This sensation that we call pain in Aikido is something that has always been a source of intellectual interest to me. Indeed, why are putting ourselves through that suffering? Why do we spend hours falling, rolling, getting our wrists twisted in all directions, and receiving shocks from a partner who is supposedly a “friend”? We assume that pain is necessary to progress in the Way. This pain is our limit, it is what allows us to know and to understand. Without it we are nothing. The real difficulty is not if we should sustain it but how far can we go in the acceptance of pain. More importantly perhaps, is to assess when does it become just plain stupidity?
For the past three decades, I have been returning to Tokyo every year in order to train with the masters of the Hombu Dojo, and every time I feel the same joy, even though my expectations are not always fulfilled once I actually step on the tatami. But it is just fine like that. Given this situation, there are questions that I am being asked rather often, particularly during the social moments such as those spent at the cafe nearby the Hombu Dojo, the one where foreign practitioners often meet between classes. These questions are mostly “Why are you coming back to Tokyo every year? What are you coming for? Why do you always go to Saku to train with Endo Sensei even though your practice does not at all correspond to the principles that he is demonstrating?”
The term “between techniques”, is for me is a great help to understand what aikido is about. In spite of the fact that the general level of our art has improved a lot technically thanks to the increase in teaching skills and Aikido literacy of the practitioners, I think the that the moment of time that elapses between two techniques is often misunderstood.
For me, it is very important to use this time of “non-contact” with the partner in order to prepare for any subsequent solicitations from him that are to come. It is essential to maintain this effort of attention for the body to keep the same pace as uke’s. An attack is not only a contact between two partners, but it is an ongoing assessment of uke’s distance, how he stands up, and how he prepares for an attack.
For almost 30 years, Aikido has allowed me to evolve and move forward in life. At first I considered practice solely as a body need, a physical need, just like the practice of team sports which I was very familiar with before taking up Aikido. I did not feel ready to meet the requirements of an individual practice that was exposing the body to tremendous pains and strains. The seiza posture, the falls, joint locks, the immobilizations etc. After several years facing difficulties and injuries, my body slowly got used to answering the different situations it was being placed under but more than that, it even took pleasure in moving with a partner. After several painful years of sustaining injuries and facing difficulties, my body learned to adapt and answer to the various solicitations and slowly, it even started to take pleasure in moving with a partner. It is during this journey that the many teachers I met educated me and turned me into what I am now. Thanks to their generous help, I reached the situation which is mine nowadays. I want to humbly thank here all these professors who helped me, in particular Christian Tissier who has advised me in all my research of a new vision of practice and who allowed me to go to Japan and to understand this Aikido that was so new to me. Nevertheless, it quickly appeared to me that in order to understand a particular teacher, one had to meet many others. I had chosen to follow Christian Tissier but it seemed capital to me to enrich my practice to the contact of other masters. Since I did not reside in Paris, I had to learn to memorize what I was seeing at classes and seminars.
It seems important to me to give some thought to this important part of the practice in order to insure an injury and a frustration-free practice. What first comes to my mind is this: if we were to practice our art in another place than in the dojo, we would have to move fast and with energy without undergoing the process of preparing our body for action.