A Typical Class, What to Expect and What is Expected

The First Class

The dojo is open at least 15 minutes before each class, be early. If you are not a UCM student and just want to observe a class, let the front desk know and come watch. If you arrive early the sempai will be able to meet with you and answer any questions you may have.

Iaido practice begins the moment you enter the dojo! So when you enter the room, bow to the front. Arrive with enough time to register and get acquainted with the facilities. Remove your shoes at the door or by the shoe cubby. Do not walk through the room with shoes on. If you have sandals, flip flops, or zori, place them on the edge of the training area by the wall.

Before class, take time to relax and indulge in the physical or mental preparation which suits you best.

Your first class will be a bit bewildering – don’t worry, we’ve all been there. In general, do as the others do. Normally, someone will be assigned to lead you through the basics.

Classes follow a standard structure.

dojo prep For normal classes: approximately 5-10 minutes before class someone will get a dry mop from the janitorial staff and do a quick pass of the room.
For special classes: Approximately 5-10 minute before class the least senior student will fill a bucket with water and cleaning rags. Then everyone – new members, sempai, even sensei – will clean the floors.
sword care After the dojo is cleaned everyone gathers in a circle with their iaito (sword) and cleaning supplies. We then clean and oil our blades and check that everything is secure and safe for use.
bow in Students line up quietly in seiza by order of seniority. The most senior student (usually the lead sempai or sensei) will take the kamiza, or high seat. The order of the line is staggered, each lower position is a step behind the one before. The lines will then bow in unison first to the head of the class, then to the front of the dojo (standing), then to our swords (seated again). This is a traditional Japanese custom to show respect, but has no religious connotation.
the first cut After the start of class the class will rise and move to either side of the room. The head of the class will then perform the first waza of class – almost always Mae. Then the class reforms and performs the displayed waza.
training After the first waza, and possibly more, class is most often broken down into groups of similar skill levels. Sensei and sempai will often move between the groups to assist in training. Even though in groups, training is predominantly a solo exercise.
run down After the main training the dojo will be called back into order. Each student lines up in their position as they did bowing in and sit in sieza. Sensei will then call out a waza followed by a clap. As a group everyone will then do the waza announced. Senei will go through most o the waza the dojo knows. If the student doesn’t know the waza being performed they sit quietly and observe the others until a waza they know comes up, or sensei determines it’s time to end.
bow out Class returns to their place in the lines and sit in seiza. Bowing out we bow first to our sword, then stand and bow to the shomen (front of dojo), then return to seiza and bow to the head of the class.
wrapping up After the bow out students wrap the sageo of their iaito (sheath cords). This is a calm, quiet endeavor. Once complete, you may leave the line, put up your sword, and then change. The last duty of an iaidoka is to fold their hakama.

You will feel very goofy and confused. Welcome to our world, just enjoy the ride. Don’t worry about if you are doing something wrong, and don’t apologize for doing it wrong (unless there is a serious injury). You’ll be doing it wrong for some time. We’ve all been there.

Iaido training may sometimes be very frustrating. Learning to cope with this frustration is a part of your training. Practitioners need to observe themselves in order to determine the root of their frustration and dissatisfaction with their progress. Sometimes the cause is a tendency to compare oneself too closely with other students. You are not here to compete, you are here to learn. It is a fine thing to admire the talents of others and to strive to emulate them, but care should be taken not to allow comparisons with others to foster resentment, or excessive self-criticism.

At this time we put everything up, as this is a shared space. If you want to join in with the people straightening the dojo, simply ask.

Now is a good time to ask any questions you may have. You’re officially an iaidoka!

Safety issues
All members are expected to follow the simple safety rules when training.

  • Take care of your katana appropriately at all times.
  • Check your mekugi before and during each training session.
  • Make sure that Dojo is clean before starting a training session.
  • When performing waza, make sure that there is no-one within the reach of your katana, and in front of you.
  • When someone is performing a waza, do not enter the reach of their katana.
  • If your katana fell from your saya, do not try to catch it. Let it drop to the floor, and then pick it up.
  • If you bring guests to the dojo, make sure that your guests follow the same rules.

Guidelines for Training

  • Always respect your katana and handle it appropriately.
  • Always follow the instruction of your seniors.
  • Address your instructors appropriately.
  • Warm your body up before training.
  • In the dojo, line up in rank order.
  • Left hand/leg always touches the floor before right hand/leg.
  • When performing a waza, everything you do is against opponent(s).
  • When drawing or sheathing, move both of your hands.
  • Do each movement of waza big and slowly. Do not try to move fast.
  • When watching others do a waza, try to see what you cannot see in what you can see. It is necessary to know what goes on inside when learning Iaido.
  • Learn to breathe appropriately when performing a waza.
  • Do not let your katana control you. Remember that you are the one using the katana.
  • Remember, “feet first, body second, katana third”.
  • Learn about “Zanshin”. Do not let it go until you finish performing a waza.

What is Expected
We expect you to make mistakes. Lots of them. We have all been there. We’ve all had our first class, first week, first month. We are not judging you, we are all learning. If you knew it all, there’d be no need to take classes.

Iaido is not a religion but it remains deeply influenced by traditional Japanese values. A centerpiece is Rei, which means “appreciation and respect”, but is essentially bowing and etiquette. It is expected you will stumble through etiquette for quiet some time, even the more experienced students mess up occasionally. This is fine, there will be no beheadings. Just the same, we do expect you to continually try to improve. Etiquette is an important part of training, in ways you wont understand at first.

The only way to advance in iaido is through regular and continued training. Attendance is not mandatory, but keep in mind that in order to improve, one probably needs to practice regularly. In addition, insofar as iaido provides a way of cultivating self-discipline, such self-discipline begins with regular attendance.

Your training is your responsibility, and it only works if all are involved. While the instructors are skilled, they are few. They can not see to everyone individually at all times. For this reason dojo employ a standard of Japanese culture – the Senpai/Kohai relationship. As an iaidoka, you are expected to look after your fellow comrades. Even from day one. Senior students (senpai) mentor and help direct kohai (junior students). New students are expected to help out. Before long, you will find you are no longer a new student, and others are looking to you for guidance. That said, no one is going to take you by hand and baby you through anything. You have to do it, we will do our best to guide you.

Be on time to classes, and pay your dues. All in the dojo, regardless of age, are expected to be and/or act like adults. This includes tending to your obligations. We should not have to chase you for a month to get your dues. But, we will remove you from the mat for not paying.

On the same notion, if we are holding a workshop, special class, seminar or attending one, you need to keep track of these events on your own. The instructors are very busy, and not here to be your personal secretaries.