At the World Combat Games in St. Petersburg, we brought together two of the aikido participants – the one who has practiced aikido the longest, and the one who started most recently – to have a conversation about their experiences.
Of all the participants in the IAF aikido demonstrations, the one who has practiced the longest is Christian Tissier Shihan, who started in 1961. The one who started most recently is Ranya Iqbal from Chile, who began to practice aikido in 2007. On the other hand, when Christian Tissier started, he was a little boy of 11 years old, whereas Ranya Iqbal was 27 when she did the same.
That was not in Chile, but in St. Louis, Missouri, where she had practiced several sports since childhood. A friend who practiced aikido made her come and watch a class.
“I was immediately mesmerized by the action and the interaction between the practitioners,” she recalls.
And she has practiced aikido with the same fascination since, presently at Aikikai Chile in Santiago.
Christian Tissier started with judo back in 1960, when he was just nine years old. Apart from him, there were only adults in the dojo. After the judo class, some two or three men with strange clothing had their training of something different, which intrigued young Christian.
It was aikido. They explained that in aikido neither size nor weight matters, so he thought he would have a go at it, since being the youngest and shortest didn't work out that well in judo. He remained the youngest by far, also in the aikido classes.
“The teacher was no more than 26 at the time – but to me he was like a grandfather,” Christian Tissier says.
And soon he was to meet an even older man, when legendary aikido teacher Masahilo Nakazono Sensei moved to Paris. Christian Tissier quickly joined his dojo. Although he was by far the youngest, he also had the self-confidence of a youngster.
“I felt that nothing was difficult,” he says with a smile. “And I was treated just like an adult.”
Ranya Iqbal, being 27 when she started with aikido, had confidence because of her past experiences with sports.
“As an adult, your body has already learned how to move,” she explains. “But in aikido you must learn to relax, and that's difficult for an adult.”
When she started aikido, she was not only experienced with years of sports practice. For 20 years, since she was nine or ten, she has played the cello, and that knowledge was in many ways transferable to aikido.
“In classical music you learn how to construct your learning and how to work on details.”
She still very much uses her experience from playing the cello in her aikido practice, as well as using aikido concepts when continuing to study the cello. Working with classical music has also taught her to accept criticism. And she has found an even more fundamental similarity between music and aikido:
“When you play your instrument, you must get your heart out and work on your expression. I find that a lot in aikido too.”
Christian Tissier agrees on the many similarities and how different arts nourish one another.
“If you reach a level in one field,” he says, “you have it in every field.”
When he was in his thirties, already having practiced aikido for a couple of decades, he found great reluctance against the thought of trying to learn something new, and thereby being a beginner again.
“But now it's completely different. I can appreciate again the feeling of a beginner.”
They both agree that any art, whether it's playing a musical instrument or doing aikido, is mainly a question of technique.
“Let's say up to 98%,” Christian Tissier suggests. “But the remaining 2% are sometimes very big...”
Ranya Iqbal has now practiced aikido for six years and has no intention of stopping. Nor with the cello. And the two passions continue to inspire one another.
Christian Tissier has practiced and taught aikido for more than 50 years, half a century, and that's not about to change. But his attitude to the training has changed, from the grim seriousness that was common in the 1960's and 70's – surely still in many dojos.
“Now, I just want to have fun,”
He compares it to any human relations we choose for ourselves. We expect them to be pleasant. Also, he compares to dancers, who smile all the time, as did Masamichi Noro Sensei, a famous aikido teacher who passed away recently. Christian Tissier repeats with conviction:
“The main thing is to have fun and not to suffer.”
Text by Stefan Stenudd
Photo by Goska Smierzchalska