Sensei Christian Tissier visited South America last December. He gave seminars in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Mario Lorenzo from Aikikai Argentina, along with Claudio Zotta and Jorge Rojo, president of Aikikai in Chile, had a long and interesting conversation with him in Buenos Aires. This interview is part of that conversation. We thank Jorge Rojo for the simultaneous translation.
Mario Lorenzo - How do you see the evolution of Aikido in the future?
Sensei Tissier - It’s difficult to see a radical change in the next 10 or 20 years because Aikido will be practised by today’s generation, but older.
The change will depend of whether or not we attract young people to Aikido. The type of Aikido we have will depend on our capacity to gather young people.
It’s different now from when I started, nowadays there are many other possibilities for them. When we started we found something magical in Oriental culture but we only had Judo, Karate and Aikido. We need to involve more people between age 18 and 30. Otherwise the average age of people assisting the seminars would be between 40 and 45 years old, and this would determine the Aikido we will practise.
Another thing that is important for the future of aikido is what would happen if it were introduced into two big countries like China and India. There are billions of people, but what are their interests? In China they practice Kung Fu, Shaolin and in India Yoga and other exercises, but how many would be interested in aikido? We don’t know. It could be 100.000, 200.000 or perhaps none. We don’t know what will happen in the next 20 years. In France there are 70.000 practicants, if in china there were as much as 300.000, how would these people affect aikido? Nowadays a regular class has one teacher for twenty students. If there were 1000 which would the teaching methods be?
Mario Lorenzo - From a technical point of view, which aspect do you think Aikido will gravitate to: physical, speed, or technique?
Sensei Tissier - Diversity is the strength of Aikido. There are people who practise Aikido just because it’s not too physical. Many of these people couldn’t practise another sport. There are others that have worked physically before and for them that aim is included in Aikido. I’m almost 60 and I feel a sportsman. I’m not saying I practice a physically demanding Aikido, but I feel like somebody who has done sports his whole life. We are interested in keeping an aspect of the practice based on physical work.
A short time ago I went to Amsterdam with the Doshu, we are the same age. He did an aikido demonstration which was extensive, quick and precise with all the characteristics of a sportsman.
Mario Lorenzo -. In South America we can see that those who emphasize too much on the “KI” in their practice are not technically serious. Do you see this in other countries? And what do you think of Watanabe Sensei’s “no touch Aikido”?
Sensei Tissier - They are two different things. On the one hand people who talk about ki, and on the other the ones who practise aikido like Sensei Watanabe. He developed something in which he is especially interested in: it isn’t a ki work but one of anticipation, sensations, whether you like it or not, or whether it works or not. It works when you know the code, but martially it doesn’t work. Being in Japan I worked a lot with him, Watanabe wasn’t like this before. He is a physically solid practicant who wanted to develop something different. I think that if I were head of an examination table I wouldn’t take what he produces.
Now, people who talk and make constant reference on ki around the world are looking for something to justify their lack of technique. Because we all have ki, everything is ki (opening his arms), the problem with ki is its fluency. How does ki flow? When there is no block. When somebody is doing a technique and doesn’t handle it, this person doesn’t have an unblocked body. The objective of the technical aspect of the sport is to unlock every body part where there might exist a block. Someone who performs an exercise with stiff shoulders will not have a real ki flow.
Mario Lorenzo - Being the most important teacher in spreading Aikido around the world, how is your relationship with other Japanese teachers?
Sensei Tissier - Our relationship is really good. In fact I’m a product of Aikikai, I got there when I was young and worked there …
I think that they consider me one of them, but an embassador too, a foreigner.
According to the conversations we had had with the previous Doshu and the actual one, for them I am an occidental who knows the rules and understand them. I’m part of Aikikai’s image. I think that it is because I was faithful to the teaching I received. Even when Aikido has the personal side and everyone develops his own way, I have the feeling of being part of the same family. My generation is the one that influenced the most on Aikikai so far. This is formed by teachers like Yasuno, Yokota, Osawa (who is younger), Miyamoto, Shibata, and Endo (who is a little older). There’s another generation before mine: Tamura Sensei, Yamada Sensei, Tada Sensei, and another younger generation which I don’t know personally.
