Sébastien Herteau and Masatoshi Yasuno Shihan in front of the Aikikai hombu Dojo kamizaI met Sébastien Heurteau at the All Japan Embukai last year. He was there as a spectator but also as the uke for Yukimitsu Kobayashi Sensei from the Hombu Dojo. We very quickly became friends and I got very interested in his practice. Sébastien Heurteau is one of those exceptional individuals that are totally dedicated to the practice of Aikido. He spent seven years at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, training every day and more particularly under the direction of Yasuno and Endo Sensei. Sébastien has also served as uke for teachers such as Kuribayashi and Kobayashi Sensei during demonstrations in Tokyo and throughout Japan. Sébastien is currently preparing his final return to France with his Japanese wife and he agreed to talk to me and share both his experience of Japan and his path as an Aikidoka.

Guillaume Erard: Sébastien, could you summarize for us your beginnings in Aikido?

Sébastien Heurteau: I started Aikido in 1990 at the age of 14. It was in a small club of Neuilly sur Marne, in the Paris suburbs. The club counted an average of about fifteen people on the tatami. It was not very far from the Dojo of Christian Tissier Shihan in Vincennes. The club in Neuilly sur Marne had just started, there were only beginners, no black belt. I was young and full of energy so I got very quickly solicited by my teacher, and he then began intensive work with me on ukemi. Over the years I became the uke club.

I took a long time to take my grades. I think that I had been ready technically for a long time, but for one reason or another, I only took the first Dan after six years, I became the first black belt of the club. After that, my teacher encouraged me to go and train at the Dojo of Christian Tissier while continuing to practice in Neuilly sur Marne and to remain involved in teaching. So I arrived at Vincennes in 1998 as a first Dan. My job as a sports instructor granted me a lot of free time which allowed me to train quite a lot. While in Vincennes, I particularly enjoyed the lunchtime class, the one in which all the high ranking instructors were training together, it was really a very unusual session. So I continued to train intensively like that for five years and it is in 2003 that I decided to go to Japan.

Sébastien Heurteau and Guillaume Erard, iriminage

Sébastien Heurteau (uke: Guillaume Erard)

Guillaume Erard: So why did you decide to leave?

Sébastien Heurteau: Frankly, I did not leave because of the technique. I was studying under the direction of Christian Tissier, the best possible technician for me; I had no reason or desire to change. Yet I wanted more, but I did not know what. Now, on hindsight, I know that I wanted to have access to man, I had so many questions and I wanted him to answer them. For me, Aikido was something that should reach deep within, and technique alone was not enough. I wanted to know Christian Tissier and what thought about Aikido, and why he performed techniques the way he did. I wanted to know his reasons. I was young, I had lots of questions, but nobody to answer them, well yes, there were people to answer them, but they were not Christian Tissier.

After a while, I realized that it would not happen; that I would only receive from him the technique; and that I would never have access to man, even if I remained in Vincennes for years. I wanted to be like Mark Bachraty or Pascal Guillemin. For one reason or another, it did not happen, the alchemy did not take place. I may not have known what to do or maybe I did not fit what he wanted. Maybe I was too young and not humble enough...

Sébastien Heurteau and Guillaume Erard

Sébastien Heurteau and Guillaume Erard

Guillaume Erard: What did you find in Japan then?

Sébastien Heurteau: I did not know much about Japanese Aikido except for that of Endo Sensei. He was regularly teaching in France. I thought that in Japan, I might be lucky enough to have access to the men behind the teachers, to discover who really hides behind the Sensei status. I am very fortunate because that is exactly what happened. When you go for dinner or for a drink with a Sensei, you have access to the person and then you learn a lot of things outside the art, because he will talk about his feelings, his experiences. You put in perspective what he says to you about what happened in the past at the Aikikai and it helps toy to understand better what he does on the tatami today. It sheds light upon the whole path he took in order to get there. Any discussion that you can have with a Japanese Sensei is always constructive; there is always food for thought in what he takes the trouble to tell you.

