Originally posted by erminio
I'm the guy with the problem in "Can Aikido help me?".
I decided to learn Aikido seriously, I'm reading a book on it ("Aikido and the dynamic sphere) and I'm going to subscribe to a dojo on September.
Now the question is: how can I choose a good dojo? It's the fame of his sensei (here in Milan we've got Fujimoto sensei: what about him?), the "look" of the dojo (it's big, clean, many showers, new tatami and so on), the number of people who follow the dojo..
and, last but not least: how many hours of lesson for week should I expect?
Thanks a lot
My own recommendations about how to find the right teacher / dojo for you are as follows.
1) Visit all of the schools which you might reasonably get to at the time classes take place. This is usually rush hour so don't just visit on the weekend. See if you would be willing to put up with the commute several times per week.
2) If he or she is available to chat, talk to the Chief Instructor. They may not be willing to chat with prospective new students, that job might be delegated to some senior student. That might be fine but it does indicate how approachable the Sensei might be for a beginner.
3) No matter how impressive the Sensei might seem, look at the senior students for your real impression of what is being taught. They are a direct reflection of what that teacher is putting out, not what he says to you. If the practice seems abusive, if the seniors seem arrogant, if they do not look like folks you would like to model yourself after then keep looking for a dojo.
4) Chat with some of the white belts and get their feedback. Once again, these are the folks that are happy with the school, otherwise they would have left. Do they seem to be people of like mind with you?
5) Try to be clear in your own mind what you are looking for in your training. Are you interested in energy work, conflict resolution, moving meditation? Is the martial art side of Aikido an important factor to you? Maybe you want one or the other or maybe you want to have a balance between the two. If the martial side of the dojo is important to you see if there are many students with substantial backgrounds in other martial arts training at the school. They tend not to congregate at schools where they can beat up the Chief Instructor. Do you want to do weapons training? If so ask how much they do.
I would also like to know whether the Teacher has a background in any other martial arts. This can be good in the case of someone with a lot of Aikido experience who has done a bit of extra training in other arts to expand their horizons or it can be an issue in the case of someone who has a deep background in some other art and only superficial exposure to Aikido. Then you tend to get a version of Aikido filtered through their experience and it may not be as sophisticated as you would like. There are schools that claim they are teaching Aikido and the Sensei is simply a Karate teacher who does some wrist locks taken from Aikido.
If you are serious about Aikido find out who their teacher is and who that person trained with. Check out those people on the web. Are they well known respected instructors or are they people no one has heard of? There are great teachers who are not well known but if you check in to their backgrounds you always get to some one who is a solid, reputable instructor with some verifibale credentials under his belt. Rank of the teacher is not always a good indicator but since there are plenty of folks around teaching these days who have trained for 25 or 30 years you might be able to do better than a 1st or 2nd Dan instructor if you are an urban area with a number of dojos.
6) What is the background of the Chief Instructor? There are still a fair number of direct students of O-Sensei teaching. Is this instructor one of hem? Did the instructor train under one of them? Or possibly he or she might have trained under someone who is a student of one of these Deshi. Generally, the closer the connection with the Founder the more you can be sure of getting the Real Meal Deal. But even with direct connection to the Founder there is a big range of personality and focus. I would still use the above criteria for evaluationg whether this guy is for you.
7) Even after all of this you won't really know until you give it a serious try. By this I mean a minimum of three months training at three times a week. My experience is that most adults need three times a week to get anywhere. Would the schedule of the dojo make it possible for you to do this? Try to jump right in on the life of the dojo. Attend any extra trainnig they offer. Volunteer to help on seminars. Go out after class with the students and have a beer or whatever (assuming they do this). Whether the folks at he dojo seem to socialize together is also something to look for. If you get serious about your training these folks will be an extended family of sorts so you want to be sure that they seem to be a group of folks that enjoys each others company.
8) Generally speaking stay away from people who refer to themselves as Masters, Grand Masters, O-anything, and High Dan Ranks for guys in their early thirties or even twenties. (There are a very few exceptions for a few folks who trained since early childhood; you can find a sixth dan in his thirties but they are rare). If they claim to have founded their own style and are not affiliated with any reputable teacher or organization and they are under sixty stay away. There are a few folks like Karl Geiss Sensei and Chuck Clark Sensei who are Americans heading their own organizations and have ranks of Tenth and Eighth Dan respectively. They are for real. They have also trained for forty five plus years. They can be easily verified. Check it out on the web.
9) If it seems cult like it probably is. Stay away unless surrendering your identity is what you are looking for.