This is the second installment of Aikido Journal’s interview with Christian Tissier Shihan (8th dan.). In this interview segment, Tissier Sensei shares insights from his own personal aikido journey. Along with the video, we’ve summarized Tissier Sensei’s key points and our thoughts in this article.
I believe the three concepts Tissier shares here, while beneficial for all aikido practitioners, are especially important for instructors. This is a great forum for the message since nearly 40% of Aikido Journal’s audience are instructors.
1. Protect The Body
Tissier Sensei has endured many injuries and physical hardships over his decades of training. While everyone can agree that he still moves exceptionally well, he has suffered permanent physical damage. After five surgeries, he can no longer sit in seiza as one of his knees won’t bend past 90 degrees.
Tissier Sensei recommends that everyone prioritize care and protection of their own bodies in training. He dismisses the notion of pushing through pain or injury on the mat in pursuit of the “samurai spirit.” It’s one thing to cultivate resolve and determination by pushing through endurance limits or perhaps even fear on the mat, but it’s something else to keep training despite a physical injury.
Tissier Sensei made a special point for instructors and senior practitioners to be especially careful with younger practitioners, particularly those with good ukemi. Young ukes with great skill can highlight a nage’s skill and allow them to practice techniques at a higher level of intensity. This is great, but Tissier Sensei cautions us not to abuse the privilege and put young ukes at risk of injury. They are the future generation of shihan, so let’s make sure we don’t limit their potential.
Tissier Sensei’s insights here are important and resonate with what I’ve seen and heard about in my own experience. I’ve been told stories, and seen firsthand, examples of aikidoka damaging their bodies both through subtle long term wear and tear from improper movement patterns and from sudden injuries caused during practice.
These kinds of physical injuries are bad for the aikido world. They can create long term pain and suffering, place friction on our development (time out from training for recovery), and may limit the movement potential of the next generation of great masters. Peter Goldsbury Sensei, who held the post of chairman of the International Aikido Federation for 20 years, has also indicated to us that injury prevention is something the aikido world can benefit from exploring at a deeper level.
Martial arts inherently carry risk of injury. We can never completely remove that risk, but we can minimize the risk of sudden injuries by using compassion and awareness when throwing others and by using our better judgment when making a decision to train through pain or injury. We can also likely benefit from exploring our movements from a biomechancial perspective to find ways to reduce long term wear and tear.
2. Respect The Body
Tissier Sensei also noted that in addition to protecting the body during practice, we should also respect the body off the mat. He believes it’s important for us to keep our bodies in proper condition and not let ourselves get out of shape as we grow older. We don’t all have to be models of perfect fitness, but we should keep our bodies in good operating condition. He believes this is important for a few reasons.
Health: It’s clear that excessive weight gain, drinking, smoking, etc. will put your heath at risk.
Setting an example of self-respect: As teachers and senior students, we need to lead by example. We should show that we respect ourselves and our own bodies in order to inspire others to respect themselves.
Serving as an aspirational model for others: Whether someone starts their aikido journey at 15 or 55, they have a dream: to develop as a martial artist and fulfill greater potential as a human being. Instructors should think about their physical condition and lifestyle habits if they want to be aspirational role models for these people.
The benefits of keeping one’s body in good condition are almost universally accepted. However, Tissier Sensei frames the rationale behind it from the perspective of a martial artist in a compelling way.
Being able to serve as an aspirational role model for others and ensuring that our bodies are in a proper condition to execute our techniques and express our aikido knowledge through our bodies is important. Aikido is a life-long practice. As we continue to gain more technical expertise over a lifetime, it’s important we try to keep our bodies in a condition that can embody that expertise. Stanley Pranin also believed in this strongly. You can read an interview with him on the subject here.
3. Avoiding Decline: The Power of Enthusiasm
Transitioning from the physical to the spiritual, Tissier Sensei shares a personal story that underscores the essential role of enthusiasm in our practice and pursuit of aikido.
He recounts a story of his own personal struggle with a lack of enthusiasm and how it impacted his practice. Tissier Sensei talks about a phase of his training in his late 30s – early 40s when he became so sick of doing shomenuchi ikkyo, he just couldn’t bring himself to show it. If you haven’t watched this part of the interview, you must do so (start the video in this post at 1:24). You can see that even though decades have passed since this phase of his training, it hasn’t diminished his recollection of the frustration and discouragement he experienced. This is a compelling call for us to cultivate an enthusiastic pursuit and transmission of the art.
Burn-out is unavoidable in a lifelong art. We believe that Tissier Sensei knows this will happen to all of us at some point. Finding ways to reinvigorate our practice and approach familiar techniques and training methods from a new perspective are key to our continued advancement. We can also infer from this that if one teaches others, they need to find ways to keep their students enthused and engaged.
If one believes in the insights and recommendations Tissier Sensei shares in this interview segment, they can be put into practice with mindfulness, determination, and creativity.
However, we do believe that one facet of this dialogue can benefit from further exploration. From our vantage point at Aikido Journal, injuries in the aikido world are not at a crisis level and aikido is far safer than many other martial arts or sports. However, injuries do impact a number of students and instructors in important ways. As far as we’ve seen, there is only anecdotal evidence and stories told about this subject.
Professional sports and many other movement arts have data on injuries. For example, injuries in basketball occur on average 14 times per 1,000 hours of training. In the aikido world, we’ve not seen any such data collected on a large scale. A few years ago, we started tracking injuries at Ikazuchi Dojo and we found the data to be illuminating and invaluable in understanding and reducing injury rates in our own dojo. You can read more about it here.
With a global reach, Aikido Journal could enlist the aid of a data scientist to design a survey to collect important data on injuries in the aikido world. With a global reach, we could collect enough data to produce a statistically significant report to give us all better visibility into how small or large this problem is on a macro level. We could better understand what’s going on with long term wear and tear and sudden training injuries. We could learn how often they happen, how serious they are, and why they happen. Insights from a study like this could inform us how we might better adapt over time to make our practice safer. If this is something you think would be worthwhile, let us know by leaving us a comment on this post or sending us a message.
More to Come
This is the second segment of a multi-part interview with Christian Tissier Shihan. In future segments, Tissier Sensei shares his memories of Stanley Pranin, 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 talks about Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei, one of his most influential teachers. We look forward to releasing this material in the near future.