Christian Tissier Shihan (8th dan) talks with Aikido Journal about the health of aikido and what we can do to revitalize the practice and growth of the art. Along with the video of the interview segment, we’ve summarized Tissier Sensei’s key points and our conclusions in this short article. These are insights from one of the greatest living aikido masters. We believe this is a great opportunity for us to listen, reflect, and take action.
This is the first installment of a multi-part interview with Tissier Shihan. Additional interview segments will be released in the coming weeks.
The Health Of Aikido
Christian Tissier has been in the aikido world since 1962. As an internationally renowned master with high level visibility into the global aikido community, he brings a uniquely informed perspective to the conversation about the health of the art.
Tissier believes that aikido is not dying, but that growth has plateaued. While not facing imminent doom, the art has entered a period of stagnation when compared to earlier phases of growth. However, he does mention that aikido is growing in areas where it is new, including Russia and China in particular. Tissier believes India may be a huge area for future growth.
Tissier believes that most traditional budo arts have plateaued. The world is oversaturated with many more options available to people than ever. We’ve also “lost the magic.” Today’s media has a nearly unlimited amount of beautifully produced martial arts. Even the most exotic and spectacular martial feats can be seen by anyone at anytime. Someone walking into a dojo today won’t see anything more amazing than what they can find on their phones.
Tissier also believes the role of true budo in today’s world is something that needs to be better defined and communicated. Aikido, along with most traditional martial arts, offer more than just self-defense or fitness. But what is that “something more?” How we define it, deliver it, and communicate it is key to future of aikido.
A Recipe for Revitalizing the Art
Tissier Sensei outlined four key areas to focus on if we want to improve the health of aikido and attract passionate, dedicated younger students who can lead our art into the future.
1. The Master vs. the Old Teacher: Aikido has been around for many decades now. As a maturing art, many of the most experienced teachers are in their 60s and 70s. Tissier Sensei believes there are two kinds of instructors in this group. Those who are “physically old and technically old,” and those who are true masters. Tissier believes that young people won’t be inspired by those in the first group. My interpretation of my conversation with Tissier is that he believes that if you’re an older teacher and want to attract new students, you must really be “the master,” or you should prioritize using your knowledge to elevate the next generation of teachers and give them more of the spotlight.
2. More Opportunities for Younger Instructors: Tissier believes that in order to attract younger practitioners, they have to be able to relate to their teachers and aspire to be like them. A young student in their 20s can relate to an instructor in their 30s or 40s like a brother or sister and will want to emulate them. This is a critical dynamic that’s an essential component of introducing younger generations to the art and inspiring them to persevere through the challenge of pursuing personal development through budo. Tissier follows this model himself and has it so that most of the classes at his own dojo are led by instructors ages 35-45. He now teaches very few classes at his own dojo.
3. Balancing the Physical and the Spiritual: It’s imperative we think about how we balance the physical and the spiritual as we pursue aikido and represent it to the outside world. Tissier believes that the philosophy of aikido is intrinsically tied to the technique. Seeking the spiritual side in a way that neglects the integrity of the physical practice will breed groups of “strange people” who will be poor ambassadors for our art. Those that seek the technique only, but don’t think about the moral and philosophical principles of aikido, will fail as leaders.
4. Seeking The Role of True Budo: We need to be honest about the limitations and true nature of our art. Aikido is a “true budo.” Its pursuit requires perseverance, courage, and humility. The payoff is huge, but how do we communicate the value of budo to people in today’s society? We need to think carefully about how we can make budo more relevant and give it meaning in today’s world. Just as importantly, we need to think about how we can communicate and tell that story.
I found Tissier Sensei’s clarity and vision persuasive and compelling. We want to do our part, not just to explore his perspective, but to take action. Below are some of the initiatives we’ll be undertaking in the near future.
Giving a Spotlight to Younger Teachers: Through Aikido Journal, we’d like to start putting some focus on highlighting some younger instructors with exceptional skill, great potential, and unique and compelling stories.
Forging the Masters: One of the fantastic things about aikido is that we can grow and develop in the art over a lifetime. Tissier believes that if a teacher wants to maintain credibility and leadership capability in their later years, they need to be true masters, not just old teachers. The transformation into a true master doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t happen overnight. We’d like to explore ways for seasoned teachers in their 30s, 40s, and 50s to elevate themselves to this level. We want to interview and learn from the shihan that have reached this level and successfully raised practitioners to this level. We also want to explore new methods senior instructors can use to fuel their continued development. One initiative already underway is the design and execution of a new breed of an instructor-focused seminar I’ll be hosting with Roy Dean. We’re bringing together a team of seasoned teachers to support and elevate each other through technical exploration. We’ll share the story as it unfolds so we can all see if this kind of training format can be a tool to help us grow into the roles we’ll need to fill in the future.
Defining the Role of Budo in Today’s World: Through Aikido Journal, we’d like to continue to seek ways to communicate about aikido in relevant and compelling ways. We plan on getting perspective and guidance from leaders in the aikido world, but also from those with a passion for budo who bring a valuable outside point of view (such as leaders in the media and communications industries or even those new to the art).
More to Come
This is the first segment of a multi-part interview with Christian Tissier Shihan. In future segments, Tissier talks about his memories of Stanley Pranin, shares his thoughts on how aikidoka should think about efforts to evolve the art, gives guidance on how advanced practitioners should approach developing their own personal expressions of aikido, and reveals some personal challenges he’s faced on his own journey. We look forward to releasing this material in the near future.
Christian Tissier Shihan, for graciously donating his time and for putting his support behind Aikido Journal.
James Friedman Sensei and the 11th Street Dojo, for organizing such a special event and facilitating the interview opportunity with Tissier Shihan.
Gustavo Rearte Sensei, for inspiring us through his photography (his images are featured in this post) and being the motivation behind this project. Without Gustavo, the Tissier interview would never have happened and I personally would have missed the opportunity to learn more about the meaning and tradition behind the annual seminar where the interview took place, and its significance for Stanley Pranin.
Anne Lee, for her steadfast support of Aikido Journal and this project. With Gustavo on the mat all weekend, Anne was also able to capture many beautiful photos from the event.
Ikazuchi Dojo, for hosting new content while Aikido Journal’s technical infrastructure is still in flux, and for supporting Aikido Journal projects.
Haruo Matsuoka Sensei, for his continued support and guidance.