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Progressing at Aikido of Montpelier

As head instructor Sara Norton once put it, Aikido of Montpelier has been “liberated from the belt ranking system.” But even though we don't have formal tests of ability or wear colored belts, we still progress in our practice. Here's how our system works.
Beginners start out in Basics class (the first class on any evening). Here the focus is on developing harmonious, cooperative interaction with a partner. Attention is also given to relaxation, to the principles and practice of grounding and moving from your hara (center of gravity) in order to develop stability and balance, and to coordinating breath with motion. You will learn footwork, basic movements such as irimi and tenkan, backward ukemi (falling and rolling safely), and techniques such as ikkyo (first joint lock), sumi otoshi (corner drop), and shihonage (four directions throw).
When you and the head instructor(s) feel you are ready, you will be eligible to attend Intermediate class where the focus shifts from relatively static practice to responding to moving attacks and leading and following with ki energy. You will also begin to distinguish muscular force from ki flow, develop increased sensitivity to your partner, learn more techniques and start practicing forward rolls.
When you are ready, you will be invited to attend Advanced class. Here the emphasis is on developing inner calmness and mental focus in dynamic situations and on exploring spontaneity in action. Advanced students seek to soften while extending ki as both uke (the person who attacks) and as nage (the one who does the technique). They also work on moving smoothly and fluidly and practice randori (response to multiple attacks).
When you have progressed sufficiently you will be invited to begin Hakama training (hakama are a type of traditional Japanese clothing worn by senior students). Hakama candidates, with the advice of instructors and other students, set goals for their own practice. When those goals are achieved there is a ceremony and celebration involving the whole dojo at which we welcome not just an advanced Aikidoist, but as Sara says, a “pillar of the dojo community.” At this point the seeming distinction between a white belt and a hakama has begun to blend into two complementary aspects of one holistic practice while you continue to strive for the state of mu shin (open heart, empty mind) that is the ultimate goal of Aikido.

Belt                      Hakama