Academy for Elite Samurai Arts
Questions & Answers
Compiled from questions posed by dojo visitors, these should be reviewed before you visit.
The first, and in some cases, the most important answer to a very common question concerns "What do you teach?". What we DO teach is:
What we DO NOT teach is:
For other questions regarding our curriculum, classes, schedules and the like please see below; and after getting a good feel for who we are and what we teach, please feel free to call for more information on our class offerings or visit the dojo to observe classes.
Does Aikido Teach Self-Defense | I want to study close to home | What kind of students do you take | Do I have to be in good physical condition to train | Will we be doing lots of aerobics | What is Muso Zato Isana Tomiki Ryu Aikido | What is Tomiki Ryu Aikido | When do I get a Black Belt | Do I have to wear a uniform | How can I tell I'm learning | Do promotions cost money | Why do people train in MA | Why do the teachers teach | Is Aikido based in religion | Is Aikido based in Shinto | Do teachers have bad attitudes | Are MA dangerous | What is a fair price | What do belt colors mean | Are women treated equally | Do I have to take the weapons classes
A. Yes. Absolutely. Remember that Aikido is descended from the same martial art forms that the Samurai used for literally hundreds of year when they were engaged in open warfare. The idea that Aikido is somehow not a true martial art or that it doesn't teach viable self-defense skills is simply incorrect. While Aikido is not MMA or UFC or a competitive fighting form, it does teach methods and ideas of self-defense including hand-to-hand and knife defense that aren't taught in a sport form of martial arts. Aikido players don't have to continually train for a tournament and instead can focus on martial arts and self-defense training instead. Some forms of Aikido, such as Tomiki Ryu Aikido also include some basic grappling skils and defense on the ground which is intended for self-defense, but not competion. Grappling is definitely not our main focus so we touch on it very lightly as an introduction to self-defense from the ground (but it is not a primary part of our study). (back to index)
A. Yes, make the drive if necessary. If you want to train at a quality school where you can actually learn something you may have to drive a little to get to class each night. Don't make the mistake of ending up at a poor quality dojo just so you can avoid an extra 15 or 20 minutes of drive time. Houston has a pretty good freeway system (compared to other cities) and it's actually pretty easy to get around quickly, especially since our classes start after rush hour traffic hours are over.
A good dojo and quality teachers are hard to find. If your dojo choice is based on the sole factor of drive time then all I can say is that you deserve what you get if the dojo and teacher end up being barbaric in how they treat their students, or if turns out that they don't know a hip throw from a wrist lock when teaching.
Take the time to pick wisely and if it means an extra 15 to 20 minutes or so in the car then by all means, do it. (back to index)
A. We do not take any students younger than 14 and then only if the parents agree that it is an appropriate activity for the student, that the student is mature for their age and works well with adults, and that the student is truly interested (and can focus) on learning a new skill.
We are not interested in today's norm of classes full of immature kids doing things that they should not be doing. We are even less interested in classes where the lack of maturity and focus could result in injury, even if by accident. We are not a social "pick-up" club like the gym during happy hour and we are not interested in "Budo Cowboys" whose interest in training more closely resembles high-school locker room antics than a serious study of martial arts. In short; we are only interested in mature individuals, male or female, who want to learn. (back to index)
A. Yes. Any good sensei (teacher) is able to recognize that not everyone who comes to the dojo and begins training is going to be in great shape on day one. The demands placed on you should therefore be adjusted for your level of fitness, thus enabling you to easily keep up with the rest of the class, learn what is appropriate for your experience and ability level, and gradually improve your conditioning and skills over a reasonable period of time. (back to index)
A. No. We will not. If you want to get into top physical shape or go on a weight loss program then I recommend that you go take an aerobics class and buy a new cook book. When you train in the martial arts injuries can occur if you are fatigued because the muscles are tired and can't respond properly. So one way in which to avoid injuries is to stay as fresh as is possible. Also, since class time is limited, it is more important and time-effective to spend class time learning the material than it is to do calisthenics and aerobics work. (back to index)
A. Since the death of O'Sensei (Ueshiba) Aikido has splintered into several different styles of teaching his vision of martial arts. Each style is centered around the understanding of Aikido that each of the first students O'Sensei came away with. Some styles became oriented towards police applications, some towards a more "internalized" version, some "sports" oriented and others more traditional in their approach.
