How does an aikido class go?
A typical class goes like this:
At the start time, students are lined up. (So, best to come early enough to change clothes and do any personal stretching as desired.)
The instructor enters the mat, starts the class, and begins leading stretches / warm-ups.
After 5 - 15 minutes of warm-ups, the instructor will demonstrate something and everyone pairs off and practices that.
The instructor will periodically stop the class, show the next thing to practice, and everyone will do that new thing.
At the end, the instructor stops class, everyone lines up, and we end the class.
A bit more detail...
The students line up and sit in a kneeling position (“seiza”) before class begins. The instructor will enter and lead the opening bow. This bow is sort of a group "hello, let's begin" to the dojo, represented by the centerpiece of the dojo where there is typically a photo of O-sensei.
The instructor leads warm-ups and possibly falling (called “ukemi”) practice.
The instructor demonstrates a technique, possibly with some verbal instruction. Then everyone partners up and practices that technique. The instructor goes around and practices as well as offers individual instruction.
The instructor signals when it is time to do the next technique, at which time everyone should line up.
You may change partners during the class as instructed by the instructor. I.e., the instructor will call out, "Change partners," at which time you say thank you to your current partner, find a new partner, bow to them and start practicing.
The instructor signals when it is the end of class, at which time everyone lines up the same as at the beginning of class. Then the instructor leads the closing bow.
Some Japanese vocabulary that comes up:
"Onegaishimasu" - "Please, do this thing for me". We say this when starting class and bowing in as a group. We also say this when beginning practice with a new partner.
"Arigatogozaimashita" - "Thank you very much". We say this when finishing practice with one partner. We also say this when ending class and bowing out.
"Nage" or "tori" - Means the person doing the technique.
"Uke" - Means the person receiving the technique.
As a general format, the more experienced person does the 'tori' role first. This is not necessarily crucial but is helpful to quickly move on to actual practice as well the more experienced person may know the technique already whereas the less experienced person may not.
Each person performs the current role ('tori' or 'uke') four times, then switch roles.
If you have questions, whether in general, for a specific partner you had that class, or about something practiced that day, the best time to ask would be after class. Simply going to the person and bringing up the question and working it out verbally or on the mat is fine. As much as possible, regular class time is a time to cultivate a nonverbal mind and support each other in creating such an environment.