That is what I wanted from Christian Tissier, but I did not get it. Obviously, I think that I am not alone in this situation. Today I do not blame him at all, because that is what made me go to Japan and live seven wonderful years. I have always admired his technique and I hope that people like Marc Bachraty or Pascal Guillemin can have access to more than that, because without this, they can be very good technically, but they will be ultimately limited in their understanding of his Aikido.

When a Sensei of Hombu Dojo is talking to you in private, he does not necessarily give you any secret, but what he tells makes you change your vision of Aikido. You can also ask your questions and he answers you in a context that is not burdened with the many rules or taboos that can be found at the Dojo. Obviously, you must not forget that he is Japanese and hence, remain careful of what you say, especially after a glass of sake or two (laughs), but he will respond. It is really a privilege, especially for us who are foreigners. We obviously see a lot of people come to the Aikikai, but they only have access to technique.

That is why I left. Now I tell you all that after almost ten years but in my head at the time, it was far from being as clear as that; but I really believe that it is why I left. Today, I have had a lot of answers, but I still have a lot more questions (laughs)!

Sébastien Heurteau and Guillaume Erard

Sébastien Heurteau (uke: Guillaume Erard)

Guillaume Erard: How did you take your decision?

Sébastien Heurteau: It had been a while since I started talking about leaving for Japan, but I never took the plunge. Frankly, I was a little afraid of losing the material things. I had a contract with the Ministry of National Education, a car, furniture, etc. and I was afraid to let it all go. Anyway, after a while I went to see Christian Tissier and I told him, "Sensei, I am leaving for Japan for good." He then put me in touch with someone who had a French school here. So although the person never promised me a job, he sent me the sort of email that I wanted to read. He just wrote: "No problem, come, I will train you and then we will see from there." Without this email, I do not think I would have ever left. I just needed that contact; it felt like a sort of invitation that allowed me to take the first step.

Guillaume Erard: Once you arrived in Japan, what happened, did you work for this person?

Sébastien Heurteau: Once I was there, I quickly realized that teaching French was not my thing and anyway, I wanted to totally dedicate myself to the practice of Aikido. Shortly before my departure, I finally got rid of all my things and I arrived in Japan with 15,000 Euros in my pocket. The decision to do Aikido full-time was immediate. Life is expensive in Japan; so I decided to live in rather Spartan conditions. I rented a small room with tatami mats and no heater, shower, or hot water, and I took Aikido classes from morning to night.

Guillaume Erard: How did you arrive at the Aikikai?

Sébastien Heurteau: I came one morning. I brought a bottle of wine for the Doshu and I introduced myself in very rough Japanese. When I arrived, I found myself a little lonely. At that time, there were only three other French people at the Aikikai, Gerard Sachs, Didier Boyet and Jean-Christophe Driot. They had been there for a long time, over 30 years for Gerard Sachs and Didier Boyet. The rest of the foreigners were mostly English speakers as well as some Spaniards.

At first, I had very little contact with the Japanese people because I did not know how to approach them. I lived a rather solitary life, almost monastic, and for very long. I am not of a nature to go out and it obviously limited my social interactions, especially knowing that I had to get up in the morning for the Doshu's 6:30 am class. It was not a particularly easy period and the first winter was especially difficult. It was very cold that year and snow fell frequently. Remember that I had neither a heater, nor a shower (laughs)! My routine was simple; I left the Aikikai in the evening after the last class, ate a bit, and then went to the sento where I stayed in the hot bath until closing time around 1 am. Then I returned home to put myslef in my futon and I fell asleep immediately. Around 4 am, I woke up because of the bitter cold passing between the cracks of the windows. I was in a traditional Japanese house and the insulation was not good at all. Early morning, I went down to warm myself up and drink a coffee at the konbini across the road and I returned to bed for some time until the time to go over to the Doshu's class.

