Before you start....
What should you practice?
I mentioned it before, but I've not taken a class yet. Is there anything I should start working on to make my first lessons go smoothly?
And what are the expected flexibility/strength level in Aikido?
Empty. Go in with the least amount of expectations possible. I was very impressed how very little of Aikido fit into anything I already knew or could expect. Cultivate the "beginner's mind" and never let it go.
Just show up, dress out, relax, breath, and enjoy yourself.
Actually, a little stretching might be good before you start, especially streching the legs and lower back....
But then again, stretching is a good thing to do before ANY exercise.....
Re: Before you start....
It all depends on your level of fitness of course. Before I started I hadn't done anything more active than walking around town and to and from work.
I found that for the first couple of sessions my quads weren't up to it, all that seiza and kihon dosa practice, so for the next day or so I'd have trouble going up stairs!:)
But having said that, going to Aikido twice a week was all I needed to do to work those kinks out. Its depends a lot on your dojo and how intense the physical training is.
Just remember to warm up and warm down properly. If you're not sure how, look into it before you go. Its possible to go through all the exercises at the beginning of class and still be no more warmed up than if you'd just walked in off the street!
Welcome to Aikido, this could be the start of something beautiful!
Strong back, weak ...
I wasn't going to say anything, but then it came to me what was the most difficult part about the beginning of Aikido classes .....
My lower back from getting up from throws, and weakness in the knees, and leg muscles from bending kneeling, and getting up from kneeling techniques.
Probably the best thing you can do for your back is to lie flat on the floor, or bed, raise your knees, then slide your foot out so it lowers your knee, then back so it raises your knee. This back injury exercise helped me quite a bit with lower back muscles that would yelp, and scream after a good nights sleep causing stiff and painfull back muscles. I have also seen many chiropractors give this exercise for building the small muscles in the back.
Variations of lifting your foot off the surface and sliding it in and out in the air can be done as muscles get stronger yet.
The other thing that helped for rising and sitting in seiza was to do kneeling/squatting while holding onto a chair, or in my case, the back of the couch while whating television for ten to fifteen minutes.
Lastly, stances with lowering into deeply bent knees. IF you know front stance, back stance, T stance, cat stance, and what ever else you have practiced ... but if you haven't then simply using half knee bends should do the trick too. Until you learn the eight sided exercise from Aikido class.
Remember that all martial arts is the adaptation of a particular group to use means to insure the continued life of their group and continued existence of their society.
Don't get too hung up with learning or not learning terminology, it will change as you go along, what will not is the techniques you learn. They will be the foundation to other things to come.
Take the time to find out the details to how, and why something works ... even if it takes months to put all the details together, it will become yours if you approach it in a wider span of time, rather than trying to learn everything at once.
Aikido is not a violent art to learn, and it should be fun as you begin to ride the waves of energy in throws, and many techniques. I have no other way to describe it, as I am a Jersey shore boy who has spent most of his life in the water, or on the waves. You can't be anywhere in the world and not notice that everything has some type of wave motion left from the wind, the water, or even earthquakes that leave waves in the land.
I could go on and on, but most important thing to enjoying Aikido, is not to expect anything, have fun, but do be aware of safety concerns as falling, or throwing your partner, including torqueing your partner in distractions or pins is your responsibility in maintaining safe limits.
So, if you are up for it ... go play nice with the other Aikido practitioners!
Hey, don't get too worried about what to do before you go - the best thing is to dive right in; you've got a lifetime of difficulties to deal with, each in their own time.
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