The Dojo (A place to follow the way)
Aikido of Napa was founded in 1983 by Mark Jones in an old barn in the southwest portion of the Napa Valley. In 1991, the dojo was relocated to its present home in central Napa. Aikido of Napa is affiliated with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, Japan, but welcomes all to come and train. Spectators are always welcome.
The Dojo (The building)
Aikido of Napa is housed in a beautiful, Japanese-style building, constructed and maintained as a community effort of the dojo members. The dojo building holds a training mat, an entrance way with a tokonoma, and two dressing rooms. The mat is 24' x 40' and is surrounded on two sides by sliding shoji doors that open on to a porch and a beautiful Japanese garden. There are benches on the porch for observers. The beauty and serenity of the environment makes training at Aikido of Napa especially enjoyable.
Aikido of Napa has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere but is a serious place to study with mindfulness of the tradition and purpose of Aikido as a martial art. Each student is encouraged to challenge themselves to their highest degree. There is no competition among members and each student and their individual limitations are respected. Students respect each other and are very careful not to harm one another during practice.
Every class has a mixture of advanced students and beginners. There is no segregation of rank during practice. All ranks train together freely. Higher ranked students are encouraged to help beginners and choose them for partners regularly. The instructor gives individual attention throughout the class.
There is an emphasis on blending with one's partner and controlling their energy from the beginning of the technique without using sheer physical force. Basic principles such as proper posture, breathing, keeping knees bent, arms connected with the center, turning the hips and extension are all reinforced during practice.
Students are encouraged to practice in the dojo before and after class and many senior students are available to help students who wish to have some extra training. The dojo has approximately 35 regular students including 15 who hold various degrees of black belt.
Ranks & Tests
Test requirements are listed on the bulletin board in the entrance of the dojo. Each rank requires a certain number of cumulative training days and the mastery of specific techniques. For each rank test, the student is expected to demonstrate competency in all the techniques of previous rank tests. Students are given adequate preparation time in advance of a test and higher ranked students are available to help students practice the required techniques. Students are never asked to test before the instructor feels that they are ready.
There are three basic levels of practice which can be applied to almost every Aikido technique. They also reflect the stages of development most Aikidoists experience.
The first is the solid or rigid type. It is the fundamental level of practice, in which the partner is allowed to get a firm grasp or hold before the technique is started. The subsequent movement permits one to practice stable hip movements, "ki" extension, coordinated body movements, breathing, and other basics. The solid practice lets one move slowly against strength and power in order to feel the proper movement.
The second level is the flexible approach. This intermediate step allows one to add timing and movement to the basics. This level is practiced by having the aggressor get close enough to almost grab or hold the Aikidoist. This practice has the defender moving slowly but deliberately just before a complete grip is established.
The third level is the flowing approach. The attacker is led even before actual physical contact is made. The attacker's intentions are drawn in and led to a throw or a hold down technique. Rhythm and timing are very important as is reading the attacker's intentions. It is at this level that one can practice "free wheeling" technique. The ability to perform flowing movements and to efficiently respond to attacks is quickly developed.
Riai is a concept unique to the type of Aikido practiced at the Aiki shrine. Its underlying principle stresses that Aikido techniques and movement remain the same whether the person is armed or not. If a sword or staff is lost during a confrontation, the techniques and movements remain the same.
While learning the empty-handed, the sword, and the staff techniques, natural comparisons among the three will arise. Having this knowledge, the Aikidoist will progress very quickly.
When the proper foundation has been laid, the Aikido practitioner can look forward to greater developments in the art. That next step is "Takemusu Aiki," Aiki which is bound to the roots of the way of the warrior.
At this stage, techniques are performed effortlessly and spontaneously. The true form is elegant in its beauty and powerful in its effectiveness.