While we teach Tomiki Aikido, we have chosen the name Muso Zato Isana and added it to Tomiki Ryu to indicate that we teach an early form of Tomiki Aikido that is very close in style to Ueshiba'a early pre WWII version of Ueshiba-ha - Aiki-Budo - Aiki-Jutsu.
We think it to be a more balanced form that contains the ideas and visions that both Ueshiba and Tomiki had of Aikido; a vision that focuses on the development of body, mind and spirit with clearly applicable self-defense methods and free-style training included. This includes a broader form of martial arts that includes explorations of knife work, sword and stick, and & grappling for self-defense. (back to index)
A. Tomiki Sensei first studied with Jigoro Kano (the developer of Kodokan Judo) and was eventually promoted to 8th dan black belt in Judo. He was sent by Kano to study Aikido under Ueshiba and he was eventually promoted to 8th dan black belt in Aikido and was the first Aikido student to be promoted to that rank by Ueshiba. Tomiki began his studies with Ueshiba before WW II and continued their relationship until Ueshiba's death in 1969.
Tomiki, in developing his method of teaching Aikido, followed much the same pathway as Kano did in developing Judo. He took the entire system of Ueshiba's teachings and built a logically organized curriculum of beginner, basic, intermediate and advanced material that made it easier to learn and to teach. In essense, Tomiki designed a more logical and effective teaching system that enabled faster learning for the student and the ability to function at higher levels of ability.
In a Tomiki Aikido dojo then, we teach the same Aikido that other Aikido dojo teach but we follow a more logically organized teaching system that enables the beginner to learn and understand a greater amount of material sooner with less of the intial confusion that beginners often experience. (back to index)
A. When you earn it. You have to work for it. It's as simple as that. No real dojo gives away promotions in a package deal. You've seen the ads.........."Guaranteed black belt in 12 months for only $1,995.95 or your money back! Call BR 549 for more details! Sign up NOW!"
A real teacher doesn't prostitute the martial art form, his school or himself by such marketing come-ons and outright lies. Any rank that you get through such a program is meaningless and your interests, both personal and financial, are poorly served by buying into such a scam and then believing that you have actually gained the same knowledge as someone who has worked hard for the last 2 or 3 years for their first black belt.
Go to class, do the work and be promoted when it's time. Then when you earn your black belt it will mean something that you can be proud of and it will not be just another wall hanging that you bought at a Wally World Labor Day Sale.
Any reputable teacher should be happy to discuss their curriculum and syllabus with you so that you will know what the time lines and expectations are. Be sure to ask about it and be leery of a school that seems to have floating guidelines and will not tie down the details when you ask. (back to index)
A. Yes. A dojo teaches martial arts. It's not a gym or an aerobics class. The uniform (called a judogi or just "gi') is designed to be loose fitting so that it doesn't restrict movement and has to be more rugged than a simple t-shirt.
Over the last 200 - 300 years of so it has become traditional in martial arts training to wear the gi and it aids in having some understanding of the background, history, etiquette and traditions of the art form. Some would call it "ambiance" or "atmosphere". The gi also helps the Aikido player to focus the mind since it effectively serves (along with the dojo itself) to remove you from the outside world and help you focus on the training at hand. Also, some techniques involve controlling the opponent by grasping and tugging on the uniform. A flimsy T-shirt, tank top or spandex would very quickly be shredded and ripped off.
Both male and female students attend classes and the uniform removes sexual connotation and influence. Everyone is treated equally and as long as they do the work, they will earn the promotion. (back to index)
A. Aikido (like many of today's martial arts) has a promotional ranking system that involves colored belts and certificates of promotion. In Japan this is referred to as the "Dan-i" system which is where the names of ranks originates (Sho-Dan, Ni-Dan, etc.).