Guillaume Erard: For how long have you lived like that?

Sébastien Heurteau: At the end of the second year I had almost run out of money. At that time I had an Aikido visa and I had to ask myself how I was going to make ends meet. My living conditions were far from opulent before, but there, I had six very difficult months. I basically halved my expenses for these six months. Despite the fact that I was trying to find work, I did not really put much effort in it and so my search was fruitless. I really wanted to continue to focus on Aikido. In fact, during those seven years, I have never been able to accept the idea of having to cut my workouts in favor of a job; after all, I was there to do Aikido. So in the end my 15,000 Euros allowed me to last almost two years. I used the little money I had to pay room and classes at the Aikikai. There have been many times where I had not enough yen to eat normally. What I was doing from time to time in case of shortage was to go to department stores in Shinjuku such as Isetan because in many places, you could taste things. I took my lunches quite often there (laughs).

Still, I did not reduce the frequency of my trainings and I did not get any special care from the Sensei who knew nothing of my situation. I lost a lot of weight. Many will tell you that after my marriage, I have taken a lot back though (laughs)! I was very lucky not to get sick, but I was worried anyway, because I knew that I would not last long like that, I saw my last savings melting at high speed. It is at that time that I was fortunate to meet my future wife, who was very supportive. I remember, she used to bring me back small bento that she made in secret out dinners rests at her parents' house. It was very cute (smile), these difficult times really got us very close.

I managed to make some money too because on the second year I was following in parallel a Shiatsu formation at a hospital. The Sensei there was very sensitive to my personal investment in Aikido and Shiatsu, and being aware of my living conditions, he took me under his wing. In compensation for my work on patients, he paid my room and fed me, I took my meals at the hospital. My relationship with the hospital and patients lasted until the last day.

Sébastien Heurteau Tokyo (Uke: Guillaume Erard, Hitomi Heurteau and Olivier Carayon)

Guillaume Erard: What kind of visa were you on?

Sébastien Heurteau: I arrived with a working holiday visa valid for 1 year. Once at the end of it, I wanted to change to an Aikido visa. It is funny because when I went to Shinagawa to hand in my application for immigration, I recorded the hours of Aikido I had done that year. Oddly, I came directly to the inspector, not an employee, and when she took my paper, she told me that something was wrong. I told myself 'that's it; she is going to hassle me" (laughs). She was not easy, very austere but in fact, given the number of hours I had trained the first year, she thought that I had filled the wrong paper and that I wanted an Aikido visa renewal rather than a change from a working holiday visa. She was so impressed by the amount of hours I did that she got the visa issued in five minutes (laughs). Quite a rare occurrence!

Guillaume Erard: Did your Aikido visa allow you to work?

Sébastien Heurteau: No, not at all. If you want to work with an Aikido visa, you must request a waiver, but many people who have tried have often lost their Aikido visa without obtaining a work visa in exchange... For me, there was no question of taking that risk, so I stayed four years on Aikido visas.

Guillaume Erard: So I guess that in those circumstances, you must have had to provide proof of financial resources?

Sébastien Heurteau: Yes, you need a paper from the bank explaining that you have at least something to live for a year, which represents, I believe, 3 million yen per year. Of course, that was far beyond my reach. With that kind of money, you could live well in a nice apartment. For the paper, as you know, it is arranged between friends with little tricks where we lend each other money and get the paper made...

Guillaume Erard: Let's talk about the practice, what classes did you take?

Sébastien Heurteau: I took all of them but for me, the two-hour class on Monday nights with Yasuno Sensei was the center of gravity of my practice. All classes were interesting; I learned to appreciate a lot of Sensei, even if it took a long time for some, as for example, to my great regret, with Osawa Sensei.

Guillaume Erard: What happened with Osawa Sensei?

