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The first step when looking for an aikido school is to see how many are available in your area. Find a nearby school that will let you sit in on a class. If you have a lot of schools, visit as many of them as possible before making a commitment. See if you enjoy the learning atmosphere, and notice if their emphasis is on the areas of aikido that you have the most interest in, whether that be self-defense, precision or another element. You should generally pay attention to how the teacher treats the students, and if you get the chance, you should talk to students and see what they have to say about the quality of the instruction.
If you live in a metropolitan area, there may be a dozen or more aikido schools near you, but if you live off the beaten path, you may have to drive a fair distance to the nearest school. Aikido is relatively popular, but a good aikido school is not as easy to find as a karate or tae kwon do school. Once you find a school that is close enough for you, it could be a good idea to go online and see if there are any comments about the school on message boards and other martial arts community sites. Sometimes people will speak more freely about these things on the Internet than they will in the school.
If there are a lot of schools in your area, you should find out what you can about the different styles of instruction. Some aikido can be very formalized with very scripted training sequences, and some aikido instructors include elements of free-play or sparring so that students can more easily learn to defend themselves with the techniques. Aikido is a grappling-oriented art with a lot of emphasis on disrupting balance, so instructors need a lot of precision to pass on the information. When visiting different schools, you should generally pay attention to these issues and ask people about them.
Experts say that some schools aren’t very concerned about providing quality instruction. There are some schools that focus much more on getting you into some kind of binding long-term contract. There are also good schools that do this, so it can be hard to spot the bad ones, and sometimes you may need to attend an aikido school for a while before you realize what you’re dealing with. Some experts recommend avoiding any aikido school that tries to get you into a long contract just as a precaution.