When did you start Aikido and why?
I began my journey learning Aikido when I was 16 years of age (in 1988) in my hometown Nantes in France. I grew up being a shy teenager and I was also born with a profound hearing disability. I was also a fan watching many Martial movies and I admired many film stars who could do amazing things and thought if I could learn a Martial Art, I too could become strong.
In my secondary school, I had a very good friend who was from Vietnam and his dad was a KungFu Master so one day, I was introduced to his dad (who was in his 70s) and he showed me amazing things keeping his body weight in the air with only 2 fingers touching the floor! Needless to say that I asked his dad if he would teach me Kung Fu. He said that he was too old now but he recommended me to try Aikido.
I had heard of Aikido but was not sure what it was and his dad said (in broken French language): “Aikido masters are very good, they become ‘like an egg’ so difficult to grab them and they use the force of their opponents”. I was intrigued by what he had said.
So I took on a path seeking a local Aikido dojo and even watched a whole class and fell in love with the beautiful movements and realised that it was much more than physical training but mental training to be incorporated and I was really pleased to hear that there was a mutual respect towards any partner we train with. I really like this approach.
So I became very eager to start and I never looked back since! I first trained under Tamura’s Aikido federation (FFAB) and due to change of University location (studying Hospitality degree), I found another local Aikido in central town of Nantes where I met Philippe Gouttard Sensei who is a now one of the seniors high ranked following Christian Tissier Sensei (under FFAAA federation).
Then in summer 1991, I embarked a new journey where I travelled to London to learn & improve my English and quickly I had found a hospitality job in central London, which allowed me to continue my daily practice and study of Aikido during my breaks. It is when I met Kanetsuka Sensei who used to teach in Euston (UCL sports Centre) and Euston Square (Dancing Studio) and I joined his classes as much as I could. I was amazed how flexible Kanetsuka was and he influenced me to follow my ongoing personal regular stretching practice, which helps my Aikido training immensely.
In early 1993, I decided to work as Door Supervisor (also known as Bouncer) in Westminster (central London) with a view to earn better money and I had to take a training course to become qualified and it is when I met David Rubens Sensei who was teaching Yoshinkan Aikido in West Hampstead Square. David was the training instructor for the course and invited me to join his Dojo, which I did and learn Yoshinkan Aikido for a period of 2 and half years.
During the course of my years working as Bouncer, I have had the real experience of what conflict situations were and what we had to do and Aikido helped me a lot but there were instances when I felt the techniques had not worked as planned. And because of my Aikido devotion and love to it, I was determined to understand why and began searching for answers and found a book of Morihiro Saito Sensei in a library shop who was explaining that learning Aikido without weapons is not enough and that the Bukiwasa study would help one to progress further in Aikido.
So it was in 1995 that I searched for an Iwama Aikido club and found the London Aikido Club where Andy Hathaway Sensei and Dojo Cho is teaching Iwama Aikido.
Recently in the last few years, I met Tony Sargeant Sensei who is also teaching Iwama Aikido and I admire the fact that Tony Sargeant Sensei has gained a wealth of experience practicing Aikido & met many senior high rank instructors in the world and is to this day fully devoted to Morihiro Saito Sensei’s Aikido following O’Sensei’s traditional lineage.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
I do have plenty to tell! One that I can share is when I met Morihiro Saito Sensei at a seminar in Paris in 2000. We were around 500 Aikidokas ready to meet him and as it was my first time seeing Morihiro Saito Sensei, so I was very excited and I remember (still to this day) being present to his seminar. I had the opportunity to meet some of Daniel Toutain’s students (now teachers) who were extremely welcoming (Eric Savalli & Serge Maniey). We were all sat in Seiza waiting for M. Saito Sensei to walk into the main hall and I saw Daniel Toutain Sensei with Paolo Corallini Sensei who were escorting Morihiro Saito Sensei. I noticed how frail Morihiro Saito Sensei was walking along side of the mat and thought he might not be able to teach us. But when Morihiro Saito Sensei first stepped on the mats, he had an energy around him that we could feel his presence, everyone was silent and he then walked to the centre of the mats focused (not like a frailed person). He then kneed down very slowly and saw Paolo Corallini rushing to help him but Morihiro Saito Sensei rebuked Paolo with the famous word: “Dame!” Paolo stepped back and Morihiro Saito Sensei was ok seating in Seiza on his own. The seminar lasted a whole 2 days and his teaching was truly remarkable, M. Saito Sensei would show the techniques slowly to make sure everyone could see but we had to keep our eyes open as he he would occasionally demonstrate fast and with impressive power from hips. I tried my best to be as close as possible to M. Saito Sensei to be chosen as Uke (so that I could feel his power) but this never materialised sadly. However, this seminar will stay with me forever and I am glad I was able to meet Morihiro Saito Sensei once.
