We do our best to focus on learning and applying the core elements of motion that make the martial art of Aikido work. We don't spend a lot of time on the distracting "stuff" such as "where do I put my foot?" or "what move do I do next?" These things are there, but will ultimately be useless for you in any emergency or attack situation. Similarly, we don't instruct with hard discipline, intimidation, or punitive physical fitness. These things may have value to many individuals, but I do not find them useful in building a person's ability to respond to emergencies with their own abilities and insights.
Rather, we take the core motions and principles of martial arts, and creatively apply them to an infinite number of situations, and work on solutions together. The best educational approach I've come across to describe how this works it the "Flipped Classroom" approach.
In academic settings, Flipped classrooms refer to a reversal of the normal approach to teaching. Rather than listening to lectures from teachers as a class during the day and completing homework as a follow-up activity individually or in groups, flipped classrooms seek to reverse this. Lectures or content is prepared and delivered outside of class time via videos or other material. The actual class time is utilized for the students to truly explore the content with the teacher acting as a guide and amplifiers of the learning potential of the students' questions, comments, and discoveries.
At Arundel Aikikai, students are welcomed/encouraged to do pushups, sit-ups, forms, drills and/or running on their own time should they so desire. During class time, all work is focused on providing space for the students to explore the foundations, applications, and improvements of martial arts movement with partners and their instructor. Questions are welcomed, expected, and often immediately incorporated into the current class theme to explore further! (As a note of caution/encouragement though; if you ask the question, you're the recipient of the answer!) Time in the dojo with Arundel Aikikai is spent mutually exploring Aikido in martial situations.
If this is confusing - excellent! Through confusion, students are able to engage the source material and make it their own in a way that isolated repetition of words or motion never could accomplish. While this method usually takes longer for students to fully realize what they've learned, it grants the ability to cast a critical eye on their own martial arts output, as well as that of others or other instructors. To quote one of my students, it helped her recognize the "difference between day-care-dojos" and "martial arts."
At Arundel Aikikai, we focus on creating the space for our students to learn advanced physical concepts in the most useful way - their muscle memory. We do the same exact thing -- in a completely new and different way -- every night. Martial Arts curriculum -- unlike academics or other skill curriculum -- isn't an "add and advance" style of linear skill progression. Students can "add" a technique or a "move" through instruction and have it in their mind. If the body does not know the technique though, the martial arts "moves" cannot be recalled and/or utilized with any degree of expediency or effectiveness (if they can even be recalled fast enough when it counts!).
Rather, there is a general curriculum goal - to empower students bodies to learn martial movement that automatically is called up and applied to appropriate situations through muscle memory. It's a longer-term approach than technique-focused teaching which centers around "learning to punch" or "how to kick." However, it is a deeper and more meaningful engagement of the material which leaves the students better prepared and better positioned. In some ways, it leads the students beyond the punch and past the kick.