Sébastien Heurteau: For some reason, at the beginning of my stay, it did not interest me much; it was only several years after that fell in love with his Aikido. I realized that Master Osawa teaches the Aikido that is probably made for me. Since this realization, and gnawed by remorse, I tried to catch up by going to all his classes, but it is probably my biggest regret as an Aikidoka, not having done this sooner.

Sébastien Heurteau and Osawa Senseï

Sébastien and Hitomi Heurteau in the company of Hayato Osawa Shihan

Obviously with some other Sensei, it never clicked and after four years, I gradually stopped going to their class. I also went to a lot to Endo Sensei's class on Wednesday afternoons. Endo Sensei was the only one to whom I was close early on because I already knew him and because what he was doing came closer to what I had learned in France. Later, he changed a bit and so did I, so after three years, I stopped going.

I found a Sensei quickly in the person of Master Kuribayashi and there it clicked straight away. It was the advanced class on Friday afternoon and on Wednesday nights for beginners. On Wednesdays, all the advanced students who liked moving around came downstairs [at the Aikikai, beginner classes are held on the first floor and advanced classes, at the second]. Upstairs, it was a Sensei who did not please everyone and Doshu did not appreciate that advanced students went downstairs so he replaced him with Miyamoto Sensei. You know his character well and things did not take off immediately with him either (laughs)! For several months there were always more hakamas downstairs than upstairs. Doshu finally withdrew Kuribayashi Sensei from the beginner's course. It was also during Kuribayashi Sensei's class that I met my wife, because she came with her group from the university to train at Hombu Dojo.

Sébastien Heurteau and Kuribayashi Shihan

Sébastien Heurteau and Takanori Kuribayashi Shihan

Guillaume Erard: Upon practicing with you, one realizes immediately that Yasuno Sensei has had a lot of influence on your Aikido...

Sébastien Heurteau: From the very first year, I have had a very good contact with him.

Guillaume Erard: While having received no introduction isn't it?

Sébastien Heurteau: No, nothing, when I arrived, nobody knew me. Well, I took ukemi the way I had learned at Vincennes and the Japanese were not used to it at all but Yasuno Sensei obviously suspected were I was coming from. He was not sure, but he watched me for a few months. One evening, he asked Gerard Sachs where I was from and Gerard told him. I think that I had a behavior that he liked and he enjoyed throwing me because nobody else was falling like that (at least at the time). He used to throw me in all directions across the Dojo. I was getting up and re-attacked immediately. Many people, from the beginning, really wondered why I did not go to his private Dojo. I did not want to because I saw myself as a student of the Hombu Dojo, I did not want to follow a particular teacher, I did not want to have to make choices.

Guillaume Erard: Can you tell us more precisely what you mean by the term "student of Hombu Dojo" and tell us about your relationship with Ivan Rigual Sarria?

Sébastien Heurteau: It is good that you mention of Ivan because we arrived in Japan at about the same time. Ivan is a very good friend. He arrived in July and me in August. I was quite envious of him too because unlike me, he found much support from the small group of Spaniards in place. Ivan and I were pretty close, we got along well and we often practiced together, because we followed the same classes. So we decided that we would primarily be students of Hombu Dojo. It is really interesting because we arrived at the same time, we both had Christian Tissier as a reference, but after seven years, each of us took a different path. I got closer to Yasuno Sensei and him, to Miyamoto Sensei, I think. These are really two diametrically opposed styles while they pursue the same direction.

Guillaume Erard: You did keep a distinct and strong identity in your Aikido. Same goes with Ivan, it does not feel that you are the clones of one particular teacher.

Sébastien Heurteau: That is really what we wanted since the beginning. We set out to find our own form of Aikido. That is the goal of practice I think. Someone like Christian Tissier has created his own form. The Sensei of Hombu Dojo are all from the same source and yet they all have a different form. There are people in the shadow of great men who have a good level, but they have no personality. You should ask Ivan's point of view, but personally, I find that after so many years of practice, it is unfortunate that many Aikidokas worldwide are still in the "cut and paste" format. When I get back to France, they may well tell me "your ikkyo is crap", but it will not affect me at all. Maybe my ikkyo sucks, but at least it is mine. At first it is normal to want to emulate the movements of our teacher, there is indeed no other way to learn, but how long should we do this for? After 25 years of practice, how long will have to continue mimicking our Sensei? The clones which I speak of are often of great technical mastery, but it is not them, it is not their Aikido, and it is a pity. Must we always wait for the disappearance of our masters to finally develop an Aikido that suits your personality?

