This is the third installment of Aikido Journal’s interview with Christian Tissier Shihan (8th dan.) In this segment, Tissier Sensei shares his perspective on the evolution of the art of aikido. Along with the video, we’ve summarized Tissier Sensei’s key points and our thoughts in this article.
An Art Always Has an Evolution
Tissier Sensei believes every movement system must evolve over time, whether it be a sport or an art. He occasionally meets people who believe that because aikido is a traditional art, it should be preserved as it was at all costs and that a teacher’s methods should be passed down unchanged. Tissier doesn’t agree with this approach and believes instead that we must embrace change, improvement, refinement, and adaptation. However, he does provide some very clear parameters about how and when this should happen.
Guiding the Evolution
Tissier believes that once an instructor reaches a certain level of proficiency and understanding of the basics, they will develop their own style, interpretation, and expression of aikido.
Once an aikidoka reaches a level where s/he has internalized, both physically and mentally, the basic forms of aikido along with the key principles of the art, they will naturally be open to new things. Like the design of a beautiful building, we can use the basic principles and forms of aikido as a foundation to create new architectural constructs that faithfully embody the essence of the art.
Don’t Kill Aikido
While Tissier supports the evolution of aikido, he cautions us to do it in the right way. He believes that the basic techniques of aikido must always form the backbone of the art “as a memory.” Tissier believes that before an instructor starts to think about expanding beyond the basics, they should first ensure they know the core techniques at a high-level, are able to demonstrate them with near perfect execution, and can teach them effectively.
Tissier underscores the importance of the basics when he makes a comment about Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. He notes that Doshu’s demonstrations and instruction stick to the basic techniques. He speculates that the Doshu might sometimes yearn to show other movements, but he doesn’t because he feels it’s his responsibility to represent and embody the basic techniques of the art that are for everyone. Tissier believes that if people don’t start with a deep understanding of the basic techniques as a foundation for research and innovation, aikido is dead.
Evolution of the Self
Tissier notes that many times, we believe we are creating something new when in fact we are not. We are simply rediscovering things or associating them in new ways. Martial arts have been around for a long time and human anatomy hasn’t changed. If there’s an efficient technique or tactic to accomplish something from a martial arts perspective, it’s probably already been discovered somewhere.
The key is developing your own mind and body to a level where you have the awareness and experience to create important new associations and connections.
Tissier relays a story about a time he had thought he discovered something new in his aikido. Later, he was browsing YouTube and saw a video of Yamaguchi Sensei doing the same thing. Tissier realized his sensei had already embodied the thing he thought he had created, but it wasn’t until that moment that Tissier was ready to see what his teacher had been doing all along.
In this way, Tissier believes that the evolution of an art is really driven by evolution of the self.
The Future of Aikido
If we think about the evolution of aikido, where is it headed? What direction should we take? What impact will it have on the future of the art?
Doing research on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as part of my preparation for an instructor seminar, I came across a video discussion with Rickson Gracie, in which he talked about the phase of rapid growth in BJJ and some of the evolutionary mistakes that were made during that phase.
He believes the art lost its focus on budo / martial / self-defense and became too preoccupied with competition, producing practitioners who could win rules-based competitions but who would be poorly equipped in a real world, life-or-death scenario. He talked about how a loss of martial integrity and the corresponding values of the art weakened a rapidly growing community. He’s used this honest assessment of his art to make high level organizational changes designed to strengthen and evolve the art in a different direction.
Aikido has a unique position in the martial arts landscape and has its own set of challenges and opportunities. There are many opinions on how aikido should evolve and a myriad of viewpoints on what our biggest challenges are, as well as what the most important priorities should be for the art.
We believe that strengthening the art of aikido and exploring compelling visions for the future of aikido (and the greater world of traditional martial arts) is a topic worthy of exploration. We’re thrilled to have such an experienced and passionate community as a platform for exploring this topic. We’re also truly thankful and honored to have leaders such as Christian Tisser joining the conversation and providing guidance and informed insights.