Aikido of Arlington
Evaluated according to:
Full disclosure: I am not an Iwama stylist, though I have some prior experience with it. This may be considered an outsider's perspective.
This is a rather good little Iwama dojo. As per the norm for that style, there's a lot of work on body mechanics and "path of least resistance"-type training. (More "feel" than "form".) For example, there's the usual inclusion of static, firm grips for basic training, with focus on breaking through that strength with posture and angle.
The instructor is very much qualified, and the black belts know their stuff too. This school is a great opportunity for personal attention from knowledgeable people who can feel your technique and give you tips on what is/isn't working. On the downside, she doesn't teach every night; the worst aikido class I've ever attended was here, when this one bozo led practice. But mostly, good instruction.
It's generally an older crowd: thirties and forties. This means that there's no conditioning to speak of.
Not the best place ever, but pretty decent. I enjoy training there, and have learned a lot.
Classes meet every night except Wednesdays and Sundays for about 2 hours per night.
Aliveness: It's traditional aikido; there is no competitive sparring. That said, from an aikido perspective, it does have a reasonable measure of "live" spirit; people do not fling themselves around. (Again, it's Iwama, so its focus is if anything on just-won't-budge partner practice.) Thus there is a certain integrity to the training.
They do practice randori every now and then (not every class). I always try to attack seriously, and have noticed that they're not all used to that. (Still, the average person here is pretty good at aikido, and when they apply themselves can usually throw me or at least deflect the attack.) Ukes here have a bad habit to attack once and then stand there waiting for the nage to apply any old technique. (Rather different from their very Iwama-ish "not budging" style in regular practice.)
Equipment: Mats are carried down and laid out for each class. The school has a large supply of bokken/jo available for use. (People do not generally bring their own.)
Size: It's literally in the basement of a church. A "high attendance day" will crowd the dojo a fair bit.
Instructor/student ratio: Excellent. I have had a couple classes that were just me and the instructor, in fact. (These were very valuable experiences.) And a few more with just a small handful (1-2) of other students. Normal class size is about 6-8. This is surprising, because the instructor is very good at what she does: she has that classic aiki ability to make it very hard to apply strength against her, while she pits her whole body's strength against you.
Atmosphere: Friendly, if rather casual. (If you ask me, too casual: sometimes, I think the tempo of training suffers from it.)
Striking: Techniques contain the usual atemi. Uke striking ability varies considerably.
Grappling: I've never been a huge fan of Iwama-style techniques, although I feel pretty silly making such a general and presumptious statement. At any rate, they impart some good principles.
Weapons: She teaches good Iwama-ryu weapons (bokken and jo).
Seems to be a grounded review you posted.
Why do you continue to train there despite no conditioning, no testing your techniques?
I was at a school somewhat similar to yours in the atmostphere, thought I was something because I had some fitness and had no problem throwing down. Going to other schools and this martial arts board confirmed my suspicions that I was wasting my time.
You don't have to go to a MT/BJJ/MMA school and get some deathmatches underneath your belt, but you should not waste your time unable to elevate your fitness level or testing your techniques in class with resistance.
It's a little complicated. I'm sort of just in the area for a couple years; I plan to return to a different aikido style shortly. (I'm trying to maintain my knowledge of that style by practicing with another person "stranded" out here.) But the style I'm going back to doesn't have much "alive" practice either. (Though there is considerably more conditioning. Oh, man.)
I'm hoping to start adding some more "alive" practice by joining in on the Bullshido training group in DC. I'm also considering tracking down a different school. (There's a good argument that I shouldn't be confusing myself with another style of aikido anyway.)
As for this dojo: it's a place for me to learn Iwama-ryu aikido, and practice aikido principles. It's not complete training, but I consider it valuable in its own right.
What would you say your goals are in doing 'martial arts'?
I study aikido primarily as a modern budo. I'm not really after self-defense or sport. I might say it's a study to enrich my life as a whole or something; although honestly, I study it largely for its own sake. However, if I'm after budo, the art I do should at least be somewhat competent when pitted against whatever the current "state of the art" is in MMA terms. So far, there's not really much evidence to say that aikido meets that requirement. At the end of the day, if aikido really has lost all martial integrity - if the naysayers are right - then I'll very, very regretfully pack my bags and seek budo elsewhere.
I'm currently training also at the AU Wrestling Club, which has a contingent of BJJers and other MMA students. While I'm still three ranks away from even first degree black belt in aikido, I feel I should have learned -something- there that can be applied against a competent opponent. I'm going to push myself to figure out if I can, and if not, find what's lacking in my aikido and improve it until I can achieve that goal.
So my goal isn't really becoming some invincible MMA fighter. Rather, I'm using MMA as a means to an end: a "reality check" to help deepen my study of aikido. I won't say it's not daunting and discouraging at times, but...I guess that's another lesson of budo.
For an update, I've switched to just going to AU for BJJ, and occasionally practicing Yoshokai aikido (which is what I did in college) with a fellow recent alum on the side.
I maintain this is a pretty good dojo if you're looking for traditional aikido in the area. At the moment, though, that's not quite what I'm looking for.
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