How to find a good Aikido dojo
Search engines bring up hundreds of results but how do you decide which dojo is the best one? Before you can even begin to think about which teacher, which dojo, you need to know that there are different styles of Aikido and you need to know which quality indicators to look for.
Broadly speaking there are four main styles of Aikido:
- Aikikai - The Aikikai is the official organisation for the Japanese martial art of Aikido, officially recognized by the Japanese government in 1940, with World Aikido Headquarters (Aikikai Hombu Dojo) as its governing body. The Japanese word Aikikai translates as 'The Aikido Organisation', representing the original and traditional Aikido of the founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. This is also the biggest worldwide group by far.
After O-Sensei's passing in 1969, his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba became Doshu (head) of the group. In 1999 on the passing of Kisshomaru Ueshiba Doshu, his son Moriteru Ueshiba became the third and current head of Aikido. In Japan and around the World virtually all of the students of O-Sensei are or were in the Aikikai.
A small number of students of O-Sensei chose to create their own, different arts. The better known of these groups are listed here. The first two were authorised by O-Sensei to create their own art but with the clear understanding that they will not call it Aikido to distinguish it from O-Sensei's art:
- Yoshinkan - One of the pre-war students of O-Sensei, Gozo Shioda Sensei started this group in 1955.
- Shodokan or Tomiki - A student of O-Sensei, Kenji Tomiki Sensei founded this 'competitive' art, influenced by his background in Judo, around 1967. This group is rarely found outside the UK and Japan.
- Shin Shin Tōitsu-dō (Known as Ki Society in the English speaking world) - Founded by Koichi Tohei Sensei in 1971, this style perhaps differs most from the traditional Aikido of O-Sensei's group.
Having decided which style of Aikido you want to practice you should look for quality of instruction. Look for:
- Teacher(s) - Finding the right teacher is no easy task and yet it is one of the most important decisions you will have to make for your aikido career. As a beginner it will be difficult to know good aikido from bad. You will have to go by your instincts to some extent but use the measures below to help you. The grade of the teacher(s) can be important if it was awarded by a credited organisation.
- Quality - Look for grade of the teacher(s) and more importantly look at who awarded the grade.
Look for direct teacher-student relationships which go all the way back to the founder of Aikido. After all, the founder of Aikido taught his art to a group of close students. These students in turn taught it to their close students, and so on. If there was no close and longstanding relationship going all the way back to the founder one has to wonder what kind, and quality of Aikido an individual practises. Therefore lineage is a good indicator of transmission of the art from the Founder of Aikido to the teacher concerned. For example, in the case of Aikido at London Aikikai, one of the closest disciples of O-Sensei, T K Chiba, 8th Dan Shihan, founded the dojo and the current senior teachers are his disciples.
There are many self graded Aikido people. In many cases this self-grading system may go back two or three generations where an individual has promoted himself/herself and then promoted their students, then promoted himself/herself and so on. Often these people learned Aikido by spending short periods with creditable teachers (perhaps not even this) or 'from a distance' by a combination of attending some classes and some courses and watching videos and so on, but without any deep teacher-student relationship of any length where true learning/transfer takes place. It is common to look at Aikido practise from a distance and think 'I can do that'. Mimicking movements superficially and understanding what makes them work are are very different things.
There are even stranger cases of promotions by martial arts or sports bodies (groups) with no knowledge of Aikido, promoting Aikido teachers to very high grades. Look closely and do your research before you begin.
- Affiliation - Look for affiliation to the 'mother' organisation, World Aikido Headquarters in the case of traditional aikido. Be aware that only a few dojos in London, and indeed the UK, have this affiliation. Your Aikikai grades will be recognised and your training consistent all around the world. This will not be the case with privately issued grades. Ultimately this is a question of quality too.
- Training Schedule and National Courses - Look for a busy training schedule so that you can train as often as you have time for. In addition to regular quality practice, national courses, especially with international senior instructors are vital to grasping the true nature of aikido.
JAC (Joint Aikikai Council of Great Britain) - JAC is the official governing organisation for traditional Aikido in Great Britain. It is recognised by Aikido World headquarters. Check that the dojo is a member of the JAC.
BAB (British Aikido Board) - The BAB is a governing body for non-Aikikai Aikido in England. As any governing body the BAB is responsible for essentials such as child protection checks and guidelines, marketing and general coaching principles. The BAB cannot award Dan grades in Aikido. Dojos often emphasise membership of BAB but this may disguise their lack of affiliation to a recognised aikido body. The Coach Level awarded by the BAB relates to coaching (teaching) in general and not to Aikido grades. The BAB simply has no mandate for awarding Aikido grades or checking Aikido standards or ensuring consistency of ranks in dojos.
Dojos often emphasise membership of the BAB but this may disguise their lack of affiliation to a recognised aikido body . The Coach Level awarded by the BAB though important, relates to coaching (teaching) in general and not to Aikido standards. The BAB simply has no mandate for awarding Aikido grades or checking technical standards or ensuring consistency of ranks across its membership.
Traditional Aikido but not Aikikai? - Consistency and quality in Aikido training allows Aikido students to travel anywhere in the World and find dojos where their grade will be accepted and their Aikido can grow from where it left off in their previous dojo. It allows students to have some confidence in the grades advertised by the instructors around the world. World Aikido headquarters, Aikikai Hombu, is responsible for issuing Dan (black belt) grading certificates worldwide.
There are unfortunately too many dojos that do not have Aikikai recognition, so who awards their grades? Generally the grades are self awarded or awarded by their students or peers and with little reference to national or international consistency, quality and standards. Do your research. Ask who awarded the grades of the senior teachers and if their Aikido is recognised by and consistent with Aikido practised around the world in Aikikai dojos. Go and watch class and ask questions. Talk to the students.
London Aikikai is a member of British Birankai (British Aikikai), Joint Aikikai Council of Great Britain and is recognised by Aikido World Headquarters. All London Aikikai Aikido Dan grade (black belt) certificates are issued by Aikido World Headquarters.