I do not want to wait until my Sensei disappears to do so. Again, I did not find it yet, but I try my best with my resources.

Guillaume Erard: So when you go to Yasuno Sensei's Dojo what do you seek?

Sébastien Heurteau: I come for the man, not to copy his Aikido. To be honest, in his private Dojo, I am a little eccentric; I do the Aikido that I want. Regarding this, opinions are divided, some say it is completely inappropriate, that when you follow the teaching of a Sensei you have to do exactly what he showed, and others tell me that it is a quality. I lean toward the second interpretation; I think that it is why Yasuno Sensei likes me, because I am different. I stay myself on the mat, I do not want to fall to please him, I assume my entire personality, and I think that he appreciates this in me. We have a very special relationship, I have not made Yasuno Sensei my technical reference and he knows it, he also knows that I love his work and that we are in a genuine exchange from master to student, without going through any idolatry. I believe that idolatry is a barrier to learning because it hides the imperfections of our Sensei.

Guillaume Erard: How did you end up going to his private Dojo then?

Sébastien Heurteau: The trigger that made me start going to his Dojo is a seminar that he taught at Yoko Okamoto's Dojo in Kyoto. There I discovered an exceptional man. I met a true samurai, I had a real flash. After that I went to see him on a Tuesday morning after his class and I asked him if I could go to his Dojo. Again, opinions differ, some say that I should have done like others, passing through the intermediary of one of his senior students to make my request, but I really wanted to ask for myself.

Sébastien Heurteau and Yukimitsu Kobayashi Shihan in demonstration at the Nippon Budokan

Guillaume Erard: Is the influence of Yamaguchi Sensei as strong in Japan as it is in Europe?

Sébastien Heurteau: There's something very interesting I learned from my contact with certain masters such as Kobayashi Sensei, it is to put into perspective our perception of the great masters. I would say that my sensitivity in Aikido has been shaped through the teachers that I have followed and all had as reference Yamaguchi Sensei. I never met him personally but a large number of senior French instructors speak of him often so we all feel like we know him. Even people of my generation talk about Yamaguchi Sensei as one of the greatest of Aikido instructors, even as a deity. However, in Japan, I noticed that many people did not necessarily share this view. For example, Kobayashi Sensei took all the classes at Hombu Dojo while he was an uchi deshi and 30 years later, he is a Shihan of the Aikikai and has his own classes at the Hombu Dojo. When you talk to him about Yamaguchi Sensei, his reaction is somewhat surprising, because he speaks of him as an influential teacher, a person who had a lot of students, but that is basically it. So maybe I was ignorant or naive but when he told me that, I was really surprised because it was so different from what I had heard so far. On the other hand, an instructor that influenced him a lot was Arikawa Sensei.

Guillaume Erard: Yes, Olivier Gaurin told me that his classes were quite tough and that few people dared go to his classes...

Sébastien Heurteau: True, but the uchi deshi had no choice in the matter (laughs)! Kobayashi Sensei explained to me that often, when Arikawa Sensei was not satisfied with the performance of the uchi deshi after the morning classes of the Doshu and his own, he kept the uchi deshi in the room and beat them up. Kobayashi Sensei still has scars. It is not hard to understand why his recollection of Arikawa Sensei is more vivid than that of Yamaguchi Sensei (laughs)!

Guillaume Erard: Speaking of Kobayashi Sensei, how is your relationship with him? It must be special because you served extensively as uke for him, particularly at the All Japan Demonstration at the Nippon Budokan.

