Christian Tissier gave an interview for the SFR Sport Kombat which is a French TV channel about the Martial Arts, MMA and everything related. The interview is originally in French, Tissier’s native language and a translation to English is inside the post, hop in. The interview was taken by Lucie Bertaud.
You have been promoted to the 8th dan. Are you the only one in France?
There are other 8th Dan but I am the only “Aikikai”, which means the only one of the Aikido’s parent company.
What does it mean for people who do not have any knowledge?
8th Dan in the first place means a very long journey! More than 50 years of daily practice. For me, this means respect from my colleagues.
Are there many 8 Dans worldwide?
I think about 20. There were others, of course, but around 20 are still active today.
20 … this makes a rank exceptional in the world of Aikido.
Well, I do not know if I’m exceptional, but the truth is that I’m proud of it.
What’s the highest rank possible?
Obviously, you get up to 8th dan. But it can happen, as an exception, that when you reach a certain age you are named 9th dan. Today there is only one 9th dan in the world, Tada Sensei, who was here when I was awarded the degree.
There’s no competition in Aikido. But isn’t it a personal defense?
Certainly, there is no competition. There could be if we were inside a system like a figure skating, but the Aikidokas do not want that. This is an art of defense and a system of education in the first place.
When you started Aikido in the 60s, you were 11 years old, there were few people practicing then, why did you choose Aikido?
We were very few, yes. I started in Judo and at the end of the classes, there were two or three people dressed in black robes. I was curious and I asked them what it was, they told me to come and practice with them and I liked the first contact.
What did you like?
What I liked is that it does not need strength, at 11 years of age I was not very strong. So I thought that without force I could quickly defeat someone.
You decided to go to Japan when you were 18 years old. Why?
Passion. Also in those years 68-69, all the young people traveled, some for Kathmandu, others for South America and I thought that Japan was a good way to get out of the house. And for Aikido of course, so I found myself there at the age of 18.
Did you like it immediately?
Yes. I was a 2nd dan before coming so I already knew Aikido. Then I realized that it takes a lot of years more or less to master this art, so at the beginning, I went for 6 months that lasted around 10 years.
The philosophy of Aikido about peace and harmony, do they have an effect on your social life, professional life, etc …?
One can say that Aikido is the pursuit of the ideal and purity with a partner/opponent who is not supposed to be in harmony. You can not work daily on pure gestures, most possible spontaneous moves and in daily life be a twisted person. There is a resonance between the practice and what we do.
There was a meeting between MMA and Aikido: Leo Tamaki and Florent Betorangal. Have you tried other martial sports?
I practiced a bit of Judo. In Japan, at the beginning, I practiced a bit of Muay Thai. It’s strange because I love competition. Even if I play Scrabble I want to win. And I practice an art where there is no competition! So when I was there I wanted to try what a contact sport was.
I tried. It was not bad, but … I think you need to be young to be able to stay in it.
So you did not want to stay in this competitive sport?
No. Because Aikido is so rich … There were so many things to discover and I was also surrounded by teachers who were really great and prestigious models. I wanted to look like them so I had to focus on that.
Do you think Aikido can lead to MMA and MMA to Aikido?
Yes, Aikido can lead to MMA, just like other disciplines. The notion of flexibility, availability, pure gesture and, what is more important, the notion of respect. Sometimes in MMA, you see people who overstep limits and it’s a shame. You can earn money with respect to the integrity of the partner.
Well, that’s part of the show, etc. and it is not the same philosophy.
Absolutely, I agree.
Aikido looks like a very old martial art but it’s only 100 years old. And every time there are more and more people practicing it. How would you explain that?
Yes, it’s modern martial art, but roots are in Japanese Budo, so it’s a modern Budo with the faraway roots. In order to aikido be successful: people need to have an intelligent practice. There are many intelligent practices of course, but a practice that can last, that can start at 7 or 8 years old, that can be stopped and restarted and practiced up to 80 years of age, I believe is the strength of Aikido.
Yes, we saw that in each generation. Around 30% are women, that’s weird.
Yes, it’s weird. It is true that Aikido is permissive since there is no competition. Anyone can practice at their own level, anyone can practice with the people they feel good with, that’s why, I think, there are a lot of women. I think there was more: 50%.
I agree! You’ve met a lot of people and you know stars like Steven Seagal, the American actor, who is a 7th Dan. What are your memories of meeting Steven Seagal?
The first time I saw him was in Japan, for the Kagami Biraki, and it was a bit strange because he was the only person dressed in a traditional kimono. He was thin and tall at that time. He was a stranger, nobody knew him. He was there claiming the 5th dan, even though he was only the 1st dan at that time. So it was a bit strange for us.