As you progress you will be ranked upwards to increasingly higher kyu (rank with colored belt) and then dan (rank with black belt) as the most obvious indicator. As you train, the senior teachers will encourage you and will let you know on a regular basis that you are doing well and are learning.
Remember to always compare yourself to you when you first started and didn't know anything. Don't compare yourself to the senior teachers as they might have 10 to 15 years experience or more on the mat. (back to index)
A. Of course they do. Promotional and class fees go to paying the overhead and keeping the dojo open. Rent, utilities, insurance, inventory, advertising, etc. all cost money and the funds that you pay the dojo for classes, promotions, books, uniforms, weapons (and whatever) go to support the school. Without the funds being available, the dojo would close and you would have no where to train.
When I started my training almost 40 years ago I always supported the school and gladly paid the bills and invoices when they were due. I even gave Sensei a cash Christmas present every year to help out. Call it enlightened self-interest. I wanted the dojo to be there for me when I needed it and the fact that the dojo monthly class fees cost less than some gym memberships didn't hurt my decision. (back to index)
A. Some reasons for training that have been mentioned by visitors and active students include:
Ease of Learning:
Q. IF THE TEACHER, AND THE SENIOR INSTRUCTORS, ARE PUTTING IN PERSONAL TIME (AND NOT REALLY GETTING PAID A LOT OF MONEY) THEN WHY DO THEY DO IT? WHY DO THEY INVEST PERSONAL TIME ANDS EFFORT IN TEACHING BEGINNERS?
A. One aspect of the answer is known in Japanese as "giri" or "solemn obligation". Someone in the past taught the Sensei and the senior players and teachers what they know and they are now sharing it with you. The time that their Sensei put into their development by tradition can only be repaid by teaching new players. One interesting definition of the word "tradition" is "saving everything of value and gifting it to the next generation so that they too can benefit. (back to index)
A. No. NO. Again, NO. Martial arts in and of themselves are secular in nature and are not religious. Sometimes you may find a really traditional dojo that has a Shinto shrine at the front wall of the dojo but this should be looked at as being more a tradition of a Japanese martial art as opposed to enforced religious ceremony and conversion.
Many very experienced teachers don't even acknowledge the ancient religio-spiritual background and origin of the Shinto shrine but instead look at it as focal point for the school that emphasizes the ethics, morality and traditions involved in teaching Budo.
Some dojo, the Aikibudokan included, have only a few photographs of the founders and developers of the art form hung on the front wall. The rei-ho (etiquette) is used to formally open and close class and help students get their "head into the training" and off the worries of the world outside the dojo. It is also intended to pay respect to the teachers who came before and who are now dead and gone.
The etiquette used in the dojo is not religious in nature and should pose no problem to even the most religiously orthodox amongst us. It is an exercise in respect and humility. (back to index)
A. It is important to realize that Japanese are not "religious" in the sense that Americans or other countries/Western religions are. Much of the influence brought to martial arts really deals with the memory of ancestors and an understanding of nature and how mankind is intertwined with the natural world around us. It has more to do with man's role and relationship to the world than it does with "religion" or worship of a diety; those being more a part of Western religions than with Japanese beliefs. This really is the main idea behind Shintoism; how man relates to his past and the universe around him and how he inter-relates with nature and with others. (back to index)
A. Yes and no. If you want to be in a dojo of this type then it will be true because you want it to be so. But ........ this is why at the top of the webpage I said that you should go visit the dojo and ask questions AND be sure to ask a LOT of questions.
It is a sad fact that too many martial arts teachers are arrogant and act like they are the center of the universe. It seems that they do everything possible to destroy the ideals of Budo and to violate every possible aspect of manners and common decency. Worse yet, they try to make it seem like it's your fault and that they expect you to demean and prostrate yourself before them and then pay them money for the privilege of doing so.
