What To Expect in Aikido | A Martial Arts Overview

With such a wide variety of martial arts, it is sometimes difficult to determine what to expect when starting a new martial art. Aikido is a unique martial art in many ways, so what should you expect if you sign up for an Aikido class?

Aikido is a more relaxed, fluid martial art that emphasizes harmony and control over aggression and force. It is primarily a defensive art, based on the principle of using less force and focusing on extension and redirection, making it practical for people of all sizes and strengths.

Read on for a more in-depth look at what you can expect from Aikido. Topics such as its history, core principles, cost, and benefits will all be discussed.

A Brief History of Aikido

Aikido was created in the early 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba. It is a synthesis of his martial studies and spiritual beliefs, drawing on techniques from various disciplines such as Jujutsu, Kendo, and Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu.

The core philosophy of Aikido is to harmonize with an attacker’s energy and use it against them rather than engage in direct confrontation. This principle is reflected in the name “Aikido,” which means “the way of harmony” or “the way of unity.”

Aikido has changed significantly since its inception, particularly in the last 50 years or so. For example, some schools teach firearm-disarming techniques developed in the 1970s, while others focus on more traditional methods.

Due to its origins and guiding philosophy Aikido tends to have a strong emphasis on spiritual and personal development.

The following video provides additional insights into the history and spirit of Aikido:

What Do You Wear for Aikido?

The clothing you wear for Aikido training is called a “gi.” It consists of a loose-fitting jacket and pants made from sturdy cotton or synthetic fabric. A belt known as an “obi” is worn around the waist to keep the gi in place alongside a hakama worn over the gi.

A hakama, which is a pleated skirt-like garment worn over the gi is a part of the uniform in many Aikido schools but is not essential at all ranks in every school. While the hakama is not essential, it is considered proper etiquette to wear one if you have the experience and rank.

Aikido students who are walking into the school for the first time are not required to wear purchase a uniform beforehand in almost all cases. Simply show up in comfortable clothing like athletic wear or sweatpants and a t-shirt.

After you have done your trial class or classes and have decided that you would like to train in Aikido regularly you can purchase a gi. Generally speaking, you should purchase whatever people in your home school wear and may even be provided with a gi as part of your registration.

If you have freedom of choice on what gi to purchase, I think that you can get the best value by picking out a Judo gi. This Judo Gi available on Amazon is an excellent choice that is of high quality without breaking the bank.

If you have purchased an Aikido uniform and want to know the best way to care for it to keep it smelling fresh and in good condition check out my article How To Care for Your Aikido Uniform.

Do You Wear Shoes in Aikido?

You do not wear shoes in Aikido. This martial art is practiced barefoot to increase sensitivity and connect to the ground better. This also allows practitioners to feel the energy of their opponents and respond more effectively.

Besides, it just feels more natural to practice this form of martial arts without shoes. Many people find that they have better balance and awareness when barefoot.

For details on the benefits of barefoot training in martial arts check out my post 7 Benefits of Training Martial Arts Barefoot.

What Equipment Do You Need for Aikido?

In most schools, you will only need to bring the proper uniform when you are at the beginner ranks in Aikido. Wearing a gi, obi, and hakama will be all that is needed in most cases at the beginning of training. Depending on the school, you may need a practice sword, spear, or staff after certain ranks.

The equipment needed for Aikido includes a mat (or “tatami”), a bokken (wooden sword), and a jo (wooden staff). Also, many dojos (Aikido training centers) will have training knives and other props.

The tatami is used to provide a safe, cushioned surface for training. The bokken and jo are used for solo practice and to learn basic techniques. The training knives are used in more advanced classes to teach safe knife handling and disarming techniques.

Do You Need To Be Fit To Start Aikido?

You do not need to be fit to start Aikido. Since Aikido is focused on defensive redirection, it is quite reasonable to start at any age or fitness level. Basic fitness is a plus, but simply training Aikido will provide this over time.

Aikido relies heavily on hip movements, so having a good range of motion in your hips is essential. Practicing regularly will help you develop the strength, flexibility, and stamina you need to progress in Aikido.

Do You Need To Be Strong for Aikido?

You do not need to be strong to start Aikido. Strength is always a factor, but focusing on technique and fluidity of movement alongside some flexibility is going to be more useful in Aikido. This is the case because Aikido focuses on using an attacker’s energy against them.

However, as you progress in rank and learn more advanced techniques, you will need to have a certain minimum level of strength. In particular, you will need good grip strength to grip an opponent’s arm or clothing. Strength can also be helpful in competition settings, where you may need to resist an opponent’s attempt to throw you.