Mario Lorenzo - In your seminars you pay attention to “points” and “axes”. Do these concepts come from your personal development of Aikido? In what way has Yamaguchi Sensei influenced your technique?
Sensei Tissier - My teaching method is personal, it comes from the analysis I’ve done of what I have learnt particularly from Yamaguchi Sensei, who was a model of purity. Our occidental spirit shows the Japanese model in a different way. Many times Japanese people don’t know how to explain these subjects and it may seem strange. Some are pedagogically good, but their method doesn’t come from speech, or from a moving analysis, and when they are asked why they do it that way, they only say it is like that, they say it is Japanese tradition.
What I find wonderful about Yamaguchi Sensei is that he always had answers to all the questions. He had a reflexion for each subject which was highly intelligent in the aikido field.
I had heard many of these thoughts before but I couldn’t understand them then. Even nowadays when I watch a video I see things I couldn’t see before, I didn’t have the eyes to see them. And that is simply because Yamaguchi Sensei was far ahead. People who assisted his classes knew everything intuitively. All my generation is strongly influenced by him.
Mario Lorenzo - What were your memories and feelings as Yamaguchi Sensei?
Sensei Tissier - I still carry many feelings, when I watch a video o see somebody doing a special movement I know exactly what it’s going on. Speed was very common in him, strength in action, it wasn’t a natural strength. Yamaguchi Sensei was a person who weighed 65 kg, and since he started the action you didn’t feel any struggle, there was precision and at the same time he produced a series of unbalancing movements.
He was a person who from the moment you made contact with, he controlled your centre, he had fluid movements and when he made the decision of acting it was like an explosion, a crumbling force, we were like a building going down, he broke us.
I never had the bad feeling of being pushed or pulled; it was a nice sensation, clear, very technical.
I have different memories from other teachers whom I learnt, but speaking about sensations, with them there was a bit of fight. When I forced my arm more I had to protect me because it hurt, and when I protected it more, I forced it even harder. We learn from this too, but that was not the feeling I had with the master Yamaguchi.
Mario Lorenzo - Do you have any other reflexion of Aikido pedagogy?
Sensei Tissier - We can make an analogy with people who do music or dance. There are people who are gifted for these arts, but if they really want to be good they have to learn the techniques of these arts. Because it’s not an improvisation, it’s a reflexion.
For example, in ballet, a professional ballet dancer is not the one who decides what to do, but the play is the one which decides and he has to do all the work, not only what he likes. He learnt the technique and behind it there’s discipline.
There are people who are physically gifted for Aikido, but that is not enough. We have to learn and analyse and make a reflexion of it. When we do these, there are many possibilities” have we done a logical gesture or is a parasite?” “Is it an exaggerated gesture or is it pure?” “Is the movement aesthetic or is it alive?”
I know many people who have practiced aikido for 20 or 30 years, but they are bored. If we were able to create 2 or 3 technical details our enthusiasm would start. Sometimes it is necessary to reorient the practice. Our role as teachers is to keep the people’s enthusiasm, even for ourselves.
In Aikido when it is said “Ikkyo Issho” (do aikido all your life), we ask ourselves “But what “ikkyo”? The same as from some time ago? The ikkyo has to volute, ikkyo is what we need to volute comprehension and sensation, not to say “ikkyo is like this and nothing has to change”.
Mario Lorenzo - At you level, in your research, is there a technical doubt?
Sensei Tissier - They are not those kinds of doubts. I come back to what I was talking before. When we practice, we sometimes do something we didn’t know we were capable of doing, and we realise that this is a new economic way of doing it. So, if we continue working a little more, we will create something a little different, but it’s not that we wake up one morning and discover something new.
Doubts make us go on, doubt is something specific from Budo because when we improve in something, specially in a martial system, more we realise how weak we are. So we don’t feel like facing it and we do it only if t is necessary. Doubt is what makes us be preserved, only a stupid enters a bar and starts a fight. Anybody who has learned something from the martial art field can only doubt of its weakness. He is conscious of what it really is.