Christian Tissier Shihan is by far one of the most well known Aikido Instructors in the world. This can be explained by his start at an early age, his remarkable curriculum, his charisma, and his seemingly innate sense for the media. Yet, most people know actually very little about the man and his journey. In this article, I will try to shed some light on his early life, which will hopefully help to understand the man behind the "model" [the Japanese title Shihan (師範) literally means "model"].
Christian Tissier is a French Aikido instructor born in Paris on February 7, 1951 from a working class family. He took his first Aikido class in 1962 under the direction Jean-Claude Tavernier, which made him, at barely 11 years old, one of the youngest practitioner in Europe. Tissier quickly pursued his study of Aikido under the direction of Nakazono Mutsuro Sensei at his Parisian dojo near Porte Saint-Martin. At that time, Nakazono Sensei was already infusing his teachings with the more spiritual aspects of Aikido, in particular, the Kototama. Christian Tissier trained intensively under his direction until his departure for Japan. In addition to regular classes, Tissier was also taking part in a great number of seminars, including all those instructed by another Japanese instructor that had established himself in France around that time, Tamura Nobuyoshi Sensei. Interestingly, and although their friendship is strong today, Tissier will never study under the direction of Noro Masamichi Sensei, mainly because of the rivalry that existed between him and Nakazono Sensei.
In addition to an infallible dedication, the young Christian Tissier proved to be a very gifted student and he was awarded the second Dan by Nakazono Sensei in 1968. It is at that time that he started to make plans for a 6-month trip to Japan, after high school and before starting university. His main goal was of course to train with the great masters of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.
It is in 1969 that, after may months of hard work in a removal company and at the Rungis food market, Christian Tissier eventually managed to save enough money to be able to afford the Trans-Siberian Railway ticket that would lead him to Japan after a 3-weeks journey across Europe and Russia and a boat journey through the Sea of Japan.
Unfortunately, by the time Tissier made it to Japan, O Sensei Ueshiba Morihei had just passed away. Also, when he arrived in Tokyo, he was almost penniless, the trip having cost him most of his savings but after a rough start, he quickly managed to find work as a model, and he later became a French teacher at the Institut franco-japonais de Tokyo. These opportunities allowed him to settle in Japan comfortably and to focus his time and attention on training.
After some initial uncertainties about the validity of the Aikido that he was seeing being performed at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo compared to what he knew, Christian Tissier took upon himself to open his mind and to learn as much as he could, training every day, and taking as many classes as he could. This dedication also made him realize that a lot more than six months would be necessary to truly start understanding what Aikido was about, and he decided to extend his stay well beyond what he had initially planned.
His investment and seriousness at the dojo allowed him to quickly befriend the uchi deshi of the time, Endo Seishiro, Suganuma Morito, Toyoda Fumio, Yasuno Masatoshi, and later Miyamoto Tsuruzo, Yokota Yoshiaki, and Osawa Hayato Sensei. Because of their similar age, Tissier also developed a strong friendship with the one who was then known as Waka Sensei, the current Aikido Doshu, Ueshiba Moriteru. At the time when he arrived, there were very few foreigners at the Hombu Dojo and Christian Tissier soon became a dojo no kanji, an official executive member of the Aikikai, responsible for guiding the foreign students.
Although he made a point training under every Sensei at the Aikikai, Christian Tissier developed a particularly close relationship with two instructors that he reckons, have had particular influence on his current practice; the second Doshu Ueshiba Kisshomaru, and the great Yamaguchi Seigo for both of whom he served extensively as uke during classes and demonstrations. From the first one he inherited the strong basics and the precision, and from the second, the freedom and the panache. Christian Tissier admits that his relationship with these two men extended far beyond technique. Ueshiba Kisshomaru Doshu made a point in personally awarding Christian Tissier his 7th Dan Aikikai even though he was already bedridden, and as for Yamaguchi Sensei, he was nothing less than a fatherly figure. Interestingly, Tissier himself agrees that his Aikido does not resembles that of Yamaguchi Sensei but he argues that his master was particularly adamant that people develop their own Aikido and refrain from mimicking him.