That said, Aikido training can help you develop the strength you need to progress in the martial art. Many of the techniques involve using your body weight to control an opponent, so you will get a good workout as you train. But if you want to maximize strength and performance, adding in a strength training routine will be highly beneficial.

For information on how to choose a good supplementary strength-training program that makes sense for you check out my post Should You Choose Calisthenics or Lifting for Combat Sports?

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Aikido?

You do not need to be flexible to start Aikido, but having decent basic flexibility and mobility will be helpful in executing your techniques. Aikido training will often result in greater flexibility and mobility over time due to training the movements and specific mobility and flexibility work in classes.

Flexibility is also helpful for competition. In Aikido competitions, points are awarded for throws and pins executed with good form. Having a high level of mobility and flexibility can help your body more smoothly implement the techniques.

Is Aikido Good for Getting in Shape?

Aikido is a good way to get in shape. There are many full-body movements and executing these techniques with a focus on technique quality and coordination makes it a great workout without feeling like a workout.

In addition, Aikido can help you develop self-discipline and focus. As with any physical activity, you must be disciplined to stick with it and see results. But the benefits of Aikido can be well worth the effort.

Is Aikido Good for Self-Defense?

Aikido is a good self-defense martial art. It teaches students how to protect themselves and disarm opponents by using joint locks, pins, and throws. Aikido often includes a sparring element which is crucial for self-defense since that can help you stay calm in a real-life self-defense situation.

That said, Aikido is not the only martial art that can help you with self-defense. Building self-defense capabilities is more complicated than just picking up one martial art.

If you are looking for a martial art specifically for self-defense, you may want to consider training something like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at a self-defense-oriented school. For more on what to expect in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, check out my post What Should I Expect in My First BJJ Class?

What Style of Fighting Is Aikido?

Aikido is a hybrid martial art that includes striking, weapons, and grappling techniques. Its primary focus is on standing grappling techniques like joint-lock throws that use the opponent’s energy to redirect and unbalance them instead of relying on your own power generation.

At a high level of mastery, Aikido is characterized by graceful and flowing movements. The overall goal of Aikido is self-defense in most cases and also includes many traditional elements like armed combat with swords, knives, spears, and staves.

Does Aikido Include Live Sparring?

Aikido does not typically involve live sparring in day-to-day classes. Instead, Aikido focuses on choreographed simulated self-defense training with a partner to execute techniques correctly. This training is generally done in a safe and controlled environment.

However, some Aikido schools do include live sparring in their training, especially for their advanced students. Depending on the type of sparring the protective equipment used will vary. Most live sparring is usually standing grappling techniques and is practiced in a normal Aikido uniform.

If striking or weapons are involved, a uniform with protective padding and potentially a helmet can be involved, but this is a less common form of live sparring and will not come up for more students.

Are There Aikido Competitions or Tournaments?

Aikido does have competitions and tournaments. These competitions involve executing Aikido techniques against an opponent in a safe and controlled environment. In addition, there are live demonstrations of Aikido techniques.

Aikido tournaments and demonstrations are a great way to see the art in action and learn about the different techniques. They are also a great way to test your skills against other Aikido practitioners.

Examples of Aikido tournaments and demonstrations include:

  • Aikido World Championships.
  • All-Japan Aikido Federation Championships.
  • All-Japan Aikido Federation Demonstrations.
  • International Aikido Federation World Championships.

Is Aikido Dangerous To Practice?

Aikido is not particularly dangerous to practice. This is because Aikido focuses on defensive techniques and on redirecting an opponent’s energy instead of using excessive force or intending to do damage to a resisting opponent. Drills are usually choreographed and relatively safe.

That said, there is always the potential for injury when practicing any physical activity, and this includes martial arts. Doing a proper dynamic warmup will reduce injury risks when you are practicing Aikido. This is usually built into the classes but can be done beforehand if you feel like you are not getting sufficiently warmed up.

Is Aikido Hard To Learn?

Aikido is not hard to start to learn but can take a significant amount of time to master. Athleticism and natural gifts always play a role in the time it takes to learn, but with sufficient discipline and focus, any student can see significant results and master Aikido.

Here are some tips for learning Aikido:

  • Start by attending a few beginner classes. This will give you a basic understanding of the techniques and how to execute them correctly.
  • Work with a partner who is patient and willing to help you learn. They can give you feedback on your techniques and help you improve, usually, your instructor will help set this up for you.
  • Practice at home. For some techniques, going over basic movements will help you ingrain techniques and improve your skill acquisitions in the beginning.
  • Focus on your techniques and form. Aikido is a martial art that requires precision and focus. Keeping yourself focused on quality movement will allow you to get better quickly.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Aikido?