Was he breaking a tradition?
Yes, he did. I think he was already an actor, maybe a little megalomaniac.
Was he as strong as in his movies?
I can not say anything regardless of his Aikido. No doubt he is a good actor, I leave him with that quality and please leave me with my Aikidoka qualities.
But was he a good Aikidoka? He is a 7th dan.
Yes, he practiced Aikido and was able to do what he did.
Was he an Aikidoka before he was an actor?
He was an Aikidoka shortly before becoming an actor, yes.
And is he in the Aikido universe today?
No, no. The last time I saw him he gave us a demonstration in Paris. He had about 180 kilograms and was moving with a lot of the effort.
He moved to Serbia. Does he want to develop Aikido there?
I think he can be a good Aikido Ambassador. Everything depends on the image you want to put on him.
And what is your image for him?
In the Aikido world, some people love him because he is an actor. But for me, especially, well … no more than that.
Like Jean Claude Van Damme, in Muay Thai?
Yes, yes. But Jean-Claude Van Damme is a nice person.
About the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). You and your old friend Christian Derval from the «Cercle Tissier» have a plan to hold the first BJJ seminar with Rickson Gracie in France. You formed Aikido in France, you are a pioneer in Aikido and what is your vision for BJJ?
I did not constitute the Aikido in France, there were many great masters before, I contributed a little for the development, ok. As for the BJJ – it’s anecdotal. There was a need in a room, a beautiful place, space was lent and we were interested in what Rickson Gracie was showing. Christian Derval, my friend, judoka, came into BJJ and made a large group of BJJ in our “Cercle” »…
Yes, your BJJ group is very good. What do you think about it?
I’m very proud. At the beginning it was an Aikido club, now it’s a BJJ club, boxing and krav-maga. We always try to have good teachers, we try to have the best. And I think we have good options: Olivier Michailesco is one of those in charge of building the best practitioners. But not only a good teacher is needed, but you also need an environment … That martial part, that friendly part, the respect for the other disciplines makes everyone look at the other disciplines with a positive aspect: what can be learned from it? What could he do with that? That is interesting.
Do you know Sumo?
Yes, I saw a lot of Sumo when I was in Japan. Last week I was in Japan and I could not buy the tickets because they were sold out. It is a wonderful show. It’s expensive, yes. It has a good atmosphere, you are sitting in small places like this, they bring you food, you spend the day talking with people … The Sumo fights are very long starting from the preparation of the fights. It’s funny, and you feel the enthusiasm of the Japanese. It really is their national sport.
Did you see Sumo clubs?
Yes, I saw some. Sumo clubs are very closed, it is not a warm environment. They are fine but nothing more. The image of the sumotori is when you walk down the street and everything fits perfectly.
Do they train hard?
Yes, they are. Because you have to move a lot and be very flexible. And the commitment is very strong, it really is very interesting.
Is the sense of accomplishment (success), Christian, so important?
The realization (success), the achievement, yes, of course, is important. But is there really an achievement? Don’t we want to continue a little? Well, at least that’s my case. What is important, I think, is having done the job, as we say. To do the work and to be proud of it.
About this girl who leaves her country to look for a gold medal?
She has to do it now. In 10 years it will be too late, she is fine, she should do it.
What did you feel when you received the 8th Dan?
When they called me to go to Japan, to give it to me, of course I was very happy. But once there, I felt a bit illegitimate, because … all of my teachers were 8th Dan, and I do not think I have the level they had. So I’ve been thinking about it, I looked at the people around me, they were the people I met on the tatami, we were 20 years together and we walked the same road … I look at them and I think “yes, that’s a good image of a Sensei, of a teacher. Do I give that image? “… I still have an important responsibility.
Do you have more projects? What will you do after an 8th dan?
I have no other project. Keep growing in a good way to give people pleasure.
About Jane Bridge (Judo champion who is in the Cercle Tissier)?
We knew each other through mutual friends. When I told her about it, Christian Derval said OK. She is a wonderful woman, champion of the world, a beautiful person, totally dedicated to her sport.
So Christian Tissier for Aikido, Olivier Michailesco for BJJ and Jane Bridge for Judo. Is the Tissier Circle really the temple of martial arts in France?
There are others, there are others. There are also karatekas and others …
Seminars, yes, that’s my daily life. Many people want to see me … My project is to take care of my students, first of all.
It’s a great life!
It’s a wonderful life, frankly. I wish that everyone could have my life.