Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello. Let me first thank you for giving me the opportunity of expressing myself in your magazine.
Under the tutoring of Serge Merlet, I started aikido in 1999 at Belfort’s fighting School. It is also through him that I met Philippe Voarino who then became my teacher and from whom I received my second, third, fourth and fifth dan.
I took part in the setting of International Takemusu Aikido Federation international and ITAF France, an association for which I mostly deal with the technical formation through training courses given in France. Each year, we set up training courses for teachers to continue and improve their technical and high level teaching skills to deal with a group. I also took part in the development of aikido takemusu, ITAF and Philippe Voarino’s teaching in diverse countries, China, Georgia and Malaisia among others. …
To train teachers, I appeal to my professional skills. I am a trainer for the BP JEPS in topics such as anatomy, psychology or pedagogy. I also have an MA in physical preparation specialized in preventing wounds and restarting trainings after a trauma. My MA-paper dealt with the making of an epidemiological survey about aikido. I am very dear to safe practice and taking the human body into account in his totality. (physic as well as psychological)
Apart from aikido, I got the opportunity to try plenty of martial arts or fighting sports such as different styles of boxing (French, Thai….), systema, Krav Maga, Brasilian Jujutsu and some Japanese arts ( Shorinji Kempo, Katori Shinto Ryu, Karaté Kyokushinkai…)
And, even if some of those arts sound interesting, my time and investment are directed towards aikido which is self-sufficient and offers a sufficiently long and strict way not to dissipate
As someone practicing martial arts, how would you define them?
This is a thorny issue…. Many people have tried to answer this question, but there is still no real answer. I think I cannot offer a better answer than the others. What is more, in France we try to understand the notion of martial arts to translate Bujutsu or Budo. It is sometimes possible to find in some interviews trying to define those notions ( bujutsu, budo, sin budo…)
I am not Japanese so I will always lack some subtleties to explain those notions in the best possible way. I only remember this notion, both budo and bujutsu share the prefix bu. The notion of bu refers to weapons and fight… My vision at the moment is as follows, what makes a budo and a bujutsu different is the place and the use we make of technique.
With bujutsu, technique is an aim, and the people practicing martial arts will gradually learn more and more efficient techniques. I will give you here an extract we can find on the website of the French group of Yagyu Shingan School :
« The Yagyu Shingan (柳 生心) School is very hierarchical. Indeed, some techniques were taught to the Bushi 武士(warriors). The same techniques could be taught to the Samurai (侍)but on a higher level so that the Samurai could defend themselves against Bushi if they attacked him. The same happens with Ninjas (忍者). The Ninja is initiated to techniques superior to those of the Samurai. That way, he can defeat the Ninjas and make his information missions safely without being disturbed by samurais. Lastly, only Shogun wardens had access to all the techniques, and they should all remain secret as the Emperor’s life has to be protected in every circumstance!”
If for bujutsu, technique is a finality, for budo, technique is a strating point, a pre-requisite for other aims.
To you, what is aikido?
A martial art (Laugh)… Aikido is a proposal… for Freedom. The notion of Takemusu sometimes translated as the ability to the spontaneous spurting of ideas in nothing less than a proposal of Freedom.
This freedom of the body and of the spirit takes technical tools called ikkyo, nikyo, kote gaeshi and irimi nage as pre-requisites…Aikido doesn’t offer the learning of techniques but uses them to achieve something far more important: Freedom.
This freedom will be achieved through renouncing to one’s own will, aikido is a universal art and those notions end up developed in the Tao. Freedom is the ability to create bounds with the world, with nature and with the instant through a state of consciousness called Wu Wei by Taoists.
Wu Wei is translated by « non-acting », the existing risk is to understand this as a passive action and to think aikido offers passivity. On the contrary, the notion of Wu Wei refers to the idea of total consciousness, of a perfect action led in accordance with nature’s dynamism. Wu Wei consists in “inner disponibility”, to be ad hoc, « here and now”.
At first, this might seem hermetic and far from practice, everything in the practice is made to achieve this state of practice.
When someone practicing martial arts starts in aikido, he will start by learning a first technique, and when he will turn to the second one, he will both learn the technical aspect and the link between both techniques.
Time passing, the person practising aikido will not have a catalogue of self-sufficient techniques but a coherent sum of techniques. The error in Aikido is to build one’s practice by thinking about technique. Technique is but a necessary pre-requisite to be able to start the study of aikido.