Sébastien Heurteau: I was going to his classes because in addition to those of Endo or Yasuno Sensei, it allowed me to refocus a bit on basics, but I did not get much more involved with him than that. In fact, it is him who came to me. Sometimes it is the Sensei who comes to you.

Sébastien Heurteau with Kobayashi Shihan in front fot eh homobu Dojo kamiza

Sébastien Heurteau along with Yukimitsu Kobayashi Shihan

Guillaume Erard: You stood out quite quickly thanks to the quality of your ukemi, has it changed since you've been in Japan?

Sébastien Heurteau: Yes I think so. I particularly feel it when I watch the videos of the successive embukai with Kobayashi Sensei. When I arrived, I took ukemi like they do in Vincennes, I was proud of my ukemi because few Japanese could do the same. Someone once told me that I was falling as a Frenchman, that the shape of my ukemi was not Japanese, not martial. For example, I was criticized on the fact that I landed with both feet together in order to recover more quickly and this was characterized as the Tissier style. I was told that this is a position of legs was not found in budo. On hindsight, I think that the person who told me that was right and I warmly thank him for that. In fact, the position of the legs at the beginning and the end of the fall should be identical. When we begin our fall forward in static position we do not have both feet on the same line, we are generally in a guard position with one foot in front and one foot behind, then why should that be different at the end of the fall? So I have been trying to work on my ukemi for several years but it is true that it is sometimes hard to forget old habits.

Guillaume Erard: People change their ukemi when they train at Hombu Dojo but instructors rarely give guidelines on this matter, so what is this change due to?

Sébastien Heurteau: For me it comes from the tatami. At the Hombu Dojo, the tatami is quite unforgiving because there is no flexibility, no bounce [the tatami of the Aikikai is a traditional straw tatami covered with a white cotton canvas]. At the Hombu Dojo, every fall costs you and takes its toll on your muscles and joints whereas in France, when you find the right way, you can bounce off the mat as easily as on a trampoline. The tatami of the Aikikai is great because the lack of bounce forces you to build your centre during each fall.

Guillaume Erard: Obviously, if you do not respect the tatami of the Hombu Dojo, it will hurt you...

Sébastien Heurteau: Here, you rarely make the same mistake twice (laughs)! The tatami makes you take a lot of weight because the effort is substantial.

Guillaume Erard: What do the Sensei like in your ukemi and how would you characterize it?

Sébastien Heurteau: I think my particularity compared to others is that I am always present and available. I do not try to be heavy but I try to be neither ahead nor behind the technique and to be always master of my body and my movements while maintaining a contact, a pressure with the partner. I try to move my body as a whole in spite of the constraints of technique. It is all about body movement in relation to timing. If you are early or late, chances are that you may be out of alignment. It is one of the problems beginners who have the impression they have several pairs of arms and legs when they starts practising. To have weight in Aikido is to be a stone, when you throw it, the whole object goes as one and unlike our bodies, a stone is naturally compact with an axis that is almost unbreakable. That is what I am working on today in my Aikido. When I start falling, it is my body that moves at the same point and in the same direction. All parts of my body form a single block, like a stone. But it is very difficult to do because of a typical error which is to confuse weight and refusal. In that case, although you have control over your body, it is at the expense of the contact with the partner. Nothing will replace availability. I know many Aikidokas that give the impression of centre and weight in their practice, they seem to control their bodies, but they have a permanent denial in their Aikido, they practice with a partner, but in fact they are all alone. It is not an exchange.

Guillaume Erard: What is "keeping the contact"?

