Safety is our absolute first priority. Coloured belts are a milestone of achievement and something to wear with pride, but coloured belts are also a way for instructors and students to gauge the relative experience or inexperience of the wearer they are dealing with or training with. You will note that coloured belts are a common way that individual ability is displayed in many martial arts, and a large part of this approach is because it enhances safety.An aikido class on the mat can be a rather undemocratic place. Some people jokingly say you’re stepping into feudal Japan when you step onto the aikido mat. It is different to what you might expect, but it quickly becomes comfortable. It’s about respect, and everybody respects everyone else and the instructor is naturally in charge. This is for traditional reasons for also for safety. After all, we’re learning a martial art. Instructors are experienced in aikido and are entrusted with the judgement to make practice as safe as possible for the students involved.
The formality we practice on the mat may seem somewhat out of place to our Western minds, but it does contribute to safety by building awareness and respect of those around us with whom we interact. Over time, students understand that the formality and etiquette brings order to the mat which means there are less opportunities for injury. Students begin to appreciate the respect shown to them and respond so that a cooperative environment is created. Everyone cares about the safety and welfare of everyone else and this along with the instructors supervision and the experience of senior students makes for great safety.
We train on mats which soften the ground surface, we wear uniforms which protect knees and elbows, we supervise and we make students aware of dangerous practices and dangerous situations. These measures are all aimed at enhancing safety.
However, aikido is a martial art. Risk cannot be eliminated. It can be minimised and although our priority is always safety first, occasional injury may occur. Scrapes and bruises will happen. It would be naïve to expect that injury won’t occur. However, minimisation is the key and great effort is undertaken to make it an occasional occurrence.