Lots of aikidoka will never start their way to the aiki with the aim of having a coherent sum of techniques. To achieve a technique correctly is important but is surely not an end on which an aikidoka should spend his whole life.
Repeat a technique for ten, twenty, thirty years or more will obviously enable to achieve it better and better, however, if attention keeps focused on it, the aikidoka will never be anyone else than a technique’s copier.
One must go beyond technique to strat entering the way of the aiki. However, I repeat it is essential to have an important foreknowledge of technique. We sometimes begin the study of Aikido after ten or twenty years of practice, and sometimes, we never do...
What makes aikido Takemusu different than other aikido schools ?
Firstly, let me be more precise about one thing. Takemusu Aiki is neither a school nor a way of practicing. Takemusu Aiki is a state, a physical and mental state one can achieve after a long time spent practicing. And if to that end we use methods and techniques, we try not to mix tools, consequences and aims of Aikido.
Nowadays, one can see lots of aikido currents developing themselves, some aiming at efficiency, some about loosening, and some about dynamics… Even if each of those offers a vision which is both important and interesting, they are all mistaken about the aim of aikido and reduce it to one of its components. Aikido doesn’t offer to be more supple or more efficient, aikido offers freedom. Efficiency, suppleness, dynamism… all of those will be at the core of an aikidoka‘s life They are elements accompanying aikido that each aikidoka will meet on his way as a consequence of practice and training.
Depending on the person, those different aspects will not have the same order of appearance but none of those aspects will take over the other ones. An aikidoka doesn’t have to choose among all of those, he will be confronted to all of that whether he wants it or not on his way to aikido
If you then ask me why I think one should not speak about currents, I will answer this: to speak about currents equals speaking about the aspect which is put forward in aikido’s practice. As far as I am concerned, I try as much as possible to pay attention to this, not to mix up aikido’s aim and all the aspects an aikidoka will encounter.
Why has Takemusu separated herself from Iwama Ryu while both are coming from the teaching from Saito Sensei?
The answer is in the preceding answers. The Iwama Ryu group focusses on Master Saito’s method just as those who focused on the notion of loosening or efficiency…. Even if Master Saito’s work is fantastic and his method very rich, it remains only a tool to use and overcome. Aikido goes over method, loosening, efficiency; aikido goes over the name of a person even when as famous as Morihei Ueshiba. This is not a blasphemy I am doing; I only wish to put things back into their place.
Nowadays, it is frequent to read or to hear that Aikido does not exist anymore, died with its creator, that we can only do our best to practice aikido the aikido which pleases or suits us.
Aikido is the way to Freedom, if Morihei Ueshiba as lots of his pupils such as Morihiro Saito, Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei…. brought and set into motion important elements to follow that path. One should be careful not to see within the offered methods or techniques anything else than tools enabling us to study. Aikido, Takemusuj Aiki existed before O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba and will still be there after us. We may only thank our ancestors to have left stones to show us the right route to be followed. In that sense, we must thank O’Sensei and his pupils for their work at every beginning and every end of the lesson.
But we shouldn’t be mistaken, believe and make our students believe that there is no such thing as aikido anymore… Today, thanks to the Internet, the openness of practice to the world and the ease with which we can cross thousands of kilometers,, we can access plenty of tools O Sensei and his pupils left for us. We should simply not forget they are only tools and certainly no “styles” of Aikido. Saint Exupéry wrote “Perfection is reached, not when there is nothing else to add, but when there is nothing else to take away”. One must forget about the will to make like x or y, one must quit shape and replace it by content..
A certain quantity of aikidokas estimate that, to understand Aikido properly, one day or the other, you would have to face Daito Ryu, the ancestor of Aikido. What do you think about it?
It is an interesting question. Thank you for asking it. This question about Daito Ryu is important in the genealogy and understanding of Aikido. It reminds me of an interview by Olivier Gaurin explaining the only way to understand Aikido is through the study of Daito Ryu. Such an assertion leaves us smiling when knowing the latter published a book « understand Aikido » before starting to practice Daito Ryu…
Daito Ryu is a school whose practice is based on an important technical catalogue divided into different levels of study and complexity.
Again, I will answer to your question in the same way. Daito Ryu and people practicing it nowadays do it to find an efficiency they lost in their practice of Aikido.
Very often, those aikidokas search a false solution to a real problem. Aikido, focusing on diverse components of practice (loosening, efficiency, relationship to the others…) loses and forgets lots of technical details, time passing those techniques lose their efficiency. Instead of searching aikido techniques through methods who kept the technical aspect, aikidokas turn themselves to other arts which are no use for the practice of aikido.
