Aikido is practiced at a dojo
A dojo is a place where one studies in search of the Way.
The original meaning of the word dojo is a place where one studies Buddhist, or Zen traditions.
The “sacred” aspect of the dojo comes from experience, and not from obeying any obscure rules. Generally, like other martial traditions (i.e. judo), the surface of the dojo is covered with tatami that helps with ukemi (reception of technique on the ground) practice.
Originally, the tatami wasn’t specifically designed for martial or sportive practice. It covered the floor of traditional Japanese houses. A tatami is made from rice straw with colored linen. The surface of one piece of tatami is 2 square meters. In the old days, they measured the surface of houses by the number of tatami.
Entering the dojo means going through a passage to a different world, as in traditional Japan: full of “serenity and ardour”. Moments of listening and concentration are followed by a time of intensive practice with a lot of energy.
Japanese culture organizes the dojo rationally, by frontal axes (kamiza-shimoza) and lateral axes (joseki-shimoseki). Every place in the dojo has its own meaning. The terms above, are not only related to walls, but also to delimited sides of practice. If a tatami is posed in the middle of a big gym hall, it still has all those precise places.
Every dojo has a “place of honor” called the kamiza, literally “place of the gods”. On this side we can find a portrait of Founder of Aikido, sometimes calligraphy and ikebana (floral arrangement). Instructor takes a place in front of the kamiza in the center of dojo.
Every student must be careful not to turn his back to kamiza and not to place himself in front of Founders portrait. Here is the convention: during practice we don’t pay attention to those particular axes in the dojo, but during the instructors explanation and the ceremonial bowing at the beginning and end of class instructor sits in front of the kamiza and students sit facing the instructor.
We do this out of respect for the tradition of the country aikido comes from. Practicing rigorous etiquette is beneficial for aikido, develops zanshin (special kind of awareness), correct posture, and humility among other things.
Formulas of politesse
Because of the Japanese roots of aikido, we use Japanese forms of politenesse. Mastering these formulas will come with practice.
O negai shimasu
[o négaï chimass’]
We say this at the beginning of class and to invite a partner to practice.It means “Please, accept practicing with me”.
Dômo arigatô gozaimashita
[doomo aligato godzaïmach’ta]
We say this at the end of class, and to thank a partner for practice. It means “Thank you very much for practicing with me”.