Sébastien Heurteau: For me, the concept of contact is not part of the technique but instead, it is part of the human who is doing it, contrary to availability. Yasuno Sensei is a very good example of that. He has a sharp and percussive Aikido so it is very difficult to keep in contact with him, but yet, deep down, I think that he would want to keep this contact for longer. He does not succeed as much as he wishes because his Aikido is so incisive. Well, that is my personal view. This state of things therefore requires him, from time to time, to work specifically on techniques called "contact techniques" rather than percussive ones. With his Aikido, if you try to stay with him, you take hits. It is very paradoxical. The ukes go very fast because of this. Personally, I am trying to go to him and to stay in contact for as long as possible, even if it causes me to be misplaced, because I think that it is what he wants. But I take hits.

Sébastien Heurteau and Yasuno Shihan

Sébastien Heurteau and Yasuno Masatoshi Shihan

Guillaume Erard: Do you think that the teachers will try to train people to react like you when you are gone?

Sébastien Heurteau: I do not know. In Japan, the teaching is different from the West. Here it is found in all aspects of society, education based on the repetition of gesture, without taking into account the capabilities of each individual. Aikido is no exception to the rule, there is a system up and you have to make do it with. In Europe and especially in France, people have democratized education; they have somehow intellectualized discipline and developed real teaching processes.

For me the Japanese Sensei of Hombu Dojo are outstanding Aikidokas but they are not teachers, I see them more as practitioners, they have no teacher training there. When I go back to France, they will teach me how to teach while in Japan, it is assumed that when you are good, you know how to teach. Personally, the four Sensei that I got close to are the masters of life, Aikido is just a means, a tool.

Guillaume Erard: You're going back to France for good; do you see yourself getting back into a federal system?

Sébastien Heurteau: It will be difficult, but if I want to teach, I have no choice. Again, there is a system in place and in France we cannot do what we want, we must respect the rules of the game. In fact, there are two things that I have a problem with that are not yet clear in my head. The first is the relationship between quality and quantity, how to find the balance between the two. But in France with the current system, it seems difficult to figure out. I think that if you want to do with quantity, you have somewhere to pervert your Aikido. You sell, make concessions to please everybody, both to your students and the system. But this is not you! No longer do you teach your own Aikido. That is what makes, in my opinion, the basic difference with Japan where Aikido Sensei practice the way they want and it is for students to adapt rather than the opposite. I am not saying that it is impossible to reconcile the two, I am just saying that it seems difficult within the current system. In fact, many French experts have encountered this problem when they returned from Japan and unfortunately today, many of them were eventually stopped doing Aikido, refusing to submit to the system without ever finding the balance between quality and quantity.

The second thing is the relationship between the practitioners and the grading system. I feel that in people's heads, grades have become more important than the practice itself. That worries me because I think that the Aikikai no longer controls the business it created.

When I see students in Japan get black belts after only two years of practice to increase the prestige of a university, when I see all kinds of Aikidokas claiming Aikikai grades without ever coming to Japan, I have serious questions about the credibility of it all.

Guillaume Erard: After seven years in Japan, what do you bring back to France?

Sébastien Heurteau: Some experience, but also a lot of humility, because I believe that in France the level of Aikido is exceptional. After practicing with so many teachers, and with partners from all cultures and nationalities, I relativize much more what happens on national and regional levels, or even within the Dojo itself. I return in order to continue practising, keeping in mind the wonderful experience that I have lived in Japan, and perhaps sharing what I bring back if it can resonate within someone else.

Guillaume Erard: Thank you Sébastien for this account and for the great moments of practice together. You'll really be missed on the tatami of the Hombu Dojo. Good luck to you and your wife for this new French chapter of your story.

Sébastien Heurteau: Thank you, it was a pleasure to remember all that and put words upon it.


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About the author
Guillaume Erard
Author: Guillaume ErardWebsite:
Founder of the site in 2007, Guillaume has a passion for Japanese culture and martial arts. After having practiced Judo during childhood, he started studying Aikido in 1996, and Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 2008. He currently holds the ranks of 4th Dan in Aikido (Aikikai) and 1st Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu (Takumakai). Guillaume is also passionate about science and education and he holds a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology since 2010. He currently lives in Tokyo and works as a consultant for medical research. > View Full Profile

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