It typically takes about 6 months to learn the fundamentals of Aikido if you are attending at least twice a week with a qualified Aikido instructor. This can vary based on individuals and the number of classes taken on a consistent basis.

Once you have learned the fundamentals, you can choose to participate in Aikido competitions and demonstrations, but consult your instructor for specifics. At this point, most classes will start to feel more natural and you will find yourself focused on practicing and feeling confusion and awkwardness less often in training.

How Long to Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Aikido?

It takes an average of 5 to 7 years to reach black belt level mastery in Aikido. Frequent focused practice can help you attain this level in as little as 3 to 4 years.

To reach black belt level mastery, you must be dedicated to your training and practice regularly. Focuses training will be important in order to have a mastery level understanding of the techniques in Aikido.

Breaks for injuries or life events will not usually slow this down too much, so if you miss a few weeks here and there you can still reach mastery without being significantly delayed.

Can You Learn Aikido at Home?

You can reinforce the fundamentals of Aikido at home. Learning at home requires discipline and existing familiarity with techniques performed under a certified instructor. If you want to master the art of Aikido, you must train in person under a qualified instructor.

That said, here are a few tips on learning Aikido at home:

  • Watch Aikido instructional videos: There are many great Aikido instructional videos available online. Watching these videos can give you a good overview of the art and help you practice the techniques.
  • Participate in Aikido forums: There are many online forums where you can ask questions and get feedback from experienced Aikido practitioners.
  • Read Aikido books: There are many great Aikido books available that can help you learn the techniques and understand the philosophy of this martial art. For example, I recommend Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere: An Illustrated Introduction. It describes the philosophy and techniques of Aikido clearly and concisely, making it a worthwhile read.
  • Practice regularly: The best way to learn Aikido is to practice regularly. Try to set aside time each day to practice the techniques you have learned.

What To Expect at Your First Aikido Class

Now that you know a bit of what Aikido is all about, here is a rundown of what you can expect on your first day:

  1. The instructor will probably introduce themselves to you and give a brief overview of the class.
  2. The instructor will then show you how to warm up properly either directly or by partnering you with a more experienced student. This will usually involve some light stretching and calisthenics.
  3. Next, the instructor will demonstrate the techniques you will learn in the class.
  4. After the demonstration, you will have a chance to practice the techniques with a partner. The instructor will be there to help you and give you feedback.
  5. Finally, the instructor will wrap up the class and answer any questions you may have.

Now that you know what to expect, go out and try an Aikido class! You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it.

What Does Aikido Cost?

The cost of Aikido classes ranges from $60 – $100 per month. However, some dojos offer discounts for students and military personnel. Some trainers offer drop-in rates, which typically range from $10 – $20.

In a nutshell, Aikido is a relatively affordable martial art to learn and is in line or cheaper than many martial arts. It offers excellent value for the price.

If cost is a major concern check out my post Practicing Martial Arts on a Budget | A No-Nonsense Guide for a guide on how to fit martial arts into your budget.

Is Aikido Good for Kids?

Aikido is a great traditional martial art that teaches discipline, respect, and self-defense. Between the traditional values and the relative safety of Aikido, it is quite suitable for children of many ages.

Aikido is an engaging and challenging martial art that requires dedication and commitment but can feel fun and interesting for kids to practice. Children who practice Aikido with dedication and commitment can usually transfer these skills to other facets of their lives in the future.

Is Aikido for Physically Smaller People?

Aikido is a great martial art for physically smaller people. It is focused on using an opponent’s momentum and energy against them. Since Aikido also does not typically spar with full resistance, it is easier for smaller or weaker students to get good training with their partners.

Besides, as this study points out, simply doing Aikido training can help improve strength alongside health, self-esteem, strength, stamina, and flexibility. These are all important attributes for overall health that can help you in many life situations.

Is Aikido Good for Women?

Aikido is an excellent martial art for women. It provides a strong foundation in self-defense, and the techniques can be adapted to fit the size and strength of the practitioner. Aikido is also not performed at full power, so women can still get good training with larger training partners.

When women are selecting an Aikido school to attend, they should do some due diligence and see if there are other women or children that train at that school. These schools are more likely to have better training environments for female students. Doing a few trial classes is a good idea before any firm commitments are made.

Final Thoughts

Aikido is a fascinating martial art discipline that touches on a lot of important self-defense aspects of training. Due to its traditional nature, it is usually a great choice for both children and people who are just getting into martial arts that are not physically competitive by nature.

Since Aikido focuses so much on redirection and smoothness of movement for self-defense applications it is particularly suitable for smaller students and women. It is an engaging martial art and training in Aikido is usually quite engaging and a great form of exercise.

For more check out What To Expect in Hapkido | A Martial Arts Overview


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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