When we practice, we always wear our dogi’s, or uniforms, and we always begin and end in a certain way. We line up, with the black belts in front, then the brown belts, then the white belts. And yes, I’m a white belt : P We bow several times, first facing forward, then to the highest sempai (superior) among us students, then to alumni sempai if any come that day. On a day when the Sensei comes, it is incredibly important to bow to him and show respect. (The picture below is a slightly different situation from what is described above, but looks similar.)
Then we form a circle and do warm-ups as a group. I didn’t do sports in the US very much but I would guess it’s similar. It’s the same warm-up each time, and there’s a certain rhythm to it.
Once we’re all warmed up, we begin working on techniques, reviewing old ones and learning new ones. Many times we divide by belt for practice, and are often taught by our sempai, though of course the Sensei will also teach when he comes.
At the end of practice, we white belts will sweep the floor of the dojo, and the sempai will sometimes buy drinks for us. It’s a fascinating part of the culture, characterized by discipline and service. And it goes both ways. I’m amazed by how much the black belts do, how much time they put into teaching us when they could be training themselves, and how many times they have bought drinks, and on a few occasions, even meals, for us white and brown belts. It’s somewhat humbling. When asked, they say that one of the reasons they do it is because the sempai before them served them the same way, and this is how they pay it back, by investing in the next generation of students.