It is simply not necessary to subject yourself to this and if you look hard enough you will be able to find a dojo where the teacher is not doing his best to act like the back end of a donkey. A good teacher can be specifics in how they handle training and safety issues but still remain positive and constructive in their actions and teaching methods and in how they relate to the students. (back to index)
A. Yes and no. They can be dangerous to practice if you aren't paying attention or are acting like an immature fool. After all, they originated on the battlefield in war time and the techniques taught today are derived from what those warriors used to stay alive which by definition included seriously injuring or terminating the opponent. As long as the student stays focused and pays attention to the teacher, as long as the teacher is a good one who pays attention to the class and gives proper direction, as long as the students approach training in a mature fashion, and as long as everyone has mutual respect for each other then there is minimal danger of injury.
Since we do not teach "martial sports" with competition, training is oriented towards learning and not the tournament so fast paced, aggressive, tiring training for the ring or octagon simply does not occur in our classes. So if you are getting tired during our training sessions then you can slow down and if you feel like you or your partner are losing control or moving too fast then both of you can agree to adjust the pace and avoid the many injuries that occur in competitive sports training due to the more aggressive training and tournament schedule. (back to index)
A. Consider this. Private tennis lessons can cost $100 (U.S.) per hour and up. A plumber or auto repair shop can charge much higher for what seems like not much effort on their part; sometimes as much as $200 or $300 for about an hour's work.
Now look at a dojo. Let's say the teacher charges a monthly fee for three classes per week at an hour to two hours per class. We can just pick an average fee of say $100 per month for 12 classes per month average (3 per week for 4 weeks per month) for our example (actual fees can vary by dojo and number and type of classes taken).
So your monthly class fee gets you 24 hours per month of instruction (12 classes per month at 2 hours per class). Unless my math is off that averages out to about $3.54 per hour for instruction from a highly skilled professional. Looks like a heck of deal to me ....... only $3.54 per hour for personalized attention from someone who has probably spent the last 30 or 40 years perfecting his art form. Plus, keep in mind that the $3.54 per hour gets you knowledge in self-defense. Seems to me that the ability to defend yourself or your family when your life is in danger is a whole lot more valuable than tennis lessons ....... wouldn't you agree?
Besides, there is no comparison between $100 per hour for private tennis lessons and $100 per month for unlimited classes in martial arts. The tennis pro charging by the hour will look at you as a meal ticket while the Sensei charging by the month will respect you on a personal level.
As a last thought about pricing; how much did you pay for pizza for the family last weekend? Last time I bought for me, the wife and 3 kids it was almost $70 including tip. So one Friday night without pizza would almost pay for a full month of classes. (back to index)
A. Here is a rough rule of thumb to follow as to what each black belt or colored belt means, relative to the other grades.
A. Absolutely, as long as they are willing to do the work. A good dojo does not differentiate between male and female. The curriculum is set, the requirements for advancement are clearly laid out and the training uniform is designed to minimize sexual innuendo. (How sexy can a training uniform be when it looks like you're wearing a large, white, baggy potato sack with a colored belt tied around it?)
In the simplest terms possible; if you do the work you will earn the promotion. No special allowances are made for anyone and promotions are based on decades of testing the curriculum and syllabus for r effectiveness and reasonableness. The demands are equally the same across the board for everyone. The only adjustment that might be made would be for age in that we would not expect a 60 or 70 year old to work as hard as a 20 year old; but, the technical requirements are still the same so in the end the knowledge is equal and it is the knowledge that counts and not how many hours someone can train at full speed.
In this regard a dojo is unique. How many times in the world outside the dojo does the individual who has done the work and deserves it actually get the raise and promotion? A dojo has no politics in this area so that you can be assured that the student wearing the black belt has earned the rank. (back to index)
A. No, you don't. It's true that developing skills with weapons such as swords and staffs will give you a broader understanding of martial skills but if you only train in Aikido, you will build true Aikido and self defense ability. Plus, Aikido itself has quite a bit of weapons training that in and of itself will assist you in understanding Aikido and gaining a basic level of ability in weapons. (back to index)
Do you have any questions that we haven't touched upon?
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