Another great influence was Saotome Mitsugi Sensei, from whom he learnt in particular the Jyo techniques that he still practices today.
While in Japan, Christian Tissier also studied the Japanese language at the Tokyo School of the Japanese Language and at Sophia University. In addition to his dedication to Aikido, Christian Tissier took advantage of his relocation to Japan to familiarize himself with other martial disciplines. He practiced Kickboxing at the legendary Meijiro Gym under Shima Mitsuo and Fujiwara Toshio, the greatest champions of their time, and he even took part in several fights on the ring. Overall, this practice allowed him to understand the mechanics of striking arts and their timing.
Christian Tissier also practiced extensively the Kenjutsu of the Kashima Shin Ryu school under the direction of Inaba Minoru Sensei at his Shiseikan dojo. This body of knowledge proved to be very influential on his Aikido, giving it its particular directness and cutting-like motions. More informally, he also also practiced Karate, Judo, and Kendo, mostly with the small community of French Budoka that were living in Tokyo at the time.
Even after returning to France, Christian Tissier continued pursuing his martial experiences outside Aikido by training with the French Karate Team led by his friend, Jean-Pierre Lavoratto, and even teaching Aïkido in Lavorato's dojo in Vincennes. This helped him to establish his reputation and credibility outside of Aikido and to gain respect of all as a solid martial artist.
Christian Tissier's very first instructional video (1983)
Once Christian Tissier got promoted to 4th Dan, Yamaguchi Sensei suggested that he should return to France in order to promote Aikido over there and teach what he had learnt at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Christian Tissier permanently relocated to France in July 1976 and started to teach shortly thereafter. He purchased Jean-Pierre Lavorato's dojo of in Paris and started his own school, le Cercle Christian Tissier, which he still operates today. The Cercle Tissier is now the most prominent private European center for Martial Arts and its 750m2 not only welcome Aikido classes but also that of Judo, Karate, Ninjutsu, Jujutsu to name but a few, all led by high profile instructors.
Demonstration of Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba at the 3rd International Aikido Federation Congress in Paris (1980). Uke are Moriteru Ueshiba Waka Sensei, Hayato Osawa Sensei, and Christian Tissier Sensei.
Christian Tissier was actively involved, along with Jacques Abel, Louis Clériot and Michel Hamon, in the formation in 1983 of the Fédération Française Aïkido, Aïkibudo et Affinitaires (FFAAA), which is now one of the two main Aikido groups in France. It is indeed Tissier himself
Cercle Christian Tissier
who proposed the name of the group and became de facto its charismatic leader. The FFAAA was officially recognized by the Aikikai Foundation and by the International Aikido Federation and it now counts over 25,000 practitioners in about 800 clubs.
Christian Tissier teaching in Vincennes
In spite of his responsibilities and busy schedule teaching in France, Europe, and on the American continent, Christian Tissier made sure that he kept his ties with the Hombu Dojo, spending several months each year in Japan. He received the 5th Dan Aikikai in 1981, the 6th Dan in 1986, and the 7th Dan in 1998. He was also awarded the prestigious title of Shihan shortly after, which made him the very first non-Japanese to reach such a rank. Christian Tissier is well known for promoting Aikido on the tatami as much as in the media, with the annual demonstrations at the Festival des Arts Martiaux de Bercy in Paris, and through his numerous books and DVDs. He recently participated in the Beijing Combat Games in 2010, and was the first non-Japanese to teach at the International Aikido Federation Aikido Congress.
Christian Tissier at the Beijing Combat Games (2010)
On July 2012, Christian Tissier became one of the recipients of the prestigious Japan Foreign Minister's Commendation. This award is given to outstanding individuals or groups (from both Japan and overseas) to acknowledge their contribution to the promotion of friendship between Japan and other countries.
Christian Tissier being handed his award by Japan's ambassador in France
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Color picture by Eric Cullerier