Aikido classes begin with warm-ups, stretching, and conditioning exercises, which are typically followed by partner practice of various forms (known as kata) in response to a specified attack. The instructor will demonstrate a form and then have participants practice, taking turns as the 'attacker' and the 'defender.' Students change partners regularly and pair up without regard to rank, giving newer members ample opportunity to learn from the more experienced. Brand-new students typically are paired with senior students who help guide them through the fundamental movements and assist in teaching them how to roll and fall safely.
Over time, Aikido training improves flexibility, muscle tone, coordination, and the stimulation and direction of Ki (universal energy), allowing students to deal with progressively more energetic and realistic attacks through the use of efficient and centered movements which harmonize with the aggressor's force. Practitioners also find themselves able to bring the sense of focused presence and physical well-being cultivated in Aikido training to bear in various aspects of their daily lives.
See videos of our style of Aikido practice at the Birankai North America video page here.
Aikido has been described as "the ultimate transformation of swordwork into an open-handed martial art," and many of its movements are directly related to those found in traditional Japanese weapons systems. For this reason, weapons classes are considered integral to our curriculum and students are encouraged to engage this practice early in their training.
Weapons classes consist of both solo and partner exercises with bokken (wooden sword) or jo (staff/spear) and help students develop a more keen grasp of the dynamics of a martial encounter and the body mechanics used in open-handed techniques.
Intermediate and senior students who wish to deepen their understanding of the relationship of Aikido to Japanese sword work may, with the permission of the principal instructor, choose to study Iaido/Batto-ho. The practice involves the study of mostly solo forms, emphasizing drawing and cutting motions from both seated and standing positions. Iaido/Batto-ho forms also serve to clarify practitioners’ use of the body in relationship to the sword, sharpen their martial presence, and provide additional opportunity for personal growth through the discipline of continuous refinement.
Seated meditation (called zazen in Japanese) is the central practice of Zen Buddhism and is also found in similar forms in other spiritual traditions. At its most basic, zazen involves sitting on cushions on the floor, adopting a solid, upright, but relaxed posture, and following the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Ultimately, this practice is said to have the power to point us to a deep understanding of ourselves and the nature of our existence. On a more mundane (though equally important) level, meditation practice supports mental and physical health and cultivates an open-hearted and compassionate attitude that helps practitioners to be of greater benefit to others. Click here for a brief video instruction on our style of sitting by our principal instructor Rodger Park (from the first days of COVID lockdown in 2020).
We offer zazen practice several times per week for all who may be interested, whether you participate in our martial arts programs or not. We also conduct extended meditation sessions (zazenkai) of roughly 90-120 minutes (with short breaks) approximately once per month. While we sit in the style of Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhism, our sessions are devoted primarily to basic seated meditation practice and are 'non-denominational' in nature.
For those who are interested more specifically in a connection to Rinzai Zen Buddhism, we provide further practice opportunities through our association with various teachers and groups, including the Rev. Genjo Marinello Osho of Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen temple in Seattle, Washington (through that temple's longstanding association with Birankai North America) and the Rinzai Zen Community of Midwestern practice groups centered around Korinji Monastery in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.