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
My personal goal is foremost to continue to preserve Iwama Aikido with all its principles that Morihiro Saito Sensei taught us so that I can in turn teach and pass on my knowledge to any future generations with the hope that Iwama Aikido will continue to be preserved.
Equally, I also wish to keep improving as far as I possibly can technically but also spiritually by becoming a better person.
I think these two go hand in hand as in order to progress in Aikido technically, one must have the correct mental attributes.
We train our body, mind and spirit as one, so there is no limit to how far one can reach providing we understand and follow the right path with the Aiki spirit.
By bearing this in mind, I hope that my Aikido will continue to progress in years to come…
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
I think I can speak from my personal experience having tried Aikikai Aikido for years and studied Yoshinkan Aikido briefly for over 2 years, I came to understand very quickly that learning Iwama Aikido was not just about learning some weapons with Jo and Bokken to add additional knowledge to my Taijutsu but clearly the teaching of Iwama clearly gives all the answers I was searching when I doubted if Aikido was lacking effectiveness.
After having studied thoroughly Bukiwasa with Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo, I fully understand that these are not taught as a separate Art of its own but that they are part of Aikido and that they are paramount to understand Taijutsu more deeply. In my experience, I can say that one cannot learn Aikido in its true form deeply without these weapons.
Morihiro Saito Sensei often said repeatedly: “Practice Bukiwasa and seek Taijutsu in them and vice versa and you will understand that Bukiwasa and Taijutsu work in hand in hand together”.
The body movement and hanmi with correct body posture, and various hips positioning, Kokyu feeling, correct Mae (distance), Zanchin (awareness) are emphasised continuously with Bukiwasa and Taijutsu.
The Iwama Aikido has a very detailed structured method allowing one to begin with Kihon (static) to build hips strength and allow strong grip and attack from Uke and Ki No Negara (flowing techniques) – the latter requiring strong Awase (blending) to perform effective Aikido techniques.
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
Aikido can help anyone who is seeking a Martial Art to become fitter, stronger and gain more confidence (like myself when I was a teenager). Aikido has a unique way to connect with people and we also not only practice physically but we also work our mental concentration and use our spirit to execute any techniques.
Aikido can help anyone tremendously if one is in search to know oneself better and to push yourself to new boundaries.
In my experience, Aikido has helped me cope better with my disability and it gave me an inner strength and confidence that I can perform Aikido techniques just like anyone else and it helped me grow stronger as a person being able to do things in life that I would have thought impossible, such as learning another language despite being hard of hearing…
The final beauty if I may add is that Aikido is a lifetime discovery learning continuously, as there is no end to perfecting our own Aikido.
How long have you been training?
I have now been practicing Aikido for over 32 years. I started when I was 16 and I am now reaching 49 (in mid Sept 2021). I still very much look forward to continuing my learning of Aikido in years to come and my hope is that I can do another 32 years of training, if not more!
Where have you travelled?
To date, I have had the opportunity to travel to quite a few places mainly for holiday purposes such as Spain (Baleares Islands, Canary Islands), Portugal, Czech Republic, France, England, Scotland, Maldives islands (best holiday ever!), Mauritius Islands, USA (New York twice). Mexico & Turkey (Bodrum).
I am hoping that I will be able to travel to many more beautiful countries when pandemic situation will be more under control.