I don’t say that such a practice as Daito Ryu is uninteresting but that his shapes are not the tools destined to walk towards freedom… in the same way the practice of a sword or jo school does not contain tools meant to lead to freedom. This is why it is an illusion to understand and walk along the path of the aiki through the mean of techniques brought by other schools, never mind how famous they are.
The freedom offered by Aikido is based on technical tools forming a unity and the efficiency of every movement is linked to his own specific technical points and links sewed into every technique.
One day, my teacher told me that: « Be careful Matthieu, techniques are very close to each other and it has two consequences: the first one is that it might be possible to lose them and not to recognize the specificity of ikko regarding nikyo, kote gaeshi or kaiten nage… the second one is the key to freedom, techniques are so near to each other that it Is easy to swap from the one to the other. At the same time, it is the common points between all the techniques and the small differences making it possible to build a practice going beyond shape.”
This was to say it might be useful to take an interest into the techniques of Daito Ryu but not to understand and cover up a lack of techniques in aikido. As interesting as the practice of Daito Ryu is, it is still Daito Ryu and the aim is to learn a technical catalogue. The aim of Daito Ryu is technique, in aikido, it is a pre-requisite to every other thing.
After Japan, France is the country where aikido is the most practised, what do you think about this ?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think much about it (laughs) Quantity is not linked to quality.
Aikido is often the prey to lots of critiques, and lots of other people practicing martial arts assert it is a game which cannot be used into a real-life fight. What do you think about it?
The matter of efficiency is a question which keeps showing up and lots of beginners or people practicing other martial arts consider aikido as a game or a dance. I think lots of things are taught under the name of aikido nowadays. As I explained earlier, some people practicing martial arts focus their research on notions such as dynamics, relations, loosening… Those people will never practice aikido and will never discover the main martial composant of aikido.
Aikido is a way on which the fully-involved aikidoka will discover-among others- how to be efficient in real condition.
One simply has to understand the following, in a practice like boxing, it is the kick which is efficient and the boxer trains to increase the power of the kick through reinforcement, physical preparation… In aikido, it is not technique which makes efficiency but the way you make it. And this takes time because, in a first place, you will need to learn the technique and improve it on different evolution scales. It will take time, as it would take time to the boxer to succeed in making an efficient straight…
I would prefer not to go further into this debate. I practiced various fighting sports and martial arts and met very powerful and strong people as opposed to very weak ones. I have trained with the navy seals; they are people to whom efficiency is always a priority. When you talk with them, it is the person and not the discipline who will be efficient. It sounds blatant, but it might be useful to remind it. As a consequence, it does not appear as a surprise that a person practicing martial arts not looking for efficiency, or rejecting the martial aspect, will never be efficient in a real situation.
A last question, what do you think about competitive practices, especially MMA ?
Practices focused on competition have the advantage of putting the person practicing an art under pressure and to make him face himself. At the training, it is always possible to put the blame on the partner, noise, lack of sleep… During a competition, never mind what happens, the result will be either victory or defeat. A competition is a good occasion to dress a bilan of one’s abilities.
However, a practice such as aikido cannot become a competitive practice and this is why it is an absolute necessity to invest oneself into every moment of practice without waiting for the next technique, the next partner, or the next training…
About MMA, I think they are brilliant sportsmen. They have a strong condition and mentality. But one shouldn’t make those sportsmen references in the field of efficiency. The confusion is quick and shortcuts are easy. MMA remains sports… There are rules, a definite space…. No matter how brutal and violent it might seem, it remains sports.
MMA, as every competition sport, aims at imposing its own will to others (opponents, jury…), no matter if it is to win a fight, an artistic skill, the aim is efficiency according defined rules and criteria. If aikido once becomes a competitive discipline, he will definitely lose his capacity to become a way to freedom. People practicing it will try to be as efficient as possible according to a list made to differentiate opponents and will be stuck in a very limited aspect of their practice.
A last word ?
I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself in your magazine. I would also like to thank my teacher Philippe Voarino for his patience and his non-ending researches and for sharing all of this throughout the years. I also thank everyone contributing to the development of ITAF and for the widespread of Takemusu Aiki in France and in other countries. Lastly, I would also like to thank people coming to meet me, to talk about and question my teaching, enabling me to improve.
Lastly, I will take advantage of this interview to announce some technical articles will follow it and will replace everything which has been said in a purely technical contest.
Thank you, see you soon.