As a Japanese martial art, Aikido has inherited some aspects of that Asian culture, most noticeably the bow. Aikido makes use of the bow as a gesture of commitment and respect. It is not a form of worship. It is more like a salute. When you enter and leave the dojo (the practice hall), stop at the door and bow to the shomen (the front of the school). Likewise, when you get on and off mat, bow to the shomen. You bow to your practice partner before and after practicing together, and you bow to Sensei (the instructor) before and after s/he begins to work with you.
You should be on the mat, ready to practice a few minutes before the class starts. For the last few minutes before class, you should sit quietly and focus your mind. We start class with a bow. Teachers and students all bow together to the shomen, as a gesture of our working together in Aikido toward the goal of self-understanding and universal harmony. Then the teacher turns toward the students, and the teacher and students bow toward each other and say "Onegai shimasu", which means "I request the favor (of your instruction/cooperation in training)". The instructor bows toward the students as a gesture of respect for their wishing to learn, and the students bow toward the instructor as a gesture of respect for the teacher's sharing of knowledge. Then class starts.
If you're late to class, quietly bow onto the mat, then do a sitting bow to the shomen, and enter into the practice.
When you are on the mat, there are two acceptable ways to sit. The preferred way to sit is in seiza (kneeling, sitting on your heels). Sitting cross-legged is also acceptable if you cannot sit seiza. Sitting seiza is safest in that you can move from that position if someone is thrown toward you, and seiza (as you will experience) promotes mental stability and alertness. Sitting cross-legged (upright, without slumping) is also safe and alert. Please do not sprawl with your legs out or sit back leaning against the wall.
At the end of class, the teacher and students bow toward the shomen and then toward each other. The students say either "Thank you" or "Domo arigato gozaimashita", which means "I am very much/humbly obliged to you."
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