Christian Tissier: On the Evolution of Aikido

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.

9 Comments On “Christian Tissier: On the Evolution of Aikido”

  1. My take is that with few exceptions there are some trends in Aikido
    1 – Obfuscation of history. Stan went into that in detail.
    2 – Deterioration of technical repertoire. Iwama Aikido is something of an exception. Some of the material lost has to do with purely and deliberately injurious techniques, arm bars and other joint locks which rely on pain-compulsion for their efficacy and break bones or joints if strongly resisted. The decay of pinning techniques can be justified in the context of multiple person attack. Concentrating on one attacker in a multiple person situation is a bad idea. There are other pinning problems, though.
    3 – Decay of timing, which given the name of the art is either ironic, or sad. Unfortunately setting the scene for real timing in a dojo context is a major challenge. The last I saw of Bob (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Nadeau_(aikidoka)), timing was his strong suit, but learning was slow going for many of his people.
    Of course, if I had a viable plan concerning this stuff, I would have more students, right?
    – chuck

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  2. The trouble is not the techniques, but in the way they are trained. Martial arts is about learning to effectively defend oneself. I train with birnkai in aikido and cta bjj. I have effectively learn to defend myself better in bjj than aikido. Practicing kata’s is repeated just doesn’t get you ready like doing randori or in bjj doing rounds.

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    • I disagree – martial art (budo) is not for combat, it’s for self-development (read budo-charter; e.g. http://www.nipponbudokan.or.jp/english/budochater).
      In modern times for combat is or should be no necessarity – if so, we have to answer other questions in my opinion.

      What did self-development mean ? I dont’t know – doing aikido over twenty years with other aikidoka I think, that this influence my character in some way – for me, that is, what O Sensei saw as his responsibility: turning fighting, winning, damage and other stuff in a context for human beings. To idelastic ? Not suitable ? Maybe – but O Sensei (like all other people) “don’t jump in the same river twice”.

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  3. The more you see, the more you will see. I teach Iwama Style as the foundation. Once my students have advanced enough to understand most of the basic stuff, then I introduce them to Nishio Style. Then we can begin to construct the cathedral.

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  4. Training method trumps technique. Every. Single. Time.

    Also, if you could please make the audio downloadable, that would be lovely. Some of us don’t have time to listen to these in front of a computer. Thanks for all you do. Cheers!

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    • Thank you for joining the conversation! Good idea about the audio. Many community members are interested in podcasts so it’s a priority for us to look into using that medium in the future.

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  5. In my studies over the last 24 years, I have learned to continue to learn and to return to those basics. It is something I have recommended to students many times. Aikido is akin to a higher mathematics, in the beginning we only understand a small portion of the whole, even when introduced to the more advanced techniques, we only understand a small fraction. It is through continued training and self exploration that we truly begin to understand the those more complex math problems, which are but extensions of our original introduction to basics. The higher math is always present, we as students only begin to recognize it as we mature and grow. Thus, Aikido is infinite.

    Reply

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